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This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful by Marc J. Dunkelman for Politico Magazine



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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

EDITORS' NOTE: Happy Sunday! This week we’ve got an overstuffed list to share. It’s also our last standard edition of 2019. Next week, we’ll unveil our Best of 2019 issue, based largely on the stories our readers couldn’t get enough of over the course of this insane unending sprint of a year.

Our members will then get another bonus newsletter over our Holiday break (thanks again to all of our new supporters who joined us over the Thanksgiving break, by the way!). You can sign up here to support the SLR and get those extra picks.

Lastly, as we begin turning our attention to 2020, an annual reminder to consider checking out Boston University’s Power of Narrative conference, which we proudly sponsor every year. This year’s theme is “Telling true stories in turbulent times.” Fitting, no?

Don and Jacob

Don and Jacob's Favorite

   How This Con Man’s Wild Testimony Sent Dozens to Jail, and 4 to Death Row
By Pamela Colloff for The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica
 (~60 minutes)

ProPublica and The New York Times have done it again, with another collaboration that left us shaking our heads in awe. SLR contributor Pamela Colloff’s writing, full of stick-with-you detail, explains how things really work inside prison and out.

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

   Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi's India
By Dexter Filkins for The New Yorker
 (~60 minutes)

Two hundred million Muslims have been cast as internal enemies by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.


   The Champion Who Picked a Date to Die
By Andrew Keh and Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
 (~15 minutes)

You will not forget Marieke Vervoort’s courage. An outstanding collaboration by Andrew Keh and Lynsey Addario (who contributed additional reporting and took the amazing photographs).


   Students And Police Were At War On A Campus Under Siege. The Sewers Were The Only Escape.
By Rosalind Adams for BuzzFeed News
 (~25 minutes)

Escaping Polytechnic University via an elaborate underground labyrinth would be the stuff of a fun college movie, if it wasn’t taking place in the center of a high stakes human rights battle with global implications. This is what it’s like on the ground in Hong Kong—and underneath it.

➢ When a Hero Came Home


   Epidemic of Fear: How the Trouble-Ridden Debut of a Breakthrough Vaccine Sparked a Panic
By Erika Fry for Fortune
 (~40 minutes)

What opens as one of those tragic stories that’s so hard to read yet so important turns into something even bigger and even more meaningful after an end-of-intro twist. 


   Chaos at the Top of the World
By Joshua Hammer for GQ
 (~25 minutes)

A horrific hiking story hidden in a viral photograph, uncovered and told artfully by Joshua Hammer.

➢ The Ghosts of Cement City


   Walking the Wall: my Brexit hike in northern England
By Tom Rowley for 1843 Magazine 
 (~15 minutes)

We got swept up in this irresistible, well-executed idea: The Economist’s outstanding Britain correspondent, Tom Rowley, leaves behind Brexit-deadlocked Westminster and heads home, making an 84-mile hike along Hadrian’s Wall. On a quest to find out something, well, new about Brexit and the upcoming election, Rowley gets all that, plus some fascinating insights about England’s "middleland."


   This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful
By Marc J. Dunkelman for Politico Magazine
 (~45 minutes)

Depending on your politics, you might be the problem.



By David Gauvey Herbert for Marker
 (~30 minutes)

We’ve always got time for a taut bank robbery yarn. This is a particularly fun one.


   The Rise and Fall of Facts
By Colin Dickey for Columbia Journalism Review
 (~5 minutes)


➢ “Your Honor, Can I Tell the Whole Story?”
➢ Pete Hamill ‘Ain’t Done Yet’


   The confession
By Peter Jamison for The Washington Post
 (~25 minutes)

An anti-gay slur and “Heil Trump” were spray-painted on an Indiana church shortly after the 2016 Presidential election. The investigation led to the discoveries that the crime was not only an inside job but a hate crime hoax.

➢ Fifty years after the ‘Black 14’ were banished, Wyoming football reckons with the past


   At This Ultramarathon, There's No Finish Line
By Jessica Smetana for Sports Illustrated
 (~10 minutes)

The runners go round and round in this story about a seriously crazy competition, but Jessica Smetana keeps things on track.

➢ Running Dysmorphic
➢ The Pastor, the Porch, and a Father’s Fight With Faith


   Redesign U
By Steven Johnson for The California Sunday Magazine
 (~25 minutes)

What can’t Stanford’s—and its signature idea, design thinking—improve? We’re about to find out.

➢ Do We Have Minds of Our Own?


   The Intoxicating History of Gin
By Anthony Lane for The New Yorker
 (~25 minutes)

Gin is having its moment—well, the moment has lasted a few years now—but the British caught on centuries ago, sometimes with very, very bad results.


   Oil is the New Data
By Zero Cool for Logic 
 (~20 minutes)

“Big Tech and Big Oil are closely linked, and only getting closer,” as a pseudonymous Microsoft engineer found in Kazakhstan.

➢ ‘I've seen death in this city, but nothing as sad as this’


   The Class of 2000 ‘Could Have Been Anything’
By Dan Levin for The New York Times 
 (~10 minutes)

The haunting tale of a class of Ohio high school students decimated by opioids.

➢ The Day That Changed Everything


   The Remembrance: Seymour Siwoff, Master of Sports Statistics
By Richard Goldstein for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

“What I enjoy most about statistics is the chance they give you to relive the past,” Mr. Siwoff said.

➢ Loss, love and a promise kept for the voice of Auburn football
➢ You Don't Know College Football's Most Intimate Rivalry


   Michael Schur on Peter Singer’s Moral Challenge to the Rest of Us
By Michael Schur for Lithub
 (~5 minutes)

From Peter Singer’s most recent book, a pithy essay from The Good Place creator (and SLR contributor) on doing something good.

➢ How Watching ‘Jeopardy!’ Together Helped Me Say Goodbye to My Father


   The #SundayQ&A: Jamie Lee Curtis Has Never Worked Hard a Day In Her Life
By Rachel Syme for The New Yorker
 (~20 minutes)

There’s so much fun stuffed inside Rachel Syme’s Q&A with Knives Out’s Jamie Lee Curtis, but if you have time for only an excerpt, read the Bette Davis stuff.

Listen to Rachel Syme on The Sunday Long Read Podcast!


   Saoirse Ronan Knows ‘Little Women’ Is the Performance of Her Career
By Matt Donnelly for Variety
 (~15 minutes)

At a dinner, Saoirse Ronan tapped Greta Gerwing on the shoulder and told her: 1.) I hear you’re doing “Little Women” and 2.) I need to play Jo. Gerwig told her she’d think about it, to which Ronan replied, “Oh, for f---’s sake.” A week later, Gerwig emailed Ronan with the news that the role was her’s. “Little Women” debuts Christmas Day.

Last Week's Most Read

   Hurricane Season
By David Sedaris for The New Yorker 

   Anyone Who Cares About Gun Laws Should Pay Attention To What’s Happening In Idaho
By Anne Helen Petersen for BuzzFeed News

   In a Season of Grief, I Turned to Home Improvement
By Connie Schultz for Glamour 


Lede of the Week

   Chaos at the Top of the World, by Joshua Hammer

It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.


Quotation of the Week

   At This Ultramarathon, There's No Finish Line, by Jessica Smetana

"I find satisfaction in something where there is a little bit of suffering.”

Maggie Guterl

The SLR Podcast

   Episode 41: Tim Urban (Apple | Spotify)

Tim Urban is a popular blogger and the co-founder of “Wait But Why,” a site that discusses a wide variety of topics including picking the right career path, SpaceX rockets, and love. His most recent mammoth work is “The Story of Us,” a re-tracing of how we got to this political moment.

[1:06] The origins of “Wait But Why
[8:39] “Outqualitying” other websites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy early on
[17:14] Asking readers for money
[19:00] Kurzgesagt
[23:55] On “The Story of Us”
[46:39] On echo chambers 
[51:13] The possibility of writing about politics

Subscribe today!

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   David Cassidy: Naked Lunch Box (1972)
By Robin Green for Rolling Stone 
 (~45 minutes)

As big as Sinatra, as big as Elvis, TV teen-heartthrob David Cassidy made his young fans attending his concerts leave their seats, in his words, sticky. This against-the-grain 1972 profile in Rolling Stone didn't take the lead actor in The Partridge Family seriously, but it did take him on his own terms, and delivers a thumbnail portrait of how the star-making machine works. The best line in the whole piece belongs to his manager, Ruth Aarons. " ‘Look, you’ve got two ways to go: you can stay here in New York for seven years and learn to act. Or,’ I told him, ‘you can come back to Los Angeles and be a star.’ "

Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Long Pod
from Jody Avirgan

   Making Beyonce (Apple | Spotify)

For my Thanksgiving travels, I saved up this three-part series from WBEZ, and it did the trick. It’s full of remarkable home video, hidden stories of how Beyonce came up through the Houston music scene, and snappy writing. Episode 2 in particular is really strong, focusing on a crucial moment where Beyonce and her first group appeared on Star Search. It’s also the episode where you start to really feel the pressures put on superstars-in-the-making. My only complaint is that it’s too short. This brings us right up to the formation of Destiny’s Child, whereas I wanted a chapter or two after that in the making-of story.

Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN, which just launched Season Six.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Red-Hot Street Rage

People lunge at photographers to intimidate or thwart them, but a running protestor’s hand closing in on his lens became AFP photographer Hussein Faleh’s best image on Nov. 25 as he covered dangerous street protests in Basra, Iraq. Faleh fills 100% of the frame with layers of action. The eye rotates from burning tires and smoke to the crowd in the street to the protestor’s hand and covered face. Using a wide-angle lens to capture the action close up, Faleh conveys the drama and urgency of a country demanding change. More than 420 people have been killed and 15,000 wounded over the past two months in Iraq as anti-government crowds have lashed out against corruption and a stagnant economy. Four days after Faleh’s photograph, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced he would resign.

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 Long View
from The Editors

   Kindergartner invites entire class to his adoption hearing in Michigan
By Good Morning America 

This story—and this kid—is hard to top.

The Kix Picks
from Paul Kix

Remembering Clive James (1939-2019)


The British polymath whose writing style influenced me probably more than anyone else died November 27th. He was 80. James was an essayist, novelist, poet, translator and television host who excelled, I think, because he had such levity and erudition across all those mediums. Dwight Garner wrote an appreciation of James in the Times and said, "It was like watching Johnny Carson, Russell Baker and Edmund Wilson struggle to enter a door at the same time." I never met James and don't pretend to know him—and yet I do know him, because his writing so consistently floored me. I've said before but it bears repeating that Cultural Amnesia is the lone book that will always be on my nightstand. Here's James on F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the best essays in the collection:

"He is a cautionary tale, but the tale is about us more than him. Tormented by a glamorous marriage that went wrong, drinking himself to destruction while doing second-rate work to pay the bills, lost in a Hollywood system guaranteed to frustrate what was left of his ability, he became the focal point of numberless journalists' stories about the waste of a literary talent. He himself gave the starting signal for that approach with the self-flagellating articles later collected in The Crack Up. Faultless in its transparent style and full of true things about the perils of the creative life, it is certainly a book to read and remember, but not until we have read and remembered (indeed memorized) The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Otherwise we might get the absurd idea that one of the most important modern writers spent his career preparing himself for a suitably edifying disintegration. The inevitable effect of a biographer's hindsight is to belittle the subject's foresight. As his two great novels prove, Fitzgerald was well aware that the culture of glamour was a drawback of democracy, a leveling mechanism calculated to give us comfort by turning gifted lives into manageable legends."

Told you he's good. Next time you see Clive James on the spine of a book, buy it. You won't be disappointed. 

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 Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   Vogue Portugal
Cover design by José Santana

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

The Sunday Esoterica
from Ryan Rodenberg

   How to Raise a Genius

In a meta-analysis of sorts for Nature, Tom Clynes writes about "[a] long-running study of exceptional children" and the career outcomes of precocious kids decades later.  Most notable was the finding that children who scored in the top 1% on the SAT's math section "outperform[ed]" others in areas such as doctoral degrees earned, patents secured, and academic publications.

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 Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

I Hear You Knocking
By Smiley Lewis

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   A ‘Crisis’ Brings Together Many DC Comics Heroes
By George Gene Gustines for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

As Gustines smartly points out early on in this piece, few would have guessed that—when The CW launched a television series based on middling DC Comics vigilante hero Green Arrow—it’d lead to a multiverse-spanning slate of comic book-centric shows like The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Batwoman, and more. But here we are—with all the series careening toward a very comic book-like mega-crossover in the aptly title Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is loosely based on the seismic comic book event of the same name, by writer Marv Wolfman and artists George Perez and Jerry Ordway. In the original story, a menacing multi-dimensional threat known as the Anti-Monitor was putting not only the main DC universe at risk, but all the infinite alternate earths—many of which included alternate or past versions of iconic heroes like Superman, the Flash, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

Crisis was the first-ever comic book mega-event, and set the stage for the seasonal “nothing will ever be the same!”-style promotional moments that have become a staple of corporate-owned comics. Gustines, a savvy reporter who has covered the comic book industry for well over a decade, connects the dots between the seminal publishing event and its television offspring, recapping the many notable cameos by “alternate Earth” versions of the core CW heroes - like Burt Ward, Kevin Conroy, John Wesley Shipp, and more. He also gives fans a nice spotlight on each of the key players - including Stephen Amell’s Arrow, Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl, and Grant Gustin's Flash. A great primer for those chomping at the bit to see one of the most beloved comic book stories ever brought to life, or for those curious to explore the four-color roots of tonight’s big-ticket event.


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

The Sund&y Amprs&nd
from The Editors
The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   My Two-Year-Old Requests Just One More Song Before Bed
By Jesse Eisenberg for The New Yorker
 (~5 minutes)


   I’m the Host of a Prestigious TV News Show, and I Invite You to Come On-Air to Bullshit Me
By Eduardo Martinez Jr. for McSweeney’s
 (~5 minutes)

Meet the host of a TV show that empowers “every transparently spineless clown, moron, and con-man out there.” Well, meet one of the hosts.

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Founder, Editor: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Editor: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Curator: 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


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, Doug Bock ClarkAnna Katherine Clemmons, Stephanie Clifford, Rich Cohen, Jessica Contrera, Jonathan Coleman, Pam Colloff, Bryan Curtis, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Jodi Mailander Farrell, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Megan Greenwell, Justine Gubar, 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, Jon Mackenzie, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Jeff Maysh, Jack McCallum, Susan McPherson, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Kim Morgan, 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, 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 and Dave Zirin.

Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019

Header Image: Ryan Inzana

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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