EDITORS' NOTE: Happy Sunday! We hope you are as excited as we are for this week's guest editor.
Elaina Plott is a National Political Reporter for The New York Times, where she covers the transformation of the Republican Party under President Donald Trump. She was previously White House Correspondent for The Atlantic, and before that a staff writer at Washingtonian. Elaina has also written for GQ, Pacific Standard, and The Daily Beast.
Without further ado, Elaina Plott's Sunday Long Read...
By the time this newsletter reaches your inbox, barring disaster, I’ll be halfway closer to becoming a certified scuba diver. I went diving for the first time last summer, on a windy day in Bali. Strange as it sounds, I loved the sealing sensation of the water, how the changes in barometric pressure worked, quite literally, to keep me under. Above water, I’m as distracted as any of us—my thumb automatically taps the Instagram app whenever my mind dares go still. Below water, though, the world is a lot more insistent that I enjoy things unfiltered.
To me, reading a great piece of longform writing feels a lot like diving (could you guess that’s where I was taking this?). As a politics reporter especially, I love when a writer pulls me in deep, past the gloss and grit of punditry and shows me something unvarnished and true, whether about a candidate, or a part of the country, or whatever. That’s when sentences really start to pop, you know? When you’re seeing colors and light the way they’re meant to be seen, and the thought of returning to the surface seems so unspeakably dull.
It takes a certain writer to do that, but it takes a certain reader, too. Hell, consider this week alone — with Iowa and impeachment and everything else, bullet-point journalism never looked so good. But it’s these kinds of weeks when going deep matters most.
We’re not underwater, at least not yet, which means fewer natural forces are urging us down. (A certain newsletter’s charge to “Go deeper” doesn’t count.) So consider this my offering of a few bars of atmospheric pressure. Take some time with these stories, enjoy the vibrant hues therein, and don’t come up too soon.
What if the novel—and one told in fragments at that—is precisely the form for our time? In her irresistible profile of Jenny Offill, Parul Sehgal considers the author’s latest novel, Weather, as an antidote to the chasms of intimacy plaguing America’s relationship with climate change. There are those who see climate change in everything and those who see it in nothing, and then there is Weather’s narrator, Lizzie, trying to find solace in a life where many things are true at once, where one “can still be in love with what happens on a dying planet.” Sehgal meditates on whether Offill’s feat — writing not “about” climate change, but “from deep within it” — indicates fiction’s superior ability to situate the climate crisis in reality. You don’t even have to be familiar with Offill’s work to appreciate what Sehgal has done here, positing a roadmap for how to destabilize and repurpose the very nature of political conversation, and doing so in some of the most gorgeous sentences I’ve read in my adult life.
My former colleague McKay Coppins immerses himself in the “alternate information ecosystem” of Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, and the result is a dark but necessary look at how the 2020 presidential election stands to be “not a choice between parties or candidates or policy platforms, but a referendum on reality itself.”
Talk about literally unfiltered! Lena Felton of The Lily sent disposable cameras to 25 women over the past year, and the result is a raw, visually stunning look at how American women—from celebrities like Kristen Bell to stay-at-home moms—see themselves and the world around them.
Tim Alberta is one of my favorite political reporters working today, in large part because he writes with such control and authority. In “The Death of Iowa,” he makes sense of what, exactly, happened on Monday night (no small feat!) and follows with an obituary for caucuses that, four years from now, will almost certainly seem prescient.
The second-person is so tricky to get right, but Rebekah Gleaves Sanderlin, in taking personal stock of that surprise reunion between a military wife and her husband during Trump’s State of the Union address, just nails it. A spare and moving look at the “tangle of sometimes conflicting emotions” that have come with her own such reunions.
They say a jack of all trades is a master of none, but Paige Williams is undoubtedly the exception. I’m currently reading her book The Dinosaur Artist, a mesmerizing and strange tale about a Florida man’s obsession with fossils. So when I devoured her latest on the prosecution of people who—often themselves struggling with addiction—share a lethal dose of drugs, as killers, I was like, Ok! We get it! You can write about anything!
In this terrific piece of reporting on the Democratic field and their plans to expand rural broadband access, Makena Kelly charts the real-life manifestation of policies in a way that all political reporters would do well to study.
I inhaled Rachel Tashjian’s sketch of Wayne Diamond, whom you probably recognize as the unlikely hero of Uncut Gems, which reads as a caper even while based on just one conversation in Diamond’s home. Here goes one dazzling sentence: “Speaking with Wayne Diamond is like doing that bit from The Great Gatsby where Nick Carraway is so reluctantly charmed by his scammy rich titular pal that he feels a wave of relief every time some wild claim of Gatsby’s is proven true.”
What does Nate Silver know? What does anyone in polling know? Nearly four years since the 2016 election, I feel like my Twitter feed is still consumed by this question. David Graham pays a visit to the FiveThirtyEight offices to find out.
I wish it weren’t so, but I struggle to stick with most stories about Trump’s personal finances—it all just feels so clinical and byzantine to me, way over my humanities-major head. But I read David Enrich’s probe of Trump’s longtime relationship with Deustche Bank in one sitting. The kicker makes for an especially delicious payoff, no pun intended.
It occurs to me that I’ve recommended a lot of dark stories, but this is an especially moving narrative about two people, grappling with their own respective losses, who set out together to climb the fourth-highest mountain in the world.
9,008 Days By Dylan Walsh for Chicago Reader (~20 minutes)
A 2016 Supreme Court decision made retroactive an earlier ruling that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional. Marshan Allen, given two sentences of mandatory life without the possibility of parole in 1994, for a crime he committed at age 15, was among the beneficiaries. Dylan Walsh beautifully renders this story on “the number of years Marshan lost,” as his attorney tearfully put it, and how he is making up for them.
This story is too terrifying to be believed, and Jack Evans paces it masterfully. I very much got a Don’t F*ck With Cats vibe from this piece, and wouldn’t be surprised if it popped up on Netflix a year or two from now.
What do you mean you didn't study this essay in college? Even if you did, the Age of Trump commands you to reread George Orwell's essential guide on how to tell the truth. I love this essay in general, but I can do without the numerated writer's tips at the essay's end. Avoid passive writing? Some great works contain oodles of passive writing. Cut out words whenever possible? Do that and you're likely to sacrifice whatever poetry you've conjured. Never use a foreign language word when an English word will do? Mon Dieu! But I vouch for the rest of Orwell's rant.
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
It takes a split second—and endless preparation—to snap an iconic sports photo. When tasked with covering one of the greatest athletes of all time like LeBron James, you need to think of every possible angle to capture the many superhuman ways he gets the ball through the hoop. Andrew D. Bernstein, team photographer for the Los Angeles Lakers, employs five remote cameras carefully sunk in different locations aimed at the front of the basket, all triggered by a remote on his handheld camera down court. Bernstein’s prep work and timing paid off Feb. 6, when he captured a panoramic image of James’ two-handed reverse windmill dunk from a remote camera, freezing an eerily familiar moment during the game against the Houston Rockets at the STAPLES Center in LA. “There’s an element of luck in there,” Bernstein told Sports Illustrated the next day, “but as the great Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss said, ‘luck benefits the most prepared.’
Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he worked from 1987 to 2019. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the University of Miami School of Communication.
The satiric and kind of profound animated series just ended its run on Netflix, and The New York Times ran this hilarious piece in response, where the show's creators broke down their favorite jokes. Come for the GIFs but stay for the talk about how certain gags took years to air. If you want even more on the show, check out this two-part behind-the-scenesoral history. It shows a lot of the jokes the Times only talks about.
Paul Kix is a best-selling author, an editor, and the host of the podcast, Now That's a Great Story, where novelists, journalists, screenwriters and songwriters talk about their favorite work, the one that reveals their artistic worldview. For insights from writers that go beyond what's covered in the podcast, like the entry above, please sign up for Paul's newsletter.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—a federal court one level below the Supreme Court—recently decided a case at the intersection of cheerleading, social media, and constitutional law. The case arose after a high schooler was removed from her position as head cheerleader after school administrators discovered certain social media posts deemed objectionable. The minor plaintiff sued, alleging a violation of her rights to "free speech, due process, and equal protection." Citing "qualified-immunity," among other things, the judges ruled against the plaintiff's claims.
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.
I don't have anything interesting to say about Chelsea Cutler other than she's really fucking good. I've been on the road a lot lately and this is the song I can't stop playing. If you're into synth-pop, I urge you to listen to the whole album—she wrote and produced each song.
As this story notes, Los Bros Hernandez need no introduction—their seminal Love & Rockets series came onto the scene in the early 80s with a game-changing blend of genres, influences, and tone, one that still resonates today. In the piece, Aldama contextualizes the career of Jaime Hernandez through the lens of his latest graphic novel collection, Tonta, which serves as a modern example of what’s always made Jaime’s work great—his eye for genuine, diverse, complex Latinx characters and his passion for epic, multi-generational sagas that evolve and change at an organic pace, for starters. Table-setting intro aside, the story also features an interview with Jaime that looks at the GN’s opening pages and dissects the writer/artist’s camera angle choices and more. A must-read for fans of the series and sequential art in general.
Alex Segura is an acclaimed author, a comic book writer written various comic books, including The Archies, Archie Meets Ramones, and Archie Meets KISS. He is also the co-creator and co-writer of the Lethal Lit podcast from iHeart Radio, which was named one of the Five Best Podcasts of 2018 by The New York Times. By day, Alex is Co-President of Archie Comics. You can find him at www.alexsegura.com.
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Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019
Header Image: Jeremy Liebman
You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: sundaylongread.com. Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.