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Letter sent on Jan 24, 2016

“Highbrow Vigilante Justice”

Neurological surprises, economic collapses, and a good old bit of media handwringing in this week’s reading picks.

We’re all reading more than any time in history. Not only are we consumers of a plethora of offline and online publishing that would make the jaw of any mid-20th century media vet plummet in astonishment, but we’re also consumed by the words of those closer to us through texting, messaging services, email, Slack. At the same time, though, we have somehow made the act of reading seem less like a habit than ever — and therefore left ourselves open to the vague abuse of the snobigentsia . So next time somebody sniffs at you while you’re staring at your phone, just think: Hey, I’m reading.

Unless you’re playing a game, of course.

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1. The Magic of Cinema Unlocked One Man’s Coma-Bound World

tomstafford, BBC Future (2015)

This is your brain on drama. I’ll be honest, the building blocks of this feature — neuroscience and the promise that storytelling can save us all — are a combination that’s almost impossible for me to ignore. The piece takes a while to deliver on the promise of the sell (how on earth could it be possible to determine consciousness by letting people watch an edge-of-the-seat Hitchcock film?) but it gets you through a fascinating concept.

2. How America’s Most Useless Crop Also Became Its Most Commonly Grown One

Ria Misra, io9 (2015)

Although it contorts itself a little to find a way to prove that lawn grass (the curiosity gap crop of the headline) is the most anything, this story strikes that lovely balance of any good deconstruction: combining the historical, sociological and political with a few choice lines. You’ll never look at gardens the same way again.

3. How “Making a Murderer” Went Wrong

Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker (2016)

So, yeah, this week was all about stories I’m just a sucker for. Throw into the recipe, alongside your quirky brain story and an analysis of the obvious, a soupçon of journalistic ethical handwringing. I’ve watched the first few episodes of Making a Murderer (I’m at the Are. You. Kidding. Me. point) and something was already making me uneasy. Schulz picks apart the heart of the Netflix hit, without ever taking the other side. It’s almost forensic itself.

4. The Richest Cities for Young People 35 Years Ago — and Why They Fell Apart

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic (2015)

The horror show in Flint, Michigan — a city that opted out of infrastructure for money, abandoned by hope and now plagued by deadly lead-heavy water that looks like effluent — suddenly brought to mind this piece I remembered from much earlier in the year. It turns out that 35 years ago, Flint was the American city that boasted the highest median income for young workers. It just makes its criminal collapse even more sad.

5. How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers With Nothing

Mark Harris, Medium (2016)

There are a lot of reasons to be interested in this deep dive into a huge Kickstarter project collapse — not least the fact that it was commissioned by Kickstarter itself, as a kind-of independent audit of the way the system fell down — but even the basics are strong enough, and Harris does a delicate job even though it comes in at a whopping 13,000 words.

Busy week. Remember, feel free to suggest stories you like by responding to this post, or hitting us on Twitter @IfYouOnly.

Until next time.

Erratum: Last week’s digest seemed to believe it was being sent on January 10. It has been taken outside and chastised.

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