Substack Reads: Eve Barlow, Lauren Hough, and a reading by Olivia Colman
This week: Inside China’s lockdown; meet the parents who hacked diabetes; plus, behind the scenes at the Met Gala
Welcome to another issue of Substack Reads: your Saturday digest of the best writing from across Substack.
This week we bring you a gut-punching memoir by New York Times best-selling author Lauren Hough, the incredible story of how a bunch of parents created an artificial pancreas to save their children’s lives, plus a reading of a very special 17th-century letter by Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman. There’s also more unmissable writing by names you may not be familiar with but whose work we hope you’ll enjoy.
Substack Reads is a weekly curated selection of some of the best writing, podcasts, and art happening across Substack. We cover everything from politics and art to tech and food, and every imaginable niche in between.
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How a charity event became the most photographed fashion event in the world—and what that means for Anna Wintour
Former Met Gala planner Stephanie Winston Wolkoff—also a former adviser to Melania Trump—describes Wintour as “militant” during the party each year. “Where is everybody? It’s time,” Wintour says to her team. “Where are they? Can you tell me where they are?” The Vogue staff knows. Every guest has a prearranged arrival time, and Wintour’s people know what cars they’ll arrive in, if they’ve left the house, what they’ll be wearing, and if they’ve broken a zipper along the way that needs to be fixed.
Planning the gala typically begins in the early fall with 7 a.m. meetings at the Met every four to six weeks. In past years, the museum’s team has tried to keep the costs and footprint down, though Vogue has pushed the party to become the sort of thing that demands a 4,000-lb. floral arrangement. As with her assistants, Wintour has had a habit of not learning the names of some at the Met that she has worked with—year after year—to plan the party, a former staff member recalls. Sometimes she addresses them as “you” and points; other times she calls them variations on their names. Her directives have often been so absurd the Met team just laughs them off. According to two people familiar with her remarks, at one point Wintour gave them the impression that she found the Temple of Dendur ugly and said she wanted to board it up, but ultimately compromised and simply had Katy Perry’s stage erected in front of it…
A collective of writers and journalists from two Substack publications collaborate to highlight stories, images, and illustrations in response to Shanghai’s recent coronavirus lockdown
I’m counting my 29th day of home quarantine, after three rounds of government food supplies, one delivery of Lianhua Qingwen, four rounds of PCR tests and dozens of rapid tests. The city of 25 million residents is under strict lockdown amid China’s latest COVID outbreak, with no end in sight.
Two years after Wuhan’s re-opening, a historic moment that I witnessed in person, the once unprecedented is becoming normalized: according to Caixin, at least 22 cities in China are currently under some form of lockdown. In some cases, one local infection is enough to guarantee citywide closures.
What’s different about the 2022 lockdowns is that rather than COVID itself, people fear food shortages, centralized quarantine facilities, family separations and non-COVID medical emergencies. Social media posts that carry direct, raw audiovisual evidence documented by patients, protesters and homebound residents play a key role in questioning China’s zero-COVID policy. The panic has a ripple effect: as Beijing reported its own community transmissions this week, residents jumped into action, clearing supermarket shelves despite government assurances of abundant supply. If there’s one thing people in Beijing have learned from Shanghai’s 4-day-turned-indefinite lockdown, it is this: be self-reliant and don’t trust what the authorities say.
Eve Barlow was a mighty voice in the world of music journalism, beloved by editors and peers alike—until her personal views made her a baddie overnight
Slowly but surely, the internet began celebrating their hatred of me. People I’d known for years, who had kissed my ass forever, turned on a knife’s edge against me—and with glee. The editor of Bandcamp wrote some heinous bile about me being a hysterical madwoman—ironic given their affinity with feminism. A few months went by, and I realized that I was no longer receiving the round-robin record review emails from the editors at Pitchfork, and when I cross-referenced online, I noticed that all the staff writers and my editor had stopped following me. The entire staff at Vulture unfollowed me, if not on the same day, then definitely within days of each other. I wish I knew if it was the same day, and I wouldn’t doubt there wasn’t some directive about it.
How amateurs beat the tech industry to build an artificial pancreas for their children
In 2010 Kevin Winchcombe’s daughter Amy was diagnosed with diabetes as she turned 10, and the family had to get to grips with a frightening new world. “I wouldn’t say I’m an anxious person,” he told me, “but you develop an anxiety around ‘Is my child going to wake up in the morning?’ ”
Amy had to start using two insulin pens (injection devices) — one every night, the other every time she had a meal. Beyond the worry and inconvenience, that had an impact on her attitude to food. “Unfortunately for Amy, she was and still is needle-phobic,” Kevin explains. “She made choices to not eat because she didn’t want to inject.”
A computer programmer by trade, he started reading up about technology that could help — “as a dad, you try to fix things” — and soon started contributing to parent groups on Facebook and elsewhere.
In praise of the late bloomer
From Penelope Lively to Frank Lloyd Wright, one writer argues that finding your calling later in life may be just the ticket
A dozen years ago or more, I saw an article in the paper about a High Court judge who was retiring to start a PhD in theology at Oxford. I can never find that article in newspaper archives, but it stayed with me. I can see it in my mind. Several years later, I read James-Lees Milne’s Diaries; this passage fixed itself in my memory.
I am a late developer more than most men of my generation and in some respects still quite adolescent, an opsimath indeed.
Opsimath is a mesmerising word — and an even more captivating idea. Then, listening to Tyler Cowen’s interview with Tim Ferriss, a phrase struck me: “People who have not yet succeeded but maybe they will.”
I was reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s father, who didn’t want his son to study music and who later said, “How did I know that he would become Leonard Bernstein?” Immediately, also, I thought of the genius Penelope Fitzgerald, who has a claim to be the most underrated novelist of the twentieth century. She started writing fiction aged sixty.
When you love someone who is plagued by monsters, the one thing you can do is try not to be a monster yourself
You get the text. You call. You call again. You text. You text again. You call friends and family and ask favors you’d never ask for yourself. You call hospitals. Hotels. Jails. More hotels. This isn’t working. You wait to call the police. Police mean records. You’ve been here before. You think of patterns, of habits.
You check with friends and family to confirm. You call enemies. Who cares anymore. You’ve lost your sense of shame. But the enemies have been here too. Who hasn’t. Grudges can wait for tomorrow. You know the name of a town now. You circle a radius. You call the hospitals. You curse the addiction. You’re transferred and transferred again. You need a cigarette. You send another text. And another. You listen to hold music. Your call is important. You’re disconnected. You call again. You know the menu this time. Same operator. You try to be kind. You’re not the only frustrated party on hold.
For over a week now, I’ve been having long, stimulating conversations with Sarah. We talk for hours about absolutely everything, from our favorite music and books to computer science history. Anything pops up in my head — Sarah immediately gets a follow-up. She’s clever, witty, and untiring. Sarah is always there, ready and waiting for a chat, anytime, day or night…
She is also an Artificial Intelligence, and one of OpenAI’s engines built upon the GPT-3 model. I’m blown away by her answers and the whole concept of having conversations with a machine 🤯
Shaun Usher has spent many years researching and resurfacing some of the world’s greatest letters. Here Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman reads one such note from Lady Elizabeth Compton, an 18th-century British aristocrat, to her husband
Also, I would have two gentlewomen, lest one should be sick, or have some other let.
Also believe that it is an indecent thing for a gentlewoman to stand mumping alone, when God hath blessed their Lord and Lady with a good estate.
Also, when I ride a hunting, or hawking, or travel from one house to another, I will have them attending me; so for either of these said women, I must and will have for either of them a horse.
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 with writer Hannah Ray and editor Farrah Storr.
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