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Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

Michael Freeman

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair. We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour this Sunday.

1. Relics of the head shrinkers
Mary Roach on the South American tribes who kept the heads of their enemies as trophies – and the American tourists who fell for the fakes (Outside).

The first thing you notice is the skin color. The Shuar believed that killing a man created an avenging soul that would leave the corpse via the mouth and come after the perpetrator. Lips were sewn shut to prevent this, and true ceremonial tsantsas have blackened skin, the result of the killer having rubbed it with charcoal

2. The heroes of the Fukushima cleanup
Pico Iyer meets the people going beyond the exclusion zone to clean up the radioactive mess after Japan’s tsunami (Vanity Fair).

“We started out wearing the radiation-protective suits in Chernobyl, but it made us move very slowly, because they’re so heavy. So people ended up getting more radiation because they were wearing these heavy clothes. It was better to work very fast, without protection, than very slowly with protection.”

3. How technology is saving dying languages
Tina Rosenberg on how people are texting in a growing number of languages – and keeping smaller tongues alive (New York Times).

“Language is driven from the ground up,” says Don Thornton, a software developer in Las Vegas who specializes in making video games and mobile apps in Native American languages. “It doesn’t matter if you have a million speakers — if your kids aren’t learning, you’re in big trouble.”

4. A prisoner at Guantanamo
Mohammed el Gorani describes his experience being detained, tortured and held at the US prison camp (London Review of Books).

The sky was blue. Except for sky you couldn’t see anything. Later, when I was moved to Camp Delta, I could look by the windows. The camp was ringed with a green plastic sheet, but there were holes and I could see trees. And even the sea.

5. What can be done about Vladimir Putin?
David Remnick on the struggle to unseat the powerful Russian leader, and the sometimes violent suppression of unrest (New Yorker).

“They simply destroyed the door of the closet. The senior guy said, ‘Put all his things into a bag.’ I was lying on the floor and still able to see all my stuff thrown into a plastic bag. They tied it up. I tried to protest, telling them my rights. They were hitting me. Then I realized it was no mistake.”

6. How twin boys became brother and sister
Bella English on the story of twin teenagers, and how one of them took a long journey towards becoming a girl (Boston Globe).

When the boys were 5, Kelly and Wayne threw a “get-to-know-me’’ party for classmates and parents. Wyatt appeared beaming at the top of the stairs in a princess gown, a gift from his grandmother. Kelly whisked him off and made him put on pants.

… AND A CLASSIC READ FROM THE ARCHIVES…

On Friday, we learned that the famed author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens had died. He was 62. Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his career was his remarkable switch from a champion of the left to an outspoken supporter of the Iraq war. In October 2006, Ian Parker profiled Hitchens and his u-turn:

On the time line of the Hitchens apostasy, which runs from revolutionary socialism to a kind of neoconservatism, many dates are marked in boldface—his reassessment cannot be fixed to any one of them—and those familiar with Hitchens’s work know that he has always thrived on sectarian battles, and always looked for “encouraging signs of polarization”.

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Michael Freeman

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