6 of the Best Newsletters

Drying flower

I used to read almost everything online via RSS in Google Reader. I love RSS; all those websites collated neatly in the one place, easily readable on mobile. Not many other people felt the same way (or at least, only an unprofitable number of people), and as a result Google Reader died a very sad death in 2013. I replaced Google Reader with Newsblur, but the end of Reader was probably the trigger for me finding things to read in other places – often via Twitter, but also through email newsletters. Newsletters seem to have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years – partly I suppose because it gives people control over a mailing list, partly because it enables them to send their “content” (I’m using that despised term for want of a better one) directly to readers, and therefore having a better chance of capturing their attention than passively publishing on a website and trying to lure readers via links on social media.

Anyway! I am becoming increasingly fond of receiving beautifully curated and written newsletters in my email on a regular basis. My preference is for newsletters that contain a mixture of essay/personal writing and links to interesting and thought-provoking things. (Newsletters containing poetry or fiction are not my thing, although there’s plenty of those around too).

Here are a few of my favourites, all very delightful in different ways:

  1. Two Bossy Dames is a very funny and lengthy collection “cultural recommendations and commentary” sent out weekly. I’ve found so many things (music, articles, tv shows) that I’ve enjoyed via this newsletter.

    “I think any friend I’ve ever made or romantic partner I’ve ever had liked me because I’m funny. But mostly, when I hear other people compliment me (sometimes when you eavesdrop, you DO hear nice things about yourself), they don’t focus on my effervescent wit. WHY IS THAT? Noted historian & funny lady Rosa Lyster (with an assist by her equally funny Frith) explain that Anne Boleyn is both to thank & blame for this state of affairs, as she was obviously hilarious, but Henry VIII and all his male courtiers simply couldn’t conceptualize female…humor??? So they decided she was a witch. As one does! Sound logic, Tudor bros! “

  2. So Far, I’ve Had No Complaints by Caroline Crampton includes sections such as Things to Read, Things to Listen To, Things to Watch, and Compulsory Medieval Thingamabob. I love that it includes tempting excerpts of the articles it links to – I’m not into newsletters that are just a plain series of links without description.

    “I think I find old-fashioned murder mysteries so comforting because they represent the triumph of order over chaos. The side of right always prevails. Unlike in real life, logic and hard work always win in the end.”

  3. Grief Bacon by Helena Fitzgerald are irregularly delivered (which makes them a wonderful surprise) and beautifully written essays on life.

    “Love allows us to see – and be seen – in not just our raw or ugly selves, but our boring selves, the person who sits on the couch and watches television, the person who wakes up in the morning and makes coffee, the person who doesn’t have much of anything to say. We already know to praise ourselves for our rare special occasion achievements. In love, we elevate the unsightly things, the boring day-to-day, into the spectacular. Love celebrates another person’s existence rather than their achievements.”

  4. …the fuck is this by Bim Adewunmi is a sporadic mixture of thoughts and links, and always a pleasure to read.

    “It’s only August, but I feel the slipping away of summer very keenly, perhaps because I’m British.

    We are a people of a somewhat gloomier disposition, used to a somewhat… accelerated summer season. Lazy summer days are a dime a dozen in this new place, not snatched moments in the local park, half-naked and resolutely baking sun-deprived skin.”

  5. Three Weeks is appropriately delivered every three weeks, and always contains three things to read, watch, and listen to (in addition to a variety of other interesting links).

    “Hello to everyone, but warm greetings especially to the heartbroken and those in need of courage. Email can be a pretty decent place for finding what you need. Particularly if what you yearn for is some extra browser tabs and a bracing dose of Motivational Britney.”

  6. Links I would Gchat you if we were friends by Caitlin Dewey is a weekly collection of links that helpfully rounds-up the major news stories/interesting articles/Stuff Happening Online, with incisive commentary.
  7. “The hardest-working women on the Internet … are these Kate Middleton bloggers. (They’re like three parts insane workaholics and one part insane voyeurs.) There’s apparently a small army of these women, live-tweeting Middleton’s life; it’s a fascinating glimpse into the extremes of fandom and labor online.”

Links to things, all the things

Transcience of All Things in Life
The 2013 Hugo Awards were announced this week. Tansy Rayner Roberts won for Best Fan Writer, which I found exciting as I’m a fan of her blog writing and podcasting, as well as her published work. She is also the first Australian woman to win a Hugo.

Ken Liu’s Mono No Aware won Best Short Story, and I really enjoyed it.

“Everything passes, Hiroto,” Dad said. “That feeling in your heart: It’s called mono no aware. It is a sense of the transience of all things in life. The sun, the dandelion, the cicada, the Hammer, and all of us: We are all subject to the equations of James Clerk Maxwell and we are all ephemeral patterns destined to eventually fade, whether in a second or an eon.”

A couple of other pieces of fiction from the shortlist that I enjoyed reading were Catherynne M Valente’s Fade to White, and Aliette de Bodard’s Immersion.

Feeding Your Baby’s Brain, With Its Nasty, Big, Pointy Teeth
Subversive Reader is doing a series of “provocations” with her son, the first of which she writes about here. Provocations are a concept from the educational philosophy of Reggio Emilia, and are a collection of materials presented to a child, based on the child’s past knowledge or interests, to provoke and extend the child’s thinking.

I am going through a stage of parenting that I go through every few months, where my son’s abilities and development change, and I am yet to catch up in terms of providing him with interesting, engaging experiences. (I mean, obviously he is not locked in a featureless room all day, but I like to occasionally provide him with more stimulation than “here are your toys, have at it.”) I like the idea of providing the occasional structured activity like this – putting together items that Edward may not have played with together before. I haven’t done any water play with him outside a pool or bath, and I think he would probably enjoy another activity with water (as long as I have a change of clothes nearby. Edward is quite… enthusiastic when it comes to water. “An ocean! Let me crawl into it at full speed!”)

Pretty Things
I imagine being able to create art like this (and being able to collaborate with your child to make such beautiful drawings) is immensely satisfying.

This is an incredibly beautiful picture of Mars (created from several layers of images).


  • These Top 14 Astronomy Pictures from 2010 are incredible – I particularly like shots of the moons of Saturn, and the dunes of Mars.
  • A couple of very thought provoking posts about intellectual property.
  • I really liked this post by Flinthart about lifelong learning.
  • A couple of interesting videos from TED – Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability, and Dan Gilbert’s talk on happiness.
  • The podcast The Marketplace of Ideas has some very varied and interesting interviews in the archives.
  • From Brain PickingsAround the World in 80 Diets, and Your Brain on Love.
  • Studies in Crap, a look at books found in second hand stores, makes me cry with laughter – examinations of books like Unicorn Vengeance (which contains neither unicorns, nor vengeance, but does contain possibly the worst sentence ever written), and The Living Animals of the World from 1901, which says of koalas, “These animals make a peculiarly plaintive cry when molested in any way.”

  • Because it’s raining

    15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee

    – This is an interesting and disturbing doco about Wikileaks.

    – I want to see “The War You Don’t See” by John Pilger.

    xkcd on Wikileaks.

    Uncomfortable Moments with Putin is terribly funny.

    – I had listened to Dan Carlin talk about Gaius Marius on his podcast (Death Throes of the Republic Parts One, Two and Three) – and here’s why Marius was a badass.

    – Other badasses – Leonardo Da Vinci & Nikola Tesla.

    Links & things

    – I love this site of literary tattoos – some of my favourites are Alice in Wonderland inspired (including a Jabberwocky quote), and this Iliad quote.

    – Be still my heart. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. A new song every week, to be finished in July 2012. Two of my favourite obsessions combined.

    Typography for Lawyers.

    Does your language shape the way you think? Well, I don’t know, because I haven’t read the entire article yet. But I intend to.

    – These storm photos are just incredible.

    – And lord, this story makes me laugh so much – How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood.


    Some stuff I’ve come across while browsing online for Christmas present ideas. My problem is that I keep discovering stuff that I would like, and not necessarily things for the people that I’m shopping for:

    – For photographers, mugs that look exactly like Canon and Nikon lenses. And the Nikon one zooms. Too cool.

    – For people like me, pirate mug! And pirate iPhone/iPod case!

    Squishy bowls! For people who like squishy things.

    Bullet casing earrings. Or if bullets aren’t your thing, maybe an octopus cuff bracelet? Or maybe some clockwork?

    – Bookmarks! Silver and personalised. Brass with a pretty dangly thing.

    Wallets for tea bags? Huh. Or a wallet for guys, with a bee. I am into insects at the moment.

    Messenger bag – I am also into little leather straps. And bags with birds on. And bags made of wool. And bags with red suede. And hemp bags with bows.