Here are this week’s picks for mind-expanding articles, fiction and poetry. Set aside some time, pour yourself a drink and savor the reading…

Love_Signs_on_Wall_amidst_Arab_SpringFive years after the Arab Spring protests first erupted, the region is now wrecked by war, repressive regimes, and a horrific refugee crisis. The Guardian asked prominent Arab writers, poets, and intellectuals for their perspective five years ago, and now they’ve asked them to gather their thoughts five years later. These heartbreaking essays describe the shift from optimism to despair across the Arab world:

It has been months since I wrote a letter and more than a year since I’ve written an article. I have nothing to say: no hopes, no dreams, no fears, no warnings, no insights; nothing, absolutely nothing.

flintwaterThe poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water supply is a tragic story of austerity gone horribly wrong. Anna Maria Barry-Jester, in great reporting for FiveThirtyEight details the mistakes the city and state made by taking faulty lead-level readings and ignoring warnings. A group of scientists and citizen activists took matters into their own hands and proved the state’s assertions about water safety were wrong:

Edwards says this has been one of the most amazing experiences of his life, to watch the residents of Flint become citizen scientists. “Half the water industry does not understand what these people learned on their own to protect their children.”

gregory-pardlo-448Poet Gregory Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Digest. In an interview that ran last year in Blueshift Journal, Pardlo talks about how language and history intersect and also gives some great advice for young writers: “I would recommend traveling. Not necessarily abroad, but in as alien a context as possible. Teach yourself to be cool with uncertainty.” You can find several of his poems online at the Poetry Foundation, including the lyrical “Double Dutch“:

The girls turning double-dutch
bob & weave like boxers pulling
punches, shadowing each other,
sparring across the slack cord
casting parabolas in the air.

Selden_mapIn a fascinating historical digression in The Nation, Paula Findlen recounts the history of the Selden Map, a 17th-century Chinese work of intricate cartography that eventually made its way to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. It’s a story of two empires, east and west, encountering one another. She finds a disturbing detail of how the map was displayed at Oxford in the 1700s:

…where it hung on a wall next to the flayed, tattooed skin of a Pacific Islander briefly celebrated as “Prince Giolo,” who died of smallpox shortly after arriving on English soil. It was said that his skin contained a map of one-quarter of the globe.

asymptote_healer2Marek Vadas is a Slovak writer who’s spent a lot of time in Cameroon. His story “The Healer,” translated at Asymptote Journal, is a surreal glimpse into the life of a traditional “soul-healer” who confronts strange threats, including an invisible man who keeps hitting him on the head and a bizarre illness that fills its victims with worms.

Ike was sure that his dream gift would also work in reality. He knew it because the voices he trusted told him so.

hamsterwheelA team of brain researchers won the 2014 Nobel Prize for their description of “grid cells” in the hypocampus that help us orient ourselves in space and remember where we are. In an article for Quanta, Emily Singer describes how scientists are finding evidence that our ability to keep track of time is also found in these cells.

Neuroscience must converge back to the old problem of physics: Are there place and time cells? Or is there only a single time-space-continuum representation in the brain?

feel-bad-243x366Why do so many Hollywood movies require a happy ending? In a review of Nikolaj Lübecker’s book The Feel-Bad Film, Russell Wilson lauds the thoroughly depressing movies of Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke as an antidote to corporate America’s cheery veneer, in which “feeling good is less of an individual aspiration than a cultural, social, and political obligation.”

Top illustration from the 14th century Italian manuscript, Treatise on the Vices. Courtesy British Library.