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Five Great Reads: the housing wealth myth, Disney’s year of flops and breaking our addiction to stuff

<span>Photograph: Darren England/AAP</span>
Photograph: Darren England/AAP

Top of the weekend to you all – and happy Spotify Wrapped week to all who celebrate. I had Frank Zappa and DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ duking it out for my affections all year but there could be only one winner.

2023 has been a vibe but at last the silly season has landed. Start a Christmas cookie club. Watch a feelgood film. Or sit back with a coffee and have a read of what I’ve been digging.

1. ‘High-priced homes do not create wealth’

Houses in Haberfield in Sydney
Alan Kohler: ‘The shift that began in about 2000 in the relationship between the cost of housing and both average incomes and the rest of the economy has altered everything about the way Australia operates and Australians live.’ Photograph: Bjanka Kadic/Alamy

So says esteemed financial journalist Alan Kohler in his Quarterly Essay, published on Monday. If you’re reading this on your way to buying your first home, apologies for the weekend downer.

But it turns out you’re faring better than some. “For someone with little or no family housing equity behind them,” Kohler writes, “it’s virtually impossible to break out of the cycle and build new wealth.”

(Not so) fun fact: “Young people today are paying more than twice the multiple of their income for a house than their parents did, and it’s only vaguely possible because both partners work to pay it off.”

How long will it take to read: Four minutes.

2. Can we solve our addiction to consumerism?

How much do you really need that new gadget? Probably about as much as I need these 10 new (secondhand) records a week but here we are.

“Even if we accept the positives of mass consumption to date, we must acknowledge that the situation is unsustainable,” writes Chip Colwell in this week’s Long Read. So he and his family resolved to undertake a “slow-buy year”. After six months it was on the brink of failure.

What can you do? If, like some, you’re of the opinion minimalism is just another form of conspicuous consumption, borrowing from neighbours or creative reuse (AKA upcycling) may be the approach for you.

How long will it take to read: Nine minutes.

3. Booker winner on his novel about a fascist Ireland

Paul Lynch holds the Booker trophy aloft on Sunday
Paul Lynch holds the Booker trophy aloft on Sunday. Photograph: Kate Green/Getty Images

Paul Lynch’s Booker prize-winning Prophet Song – about a woman’s husband and son being “disappeared” in an alternative Ireland – is drawing comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Lynch, who since starting the novel in 2018 has battled long Covid and cancer, shuns the notion it’s a political novel. “This is fundamentally about grief,” he said the morning after claiming literature’s top prize.

Reader beware: If you battled (successfully or otherwise) through Lucy Ellmann’s one-sentence, thousand-page Ducks, Newburyport, Lynch uses a similar device – no paragraph breaks and no speech marks.

***

“There’s no room to breathe. There’s no escape. Events are pulling you and so the paragraphs are not there, and they’re not there because there should not be white space.” – Paul Lynch

How long will it take to read: Four minutes.

4. Why the great outdoors is great for you

 Snowflakes on snow
‘Fractals have been found to elicit soft fascination.’ Photograph: Vadim Cherenko/Getty Images

Running in the park, not on a treadmill. Walking by the water, not through a mall. The emerging field of environmental neuroscience suggests the benefits of choosing the first of those options are many and varied: increased creativity, better performance in tests, a general feeling of calm and wellbeing. Sam Pryah finds out why.

The biophilia hypothesis: Humans function better in natural environments, according to the US sociobiologist EO Wilson, because our brains and bodies evolved in, and with, nature.

How long will it take to read: Five minutes.

5. Disney’s fallen kingdom

Brie Larson in The Marvels
Brie Larson in The Marvels, which not even space cats could save from box-office oblivion. Photograph: Laura Radford/AP

In 2019 Disney released seven billion-dollar blockbusters. This year it has released none.

What gives? For one, Marvel fatigue is real. It turns out people really didn’t need another Indiana Jones or live-action Little Mermaid. And with post-pandemic cinema habits changed, the mouse has to an extent become a victim of its own streaming success.

But isn’t Pixar still banging out original animated gems? The only film now on its 2024 slate is Inside Out 2.

How long will it take to read: Three minutes.

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