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Substack Reads: A history of running, the greatest librarian, and purple spiders
Hello and welcome to another edition of Substack Reads. This week, we leap back from late September runs to the history of America’s obsession with running; Jess Pan journeys in time from her London bookshop through the loves of her 20-something coworkers; and Sophie Strand follows her home’s spider webs to Ovid’s myth of Arachne’s purple-dyeing father. Enjoy!
It’s autumn at the tiny London bookshop where author Jess Pan works and, over cinnamon candles and countless cups of coffee, talks about love with her 20-something colleagues
It is my first autumn working at the bookshop (I started working here in January). We have a coffee machine here, so we have ordered in fancy pumpkin spice syrup and we have cursive orange lettering on the black A-board sign out front. I wore an oversized navy cardigan and jeans to work last week because leaves were blowing everywhere and there was finally a chill in the London air. The cinnamon candles are out.
Cara was working today. Cara is 22 and looks like Alexa Chung, if Alexa Chung only wore cargo pants and baggy black T-shirts. She has that cool haircut and her cat-like eyes and Cara’s also tall, so when she sits, she can cross her legs over about seven times. She only wears mascara and that’s all she needs because, let me reiterate, she is 22.
HISTORY & HEALTH
The athletes and writers who made running into an American trend in the 1970s were hip to the way a good September run can “summon up the presence of death itself”
Track became my obsession. Upper-body weight training came slowly, but my legs had an almost frenetic desire to move. I ran long, slow distances on roads that yarned among farms. I ran in the morning, and then I ran along the Susquehanna River at midnight. I also read all the Sheehan I could find. “Running made me free,” he wrote. “It rid me of concern for the opinion of others. Dispensed me from rules and regulations imposed from outside.” Alone and sometimes miles from home, I found a stride that suited me, and felt a bit of that freedom.
FOOD & DRINK
Chef Junya Yamasaki taught a handful of California commercial fishermen these more humane fishing techniques and is now changing minds among the industry. Food and restaurant writer Emily Wilson joined a crew in the Pacific waters off Catalina Island for bluefin tuna season to find out more
Yamasaki, who made his mark at the helm of London’s lauded Koya restaurant, moved to Los Angeles in 2019 to open Yess, first as a sashimi truck during the pandemic, and then, this past spring, as a fine-dining restaurant. When he arrived here with the intention of working with local fish, he was disappointed by the quality of what distributors were supplying. But he found a solution in teaching a select number of small commercial fishermen how to process their catch through the methods of ike-jime and shinkei-jime: Eric Hodge of Rock Bottom Commercial Fishing, Raith (who operates as San Ysidro Seafood), Mitchell, and another small boat fisherman named Ari Jamon.
BOOKS & HISTORY
British illustrator Julia Pott presents a visual essay on why Althea Warren was one of the most notable librarians of the Los Angeles Public Library
Althea wrote the book, as it were, on how to live with books:
Warren was an avid reader and encouraged all librarians to do the same. She said in a speech to a library association in 1935, librarians should “read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world.” Throughout her life, Warren published little tip sheets—“Althea’s Ways to Achieve Reading”—to encourage people to find time for books. She approved of fibbing if it gave you an additional opportunity to read. “The night you promised to go to dinner with the best friend of your foster aunt, just telephone that you have such a bad cold and you’re afraid she’ll catch it,” she wrote in one of her tip sheets. “Stay at home instead and gobble Lucy Gayheart in one gulp like a boa constrictor.”
The sale of illustrator Kyle Webster’s digital brush brand to Adobe in 2017 was a moonshot. And like many solopreneurs, he was trying to make it happen all on his own
I needed a partner who had knowledge and experience that I did not have the time to acquire. There was a small window of opportunity, with regard to the timing of the sale of KyleBrush, and I knew the moment for a chance at success was fleeting. I couldn’t wait.
But I didn’t know anybody, personally, who had ever negotiated the sale of a business with a multinational corporation. My friends were illustrators and designers, like me.
What to do?
Full of flavor and ready in less than 20 minutes, says chef and food writer Margie Nomura
I know when you think of easy, low-effort meals, meatballs might not be the first thing to spring to mind. But trust me, these couldn’t be easier, and it’s only a little bit of mixing and rolling that’s required to make the meat balls. Not nearly as much faff as you may think. So roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and give this one a go!
This is an unbelievable combination of flavours, which works so well, and it’s all ready in less than 20 minutes.
You may be haunted by meatballs of the past, possibly from school canteens, where they can be horrid and dry, but I assure you these lamb meatballs are going to be nothing like that. Succulent, juicy and packed full of flavour. They also freeze beautifully, so if you want to make a big batch, simply double the recipe, shape and roll, and bung them in the freezer ready to fry off when you are next in need. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you have delicious things lying in wait for you in the freezer.
Sarah Levy of Seltzer Rocks pens a guest essay on how to approach sobriety with friends without it being awkward
Before I answer your question, I want to tell you a story.
When I was 24, I was living in New York City and going out with my friends every weekend. We went to dinners, bars, nightclubs, apartment parties—pretty much wherever the wind blew, you could find me there, drinking. For a while, that lifestyle worked. I was intoxicated (literally) with living and partying in a big city. Alcohol was my one-way ticket to endless adventure; I loved the ease it gave me in social settings and how it enabled me to feel more confident and charming. The problem? The morning after.
Like you, I started to feel anxious after I drank. I would wake up after a night out with a heaviness in my chest, a dry mouth, and a pounding headache. I cringed as I scrolled through texts I sent and my camera roll, embarrassed by the way I behaved after one too many vodka sodas.
There is one big difference between the two of us: I was unable to own what you have already articulated about drinking—that you don’t like it anymore—for years.
At her compost heap in the Hudson Valley, Sophie Strand focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology
According to Ovid’s version of the myth, the young Arachne’s father was a famous purple dyer, Idmon of Colophon. I keep thinking of this as I peer through a web lacing shut the corner of my kitchen window that looks out on apple trees, fields, mountains.
Summer’s rainbow display of wildflowers has flattened into a world of purple and yellow. Chicory and aster against ragweed and goldenrod. Every stem draws its last translated sunlight down into the roots, leaving its aboveground body mauve. The fields foam with lavender shadows, the silvery violet of red leaves eaten by mildew on the ground. The grasses purple. The sky around a buttery moon tightens its purple skin. Do moments of transition always wear these colors? I think of the dawns and dusks—bardo hours—that love to settle in this little cup of valley I now call home. Always purple.
Congratulations to the following writers celebrating publication.reveals the cover of her new book, Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up (out February 2024):
The Truce, by, will also be published next year:
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Substack Reads is a weekly roundup of writing, ideas, art, and audio from the world of Substack. Posts are recommended by staff and readers, and curated and edited from Substack’s U.K. outpost by Hannah Ray.
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