The Weekender, September 6, 2019

1) “The Perfection of the Paper Clip” (Slate, 10 minutes, September 2019).

Most everyday objects—like the key, or the book, or the phone—evolve over time in incremental ways, and the 20th century in particular revolutionized, streamlined, or technologized the vast majority of the things you hold in your hand over the course of an average day. But if you could step into an office in 1895—walking past horse-drawn buses and rows of wooden telephone switchboard cabinets—you might find a perfectly recognizable, shiny silver paper clip sitting on a desk. What was then a brand-new technology is now, well over a century later, likely to be in the same place, ready to perform the same tasks. Why did the paper clip find its form so quickly, and why has it stuck with us for so long?

2) “How the Talmud Became a Best Seller in South Korea” (New Yorker, 18 minutes, June 2015). The Talmud — the central book on Jewish law — isn’t something you’d expect to find many copies of in South Korea, given the fact that there aren’t a lot of Jews living there. And yet, the Talmud is a top-selling book there. Here’s why.

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Tuesday: Let There Be Lighght — The story behind a very short poem.

Wednesday: Winning the Wine Lottery — How Trader Joe’s went cheap, but won big.

Thursday: How to Make the World’s Best Paper Airplane — Quarterbacks not included.


4) “A Town For People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” (The New Yorker, 27 minutes, September 2019).

In December of 2012, I came down with what at first looked like a bad case of mononucleosis. I felt tired and had a sore throat, a cough, and a slight fever. At the time, I was twenty-six and working as an adjunct English professor at a small college in Westchester, New York. It was Christmas break, so I thought that I would sleep it off and feel better by the New Year. But over the next few months my symptoms grew to include muscle pain, migraines, and occasional vertigo. The cough went away but the tiredness got worse, and by the summer I was spending half my time resting in bed. I was used to playing pickup basketball several times a week after work, but now a few pushups left me exhausted. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. One afternoon, as an experiment, I went for a run near my apartment, in uptown Hoboken. I clipped my iPod Shuffle to my mesh shorts and jogged past Italian delis with dry-cured sausages in their windows and along a pier that hugged the Hudson. It felt amazing. But the next day, while grading papers with a few other teachers, suddenly, I became dizzy and weak. I left the office without explanation, and, for the next several days, I barely left my bedroom.

After a year of these symptoms, I visited an internist in Manhattan, who gave me a diagnosis: I had chronic-fatigue syndrome.

5) “Has the Afghan Box Camera Finally Met Its Match?” (Atlas Obscura, 8 minutes, September 2019). The subhead: “The unique portrait-maker has survived wars, invasions, and fundamentalist tyranny. But digital photography may be too much to overcome.” And yes, there’s a picture of an Afghan box camera once you hit that link.

Have a great weekend!