The (Day-Early) Weekender, December 23, 2021


It’s two days before Christmas so I want to take this opportunity to send you all an end-of-year thank you note. Now I Know is a passion project for me — it’s not my full-time job — and I write it because I love sharing all of the fascinating things I learn. I can’t share it with you if you don’t read these emails, so, thank you. Without you, Now I Know wouldn’t exist. 

Second, I want to thank you all for helping me with my annual fundraiser. As I articulated last week, I’m trying to raise money to give the gift of literacy to adults who don’t yet have it. As of early this morning, I’m thrilled to share that we’ve raised more than $5,500 — that’s 10% over my original goal. Thank you to all who gave. If you want to help get us closer to $10,000, great! You can click here to donate.

On a number of levels, 2021 has been one of Now I Know’s stronger years. The newsletter is, once again, reaching more and more inboxes each day, and I hope to reach 150,000 subscribers at some point in 2022. I have a backlog of story ideas that has become overwhelming and unwieldy, which sounds like a problem but is truly just a testament to how interesting our world is; I’m looking forward to sharing many of those with you over the upcoming weeks, months, and hopefully, years. And I’ve made some headway in finding new ways to tell stories — beyond the newsletter — which may come to fruition over the next few months. Who knows. But in any event, I’m thankful that you’ve joined me this year, and I’m looking forward to what is to come in 2022.

For now, though, I’m going to pause through the end of the year. As past years have shown, people don’t really check their email all that often between Christmas and New Year’s. Those who don’t come back in January to find a half-dozen emails from me, and that’s not great, to say the least.

So I’m going to leave you with the typical Friday stuff — the Week in Review, below, followed by some longreads. And then, I’ll see you again in January.

A Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and to all, best wishes for a fantastic 2022. 

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: When It Feels Good to Pay More. A marketing stunt (that didn’t really work) shows us that sometimes, the experience is more important than the product. 

Tuesday: The Amazing Spider-Man Coincidence. The coincidence is a fun one, although I do wonder if it is actually a coincidence or if a 1980s comic book writer decided to just pick up a phone book while writing.  

Also: I’ve always really liked Spider-Man (and not only because he’s canonically a Mets fan), so I really, really liked the most recent movie. If you have a chance to (safely) see it, you should. I gave it four stars on Letterboxd, which, as I’ve previous said, is high praise from me; as of this writing, I’ve now rated more than 550 movies and fewer than 20% get a four-star rating from me. I tend to give movies bumps as I re-watch them and/or when they take on a nostalgic importnace to me, so there’s a chance that this movie will get the rare promotion to 4.5 stars once I see it again. (I’ve only given 4.5 stars to nine movies and the full five stars to 17 films.)

Wednesday: A Brick That Broke the Glass Ceiling: The note from the 7-year-old is both adorable and important. The end result is good for everyone. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the holiday weekend (and next week, I guess, too):

1) “Miss Girard’s Christmas Gift” (Texas Monthly, 16 minutes, April 2020). The subhead: “When her former student was found wandering the streets a decade after she’d last seen him, Michell Girard immediately agreed to take him in. Then she decided to do far more, including give him the Christmas he’d never had..” This is a very touching story of kindness, empathy, and generosity.

2) “Creating a Better Leaf” (The New Yorker, December 2021). This has nothing to do with Christmas or the holiday season, but it just came out last week and I think it’s interesting. It’s about one research team’s efforts to “tinker with photosynthesis prevent a global food crisis,” per the subhead. Here are three paragraphs (the third being merely a sentence) that made the idea click for me:

“All of our food, directly or indirectly, comes from the process of photosynthesis,” [professor of plant biology and crop sciences Stephen] Long told me. “And we know that even our very best crops are only achieving a fraction of photosynthesis’s theoretical efficiency. So, if we can work out how to improve photosynthesis, we can boost yields. We won’t have to go on destroying yet more land for crops—we can try to produce more on the land we’re already using.”

Other biologists were skeptical. Surely, they observed, if there were a way to improve photosynthesis that was truly viable, and not just theoretical, then, at some point during the past several hundred million years, plants would have hit upon it. What their argument missed, Long thought, were the exigencies of evolution itself. To be preserved, biological systems don’t have to be optimized. They just have to be functional.

“Evolution is not really about being productive,” Long told me. “It’s about getting your genes into the next generation.”

3) One man’s adventures in building a really incredible miniature Christmas village (The Walrus, 25 minutes, November 2015). I’m a collector — I have a too-large collection of New York Mets hats and a tiny collection of Funko Pops. So I definitely get what the author is saying when he opens with his admission that he “can’t remember not wanting a miniature Christmas village. It’s like how I can’t remember when I first realized I have bad posture: some things you never have to learn about yourself but rather just have to accept.” It — the miniature Christmas village, not the bad posture — brings him joy, and this story is a funny (in a dark humor sort of way) look into his passion.

Again, my best wishes for a very merry Christmas and a happy 2022. Thank you for reading, and I’ll be back in January.