EDITORS' NOTE: Happy Sunday! We've got four short notes to share before we get to the long reads.
1. Firstly, welcome to all of our new subscribers! We're honored and excited to have you. For a little more information about the SLR, we have a short FAQ section on our website covering who we are, what this is, and why. If you've got any other question or suggestion, please reach out directly or on Twitter! There are few things we enjoy more than hearing from you all.
2. We're hoping to expand our volunteer team again in 2020 by adding a junior producer who will help us put together the newsletter each weekend. If you're interested in learning more, please reach out to us or our current producer, the always aces Etienne Lajoie!
3. Boston University's Power of Narrative Conference is now right around the corner! We're proud to be supporting the gathering again this year and highly encourage writers young and old to check it out.
4. If you missed the latest episode of Don's ESPN docuseries, BACKSTORY, last week, you can stream it anytime. It will also re-air several times over the next couple months.
Alright, now silence your cell phone and get ready for the main event.
Charlotte Higgins’ wonderful lede ushers you to the office door of the man responsible for “the biggest scandal that has ever hit, and is ever likely to hit, the University of Oxford’s classics department.” At the heart of this rich story is a multimillion-dollar riddle that includes a tiny missing fragment of an ancient manuscript, an oddball Oxford classics don and—just in case that wasn’t enough—billionaire American evangelicals.
From World War II to files being burnt in a Texas garage, Shaun Raviv traces the unabashed enthusiasm, scientific successes, and questionable ethics of facial recognition technology (and maybe all technology?) that marked the 20th century and looms over our current world.
For years, a small team of FBI agents attempted to crack one of 9/11’s most confounding mysteries: Were officials from Saudi Arabia, one of America’s closest allies, involved in the worst terror attack in U.S. history?
We still can’t say we totally understand what radiation is or does, but Justin Nobel’s mix of human and investigate reporting clearly demonstrates the damage caused by trillions of gallons of toxic waste contaminating American communities.
Two Iranian-Canadians write, in their own way, about Iranian tragedy. Toronto’s Rehana Dhirani writes an astonishing memoir of tragedy and heartbreak that deserves a wide audience while Vancouver’s Nilo Tabrizy perilously connects with reporter friends caught in the country’s internet blackout and protests.
All-star publicist Peggy Siegal was one of New York’s go-to party hosts and a big-time player in the annual Oscars frenzy. Then her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein came to light. We were wowed by Maureen O’Connor’s reporting and writing.
“If you participate in online public life, you cannot entirely avoid the Internet of Beefs,” writes Venkatesh Rao. “Beefs” is Rao’s euphemism for Twitter arguments made to the delight of the popcorn-munching digital class, though that’s an oversimplification of the themes running through this essay. Rao introduces us to the numerous subsets of the rage culture and you might need a scorecard; he separates a knight from a “mook” (and the “Lord of a Mook Manor”) and the differences between a real beef and an “IoB beef.” “The Internet of Beef is simply what happens when children who grew up desperately defending constructed identities in pointless caste systems discover an entire world of combatants outside the schoolyard.”
A savvy survey of publishing in the last decade shows how Amazon has thwarted every stubborn bid by the battered industry to bounce back (and yet, it still tries and has made baby-steps towards progress despite everything). This week’s second recommended piece from n+1 demonstrates how much we’ve come to enjoy this thoughtful, always surprising magazine.
“When you’re constantly shown to the back of the career bus, quitting what looks like a good job can be a vital moment of reclaiming the self-esteem that unlocks a world of possibility,” writes Veronica Chambers, in her contribution to the Times’ Style section’s aspirational I Quit series. “At least it was for me.”
Jack Allison dismissed “Saturday Night Live” as unfunny (he’s hardly the first person to make such a radicaldeclaration). Thus began a months-long feud with Michael Che, SNL’s head writer and the co-anchor of “Weekend Update.” Last week, this piece turned their spat into a viral thing everyone was talking about.
“Long before the rise of cancel culture, the novel [American Psycho] stood out for its capacity to divide and offend,” writes Tim Molloy in this intriguing oral history. The novel’s author, Bret Easton Ellis, says, “There was not a line, believe me, of people who wanted to produce this movie.”
Super Bowl LIV kicks off a week from today here in my hometown of Miami (well, Miami Gardens, to be precise). This masterwork of visual virtuosity and fabulous story-telling, by my ESPN colleagues, is a stacked nacho plate of fun for every NFL fan (even fans of NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl—that group includes you and me, Jack Shafer).
Who knew that behind 53 Super Bowl rings—from Packer Bart Starr’s Super Bowl I ring to Patriot Kenjon Barner’s ring won in Super Bowl LIII—there are all these cool stories?
To visit Dr Dirk Obbink at Christ Church college, Oxford, you must first be ushered by a bowler-hatted porter into the stately Tom Quad, built by Cardinal Wolsey before his spectacular downfall in 1529. Turn sharp right, climb a flight of stairs, and there, behind a door on which is pinned a notice advertising a 2007 college arts festival, you will find Obbink’s rooms. Be warned: you may knock on the door in vain. Since October, he has been suspended from duties following the biggest scandal that has ever hit, and is ever likely to hit, the University of Oxford’s classics department.
Who says that a feature that has yet to reach its first birthday can't be ranked as a classic? I've read Kerry Howley's profile of Tulsi Gabbard four or five times since it came out last June and another time this week while considering it for classicdom and can endorse it without reservation. Each time, I savored this line about the congresswoman turned presidential candidate: "In interview after interview, she gives the impression of having anti-Establishment convictions just beyond the reach of articulation, as if she had carried instructions into battle and lost them."
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
I’m taking a bit of a flyer on this one, but there’s a brand new week-by-week podcast about, well, the best book ever written. The first episode features host Talia Levin and one of my favorite writers, David Roth. From the Patreon description: “we aim to start at "Loomings" and go all the way to "Epilogue" -- 135 chapters of queerness, blubber, floridity, overly specific whale knowledge, monologues, direct address, tense confusion and more clauses than a lawyer's wet dream.” Get in from the beginning, folks.
Jody Avirgan is a podcast host and producer, most recently with 30 for 30 Podcasts and FiveThirtyEight. You can find his work and newsletter at jodyavirgan.com.
How do you turn a talking head assignment into a memorable moment? AP photographer Patrick Semansky shot this “how did he do that?” photo on Jan. 22 as Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. Instead of resorting to a clean, unobstructed view of the speaker, Semansky playfully shot through the colored lights, adjusting for ambient light and using a shallow depth-of-field focus to creatively frame an otherwise boring visual with symmetry and color.
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.
Faithful readers of my newsletter know I'm not huge on classical music. It's Beethoven's 9th and then I lose interest. I didn't lose interest here, though, maybe because Williams echoes Beethoven's robust sound but brings it into the modern, English-speaking world. I first heard the symphony a couple years ago flipping through radio stations. I listened to it again this week while writing. It's good stuff.
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.
Measures of professional success and personal happiness collide in a recent academic study by Lawrence Krieger and Kennon Sheldon. In "What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success," the authors analyze data from thousands of lawyers in multiple states and find that lawyers "in large firms and other prestigious positions were not as happy as public service attorneys, despite the far better grades and pay of the former group."
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.
Most major, iconic comic characters have definitive runs - Stan Lee and Ditko on Spider-Man, Chris Claremont and various artists on X-Men, and, though not alone, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers on Batman. Though their original run on Detective Comics was brief, clocking in under ten issues, it remains legendary in the eyes of longtime Bat-fans, and helped inspire many elements of the Sam Hamm-written/Tim Burton-directed 1989 Batman film. DC very smartly hired the team back for a mini-series that served as a sequel to their original run. In his chat with Greenfield, Englehart reveals what he had planned for a third Dark Detective series, which was shelved after Rogers died in 2007, with only an issue’s worth of pencils done for the project. As Greenfield states, the story and information Englehart shares on his site are “catnip for Batman fans,” and provide readers with a peek into what might have been for one of the Caped Crusader’s most legendary creative teams.
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.
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
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Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019
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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.