Froggie regrets. A precious ticket to a Chicago Bulls game. A conversation about AI and nature. A profile of the world’s most famous unknown writer. And to finish, a look back to last Friday and a St. Patrick’s Day tradition.
Anne Fadiman | Harper’s Magazine | February 10, 2023 | 5,816 words
“There are two kinds of pets — the ones you choose and the ones that happen to you,” Anne Fadiman writes as she considers her family’s various pets, a menagerie that included a goldfish, a hamster, guinea pigs, a dog named Typo, and Bunky, an African clawed frog that the family raised from a tadpole. In eulogizing Bunky, who looked “as if a regular frog had been bleached and then put in a panini press,” Fadiman remarks on his noble species, one that helped spawn (ahem) the first widely established pregnancy test, earned a Nobel Prize for a British biologist who used an African clawed frog to clone the first vertebrate, and helped establish that reproduction can be possible in zero gravity after a trip on the space shuttle Endeavor. All this, from a pet who was defined by not being a dog: “Bunky was the anti-Typo. An unpettable pet. Cool to the touch. Squishy, but not soft. Undeniably slimy. Impervious to education. A poor hiking companion. Not much of a companion at all, really. Couldn’t be taken out of his aquarium and placed on a lap.” Fadiman’s piece will make you laugh and make you think more carefully about your role as a pet owner. —KS
2. How a Ticket from Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls Debut Became Priceless
Justin Heckert | ESPN | March 7, 2023 | 5,462 words
I don’t follow the NBA, and I’m not one for memorabilia of any variety. But leave it to Justin Heckert, one of my favorite feature writers, to make me give a damn about an old, untorn ticket to a Chicago Bulls game that happened around the time I was born. Heckert spends time with Mike Cole, who as a college freshman attended Michael Jordan’s first game with the Bulls and saved the ticket because he’s the kind of guy who does that. (Cole has a plastic bin with “MIKE’S MEMORY BOX” written on the side, filled with ephemera from various sporting events). Nearly 40 years after the Bulls game, a span of time in which Jordan became one of the most celebrated athletes in history, a man with a Glock strapped to his hip came to Cole’s house in an armored car. He was there to retrieve the ticket, which Cole had agreed to sell at auction, where it was expected to bring in as much as $1 million. But the story Heckert tells isn’t about Cole getting rich (though that does happen). Really, it’s about the meaning we invest in objects and how it can change as we do, as the world does. —SD
3. There’s Nothing Unnatural About a Computer
Claire L. Evans | Grow | March 14, 2023 | 4,203 words
In this fascinating interview with Claire L. Evans, Ways of Being author James Bridle shares their perspective on the role of AI today — “to broaden our idea of intelligence” — and a vision for a mindful, collaborative future that ultimately decenters humans and makes more space for nonhuman beings and animals. “I don’t think there is such a thing as an artificial intelligence,” says Bridle. “There are multiple intelligences, many ways of doing intelligence.” Intelligence is relational; it’s not something that exists within beings of things, but rather between them. As a gardener — someone who loves feeling their hands in the soil, and working with the small organisms within it — I love their conversation on gardening, and how humans can apply that same deep awareness to technology. I appreciate, too, their thoughts on resilience and the transmission of knowledge in a time of radical change on Earth. (If you enjoy this Q&A, combine it with two previous Top 5 favorites: “The Great Forgetting,” a read on resilience and the environment, and “What Counts As Seeing,” another interview focused on the nonhuman and natural world.) —CLR
4. Brandon Sanderson Is Your God
Jason Kehe | Wired | March 23, 2023 | 4,044 words
For someone who’s published countless books, and sold an enormous multiple of that countlessness, Brandon Sanderson is anything but a household name. Unless you live in a fantasy house, that is. Still, the most prolific living genre fiction writer has never been the subject of a magazine profile, which makes Jason Kehe’s treatment all the more enjoyable. A year ago, I picked Kehe’s piece about simulation theory for this roundup, and the two stories share a damn-the-torpedoes willingness to fuse exegetical acuity with a chatty, even flippant POV. What works for a philosophical essay works for a portrait; Kehe’s quest isn’t to capture Sanderson as much as it is to capture why people love Sanderson so much, and what animates his sprawling fictional worlds. That means casting away the false pieties and stannery that infect so many “celebrity” profiles and instead relishing in the man’s banalities. Yet, the barbs are tipped with love, and everyone — the voracious fans, Sanderson’s cliché-spouting characters, and Sanderson himself — shines as their truest selves. —PR
5. I Can Feel God’s Presence in This Portable Toilet
Harrison Scott Key | The Bitter Southerner | March 14, 2023 | 5,200 words
Last Friday night, I had two pints of Guinness and went home, content with a St. Patrick’s Day well celebrated. Apparently, I know nothing about how to observe the feast. Harrison Scott Key enlightened me in this delightful essay about the drunken debauchery that is the holiday’s annual parade in Savannah, Georgia. I loved his raucous account of trying to claim a spot for the parade: Akin to the Sacking of Constantinople, “insults and elbows and fits [are] thrown” until everyone settles into their position, dons a green feather boa, and makes merry. The prose is so vivid you can almost hear the noise, touch the sweaty crowds, and taste the booze. I could also feel the camaraderie — over the years of attending the parade, Scott Key finds lasting friendships. A transplant to Savannah, and initially lonely and unable to find his place in a new community, this annual tradition helps Scott Key to discover his people. After all, as he writes, “it’s easier to love people you’ve watched vomit into the hellmouth of a portable toilet at two in the morning.” —CW
And the Audience Award Goes to…
Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat and Thin?
Jia Tolentino | The New Yorker | March 20, 2023 | 4,772 words
This is a fascinating look at GLP-1 drugs, which, when injected, create a sense of satiety. I appreciated Tolentino’s exploration of the continual shift in our acceptance of different body shapes, as well as the impact of this particular trend. A piece that made me think about society, as much as weight. —CW
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