Good Reads: From raising champions, to Norway’s slow TV, to making real friends

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes a profile of Olympian Missy Franklin, American sitcoms in Kyrgyzstan, a strange TV phenomenon in Norway, a 'slow friend' backlash to Facebook, and productive early risers.

Michael Conroy/AP
Missy Franklin executes a backstroke start at the US National Championships.

A true champion

Missy Franklin isn’t your ordinary teenager. Not only does the 18-year-old four-time Olympic medalist get straight A’s and spend her free time visiting children’s hospitals, she’s known to be one of the nicest elite gold medal athletes out there. So how did her parents raise such a well-adjusted champ? 

“There is no blueprint,” writes ESPN The Magazine’s Wayne Drehs. “More often than not, parents are making mistakes without even realizing it. In [the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State’s] 2005 study of elite youth tennis players ... roughly 30% of parents were unintentionally acting in a way that troubled their children. It could be as simple as the way a father holds his face in his hands after his son strikes out, or as complex as an up-and-coming tennis star, seeing the money his parents are shelling out for coaching and travel, feeling pressure to deliver on the investment.”

But the Franklins’ effort to not get caught up in the race to athletic insanity seems to have worked: “If it’s one thing my parents have taught me it’s to follow my heart,” says Ms. Franklin in a related ESPN video.

Is it that simple? “By many standards, Missy is spoiled. Her parents have built their lives around her needs and her schedule,” writes Mr. Drehs. “But somehow, Missy hasn’t devolved into a self-centered egomaniac. Instead, she’s the exact opposite.”

What Americans do best

Empathy is spreading in Kyrgyzstan, and just in time, writes Emily Canning for, with the introduction of a new TV show called “Dorm,” funded in part by the United States. (Think a Russian “Friends” with a sentimental moral in each episode.) The show confronts pressing social issues that include racism, corruption, and cross-border tensions with neighboring Uzbekistan. While Ms. Canning laments the US government cutbacks for research and education in Central Asia, a critical area as American troops pull out of Afghanistan, “Dorm” serves as a good reminder of what she says Americans truly do best: entertainment.

Norway’s ‘slow TV’ movement

While many networks around the Western world are vying for viewers with short attention spans and a hunger for the latest exciting concept, a rather odd thing is happening in Norway, writes Mark Lewis for TimeWorld.

“More than 3 million people out of a population of 5 million tuned in to ‘Hurtigruten: Minutt for Minutt,’ the five-day, nonstop cruise program, at some point during its marathon broadcast.” That’s right. They tuned in to stare at a live feed showing people enjoying a cruise. Not an MTV-drama-filled cruise, mind you, just a rather normal cruise that your grandma might take, without the scripts that have taken over “reality” TV. Building on that success as well as that of an evening-long program about firewood, the network has plans to release a minute-by-minute knitting program this winter. The producers are already swamped with e-mails and calls from viewers wanting to be involved in some way.

Why? Part of it, Mr. Lewis writes, is that these “slow TV” programs “hark back to a simpler time when people enjoyed the more spartan pleasures of stoking fires, enjoying the landscape and knitting warm clothes for the freezing Nordic winter.” But ultimately this is something that’s different, and strange – and that is exciting. 

Growing real, local friends

It’s no secret that processed foods are out, and local, organic foods are in. The logic behind why now extends to digital friendships as well, writes Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic Monthly. “Processed relationships get scare quotes: Facebook ‘friends.’ Processed relationships can’t be as genuine or authentic or honest as real life friendships.... So the solution is to make local friends, hang out organically, and only communicate through means your Grandma would recognize. It’s so conservative it’s radical!”

The theory behind this emerging trend is that “by stripping away the trappings of modern life, we reach a place where humans naturally fall into deep and honest relationships with each other,” says Ms. Madrigal.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been mused about by everyone from Henry David Thoreau to Naturalists in the 1960s and ’70s. Today it may seem more pertinent than ever: It’s hard to think when our phone is always making noises. 

But Madrigal cautions that just as any individual’s dietary habits don’t solve global agriculture’s issues, “the biggest technological problems of our time ... are collective problems that will require collective action based on serious critique.”

Productive people are early risers  

Ever wonder why productive people get up insanely early? Paul DeJoe, writing in an op-ed for Fast Company, may have figured it out: Morning is the one time in the day when there is no pressure and no expectations. “The second you check email or LinkedIn, an internal clock of new items immediately starts in our minds – a vicious cycle. Planning your day the night before allows you to feel on top of your day and even look forward to it.”

– Jenna Fisher / Staff writer

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