Five Great Reads: on seeds, spontaneity and the love story behind Wordle

·3-min read

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

It’s mid-morning, it’s midweek and you’ve found your way to Five Great Reads, a daily summertime wrap of great writing and helpful hints, strung together by me, Alyx Gorman, Guardian Australia’s mini-breaks, moisturiser and mi goreng editor.

If you’d rather be reading breaking news, please head over to our live blog. And if you just want to stop crying for a second, read about the tearless onions that have just hit supermarket shelves in the UK.

Speaking of plants, let’s get on to the reads.

1. The life changing magic of sorting seeds

Lisa Cox pays a visit to Sydney’s herbarium, where staff and volunteers are working through the largest mass digitisation of a natural history collection ever undertaken in the southern hemisphere, and making some surprise discoveries along the way.

How large? About 70,000 boxes. They needed a conveyor belt for it!

Notable quote: “Institutions like this one don’t know everything they have,” says the herbarium’s digitisation manager, Andre Badiou. “The Royal Botanic Garden is now the longest-running scientific institution in Australia. If you’ve got things that have been collected since that time, things get put away in boxes … So after a couple of years, you’ve lost track … ”

So, what did they find? Historical specimens that predate the herbarium’s existing special collection gathered by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in Australia in 1770; and previously unseen illustrations by Margaret Flockton, for starters.

2. Working the late shift for Hunter S Thompson

When Chloe Sells was approached to work as an assistant and photographer for the gonzo journalist in 2003, the application was a single question: “Are you a night owl?”. Now Sells is releasing a photo book of her time in Thompson’s chaotic Colorado cabin.

Notable quote: “I decided early on never to get wasted with him,” Sells tells Sean O’Hagan. “I’d seen the scorn he reserved for those who turned up to pay homage to him, got completely stoned and started acting stupid. They were never welcomed back.”

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

3. Lightning strike at a lolly shop

Any trip along the Great Western Highway was brightened by the Lolly Bug, even if you never stopped for supplies. The bright yellow Volkswagen Beetles out front always did the trick. After several gruelling years, the store was struck by more bad luck when it was set ablaze by lightning less than a week into the new year.

Was anyone hurt? Thankfully not, but the lollies did not fare so well.

4. Wordle was built for love

It’s rare for a puzzle to go viral, but Josh Wardle’s creation has done just that. Although more than 2 million people now play the game daily, Wardle tells Rachel Hall he built the game for his partner. Awww!

Notable quote: “I feel a sense of responsibility for the players,” Wardle says of the game’s success. “I feel I really owe it to them to keep things running and make sure everything’s working correctly.”

Bonus read: Want to up your game? Here’s David Shariatmadari on using linguistic theory to improve your Wordle skills.

5. No plans? No problem. How to embrace spontaneity

If two years of pandemic living have taught us anything, it’s that things don’t always (or ever) go to plan. The upside is people may actually enjoy impromptu adventures more.

But I love planning! “Turn things on their head,” suggests clinical psychologist Linda Blaire. “Instead of talking about trying to be spontaneous, you say: ‘There is no other way to be right now.’”

I’m afraid. Talk yourself down, says clinical psychologist Joe Oliver. Say: “I’m doing this because it’s good for me. And I like it. It’s fun. Let’s persist through this initial anxiety and see what comes afterwards.”

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