Five Great Reads: hedonism, ‘narco-pentecostals’, and life as a super smeller

·4-min read

Guardian Australia’s summer wrap of brilliant writing and juicy journalism selected by our lifestyle editor, Alyx Gorman


Happy morning tea. For those who have returned to work this week, well done on making it through the first few hours of Monday. Welcome to Five Great Reads, your summertime, weekday wrap of fantastic features, selected by me, Guardian Australia’s lifestyle editor, Alyx Gorman.

If you’re after breaking news, you can find it over on our liveblog and if you’re dreading back-to-school shopping, we’ve asked the experts for tips when choosing a lunchbox (weird reveal: kids often struggle to open their packed lunches).

Now, on to the reads.

1. The value in choosing to suffer

Hedonism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, argues Yale professor Paul Bloom. But pursuing something greater than pleasure involves putting ourselves in the way of pain, difficulty and denial.

Notable quote: “How do we get from meaning to suffering?” Bloom asks. “There is a wealth of scientific evidence suggesting a connection. Individuals who say their lives are meaningful report more anxiety and worry and struggle than those who say that their lives are happy.”

Bonus read: The value in chucking a sickie. Suffering might bring meaning, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need rest. In an interview, Dr Gavin Francis discusses the power of prescribing a sick note.

2. Patricia Karvelas is here for Breakfast

Ahead of her first day hosting Radio National’s flagship Breakfast program, Patricia Karvelas spoke with Amanda Meade about making a show that feels truly representative, and stepping into Fran Kelly’s formidable boots.

Notable quote: When asked about Sky After Dark presenter Chris Kenny’s comment that she is “another green left activist”, Karvelas bristled with irritation. “In the years I worked with him at the Australian newspaper I don’t recall him telling me I was a green left activist.”

3. The deadliest drug crisis

Investigative journalist Sam Quinones has spent years writing about opioids in the US and Mexico. As synthetic drugs like fentanyl and meth increase in usage, he says: “The opioid epidemic is probably a misnomer by now. It’s actually an epidemic of addiction.”

Notable quote: When asked how fentanyl, which is now responsible for 70% of overdoses in the US, is making it into other drugs, Quinones says: “It’s a market expansion tool. When you put fentanyl into cocaine, in fairly short order that user will become a fentanyl addict … Whereas a cocaine user would buy from you every few days or every weekend, this customer has to buy from you every single day. But, of course, you run the risk of killing some of your customers by doing that.”

How long will it take me to read? About four minutes.

4. Rio’s narco-pentecostals

In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where drug conflicts have been raging since the 1980s, gangsters are becoming increasingly evangelical, Tom Phillips writes.

Background info: Phillips spoke to Christina Vital, an academic who has spent nearly 30 years studying evangelism’s advance into gangland Rio. She said it was inevitable traffickers had embraced Christianity, given the breathtaking evangelical tsunami that has swept over Brazilian society during that time. Evangelicals now occupied key positions in the world of crime, just as they did in the media, politics, judiciary and culture.

How long will it take me to read? A little over three minutes.

5. Life as a super smeller

Dr Krati Garg was born with a truly exceptional nose, making her part of a small cohort of people who can smell things no one else notices.

What’s the upside? Garg works as an oral surgeon, and once detected an anaesthetic gas leak in the operating theatre.

What’s the downside? “Staying away from a particular group of people because someone’s wearing a very strong perfume in a party,” she tells Bronwyn Adcock.

I want to know more … Garg isn’t the only person living with an extraordinary sense; in our series Meet the Superhumans, we’re interviewing Australians who push the boundaries of human ability.

Tell me how this is going …

With the summer holiday period ending soon, I’d love to hear from you about this newsletter. Would you be open to receiving it beyond the summer? If so, how often? Email me on australia.lifestyle@theguardian.com or let me know on Twitter.

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