How office cultures crush women’s ambitions. Plus: Zoroastrianism, The Handmaiden, and dining and diving

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Over the past fortnight I’ve been reading two books simultaneously. The first is “The Silk Roads”, in preparation for an interview with the historian Peter Frankopan for Always Take Notes, and the second is Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” in anticipation of the release of the TV series. Although they are of course very different, both turn on dominant world views, how rigid and unassailable they can seem, and under what circumstances they become plastic, either suddenly shattering or gradually remolding into something else entirely.

Another thing they have in common is a preoccupation with power. In both, the effects of its shifting from one group to another are distorting and disturbing, rippling through societies like magnets waved over iron filings. Reading the news as compulsively as I have found myself doing over the past six months, it is hard not to feel that the magnets of our own age are entering an active phase.

It is comforting, then, that both were utterly absorbing and instructive. Like all writers it is my hope that reading well will enrich my own writing — it was partly to keep a record of the interesting things that I was reading month to month that I began sending out this newsletter. Telling stories is my job, too. And I aim to tell them as well as I can, to make them as interesting and comprehensible and as true as I can, because as a reader I know that the best ones can at the same time help straighten tangles of events and act as a balm for the rush and confusion. Stories were there right at the beginning, and will surely be there right at the end too, just before the lights go out.

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On an impossible, impractical quest to recreate a particular shade of periwinkle blue

Office cultures can and do crush women’s ambitions 

“Poor sleep with make you fat and sad, and then will kill you.” An uplifting article from the New York Times explains why sleep has become the new status symbol

You may have heard that on April 18th Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to ever run the Boston Marathon, did it again 50 years later. In contrast to 1967, this year there were more than 12,300 women running. Her first race was memorable for the images taken of Jock Semple, the race official who tried to tear off her bib number; few know that the two went on to have a friendship

Ever dined and dashed? Well this Australian rapper dined and dove, and it didn’t end well

Always Take Notes, a new podcast for and about writers that I co-host, is now live. We’d love feedback so let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter

Scientists unravel the smell of old books

“The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with thick carpets to muffle the screams. It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you.” A very enjoyable blasting of Le Cinq by Jay Rayner

Casting JonBenet“, a new Netflix documentary that examines the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a 20-year-old cold case, makes for compelling, disturbing viewing for fans of true crime

Cumulatively, humans have spent half a billion hours watching terrible Adam Sandler comedies on Netflix. That’s about 57,000 years: longer than civilization is known to have existed

From Barthes to Žižek: the horror of highbrow mispronunciation

On the trail of Zoroastrianism, the religion that has influenced everything from Game of Thrones to Freddie Mercury’s oeuvre

The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s latest film, is lush, engrossing and erotic. I reviewed it for The Economist

Jane Monnington Boddy is the director of colour at WGSN, a trend-forecasting company. This means it’s her job to know what colours we’ll be embracing years in the future

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