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The year's best reads, carefully curated by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob FeldmanOur publishing partner is Ruth Ann Harnisch. This week's sponsor is The Hustle.

Sunday, December 12, 2021 — Issue #329

EDITORS' NOTE: Hello again, and welcome to our annual double-issue and celebration of 2021's best journalism!

Before we share our favorite—and most popular—picks from the year that was, we wanted to thank everyone who has joined our membership program to support this project of ours. This week was one of our best sign-up weeks since we launched the program in 2018. Everyone else still has time to become a member or gift a membership at our lower price, before we update our rates starting Jan. 1. Remember, SLR Members will be receiving two special editions during our Holiday break and get an early Saturday 6 pm ET delivery of the “Bulldog edition”; otherwise we'll hit your inbox with 2022's first regular edition of The SLR on Jan. 9.

We're also excited to introduce our first weekly sponsor this week: The Hustle, who wanted to get in on the fun by sharing one of their favorite stories from 2021. You'll also see it featured below; please check it out to help support them—and us.

The Hustle joins the ever-growing list of folks who have come together to make The Sunday Long Read into what we believe is an indispensable weekly newsletter showcasing the finest journalism: our tireless crew of producers and contributors; the writers who have entrusted their work to our SLR Original Program (many of them are now listed in our staff box if you want to see what they're up to) as well as Jeff Maysh, who helped lift our Originals program to new heights this year; our publishing partner (and resolute champion) Ruth Ann Harnisch; and—of course!—you.

We know how hard it can be to simply sit down and read these days (trust us, we know). Your commitment to giving the fantastic work below and the 1,000 other stories we shared this year the time they deserve is what keeps us going. It pains us to see worthy pieces and writers go uncelebrated—outstanding journalism needs to be recognized and, more important, reckoned with. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for helping us do exactly that.

OK, enough from us. Let's read. And happy holidays!

Enjoy,
Don and Jacob

P.S. This is an extra long issue, so it might be easier to read as a webpage.

Picks From This Week
 

   On “Succession,” Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke
By Michael Schulman for The New Yorker 
 (~35 minutes)

"I began to wonder if I’d been interviewing an actor playing Kendall Roy or a character impersonating Jeremy Strong,” writes Michael Schulman, in this outstanding profile of the very intense “Succession” co-star Jeremy Strong. One of the very best profiles of 2021.

➢ The New York Times: Denzel Washington, Man on Fire
➢ Vulture: The 101 Best New York City Movies, Ranked

 


   Rothko at the Inauguration
By Richard Warnica for Hazlitt
 (~80 minutes)

It’s a rare feat for a writer to balance such fascinating, disparate elements as art fraud, a battle over an American artist’s estate, and the inauguration of a President. But Richard Warnica pulls it all off wonderfully. Over the holidays, try to make time for this lengthy piece, with many intriguing twists and turns, that you’ll surely savor.

➢ The New Yorker: The 1619 Project and the Demands of Public History

 


   Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun
By Barton Gellman for The Atlantic 
 (~60 minutes)

Was the insurrection of January 6… practice? Bart Gellman of The Atlantic explores this and other troubling questions about America’s not-so-distant future.

➢ The New York Times Magazine: Inside the Fall of Kabul

 


   Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory.
By Taylor Lorenz for The New York Times 
 (~5 minutes)

A profile of “cosplaying conspiracy theorists” feels like the appropriate way to wrap up the year, no?

 


   The Man in the Lineup
By Howard Blum for Air Mail 
 (~15 minutes)

Alice Sebold’s best-selling account of being raped was headed for the big screen. But the most unlikely person—a film producer—began asking questions and figured out that Sebold had accused the wrong man of raping her (Air Mail published another winner a week ago about fabulist Stephen Glass, which we included as a sidebar in last week’s SLR but in case you missed it: Loving Lies).

➢ Der Spiegel: A Character Assassination Campaign against White Helmets Founder
➢ Yahoo News: Operation Whistle Pig: Inside the secret CBP unit with no rules that investigates Americans

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

Don's 2021 Favorites 
 

Another brilliant year of longform journalism. Every year, I struggle to pick one, or three, or fifteen, or fifty, that I can list here as my “favorites.” So this week, I tried something new. Without looking back at our past issues, I jotted down the first few pieces I could easily recall, the ones that were so damn good they still resonate. 

   What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind
By Jennifer Senior for The Atlantic 
 (~60 minutes)

When this piece by Jennifer Senior was published in August, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, declared that it was one of the greatest magazine stories he’d ever read. And, damn, that was no home-field hyperbole. The story went viral so you might have already read it. For those who haven’t, try to make time for this unforgettable 9/11 story about a grieving family, conspiracy theories and the search for meaning among the memories. (Aug. 22)

 


   How Elizabeth Loftus Changed the Meaning of Memory
By Rachel Aviv for The New Yorker 
 (~40 minutes)

One of America’s finest longform writers, Rachel Aviv, gives us a details-rich portrait of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has taught the world that our memories are reconstructed, not replayed, and we often more easily remember the emotion linked to a memory more than the hard facts. “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,” Loftus has written. “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-like creature.” 
 
Loftus has testified for defendants like Harvey Weinstein and Jerry Sandusky. This extraordinary profile, published last April, culminates with Loftus confronting tragic memories of her own childhood—with her siblings, via Zoom, naturally. (Apr. 4)   

 


   “Cat Person” and Me
By Alexis Nowicki for Slate
 (~20 minutes)

"Cat Person,” the 2017 New Yorker short story that became a viral sensation (and is now being made into a film), was brimming with specific details from Alexis Nowicki’s life. Here’s the problem: She didn’t write it. For years, Nowicki wondered: How did the story’s author Kristen Roupenian know so much? Nowicki’s sleuthing leads to an astonishing discovery that forces her to come to grips with having her own relationship “rewritten and memorialized” while also figuring out how to seek answers from Roupenian. 
 
In this empathetic, beautifully written essay from last July, Nowicki wrestles with the blurred boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, the limits of privacy, the loss of a friend and the unreliability of narratives, our own and others. “Sometimes it feels easier to believe the story that everyone knows than the one they don’t,” she writes. Ultimately the piece, which immediately came to mind when mulling my favorites of 2021, raises this age-old question: Who owns your story? (July 11)

DVN’s Honorable Mentions:
➢ My Dinners With Le Carre, by Jeff Leen for The Washington Post Magazine (Jan. 3)
➢ Trump Hotel Employees Reveal What It Was Really Like Catering to the Right-Wing Elite, by Jessica Sidman for Washingtonian (Feb. 21)
➢ My Time With Kurt Cobain, by Michael Azerrad for The New Yorker (Sept. 26)
➢ My Father, the Hitman, by James Dolan for D Magazine (Oct. 24)
➢ The Notorious Mrs. Mossler, by Skip Hollandworth for Texas Monthly (Nov. 18)

Jacob's 2021 Favorites
 

   The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill
By Megan Molteni for Backchannel
 (~20 minutes)

The fight over whether the coronavirus is spread through the air divided scientists for months, at the cost of many lives. Megan, my former colleague, turns what sounds like a dry academic debate into a thriller starring Linsey Marr, an aerosols scientist at Virginia Tech. At the heart of the mystery is the origin of a widely accepted number Marr set out to prove was an error. —Megan Greenwell (May 16)

   Kevin Durant and (Possibly) the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time
By Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine
 (~20 minutes)

Sam Anderson compares Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant to an asteroid, a Dostoevskian character, and a religious figure in one of our favorite sports profiles in years. Anderson’s writing—which at times feels like “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” and at other times like a witty Twitter thread—sucked us in, despite us thinking we knew everything there was to know about KD. (We were wrong, of course.) —DVN/JF  (June 6)

(UPDATE: The Nets did not end up dominating the playoffs, and have only become more of a fascinating melodrama since. Sports, you know?)

   What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge
By Alec MacGillis for ProPublica
 (~20 minutes)

What caused 2020's deeply troubling spike in gun violence? Alec MacGillis considers the commonly discussed suspects, as well as ones further afield (Could stimulus checks have fueled the black market for weapons? Maybe social media, our era’s great bogeyman, is to blame?), all while sharing the killings’ devastating human toll. (July 30)

Jacob's Honorable Mentions:
➢ The Rise of Made-in-China Diplomacy, by Peter Hessler for The New Yorker (March 14)
➢ America’s Covid Swab Supply Depends on Two Cousins Who Hate Each Other, by Olivia Carville for Bloomberg Businessweek (March 28)
➢ The battle for 1042 Cutler Street, by Eli Saslow for The Washington Post (May 9)
➢ How the Personal Computer Broke the Human Body, by Laine Nooney for VICE (May 16)
➢ 'This Should Be the Biggest Scandal in Sports', by Stephanie Apstein & Alex Prewitt for Sports Illustrated (June 4)

2021’s Most Clicked
Arts and Culture

   'It was so gripping I read it in two sittings': 11 books to pull you out of a reading rut
By Guardian Readers for The Guardian
 (~5 minutes)

A very handy list of 11 outstanding books that Guardian readers say helped them break out of a non-reading funk during the past year. (May 2) 
 



   The Bullshit
By Walter Kirn for Unbound 
 (~10 minutes)

You may not agree with his politics. (I’m not even sure what those politics are, to be honest.) But Walter Kirn is a writer I greatly admire, and this essay on modern media consumption, as seen through the lens of a writer who once had at his fingertips TIME magazine’s dedicated research library, is the most memorable piece I’ve ever read on Substack. —Jeff Maysh (Aug. 8)

 


   The Fall of Armie Hammer: A Family Saga of Sex, Money, Drugs, and Betrayal
By Julie Miller for Vanity Fair 
 (~30 minutes)

Armie Hammer had everything—a beautiful family, “princely good looks,” a sky’s-the-limit acting career—but his downfall might have surprised the people who knew nothing about his family’s complicated legacy. (March 14)

➢ 38 Documentaries That Will Change Your Life, by Emma Carey & Brady Langmann for Esquire (April 4)
➢ Jason Sudekis Is Having One Hell of a Year, by Zach Baron for GQ (July 18)

A Pick from Our Sponsor
from The Hustle


   Why it’s nearly impossible to buy an original Bob Ross painting
By Zachary Crockett for The Hustle  

Online, you can acquire Bob Ross paints, Bob Ross brushes, Bob Ross underwear, Bob Ross coffee mugs, Bob Ross energy drinks, Bob Ross watches, and Bob Ross toasters.

But there’s one thing you won’t often see for sale: his artwork.

Though Ross produced an estimated 30k paintings during his lifetime, they’re nearly impossible to find. When they do appear, they often fetch $10k+ and attract dozens of bids.

Why is the work of one of history’s most prolific and accessible artists so scarce on the open market?

To find out, The Hustle spoke with gallery owners, auctioneers, art collectors, and the president of Bob Ross, Inc.—a tiny Virginia-based company that owns the lion’s share of the late painter’s work.

Get to the bottom of the mystery here.

Business and Crime

   The Nightmare Share
By Bridget Read for The Cut 
 (~30 minutes)

Heidi Russell posted an ad for a roommate. What happened next will provide enough nightmare fuel to last you until spring. We’re nominating this story, full of unbelievable twists and turns, for the NYC Grifter Tale Hall of Fame. (Feb. 7)  

 


   How the FBI Discovered a Real-Life Indiana Jones in, of All Places, Rural Indiana
By Josh Sanburn for Vanity Fair
 (~35 minutes)

As an investigative reporter, I have learned that the best stories often begin with a single tip, and quite often the ones that seem, at first, to be far-fetched and even mind-boggling. This story also begins with a doozy of a tip, from an anonymous source, delivered to an FBI agent who works in the bureau’s lesser-known Art Theft Program: An amateur archaeologist living in rural Indiana had amassed a vast collection of artifacts, many likely stolen, amounting to about 200,000 pieces. 

“It can’t be that many,” the agent responds. “Hell, most large state museums don’t have 200,000 pieces.”

“Just trust me,” the agent was told. “This stuff is everywhere.”

From this irresistible beginning, Josh Sanburn unspools a wild story that will likely grip you until the last paragraph (we somehow missed this piece when it was published in late October but, thankfully, our friends at Longform recently tipped it). (Dec. 5)

 


   The Unlikely Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor and the Instagram Account That Saved Her Life
By John H. Tucker for ELLE
 (~20 minutes)

Like the movie Zola, this gripping profile describes the slippery slope into prostitution and sex trafficking. It was shocking in places, and made all the more real by the author’s explanation of pimp-talk. Afterwards, you’ll know what a “choosing fee” is, and a “bottom girl,” and a “daddy.” What an incredible story of redemption. (Aug. 8)

➢ The Notorious Mrs. Mossler, by Skip Hollandsworth for Texas Monthly (November 21) 
➢ The Lives of Others, by Lindsay Jones for The Atavist Magazine (April 4)

Media 

   The Untold Story of How Jeff Bezos Beat the Tabloids 
By Brad Stone for Bloomberg Businessweek
 (~30 minutes)

Here’s Ezra Klein’s perfect description of this “Amazon Unbound” excerpt: “The second half of this story is a gripping tale of how Jeff Bezos manipulated the media and public perceptions. But the first half is an *even more* gripping tale about the worst older brother in the history of the world.” (May 9)

 


   Succession Drama Grips Scholastic: CEO’s Sudden Death, an Office Romance and a Surprise Will [$]
By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg & Shalini Ramachandran for The Wall Street Journal
 (~15 minutes)

This is really, really juicy. Scholastic is one of the world’s largest publishers of children’s books, including the Harry Potter stories and the Magic School Bus series. But after the CEO’s sudden death, who will inherit the riches? My money is on one of the sons, Ben, a sawmill worker who “lives off the land.” (Ben is the Cousin Greg of this piece: He once dressed up as the children’s book character “Clifford” the dog, for a parade.) (Aug. 8)

 


   The Girl in the Kent State Photo
By Patricia McCormick for The Washington Post Magazine
 (~25 minutes)

The lifelong burden of being a national symbol for grief. (April 25)

➢ The Woman in White, by Colin Moynihan for New York (Sept 12) 

Politics and Justice

   JFK and the Radcliffe Girl
By Diana de Vegh for Air Mail 
 (~25 minutes)

“It’s an old story. Really old: Young woman, Great Man.” This is the irresistible way Diana de Vegh begins her detailed recounting of her affair with JFK that began in 1958—and why she waited so long to tell her story. Also, she can write. Our friends at Graydon Carter’s Air Mail have allowed SLR readers to bypass their paywall for this compulsively readable story. (Aug. 29)

 


   Trump Hotel Employees Reveal What It Was Really Like Catering to the Right Wing Elite
By Jessica Sidman for Washingtonian
 (~15 minutes)

A details-stuffed tell-all of life inside the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., including its restaurant BLT Prime (Namedrop alert: I ran into Trump personal lawyer-turned-snitch Michael Cohen there on a Friday evening in the summer of 2017 and we chatted about Donald Trump’s wobbly golf game. This piece reports that Cohen tried to once snag a table without a reservation but the host didn’t know who he was and turned him away. The night I met Cohen, you’d think he owned the joint).

Jessica Sidman’s delicious story begins with a peek inside BLT Prime and its always-reserved Table 72, the former President’s domain, and the “Standard Operating Procedure” rules that the staff needed to follow, to the letter, whenever the boss showed up: “As soon as Trump was seated, the server had to ‘discreetly present’ a mini bottle of Purell hand sanitizer. (This applied long before Covid, mind you). Next, cue dialogue: ‘Good (time of day) Mr. President. Would you like your Diet Coke with or without ice?’ the server was instructed to recite.” There’s more, much more, including meticulous seven-step instructions, including four illustrations, on precisely how to pour the low-cal cola for the germaphobe commander-in-chief. This is followed by a smorgasbord of anecdotes about low-grade meat, rotten vegetables and steak-size envy. Oh, and all the ways “ambivalent” hotel staff had to cater to the whims and idiosyncrasies of the Trump era’s “VIPs,” a chore made easier by pay and benefits that were pretty sweet (the lobby bar’s bartender says he pulled in more than $100,000 a year with tips, the best paying job of his 25 year career). 
(Feb. 21)

 


   Call Me a Traitor
By Kerry Howley for New York
 (~40 minutes)

This is easily the most well written piece I read all week. It will stay with me for years, I imagine. Just give it your time. —Charlie Warzel (July 25)

➢ What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind, by Jennifer Senior for The Atlantic (August 22) 
➢ 'I’d Never Been Involved in Anything as Secret as This’, by Garrett M. Graff for POLITICO Magazine (May 2)

Science and COVID-19

   Have We Already Been Visited by Aliens?
By Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker 
 (~20 minutes)

Elizabeth Kolbert builds a compelling circumstantial case that yes, aliens might have taken a look around Earth. (Jan. 24)

 


   Three American Mothers, On The Brink
By Jessica Bennett for The New York Times 
 (~20 minutes)

The pictures say it all. The screenshot-worthy anecdotes say it all. The URL string (parenting/covid-pandemic-mothers-primal-scream) says it all. It is all too much. (Feb. 7)

Sports

   172 Runners Started This Ultramarathon. 21 of Them Never Came Back.
By Wufei Yu & Will Ford for Runner's World 
 (~15 minutes)


This is a gripping narrative by Wufei Yu and Will Ford. In the genre of Into Thin Air and Snowfall, the writers take us into the psyches of runners as they begin what would become a deadly race in China’s Yellow River Stone Forest. Part of what makes this so compelling is the reporting for point of view: “Yan’s cheeks were becoming numb. She was ascending to the third checkpoint and rain lashed the trail, buffeted by gusts of wind. The rock trail was slick as ice, and led perilously close to sheer cliff edges.” —Erika Hayasaki (Oct. 17)

 


   Courtney’s Story
By Diana Moskovitz for Defector 
 (~60 minutes)

Several people messaged me that I needed to include this piece in The Sunday Long Read. But I’d already chosen it. This is a critical piece by Diana Moskowitz about Courtney Smith and the way her abuser and ex-husband, Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith—as well as the institution of Ohio State football—was protected at her expense. I hope Urban Meyer reads this and sits with it for a long while. —Dave Zirin (Sept. 19)

Tech

   When the Techies Took Over Tahoe
By Rachel Levin for Outside 
 (~25 minutes)

One of the pandemic’s many side effects: white-collar flight, and demographic agita resulting from geographic rearrangement. Rachel Levin welcomes us to the “shit show” of Lake Tahoe, which is now a “Zoom town” for monied Bayfolk looking for… more space? More nature? An escape from themselves? Problem is they don’t know how to shovel snow. An amusing, dishy dispatch. —Dan Zak (April 18)

 


   Who's Making All Those Scam Calls?
By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee for The New York Times 
 (~25 minutes)

Five, sometimes ten times a day, a shrieking scam/robo call—Your car warranty has expired! Your credit card was shut down! The Social Security Administration has canceled your social security card!—manages to bypass the filters switched on my iPhone. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee answers every question you may have pondered about the who/what/why of this daily aggravation in your pocket. (Jan. 31)

 


   How the Pentagon Started Taking UFOs Seriously
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus for The New Yorker
 (~60 minutes)

Any story, particularly one written by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, that has a sentence like this—“The government may not have been in regular touch with exotic civilizations, but it had been keeping something from its citizens”—is worth the read. (May 2)

➢ The Truth Behind the Amazon Mystery Seeds, by Chris Heath for The Atlantic (July 18) 

Essays

   My Father, the Hitman
By James Dolan for D Magazine 
 (~25 minutes)

“Everyone in his life was a mark, with something in his or her heart that made him or her vulnerable to his con. Maybe it wasn’t larceny or greed. Maybe it was the desire to love and be loved. And maybe the only way he could show love was through a con.”

James Dolan’s search for his father’s true character is a wild ride, flush with punch-in-the-gut drama and gritty details. Doc Dolan was a mob hitman, connected in vague ways to the JFK assassination and less vague ways to some of Benny Binion’s nastier unfinished business. James Dolan’s decades-long quest to discover the origin of the con that his father pulled on him when he was a little boy will keep you marveling at the poignancy of this remarkable story that was a lifetime-in-the-making.

Read this. Right now. (Oct. 24)

 


   The Cancer Celebrities
By Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic 
 (~10 minutes)

Read everything by Caitlin Flanagan. Always. Told through the prism of cancer (a few celebrities' and her own), Flanagan explains why she loves Farrah Fawcett but loathes Sheryl Crow. This piece is remarkable—and don’t miss the sublime kicker. (Nov. 7)

 


   Seeing in the Dark
By Breai Mason-Campbell for Pipe Wrench
 (~25 minutes)

A slap upside the head. I needed it. Maybe you need it. We whine about getting back to normal, as if normal ever worked for many of our fellow citizens. In a bracing sermon about distance and disease and moments and movements, Breai Mason-Campbell diagnoses the singular opportunity before us and the ghastly price of not taking it. Pipe Wrench is a new magazine. Long may she wave. —Dan Zak (Apr. 18)

➢  With or without me, Florida will always be wonderfully, unrelentingly weird, by Carl Hiaasen for The Miami Herald (Mar. 14)
I’ve not spoken with my daughter in 12 years. I hope she’s doing okay during the pandemic, by Clint Watts for Selected Wisdom (Apr. 4)  

SLR Originals

 

This year our SLR Originals program reached new heights, under the careful eye of Originals Editor Peter Bailey-Wells and the generous support of Ruth Ann Harnisch, Jeff Maysh and, of course, our ever-growing group of members. 

If you would like to write for us, please pitch us anytime—yes, we pay!—at editors@sundaylongread.com.

We look forward to bringing you even more original work from our contributing writers and some new voices in 2022.


   ‘Friday Night Lights’ turns 30: Revisiting race relations in Odessa
By Leah Vann for The Sunday Long Read
 (~15 minutes)

Leah Vann takes a look at what has—and hasn’t—changed in Odessa, Texas, in the three decades since Buzz Bissinger chronicled the racism and suffocating sports culture of this West Texas city in his bestselling book “Friday Night Lights.” (Feb. 21)

 


   The Ditch
By Emily Monaco for The Sunday Long Read
 (~20 minutes)

Emily Monaco might be a bilingual journalist, the holder of a Master’s degree from the Sorbonne, and accomplished in the world of cheese trivia, but the first time she traveled solo after a breakup was a maddening odyssey. In this essay, Monaco describes getting lost—and eventually finding herself—among the volcanoes and fields of central France. (March 28)

 


   From Sacred to Shunned: The Khwaja Sira and trans rights in Pakistan
By Anmol Irfan for The Sunday Long Read
 (~15 minutes)

The long and winding history of Pakistan’s Khwaja Sira, or third gender, is one of the more complex gender rights struggles in the history of the world. In this Sunday Long Read original, Anmol Irfan unravels centuries of background and introduces us to the modern-day activists protesting poor treatment at the hands of the government, the public, and their own community. (May 23)

 


   The rise, fall, and uncertain future of Desert Center
By Amanda Ulrich for The Sunday Long Read
 (~15 minutes)

How much does it cost to buy a small patch of California desert? About $6 million, it turns out—that was the price tag on humble Desert Center, sold this year to a new owner 100 years after the town’s founding. In our latest SLR original, writer Amanda Ulrich walks us through this near-ghost town, settled a century ago by a man named “Desert Steve” and kept alive by his descendents, whose time as stewards of this place is coming to a close. (July 11)

 


   Miami Eat: Four Days of Postvax Gluttony, Guy Fieri, and the Illusion of Infinite Abundance
By Patricia Kelly Yeo for The Sunday Long Read
 (~25 minutes)

Join us for some fear and loathing at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Journalist Patricia Kelly Yeo jetted to Florida to witness this parade of gluttony, bringing with her a notepad full of tough questions. Yeo devours this spectacle with more than a dollop of skepticism. She also samples one of Mario Carbone’s infamous meatballs—in the name of reportage, of course. This is a festival that exists “at enormous expense to everyone else in the world,” she concludes, before remembering that Miami Beach “will be underwater by the turn of the next century.” (Aug. 8)

 


   The Twenty-First Chromosome
By Boen Wang for The Sunday Long Read
 (~15 minutes)

For the majority of the 150 years since Down syndrome was "discovered" by the eponymous John Langdon Down, many in power have deemed life with Down syndrome a life not worth living. In our latest Sunday Long Read Original, Boen Wang interrogates that assumption, examining the stories we tell about Down syndrome and its meaning. He asks the reader to wonder: Whose life is worth living? Who decides whose life is worth living? (Sept. 26)

 


   Two Dollar Bill, Befuddled Brendan, and the currency of a story
By Kate Raphael for The Sunday Long Read
 (~20 minutes)

The American $2 bill has a particular place in our economy—it’s an oddity, prompting questions wherever it turns up. In our latest Sunday Long Read original, Kate Raphael explores how a series of college pranks connect us to the broader narrative of American money and our relationship with the extended memory of cash. (Oct. 31)

#SundayLR Lists: The Very Best of 2021

➢ Jealousy List of 2021, by Staff of Bloomberg Businessweek
The 10 Best Books of 2021, by Editors at The New York Times Book Review 
➢ The Best TV Shows of 2021, by Doreen St. Felix for The New Yorker
➢ The Best Actors of 2021, by A.O Scott for The New York Times Magazine 
What Google’s trending searches say about America in 2021, by Rani Molla for Vox
The 50 Best Books of Literary Journalism of the 21st Century, by Daniel Riley for GQ

Last Week's Most Read


   How the FBI Discovered a Real-Life Indiana Jones in, of All Places, Rural Indiana
By Josh Sanburn for Vanity Fair

   ‘I was offered $35m for one day’s work’: George Clooney on paydays, politics and parenting
By Hadley Freeman for The Guardian

   The Science of Mind Reading
By James Somers for The New Yorker

Our regulars’ favorites
The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   From Nazi Germany to Australia: The Incredible True Story of History’s Longest Kayak Journey (2018)
By William Prochnau & Laura Parker for Vanity Fair 
 (~40 minutes)

"He couldn’t swim—and even traveling halfway around the world by ocean he never bothered to learn. He pushed off with little money, little planning, and only a vague goal of reaching Cyprus to find work in the copper mines,” William Prochnau and Laura Parker write about their man, Oskar Speck, as he paddled down the Danube River at the beginning of his multi-year trip to Australia. What a stud. (Oct. 3)

   A Journey Into The Mind of Watts (1966)
By Thomas Pynchon for The New York Times Magazine
 (~20 minutes)

Reported the year after the Watts riots, this reported essay by novelist Thomas Pynchon conveys a snapshot about how race is lived in America that seems more contemporary than a half-century-old work of journalism should. As dry and as plainly written as his novels V and later Gravity's Rainbow are spangled and fantastical, "A Journey into the Mind of Watts" shows exactly how far we haven't come. (Jan. 17)

   Tangled Up in Blue (1992)
By Peter Richmond for GQ
 (~35 minutes)

Tommy Lasorda Jr.'s story is much more substantial than his father's. So set aside Lasorda pere's obituaries for later and read this one about his son's saga first. I've long archived this piece in an old manilla folder marked "keepers." (Jan. 10)

Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Long Pod
from Jo Piazza

   Once Upon a Time…at Bennington College (Spotify | Apple)

   Nice Try! (Spotify | Apple)

   Comfort Eating with Grace Dent (Spotify | Apple)

It came as no surprise to me that my top three podcasts this year are all by fabulous female podcasts and journalists. Once Upon a Time…at Bennington College by Lili Anolik finally got me to read The Secret History and I am very grateful to Lili for that. The series takes us back to the delightfully drug-fueled eighties bastion of liberal arts that produced Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis and Jonathan Lethem. The real-life campus story of these three authors and the place that shaped them is honestly better than fiction. 

This is the second season of Nice Try from podcasting veteran Avery Trufelman. While the first season focused on failed utopias around the world this current season takes us inside the home. Each episode explores a different piece of the interior that we assume will make life easier and better. I promise you will never look at a doorbell, a slow cooker, a mattress or a bidet again.

Comfort Eating with British food journalist Grace Dent has become my go-to comfort podcast. Each episode features an interview with a different, and often famous, guest. But instead of the run-of-the mill industry and personal life questions Dent focuses almost solely on what people eat to make them happy and then somehow interweaves that with the story of their life. Listen hungry because you’re gonna want to eat everything they talk about.
 

Jo Piazza is the podcast host and executive producer of Committed and Under the Influence

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell


2021 IN PHOTOS: A WORLD ON FIRE

The turbulent, topsy-turvy year of 2021 started with the jarring image of a rioter’s eye calmly looking through the shattered glass of a barricaded door as supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to block the election of President Biden. Shot by AP photographer J. Scott Applewhite from the interior of the House Chamber, the startling, “Here’s Johnny” moment captured the chaos and discord of a fractured nation. On the other side of the world, Los Angeles Times staff photographer Marcus Yam’s touching photo of Palestinian families huddled in a candle-lit vigil in Gaza City on May 25 was taken after 11 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza military factions, masterfully using light to show the emotional and physical toll of human conflict. Over the summer, freelance photographer Konstantinos Tsakalidis snapped a haunting photo of an 81-year-old woman crying and holding her heart as her neighborhood succumbed to flames on the Greek island of Evia on Aug. 8. Tsakalidis’ photograph was shared virally, inspiring a cartoonist to create an homage to it in the style of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, “The Scream.” By conveying grief and despair in the same frame as apocalyptic flames, Tsakalidis delivered what many consider a collective response to the tumultuous beginning of a new decade.

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 Kix Picks 
from Paul Kix

Every Friday I write a newsletter about the creative types who inspire me, but every week I’m also thinking how my recommendations might complement the great Sunday Long Read, which is also quite inspiring. These three picks feature great storytelling, gooseflesh-raising hits of inspiration, and serve as a manual of sorts, too, guiding people on how to live. The best Sunday Long Read pieces offer the same thing, which is why I not only subscribe but am happy to contribute each Sunday.

Good Bones
By Maggie Smith 

In a week where a review of Elizabeth Kolbert's new book showed why we're idiots to think we can reverse or even delay climate change; in a week where Americans died of Covid once every 28 seconds; where my wife's family in Texas, like so many families there, went days without heat or water; in a time like this, I read Maggie Smith's poem. 

It went viral when she published it in 2016. Maybe you've read it already. Maybe you need a sense for why it's so good.

It gives me chills. It puts a knowing smile on my face. It's too short to excerpt, which means it's the perfect length for you to read right now. 

I'll wait. (Feb. 21)

 
 

Soundbreaking

My daughter's in a School of Rock camp this week—concert this afternoon!—and will be the vocalist when her band plays "Smells Like Teen Spirit." She wanted to see Kurt Cobain perform, so one night we pulled up old concerts and in our Youtube queue was this video, not a show but a story about Nirvana recording Unplugged and my favorite song from that album, their cover of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?"

The story was riveting, and was in fact a snippet of a whole docuseries called SoundBreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music. I downloaded the eight episodes.

It's fantastic. It's the making of the music, the story behind the making of the music, how making that music led other artists in other genres to make more and different music. The series spans eras and genres and national boundaries. My favorite episode might be the one on electronic music, which surprised me because I don't like electronic music, except I do like the story of how the weird and spatial synth album Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff debuted in 1971 led Stevie Wonder to hire the pair to produce what would become Stevie's "perfect run" of five platinum albums in the 1970s, the last and best of which was Songs in the Key of Life, an album that itself inspired other artists and producers to experiment even more with synthetic sounds, which led to Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and the rise of disco, which in turn led to Electronic Dance Music and ultimately to Beyonce sampling EDM phrases in her latest albums. 

The whole series is like that, stories upon stories. (July 18)

 

Why You Should Practice Failure

Loved this short essay from the great FS blog. If the best lessons in life come from the biggest setbacks, why not induce those failures? Why not force the eff ups and in so doing learn faster? Get better? (Oct. 10)

 

Paul Kix is a best-selling author. His newsletter is a deep dive into the storytellers who inspire him, in the hope they'll inspire you to do your best creative work. Sign up here.

The Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

Étienne Lajoie is a reporter for Le Devoir newspaper based in Toronto

The Sunday Fiction

A Touch of Jen
By Beth Morgan

Beth Morgan’s debut novel ‘A Touch of Jen’ is a dark comedy that shifts from obsession to Black Mirror-type horror. (July. 18)


 

Go, Went, Gone
By Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated by Susan Bernofsky


This story is about a retired classics professor, Richard, who lives in Berlin. He has an exacting daily routine that slowly begins to change as he notices the world beyond his. (May 23)


 

Admiring Silence
By Abdulrazak Gurnah

Tanzanian-born Abdulrazak Gurnah won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for his body of work which includes 10 novels. His fifth book ‘Admiring Silence’ is similar to his other novels which often cast an unflinching eye at colonialism, cultures and immigrants. (Oct. 24)


 

Wadzanai Mhute was the Senior Fiction Editor at the Sunday Long Read until November 1st, 2021. She is now the Books Editor of Oprah Daily. These are her three most-clicked selections this year.

The Sunday Long Play
from Kelly Dearmore

Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams (Spotify | Apple)

I know, I know, it’s quite early in 2021, and many of us are still battling list fatigue from the many year-end rankings of albums, books, films and shows from 2020. But we can’t help ourselves. Collapsed in Sunbeams, the debut LP from British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks, has just got to end up on any serious Best of 2021 albums list.  
 
At only 20-years-of-age, Parks shows colorfully substantial growth from the pair of fine 2019 EPs she released. The buzz for the new album began last year, as the ethereal single “Black Dog,” a breathtaking song about depression and isolation, climbed the charts in the U.K. With hints of folk, electro-pop, hip-hop and soul blended into absolute perfection, you can attempt to pin this record, or Parks the artist for that matter, into a tidy little genre corner, but it won’t work. There’s just no way there will be that many albums better than this one released over the remaining 11 months of this year to keep this stunner off the list of this 2021’s best. (Feb. 7)

 


James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds (Spotify | Apple)

Six years between albums feels like a long time, because it really is a long time, especially in this streaming day and age. But when the artist in question is Texas troubadour James McMurtry, the timing for a new record is right, anytime he decides to make it happen. The Horses and the Hounds, the 59-year-old songwriter's follow-up to his instant classic Complicated Game in 2015, is also his first release following the death of his father, the literary giant Larry McMurtry. 

The album was recorded in Los Angeles in 2019, so there are no topically-pointed COVID-era tales or nostalgic ruminations on his father's life. What is powerfully present, however, is what pretty much every McMurtry album offers: masterful, artful and unflinching storytelling. Give it a listen to hear why Slant states that McMurtry's “nearly peerless ability to tear our hearts out with a good yarn hasn't waned a bit.” (Aug. 22)

 


The Daptone Super Soul Revue! Live at the Apollo (Spotify | Apple)

An intriguing backstory might not boost an otherwise average album into greatness, but a heart-gripping origin story can certainly make a great album something absolutely transcendent. 

The newly released The Daptone Super Soul Revue! Live at the Apollo is a 32-track example of how the story behind a record can amplify its greatness. Recorded during what was surely a magical three-night run of shows in 2014, this stunning compilation offers fiery proof of the greatness of many of the Daptone record label stars, including Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and the screaming eagle of soul himself, Charles Bradley. 

Heartbreakingly, the two stars of those glorious concerts would be gone. Jones died of pancreatic cancer in 2016 at the age of 60, followed by Bradley, who died of stomach cancer in 2017 at the age of 68. This record, featuring two voices that powerfully radiated every human emotion with unmatched gusto, grit and grace, captured together for following generations is nothing short of triumphant. 

Make no mistake about it, this album would be worthy of our attention on its own. If Jones and Bradley were still with us, it would be yet another new reminder of their individual glory, but in a world where neither are with us, this new album is so much more than just another new album. (Oct. 3)

 

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance journalist from Dallas, TX. His work has appeared in Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News, Sounds Like Nashville, Paste, American Songwriter, Lone Star Music and more.

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   ‘I wish there was a plan’: The inside story of DC’s infamous New 52 reboot
By Graeme McMillan for Polygon 
 (~55 minutes)

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since DC launched “The New 52,” a top-to-bottom reboot of its iconic characters, with all titles reset to new #1s and the previously noted “52” books in constant flux. McMillan, a veteran journalist who is particularly familiar with the industry, speaks to some of the key players—including former DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, ex-Batman writer Scott Snyder, and many more. It paints a picture of great ambition mixed with chaos and editorial mandates that spawned a huge initial success but also some creative confusion. It’s an interesting look at what will remain one of the major comic book initiatives in recent memory, and one that will probably go down as successful, despite the eventual fan and critical blowback that nudged DC along to reset its history with stories like DC Rebirth and Doomsday Clock.

Full disclosure: I worked at DC twice, once during the early days of The New 52, and am familiar and friendly with many of the sources quoted in this piece. (Sept. 26)

 
 

   'The miracle is Wakanda': Ta-Nehisi Coates says goodbye to Black Panther
By Evan Narcisse for Polygon 
 (~35 minutes)

Few writers have left a more indelible stamp on a major comic book character than Ta-Nehisi Coates has with Marvel’s Black Panther. In this comprehensive, compelling, and intimate interview, Narcisse gets to the core of the acclaimed author’s lengthy run and what might be next. (June 6)

 


   Wonder Women
By Soraya Roberts for Hazlitt
 (~30 minutes)

Through the prism of the 1980s ill-fated SUPERGIRL film, Roberts asks a number of important questions—with the world, as the saying goes, “on fire,” does the idea of a superhero to solve everything even merit existence? If not, why are we overrun with the concept, and what does it mean for feminism, on the eve of the release of the second Wonder Woman film, 1984? Roberts takes a deep dive into the flawed Supergirl movie to explore the idea that, while women don’t own or rule the idea of super heroics, is the concept even worth their time? (Dec. 6)

 

Alex Segura is an acclaimed author of novels, comic books, short stories, and more. His next crime novel, Secret Identity, hits in March from Flatiron Books. Learn more at alexsegura.com

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

   The #SundayLR Sunday Soundtrack 2021


Our annual Spotify playlist of all our Sunday Soundtrack selections. Turn it up! 
 

Angels We Have Heard on High
By Folk Angel


We’ve had Folk Angel’s lovely rendition of this Christmas classic on repeat this season. Happy holidays!

Experimenting with the animated GIF as a weekly comic strip has been a challenge—to create something small, quick-playing, and humorous in pantomime. And, of course, something sophisticated enough to satisfy even the most discriminating of SLR reader! These three express a certain dystopic madness that spans from early man to Mark Zuckerburg.

Gus D’Angelo roams about San Francisco with cheap ballpoint pens and overpriced Moleskines. “Sparaboom!” is his somewhat-serial, somewhat-animated, somewhat-comic strip.

 

Cartoon is a minimalist art form, and my favorite cartoons tend to be the most sparse and simple. In “Subway Mice” I didn’t even have to include a caption, which is always thrilling. “Laptop Cowboy” was definitely the fan favorite of 2021—I think people like to see themselves lampooned in cartoons, and that one in particular skewered the way we all speak when constrained by technology. But my personal favorite was “Third Date.” The cartoon world can be more honest than the real world, and what is more honest than admitting to the profundity of the human desire for ice cream?

 

Jake Goldwasser is a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Weekly Humorist, as well as a poetry candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. You can follow his work on his website and on Instagram.

The Sund&y Amprs&nd
from @NoTheOtherJohn

Read the tweet here

The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   The Best Jokes of 2021
By Ian Crouch for The New Yorker
 (~5 minutes)

Ian Crouch’s annual round-up of the year’s best jokes is, as usual, worth your time. (And, if you made it to the end of the mega-newsletter, you must have at least some time to spare.)

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Founder, Editor: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Editor: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Junior Editor: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell
Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore
Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan
Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg
Senior Originals Editor: Peter Bailey-Wells
Sunday Comics Editor: Alex Segura

 

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
Junior Producers: Joe Levin, Veronica Dickson La Rotta

Contributing Writers: Meg Bernhard, Max Blau, Jack El-Hai, Anmol Irfan, Annelise Jolley, Emily Monaco, Kate Raphael, Ellyn, Ritterskamp, Amanda Ulrich, Leah Vann, Boen Wang, Patricia Kelly Yeo 
  

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Jonathan Bernstein, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Steve Caruso, Kyle Chayka, Chris Cillizza, Doug Bock ClarkAnna Katherine Clemmons, Stephanie Clifford, Rich Cohen, Jessica Contrera, Jonathan Coleman, Pam Colloff, Bryan Curtis, Seyward Darby, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Jodi Mailander Farrell, Hadley Freeman, Elaine Godfrey Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Megan Greenwell, Bill Grueskin, Justine Gubar, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Jordan Kisner, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Edmund Lee, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Steven Levy, Jon Mackenzie, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Jeff Maysh, Jack McCallum, Soraya Nadia McDonald, Susan McPherson, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Katherine Miller, Heidi N. Moore, Kim Morgan, Diana Moskovitz, Eric Neel, Kevin Nguyen, Joe Nocera, Olivia Nuzzi, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Elaina Plott, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Nausicaa Renner, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bob Sassone, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Ramona Shelburne, Jacqui Shine, Alexandra Sifferlin, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Adam Sternbergh, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Nikki Waller, John A. Walsh, Seth Wickersham, Karen Wickre, Brad Wolverton and Dave Zirin

Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019


Header Image: Multiple

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.

A Word From Our Publishing Partner 

 

If the end of the year finds you in search of a new direction, or just a new idea, you’ll find it in “How To Live” by Derek Sivers.

This slim volume can keep you busy throughout 2022, only available from him. Results only available from you. See you in the New Year!

—Ruth Ann Harnisch

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