Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at email@example.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
Let's start out with a steaming mug of tea. Refreshing on a hot day or comforting in the dull Seattle winter, tea can be as versatile in literature as it is in real life, and writers from Proust to J. K. Rowling use it to create atmosphere and develop characters. In this piece, journalist Nina Martyris catalogues a few of the ways writers like Dostoevsky use tea anecdotes to convey emotion and drive their plots forward. I can never get enough tea content, so I was riveted.
Hot tea — it has to be unhealthily hot — has a deep emotional relationship with the drinker. Its dimensions encompass far more than the gustatory, starting with its magical ability to get chronic malingerers out of bed every morning. That first chastising sip constitutes a tiny tour de force of hope that, like a tingling hot bath, cauterizes other pains.
If our attention spans are worse now than ever before, why was there so much love and media frenzy for Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series and Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle? Both are long, sprawling, and detailed, basically the opposite of a tweet. Looking back on the last few decades of literature, Charles Finch argues that it's how these books contrast with the bite-sized media and rapid news cycle we've grown used to that makes them so appealing. Ferrante and Knausgard zoom in on the interiority of one human life, and we can't stop reading because we're starved for autofiction that lets us explore another’s consciousness for longer than the length of a blog post.
I don't know if I agree with his conclusion that modern media has made space for works like these, but I do know that I was so immersed in Ferrante's novels that I couldn't think about anything else when I was reading them.
...what makes autofiction seem essential is that enough people felt an attraction to its length, gravity and honesty to make it, implausibly, into a phenomenon. That must mean something. But what? Perhaps the explanation lies in how starkly whole Knausgaard’s and Ferrante’s books appear to be. The lives we lead on our phones and computers are at once irresistible and uneasy — jittery, depressive, deceptive. As our social lives, typically the dominion of the novel, have partly mutated into a flow of adjacent but isolated images and captions, autofiction’s careful human pace is a protest that no matter how it may seem, we still haven’t quite merged with our computers. Not yet.
The idea of "above the fold," grid systems, and nameplates/headers are just a few concepts web design lifted from newspapers — the original websites. Here, Frederick O’Brien explores what we can learn from centuries of newspapers to understand and improve web design. The two types of media share simple but hard-to-execute goals: grab attention, convey important information efficiently, and keep users coming back. In addition to being able to build on newspaper design principles, websites have the advantage of more specific user data and the ability to make changes quickly. This piece sent me off on a tangent — exploring the latest Society of News Design's Best News Design award winners — which was fun.
When you dig into the basic principles of news design, overlaps with the web are frequent and oftentimes indistinguishable. Many web design best practices can be traced directly back to news design. When it comes down to it, websites are made for users to engage with, and hopefully return to. Newspapers have been playing that game for centuries, and winning.
And finally, catharsis for anyone who's ever felt personally victimized by Herman Melville's long-winded descriptions of whale anatomy: a Twitter thread calling out detail-oriented authors who can't stop droning on and on about their pet subjects. For Hugo, it's the Paris sewer system; for Tolstoy, it's farming. Was your fave spared?
Victor Hugo describing the Paris sewer system pic.twitter.com/oTVsWRmWAn— SparkNotes (@SparkNotes) November 11, 2019