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Substack Reads: Sports heartbreak season, rigorous thinking, and remembering Matthew Perry
Hello and welcome to another edition of Substack Reads. This week, David Coggins regrets ever falling in love with sports, and Helen Lewis remembers how Chandler Bing shaped her childhood. Shalom Auslander releases a downloadable form for reduced misanthropy, artist Samantha Clark is wondering about wetness, and communal-house chef Rosie Kellett serves up a sticky toffee pudding you will never forget. Let’s dive in!
David Coggins is done with sports … until the irrational passion reclaims him
It’s heartbreak season in the sporting world. The baseball playoffs, when pain is felt in its most acute form, are reaching their conclusion. The other day a reliever gave up a game-tying two-run home run in the 9th inning. Brutal. They helpfully ran a list of true misery: all the pitchers in the World Series who’d given up two- or three-run home runs to tie or lose the game. I was startled to remember poor Byung-hyun Kim. He did that on back-to-back nights to the Yankees in 2001. Oh baby.
Sports involves more losing than winning. That means you have to commiserate with fellow sufferers. I text friends when their top-seeded team crashes out of the playoffs (sorry, Orioles). Meanwhile other friends are taking matters into their own hands and trying to shield their children from a lifetime of pain. Don’t root for Dad’s team, they tell Junior, there’s still hope for you! It’s the opposite of pretending Santa Claus exists—here you try to hide the presence of the Cleveland Browns.
Now in the midst of all this drama at the expense of others, I hadn’t quite budgeted for my own lightning-strike tragedy—a season-ending quarterback injury.
British journalist and author Helen Lewis remembers the day she met her childhood icon
In the era before home broadband and streaming services, Friends was incandescently popular, partly because it was so good and partly because there was, frankly, little else to do in my small city in England if you were 14 on a Friday night in 1997. When I reach back into my adolescence, Perry is there—drinking beer in his reclining chair, making that strangled duck sound he used to indicate displeasure, declaring that “. . . and I just won a million dollars!”
The show went on so long, and at such a consistent pitch of excellence, that its characters couldn’t help drawing on the actors who played them. But when you read the scripts, it’s mind-blowing how spare the lines sometimes are compared with what ended up on-screen. In one of my favorite episodes, “The One Where No One’s Ready,” Joey and Chandler go to war over the possession of an armchair. Chandler’s line as he hovers next to Joey, hand in his face—“not touching, can’t get mad”—depends entirely on Perry’s delivery.
Big Tech War Stories debuts with Gaurav Nemade, the founding product manager of Google LaMDA, on why the smart chatbot never shipped
The key issues holding the bot back, according to Nemade, were public relations concerns and the dark cloud cast by Microsoft’s misadventure with Tay, a teenage character bot that turned Nazi overnight.
“PR is always top of mind for leaders,” says Nemade. “On the other side, OpenAI—they don’t give a shit about PR. For the most part, they don’t. They are like, ‘Okay, this is what we think is right. This is a reasonable way of putting it out.’ They become vulnerable, they put it out, and then they work with the community.”
Warning: May result in reduced misanthropy
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the tsunami of doom-filled news you send me, or the ghastly Insta videos, or the maniacal Meta pages, or the hateful tweets. It’s not that I don’t value the links I never asked for to lunatic podcasts that you agree with, or the links I never asked for to lunatic podcasts that you disagree with. It’s not that I don’t treasure the excerpts you send me from the op-eds you approve of, or the excerpts from the op-eds that send you into a furious froth. I’m touched that as you subject yourself to the emotional wedgie of modern-day over-information, you generously think of subjecting me to it as well. But the onslaught of misery you have been subjecting me to is taking its toll, including but not limited to the following:
(check all that apply)
Reading Thich Nhat Hanh
Nagging suspicion that my medications are severely underdosed
Angrily muttering to myself on street corners
Sitting on the edge of my bed and staring into the middle distance
Company founder Wes Kao writes a newsletter for developing sharper managerial, leadership, and operating skills. She looks into what rigorous thinking is and why it matters
Let’s say you manage 4-5 direct reports. In a culture where rigorous thinking is expected, the idea is this:
Any idea goes, but each team member should be prepared to advocate for their idea and defend it. You should be prepared to walk through the upside, downside, data points rooted in reality, and how it works given your assets and constraints. Anyone can ask questions and probe, and these questions are received with gratitude and openness.
The opposite of rigorous thinking is lazy thinking. Lazy thinking is making assumptions you don’t even know are assumptions. It’s having a black box of logic where “suddenly it works and we have thousands of customers.”
Scottish artist Samantha Clark, author of The Clearing, shares a visual essay with audio voiceover, on water
Where is your nearest fresh water?
For sure, it won’t be far away. We can never be very far from our next drink of water. Do you have some in a bottle, or a glass nearby? Or is it the water in your kitchen sink, or the toilet next door? Stop for a moment to think about where that water comes from. Bring to your awareness the invisible web of pipes running through the building you’re in, how these run underground to connect to a water main that’s perhaps fed by a reservoir miles away, or maybe by a borehole deep underground.
What is it about Brits and sticky toffee pudding? A new-to-Substack communal-house chef in London, Rosie Kellett, shares her answer to Bonfire Night’s toffee apple with her white miso caramel umami dream
As a child, I had an insatiable sweet tooth. I would spend any money I had on sweeties, the sugar-coated, sour variety that really made your mouth pucker. Now, as a full-grown adult and after eight years of working in a meringue bakery, I am firmly a salty savoury girl. I would always opt for a starter and a main over a pudding. In fact, if I’m going to get a pudding, it’s most likely going to be cheese. Having said all that, there is just something about a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. It just gets me. And so here we are, this is my answer to pudding in autumn. If a toffee apple, a sticky toffee pudding and a pinch of salt had a baby, it would be this pudding. It ticks all the boxes for me and my housemates, I hope it does for you too.
Award-winning Turkish-British author Elif Shafak shares anecdotes from her personal, unpublished notebooks in her new Substack
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for William Butler Yeats. There he can recline on plump, silk cushions, drink cups of coffee and write his poems in peace.
My Irish friends are often surprised when I tell them about how, growing up in Turkey—especially after I moved from Ankara to Istanbul in my early twenties, secretly dreaming of becoming a writer—I was deeply intrigued and to a certain extent shaped by the poetry and cultural legacy of Yeats, miles and decades away.
Sure, Istanbul was no Dublin or County Sligo on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, which Yeats used to call “Land of Heart’s Desire”—but wasn’t that an amazing description? Did we not each have our own little corners of the universe that we could not help dragging along wherever we went, our own lands of heart’s desire?
Brooke Barker’s Halloween-themed strip revisits an uncomfortable childhood memory
Worst non-costume party I’ve ever been to, absolutely no one else was dressed up. Thanks so much to my friend’s parents, who let me wash off my face paint in their bathroom (where in hindsight I probably made a huge mess) and thanks to my mom for taking this picture of me before the party, when I still felt like the coolest kid in the world.
Recently went paid:
Alex Kantrowitz shares the news of Big Technology’s paid tier:
Congratulations to the following writers celebrating publication.’s new memoir on her open marriage. Follow her book publishing journey on her Substack, . launches on Substack, congratulated by her former editor:
New and noteworthy
Substack’swas on BBC Radio 4’s program Open Book (around 13:10), alongside , discussing Substack for book authors. is here:
Writers on Substack shared shoutouts to their favorite writers this week:
Inspired by the writers featured in Substack Reads? Writing on your own Substack is just a few clicks away:
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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