Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

Why exercise alone won’t save us by Vybarr Cregan-Reid for The Guardian.



The week's best reads, carefully curated by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy 2019! We hope you enjoyed the holidays. Our first newsletter of the new year is packed with stories we enjoyed over the too-quick break, including a few pieces that our members received in a special edition that dropped in their inboxes on Monday, Dec. 31. Want to become a member to get extra stuff (and super-early delivery of each Sunday’s SLR)? Treat yourself and/or a friend! New members can access last week's special edition on our Members Only Archive.

This week marks our final “timerick” by Tim Torkildson, who has been with us from practically the beginning. Tim has decided to move on from his brilliant limericking to creating “visual postcards.” We want to thank Tim for his years of hilarious, timely rhymes and wish him all the best.

In our Best of 2018 edition, we inadvertently omitted our contributing editor Jonathan Coleman’s favorite reads of last year. You’ll find Jonathan’s picks at the end of this week’s recommendations.

We invite you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And, as always, we’d love to hear your New Year's resolutions for how we might improve things around here or shed a few pounds:

Don and Jacob

Don's Favorites

   How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success
By Patrick Radden Keefe for The New Yorker 
 (~55 minutes)

A riveting profile of Mark Burnett, the journeyman TV producer/huckster who borrowed ideas from tacky overseas TV programs to create the wildly successful CBS reality show “Survivor,” followed by NBC’s “The Apprentice.” The latter, across 14 top-rated seasons, lavished Donald Trump with the aura of business genius, short-fused toughness and gold-plated brand appeal when he needed a boost the most. Patrick Radden Keefe, one of the very best longform writers in the business, shows nobody had more to do with Trump’s unlikely Presidency than Mark Burnett.


   I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst of America.
By Lauren Hough for Huffington Post 
 (~30 minutes)

Mid-way through its lede, this piece won me over with the confession by its narrator—“the cable guy,” a 6-foot lesbian named Lauren Hough—that she had “to move a mummified cat behind the television to replace the jumper.” Hough serves as our charming guide through a very bizarre, very funny tour of northern Virginia’s nooks and crannies, a trip that stars Russian mobsters, a caged man in a sex dungeon and the “Fox News rage addicts” who desperately need to get re-connected for their Hannity fix.


   Father Time
By David Sedaris for The New Yorker 
 (~20 minutes)

What happens when Father Time literally knocks you to the ground? As David Sedaris explains, “I can’t predict what’s waiting for us, lurking on the other side of our late middle age, but I know it can’t be good.”

Jacob's Favorite

   How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation
By Anne Helen Petersen for BuzzFeed News 
 (~35 minutes)

Understanding the millennial condition well enough to explain it would require mixing history, economics, psychology, personal experience, and media theory. That's exactly what Anne Helen Petersen has pulled off in this must-read both for her contemporaries as well as anyone else trying to figure out how to live these days.

If you can, move this story to the top of your infinite to-do list, and prosper.


➢ Me and my quarter-life crisis: a millennial asks what went wrong

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

   The Philosopher Redefining Equality
By Nathan Heller for The New Yorker 
 (~35 minutes)

Settle in for this educational discussion of the interactions between freedom and equality over the course of American history, beautifully blended with the single story of a female professor who wants to challenge your notions of both.


   Two Towns Forged an Unlikely Bond. Now, ICE Is Severing the Connection
By Monte Reel for Bloomberg Businessweek
 (~30 minutes)

From Chocox, Guatemala, to Mount Pleasant, Iowa ... and back.


   Neither of My Parents Was Exactly Who I Thought They Were
By Elizabeth Wurtzel for The Cut 
 (~20 minutes)

A good rule to follow this year and every year: Read everything Elizabeth Wurtzel writes.


   ‘What If Someone Was Shooting?’
By Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox for The Washington Post 
 (~20 minutes)

A fascinating look at the cultural and emotional costs of too-routine school lockdowns on America’s children.

➢ Why Did Jamel Myles Die?


   The Priest of Abu Ghraib
By Jennifer Percy for Smithsonian
 (~35 minutes)


One soldier, facing cancer, began to wonder if God was punishing him for the War in Iraq.


   ‘Crucify Me Right Here’: The post-presidential life of Mikhail Gorbachev
By Ilya Zhegulev for Meduza
 (~50 minutes)

Here’s as much as you’ve ever wanted to know about the former Russian leader’s life after power.


   How a Phone Glitch Sparked a Teenage Riot
By Shaun Raviv for Medium 
 (~15 minutes)


In 1982, teenagers in Stockholm turned a phone system glitch into a proto-Internet “hotline” offering all the appeal, and destructive forces, of today’s social media networks. The authorities cracked down with swift, brutal force.

➢ Also on Medium: Chrissy Teigen’s Headbands Helped Me Get Sober


   Why Exercise Alone Won’t Save Us
By Vybarr Cregan-Reid for The Guardian 
 (~20 minutes) 


It's a new year! Just in time: A fine excuse not to go to the gym! 


   How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually
By Max Read for Intelligencer
 (~10 minutes)

Welcome to the “bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.”


   I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon.
By Austin Murphy for The Atlantic 
 (~10 minutes)

A must-read from-here-to-there-story: Sports Illustrated senior writer to Amazon delivery driver, by 57-year-old Austin Murphy.

➢ J.D. Salinger at 100: Is ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ still relevant?


   THE REMEMBRANCE: Super Dave, In Memoriam: Bob Einstein’s Mass-Culture Parody
By Ian Crouch for The New Yorker 
 (~5 minutes)

Bob Einstein, one of the funniest humans on the planet, died of cancer at the age of 76 last week. Ian Crouch delivers a lovely remembrance of the doomed daredevil Super Dave Osborne and Marty Funkhouser, the always hysterical foil to Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”


   What Is Glitter?
By Caity Weaver for The New York Times 
 (~15 minutes)


A raucous journey to the glitter factory, helmed by one of our favorite writers, Caity Weaver, that you likely won’t forget.


   What a Character: The Unlikely Movie Stardom of John C. Reilly
By Manuela Lazic for The Ringer 
 (~10 minutes)

This fun piece beautifully explains John C. Reilly’s irresistible Everyman acting’s persona.


   The #SundayLR List: 125 Essential Movies, According to Martin Scorsese
By Colin Ainsworth for Mental Floss
 (~5 minutes)


The film master’s 125 essential movies left us depressed by the high number of films we’ve never seen and even the scores of films we’d never heard of.

➢ The Most Sought Netflix Show in Every State—and How a Researcher Found Them


   The Mad Scramble to Claim the World’s Most Coveted Meteorite
By Joshuah Bearman and Allison Keeley for WIRED and Epic Magazine 
 (~55 minutes)


Turns out there are only so many people in the world willing to head out, at a moment’s notice, to look for things that fall out of the sky. But those that do fight like Hell for the invaluable bounty. 

➢ Why the Far Side of the Moon Matters So Much

➢ More from Wired: Pan Am Flight 103: Robert Mueller’s 30-Year Search for Justice


   Lessons From the Fall of a Great Republic
By The Economist 
 (~5 minutes)


Rome fell because of unworthy politicians, indulgent citizens and, most of all, wealth inequality.


   The Year of the Death Wish
By Fran Hoepfner for Bright Wall/Dark Room 
 (~15 minutes)


An intriguing essay that explores all sorts of cinematic and real-world death wish theories, including the sense that every Tom Cruise film is about death.

Jonathan's 2018 Favorites

   Children of the Cube
By John Branch for The New York Times
 (~15 minutes)

John Branch brings a tenderness to nearly everything he writes—particularly here, when it involves his son—and also reveals a sport that we—or perhaps I—knew nothing about.


   Beneath the Surface of Bruce Springsteen
By Michael Hainey for Esquire 
 (~35 minutes)

When I think back to David Remnick's marvelous, and marvelously detailed, 2012 profile of Springsteen, what I remember most is that it revealed what a devotee Remnick, a native of New Jersey, was: had seen The Boss perform, I recall, 69 times—and the effort he put into the reporting of his profile was in keeping with that. Hainey, wisely, doesn't try to replicate that. He brings his own quiet self to the matter at hand and gives us something intimate and deep, in sync and in rhythm with what this one-man show has been about.


   Jonathan Franzen Is Fine With All of It
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner for The New York Times
 (~25 minutes)

A perfectly pitched profile of Jonathan Franzen, who tries to convince us that he is, finally, chill—but to my mind, shows he is still insufferable and priggish. Because he despises the word "partner," he refers to the woman he lives with as his "spouse-equivalent." Really? And in Taffy Brodesser Akner's view, "he doesn't so much sit on his couch as drip off it, like a Dali painting...." Telling verb choice, in my opinion. I admire much of Franzen's work, and thought FREEDOM a major American novel in the old-fashioned sense—despite his lazy use of the word "weird" and its offshoots "weirdly" and "weirdness" 88 times. It's Franzen himself who bugs me—and TBA's wry profile shows why, without ever being mean..

   The Lives They Lived 2018: Margot Kidder
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner for The New York Times
 (~25 minutes)

TBA makes every word count as she envelops us in the world of mothers and daughters, as well as that of mental illness. My favorite part: "Margot’s Lois Lane was distracted and funny and restrained. Her crush on Superman wasn’t big and hormonal, the way the other women who tried out for the role played it. Rather, it was a supremely cool crush—she walked through the world with the confidence of a woman who was not aspiring to have a man, even a superman, but like a woman who finally found a man who was worthy of her."

Jonathan Coleman is the author of five nonfiction books, including three NYT bestsellers. He has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and The New York Times.

You can view our other contributors' year-end picks here.

Most Clicked from our 'Best Of' Edition

   Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It
By Jessica Pressler for The Cut

   Driven to Despair
By Jessica Bruder for Intelligencer 

   A lifelong dream washed away
By Dave Sheinin for The Washington Post 


Lede of the Week

   I Was a Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America

I can’t tell you about a specific day as a cable tech. I can’t tell you my first customer was a cat hoarder. I can tell you the details, sure. That I smeared Vicks on my lip to try to cover the stench of rugs and walls and upholstery soaked in cat piss. That I wore booties, not to protect the carpets from the mud on my boots but to keep the cat piss off my soles. I can tell you the problem with her cable service was that her cats chewed through the wiring. That I had to move a mummified cat behind the television to replace the jumper. That ammonia seeped into the polyester fibers of my itchy blue uniform, clung to the sweat in my hair. That the smell suck to me through the next job.


Quotation of the Week


   The Philosopher Redefining Equality

People now have the freedom to have crosscutting identities in different domains. At church, I’m one thing. At work, I’m something else. I’m something else at home, or with my friends. The ability not to have an identity that one carries from sphere to sphere but, rather, to be able to slip in and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining one’s identities in other domains? That is what it is to be free.”

—Elizabeth Anderson

The SLR Podcast

   The Sunday Long Read Podcast (iTunes)

The podcast is on a brief hiatus, but you can scroll through our previous episodes here.

Subscribe today!

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   The Birth of the Mediacracy (1975)
By Laurence Leamer for Washingtonian
 (~30 minutes)

You don't have to sign on to everything Laurence Leamer says here about the rise of a new Washington aristocracy and the decline of the old to agree that he was onto something when he noted that the press was no longer a passive participant in society's power struggles but often the leader as the "ultimate arbiters of American life." The rise of Sally Quinn figures high in his analysis in this Washington-centric piece. He writes, "The mediacracy has both a private and a public aspect. The private aspect of it is indeed private, since the media put a cordon sanitaire around the parties and gatherings of their peers. As Art Buchwald says, 'Kay Graham’s parties will never be covered.'” Hat tip to Craig Brownstein, aka PuckBuddys.

Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Madam Speaker

Surrounded by her grandchildren and other children of Congress, Nancy Pelosi raised her right hand to take her oath as Speaker of the House on a historic Jan. 3, when a record 102 women were sworn into office as the 116th Congress. Agence France-Presse photographer Saul Loeb went wide to capture all of the children’s faces, reflecting the most diverse freshman class ever. The viewer’s eye wanders around the image before being drawn to Pelosi’s fuchsia dress and the moving moment between Pelosi and her granddaughter, Bella, who looks up adoringly at the most powerful elected woman in American political history. 


Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1987. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the University of Miami School of Communication.

The Sunday Pod
from Jody Avirgan

Jody is off this week. The Long Pod will be back next week.

Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.

The Long View
from Justine Gubar

Justine is off this week. The Long View will be back next week. Reach out to her at if you have a suggestion for the next Long View.

The Long View curator Justine Gubar is the former Vice President, News Narratives at Fusion and the author of Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan.

The Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   The Trump Slump
By Peter Coy for Bloomberg Businessweek

Étienne Lajoie, the curator of The Sunday Cover, is a journalist based in Montreal.

The Sunday Esoterica
from Ryan Rodenberg

   TEXAS, et al., v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al.


On December 14, 2018, federal district court judge Reed O'Connor ruled that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was unconstitutional.  Judge O'Connor also deemed the remaining provisions of the ACA to be "inseverable and therefore invalid."  Judge O'Connor's decision will likely be appealed and could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future.​

Sunday Esoterica curator Ryan Rodenberg works as a professor at Florida State University, where he teaches research methods and sports law. He writes a lot of academic articles and some mainstream pieces too.

The Sunday Long Play
from Kelly Dearmore

Amanda Shires - To the Sunset (iTunes | Spotify)

It inevitably happens, year after year, and here we are again. I let a fantastic record, usually released somewhere in the middle of the year, accidentally slip by without giving it the proper attention it deserves before helplessly sliding into all sorts of year-end thought collecting. An all-too usual occupational hazard, perhaps, but it's one that really hurts when I realize I've let it occur.

Texas native Amanda Shires released To the Sunset, and now that I've devoted some serious one-on-one time the Dave Cobb-produced gem lately, it's easy to see how the bold collection garnered praises from just about anyone with a set of earbuds and a keyboard in 2018. Aside from it being a gorgeous set of daring songs, it's a far different sounding set than the twangy, folk-y music Shires has primarily released over the past decade-plus as a solo artist, or as a part of alt-country group Thrift Store Cowboys even farther back in time.

Perhaps you aren't like me, and you consumed this record with the appropriate zeal months ago? Well, good. But if you are like me, there's no time like the present to get it right.

Long Play curator Kelly Dearmore is the Music Critic for the Dallas Morning News. Yes, he's heard your son's demo tape, and he thinks it's fantastic. 

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

Real Peach
By Henry Jamison

The Sunday LimeRick
from Tim Torkildson

From The New York Times: "Dr. Eisenberg, who died on Tuesday at 99, was for more than a decade one of the most prolific contributors of reader comments on — and, by extension, on the internet as a whole.

But what distinguished him even more than his prodigious output (more than 13,000 comments since 2008) was the form those comments took: verse — mostly limericks — perfectly rhymed, (usually) metrically impeccable and always germane to whatever recent news item had caught his eye.

Dr. Eisenberg’s verse made him a cult figure in the lively, atomized, fiercely opinionated parallel universe of The New York Times’s online commenters. As Andrew Rosenthal, then the editorial page editor of The Times, wrote in 2012, Dr. Eisenberg was 'the closest thing this paper has to a poet in residence.'”

The time has now come to decree
I'm done with this darn poetry.
The visual arts
will now be my darts
to skewer all iniquity.

Sunday Limerick writer Tim Torkildson is a retired circus clown who fiddles with rhyme. All his verses can be found at Tim's Clown Alley.

The Sunday Long Thread
from C. Robert Cargill

Someone on reddit suggested that the Muppets should host the Oscars and it's pretty much the only thing I can think about anymore.

Staler & Waldorf heckling each winner
Dr Teeth & the Electric mayhem playing the Best Songs
Miss Piggy mad about not being nominated

I mean, who the fuck wouldn't watch THE MUPPETS HOST THE OSCARS?

AND THE AWARD GOES TO...oh, we should get a mop...BRADLEY COOPER!

This is our new occasional feature: The Sunday Long Thread. If there’s a Twitter thread you’d like to see featured in this space, please let us know

The Sund&y Ampers&nd
from Nick Aster

The Sunday Ampersand is chosen by Nick Aster. Nick most recently served as founder of, a leading publication focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   I Don’t Hate Women Candidates—I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren
By Devorah Blachor for McSweeney’s
 (~5 minutes)

Wielding a wrecking ball to that “unlikable” thing.


   Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2018
By Dave Barry for The Washington Post 
 (~30 minutes)

You thought 2016 and 2017 were bad? Ha! Dave Barry is here to count the ways that 2018 was the worst year in recorded human history..

Read Later

Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar
Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell
Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore
Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson
Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan
Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg

Digital Team: Nation Hahn, Nickolaus Hines, Megan McDonell, Alexa Steinberg
Podcast Team: Peter Bailey-Wells, Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales
Webmaster: Ana Srikanth
Campus Editor: Peter Warren

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Jonathan Bernstein, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Chris Cillizza, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Jonathan Coleman, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Edmund Lee, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Jeff Maysh, Susan McPherson, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bob Sassone, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Adam Sternbergh, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Nikki Waller, John A. Walsh, Seth Wickersham and Karen Wickre.

Header Image: Laurène Boglio

You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.

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