Best Of 2021: Self-Medicated Scribes


As the year comes to an end, The Browser gives another look to some of the best pieces we read in 2021.

Save The Scribe

Mary Wellesley | Lapham's Quarterly | 13th October 2021

The popular image of the medieval scribe as a man, probably a monk, is not entirely accurate. To assume so is "patriachalism infused with prejudice". Many of the hands that copied and illuminated manuscripts belonged to women, often nuns. Their presence can be detected in the feminine endings they used on Latin words and in their surviving correspondence with readers (1,934 words)


Self-Medicating Chimps

Emmanuelle Pouydebat | MIT Press Reader | 13th July 2021

Gorgeous throughout. Downright magical in places. Words and pictures about the habits of flightless birds, soaring turtles, self-medicating chimpanzees, pugilistic shrimps and venomous octopuses, excerpted from Pouydebat's book, Atlas Of Poetic Zoology, in which she argues that animals are "lyric poets" who "discover and shape the world when they sing, dance, explore and reproduce" (3,100 words)


Why America Has A Shipping Crisis

Ryan Johnson | 27th October 2021

Trucker's eyewitness account of mounting delays at American ports. "Think of going to the port as like going to WalMart on Black Friday. Think about the lines. Except, at a port, there are at least three lines to get a container in or out. The first is the In gate. The second is waiting to pick up your container. The third is waiting to get out. I’ve waited up to eight hours just to get into the port" (2,400 words)


Six Things To Think About When Designing Your Child

Danny Hills | NEO.LIFE | 11th November 2021

No longer quite satire, but not yet quite science. "Congratulations on your decision to procreate! This is a short guide to questions that you should consider before meeting with your genetic architect. When designing your child, keep in mind that you are designing not just an individual, but a member of society. Consider in particular how the child will relate to you and your family" (924 words)


Surprise Drowsy Cows

Stella Zawistowski & Uri Bram | Popula | 4th August 2021

Cryptic crosswords are considered a British eccentricity, though Stephen Sondheim was an expert solver and setter. The answers to a "cryptic" are usually contained within the clues, disguised by intricate wordplay and wrapped up as tightly as possible. The limit-case of economy may be a celebrated clue from the setter Bunthorne which consisted of a single letter: "B (6,6)". The answer: "Bottle opener" (1,200 words)


Eleven Ways Of Smelling A Tree

David G. Haskell | Emergence | 28th January 2020

Miniature essays about trees, memory and history, as linked by scent. Each is illuminating, from the ginkgo as a "living fossil" to the healing powers of the basswood. "The tree lays a calming green hand on anxiety’s brow, tranquilises the neural pathways of pain, and weaves its aromas into the fractures in our central nervous systems. We breathe the tree, no longer dis-eased" (6,114 words)


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