Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

How Sia Saved Herself by Hillel Aron for Rolling Stone.



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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Labor Day weekend! Before we get to another stacked list of our favorites, a quick note about our podcast. A few listeners have reached out about bugs in their feed of episodes. The most recent episode should be No. 25: Maria Bustillos. We’ve been working on the back-end to smooth out the process, but if there’s anything wonky going on with our podcast in your app of choice, please let us know. Re-subscribing may help in the meantime. Thanks!

Don and Jacob

Don and Jacob's Favorite

   A Lifelong Dream Washed Away
By Dave Sheinin 
 (~20 minutes)


At 30 years old, after toiling in the minors for eight years, pitcher Brian Mazone was about to make his Major League debut. Then it rained. It’s a simple story really—a dream earned yet not realized. But maybe all the great stories, the ones that everyone can connect with, the ones that stay with you, maybe they’re all simple? Either way, this one, from an award-winning sportswriter, is a great one.

   Glenn Greenwald, the Bane of Their Resistance
By Ian Parker 
 (~60 minutes)


A man-in-full portrait of leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald and his scorched-earth campaign against the Democratic Party, an organization that he says is badly broken, with its all-consuming Russia collusion obsession and tightness with Wall Street and other big-money special interests. After being exiled from MSNBC, Greenwald was welcomed into the warm embrace of Fox News. Ian Parker ferries you inside Greenwald’s world in Brazil, where he lives with his husband, two adopted sons and two dozen shelter dogs. “What was the campaign slogan of Hillary Clinton?” Greenwald asks. “ ‘America is already great.’ This was the platform that Democrats ran on.” Bestselling author and New Yorker scribe David Grann called this piece one of the best profiles he’s ever read.

The Triumph of Stephen Colbert


   How Sia Saved Herself
By Hillel Aron 

 (~20 minutes)

Sia wrote “Diamonds,” Rihanna’s No. 1 hit, in 14 minutes. She also went through a long struggle with alcoholism, punctuated by a plan to commit suicide. Turns out, there’s a lot you don’t know.

How Pete Davidson Found His Voice on ‘Saturday Night Live’


   The City Born in a Day
By Sam Anderson

 (~20 minutes)

Sam Anderson’s new book about Oklahoma City has gotten rave reviews. This fun excerpt shows why.

Rethinking Manhattan’s Grid


   The Incredible, Rage-Inducing Inside Story of America’s Student Debt Machine
By Ryann Liebenthal
 (~35 minutes)

A deep-dive exploration of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, backed by Senator Ted Kennedy and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. The PSLF is forgiving too few public student loans while rarely performing anything that resembles a “public service.”

➢ The Student Debt Problem is Worse Than We Imagined


   The Man Who Walked Backward
By Ben Montgomery 
 (~35 minutes)

The true story of a Texas man who, during the Great Depression, walked around the world—backward. You won’t forget Plennie Wingo. An excerpt from Ben Montgomery’s forthcoming book to be published Sept. 18.


   Millennial Evangelicals Diverge from their Parents’ Beliefs
By Eliza Griswold 
 (~15 minutes)


Millennial evangelical Christians are rejecting their parents’ musty political fights over the literalism of the Bible. Instead, they’re scouring the scripture for answers to the broader questions, such as, How shall I live? 


By Spencer Hall 
 (~25 minutes)


Spencer Hall writing a must-read essay at the kick-off of the college football season has become an annual tradition. He’s done it again.


   The Man, The Mouth, The Legend
By Mina Kimes 
 (~25 minutes)


Kimes’ profile of Jalen Ramsey, the cocky Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback, is superb. Her turns of phrase and the way she discreetly inserts herself in the story are proof of a confident writer. The way she interacts with him is delightful, as if only one of the two can finish on top. In what could have been a kicker, Kimes asks Ramsey if he can be “the best father in the world. And, for once, he says no.” 


   A Stark, White Room: Sutherland Springs still struggles with church massacre
By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
 (~15 minutes)

“Sutherland Springs is still devastated, still hovering between sorrow and strength, still trying to overcome what hangs over nearly every interaction in this working-class, rural farming community, which lost 5 percent of its residents in the massacre,” writes Emily Wax-Thibodeaux about the slow recovery of the worshipers at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman invaded the sanctuary and killed 26 people last November. 


   Trash, Class and Free Cigarettes: My life with The Jerry Springer Show
By Katie Rife 
 (~10 minutes)


A requiem for The Jerry Springer Show: “We didn’t tell the guests to fight each other, per se,” writes Katie Rife, “but we did separate them during commercial breaks and whisper in their ears about how the other party had done them wrong and they needed to stand up for themselves.”


   Skim Reading is the New Normal. The Effect on Society is Profound
By Maryanne Wolf
 (~5 minutes)


Here comes the manifesto for a new literacy for the forever-distracted digital age.


   God Is In The Machine
By Carl Miller 
 (~15 minutes)


A penetrating look at “weapons of math destruction,” the “terrifying, hidden reality of Ridiculously Complicated Algorithms.” An excerpt from Carl Miller’s fascinating new book, “The Death of the Gods.

How Big Tech Swallowed Seattle


   And Now For His Next Act...
By Seth Wickersham 
 (~25 minutes)


Early last week, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants signed a $95 million contract making him the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history. Now, OBJ is trying to rekindle the magic that made him a superstar. My ESPN colleague and close friend Seth Wickersham delivers another fascinating, perfectly-timed piece teeming with fresh details and glittering prose. 

How Maple Bats Kicked Ash and Conquered Baseball


   THE SUNDAY ORAL HISTORY: ‘It Was Us Against Those Guys’: The Women Who Transformed Rolling Stone in the Mid-70s
By Jessica Hopper 
 (~15 minutes)


How did a 28-year-old feminist named Marianne Partridge manage to bluff her way into running a copy department in the 1970s and help make rock journalism legit while also, not so incidentally, putting six women on the Rolling Stone masthead? Unfortunately, this piece lacks the voice of legendary editor Harriet Fier, who died the day before Hopper’s scheduled interview.

We are big fans of the oral history (as you know) and this one by Jessica Hopper ranks among our favorites this year.


   Is It Real—And Does It Matter? How Korea’s Counterfeit Culture Shaped My Style
By Monica Kim 
 (~10 minutes)


A beautiful, personal essay on the meaning of “fake” luxury. 

A Few Words about Fake Breasts


   The Ghosts of the Orphanage
By Christine Kenneally 
 (~120 minutes)


In this painstakingly reported story lasting four years, Christine Kenneally uncovers the haunting truth behind the death of orphans at Burlington’s St. Joseph Orphanage, and the scars left on the minds of those who witnessed their disappearance. 


   American Pie
By Jenny G. Zhang 
 (~10 minutes)


“When I think of Pizza Hut, I think of my grandmother,” writes Jenny G. Zhang in the irresistible opening to this irresistible piece. “She’s 90. She lives in Beijing.”

An Open Letter to the Future


   THE SUNDAY Q&A: How Do We Fix Toxic Restaurant Culture?
By Marian Bull 
 (~15 minutes)


Six chefs, owners or restaurateurs sit down to address the entrenched idea that restaurants are hostile work environments for employees, and women in particular. “I had a line cook for a while who had worked in some top places—I was super excited about his skill level. But he honestly believed that being a dick was cool,” one chef says.


   Could I Kill My Mother?
By Sarah Lyall 
 (~5 minutes)


"I am not a doctor. I am not very brave. But I want to do what she wants."


   Running for Alex: How Tom Sullivan Turned Tragedy Into a Political Crusade
By Robert Sanchez 
 (~25 minutes)


Tom Sullivan’s eldest son, Alex, was murdered at the Century Aurora 16 theater on July 20, 2012, in one of the worst mass shootings in American history. What would you have done? Sullivan channeled all that anger and sorrow into a quixotic campaign for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. 

“I think I’m one of those guys, one of those who has the Peter Pan syndrome, one of the guys who never wants to grow up,” Tom Sullivan said during the victim-impact portion of the killer’s death sentence hearing. “On the morning he was murdered, I was forced then to have to grow up. And, so then from this point on, all I’m doing is getting older.”


   Who Broke the News?
By Alan Rusbridger
 (~25 minutes)


In this excerpt of his book to be published later this year, the former, longtime editor of the Guardian explains how and why the news business is broken—and what must be done, if there’s any hope of saving it.


   This Is Personal
By Stephen Curry 
 (~10 minutes)


This weekend, my wife and I are in Boston, helping our oldest daughter Isabel, an incoming freshman who makes everything happy, settle into college life. This is all new and... not…. easy. My wife, Isabel’s little sister, Sofia, and I are all so proud of Isabel as she makes her way into the world to pursue her dreams. 

So this heartfelt piece by Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors superstar and the father of two daughters, drops with exquisite timing. Steph writes, “I want our girls to grow up knowing that there are no boundaries that can be placed on their futures, period.” Hear, hear.

Journey Into Self 

Last Week's Most Read

   How Tourists Are Destroying the Places They Love
By Der Spiegel Staff

   The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History
By Andy Greenberg 

   Dear Mr President
By Jeanne Marie Laskas 


Lede of the Week

When does a city begin?

In most cases, we have no idea. We are forced to invent origin stories: wolves raising twins, eagles carrying snakes. The volcano god belches: civilization.
We want the birth of a city to make sense, to be grand. We want it to lend its citizens meaning. But the reality is almost always far less dramatic. Cities creep into existence, like algae. (Lewis Mumford: “The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap.”) It’s silly to talk about beginnings. No one is standing there firing a starting gun. There is no primordial boom. It happens in slow motion, over generations, by accident. Even if we do happen to know the general outlines — a European explorer found a promising bay, and eventually other Europeans followed him there — almost all the specifics are lost. We’ll never know what most cities were like during their very first hour, minute, second. It doesn’t even really make sense to ask. Cities are not microwave popcorn.

Unless you are talking about Oklahoma City.

Quotation of the Week

   How Sia Saved Herself

“A lot of people in my industry have to do the same things over and over because it’s what people want. I’ve tried to work out ways to make this fun and to see what I can get away with, essentially.”


The SLR Podcast

No new podcast this week, but we hope you can sit back, and enjoy these great episodes during the long weekend! 

Maria Bustillos
Sally Jenkins
Taffy Brodesser-Akner 
Amy Chozick
Jo Piazza
Glynnis MacNicol


Subscribe to The Sunday Long Read Podcast today!

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   Soul Survivor (2016)

By David Remnick  

 (~30 minutes)

Take it away, David Remnick!

"Aretha comes out onstage looking like the fanciest church lady in Christendom: fierce red lipstick, floor-length mink, a brocaded pink-and-gold dress that Bessie Smith would have worn if she’d sold tens of millions of records. Aretha sits down at the piano. She adjusts the mike. Then she proceeds to punch out a series of gospel chords in 12/8 time, and, if you have an ounce of sap left in you, you are overcome. A huge orchestra wells up beneath her, and four crack backup singers sliver their perfectly timed accents (“Ah-hoo!”) in front of her lines. Aretha is singing with a power that rivals her own self of three or four decades ago."

Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Fan Letter
from Jacob Feldman


Since downloading my first book from Libby this June, I've been consistently surprised by how much fun a library app could be to use. The library! Fun!

Just like your local branch, after showing your library card, this app will let you browse categories and search for titles, put in holds for popular books, and peruse librarian suggestions. (You can also rent audiobooks.) Loaning a book is seamless—you can even send the download to your Kindle, but the in-app reading experience is also superb.

For e-reading skeptics: I still appreciate a good paperback. But it’s hard to beat constantly having a handful of tomes in your pocket, plus a highlighter, and the ability to search the entire volume.

For e-reading enthusiasts: Libby has almost completely replaced my use of Kindle, iBooks, or anything else. With free rentals, there’s no harm in trying out a new book. If it’s not for you, returning it is just a click away. And the 14-day loan period has actually forced me to read the books rather than letting them pile up (you can also renew loans when need be). Not every book is available, of course, but sometimes expanding beyond the stories social media recommends is worthwhile, too. The biggest downside is that you lose your highlights and notes when your loan ends; for now, I’m taking screenshots of each and saving them elsewhere.

Anyway, Labor Day weekend is the perfect time to add the library to your homescreen. And let me know what you check out!

Why I Love This Sculpture at the Met
➢ Letter of Recommendation: Clock Radios

The Long View
from Justine Gubar

   Cryptocurrency: Virtual money, real power, and the fight for a small town's future
By Errol Barnett (correspondent) and Hunter Holcombe (producer)


Confused about cryptocurrency? Watching this doc from CBSN Originals will help. Correspondent Errol Barnett takes the viewer on an informative journey to a small town that as a hub for the bitcoin gold rush finds itself fighting for its  future.

The Long View curator Justine Gubar is a former Vice President, News Narratives at Fusion and the author of Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan. Reach out to Justine at if you have a suggestion for next week's long view.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Illuminating a senator’s life

Of the many outstanding photographs of the nation paying respects to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the stunning image by New York Times photographer Tom Brenner of McCain’s casket arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Aug. 30, 2018, stands out. Brenner set his camera to expose for the light inside the hearse, illuminating the casket covered in the American flag. The balance with the brightness from within the plane, along with the muted ambient light softly blanketing the moment, demonstrates how an eye for light can distinguish a photographer. Brenner resisted the urge to expose for the entire scene to capture a photo that pays the ultimate respect to a man who served the country for 60 years. 


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

The Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   And Now For His Next Act...
By Seth Wickersham 
Photo by Randall Slavin 

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

The Sunday Esoterica
from Ryan Rodenberg

   Robot Criminals


Yale Law School researcher Ying Hu asks a thought-provoking question in a recently-released academic paper: "When a robot harms humans, are there any grounds for holding it criminally liable for its misconduct?"  The author provides a qualified answer of "yes" and delves into the nuances of the how/when/why.  With autonomous robots (e.g. aerial drones) growing in popularity, Hu's question will likely remain timely for years.   

Hu's 39-page paper can be found here

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

The Sunday Long Play
from Kelly Dearmore

Bombino - Nomad (iTunes | Spotify)


All too often, Thai funk or Puerto Rican hip-hop are relegated to the overly generic, belittling "World Music" aisle in record shops. It's as if the music is some odd version of the NHL All-Star game where the North American product faces off against players from "The World," as in, everywhere else but here.

One such artist who deserves to be lauded with the modern range of guitar gods, regardless of homeland, is Bombino. Born Omara Moctar in a Tuareg encampment in 1980, Bombino is a dynamic Nigerian guitarist who represents the glorious grit and groove his home region has become more well-known for in the past decade. He recently released the electric blues-drenched Deran, but it's his psych-tinged, desert blues-rock breakthrough 2013 record Nomad, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, I keep turning to when I need to be reminded that soulful, plugged-in, groove intensive guitar rock requires no passport and is bolder than any boundary.  

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

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors 

Tables And Chairs
By Andrew Bird 

The Sunday LimeRick
from Tim Torkildson

The Wall Street Journal"Conglomerates and startups alike are placing bets on “enhanced” drinks that promise everything from better sleep to a more youthful complexion. While sales of such drinks are rising—up 11% in the past year to $3 billion, according to market-research firm Spins—hundreds of new ones are launched each year, and the majority peter out within a couple of years. Finding success involves the right mix of funding, taste, health claims and luck." 


Like that Tono-Bungay H.G. Wells wrote of before,
 elixirs by the hundreds cram the shelves of ev'ry store.
The fluid of the month today is labeled Husky Juice;
tis made with mountain waters and the sap of verdant spruce.

Containing sacred tana leaves from Egypt's dusty shore,
and trace amounts of gallium as well as hellebore,
Husky Juice is touted for the colic and the gout;
for rheumatic fever and for pickling fresh trout.

Amazon-dot-com has got it stocked, and Walgreen's too—
Elon Musk and Beyonce are serving it with stew.
It's antioxidental and will melt away the fat;
and once it is fermented it will help with dull chitchat.

So many people drink it that both Pepsi and big Coke
have tried to steal the formula with dagger and dark cloak.
Surely you have tasted it? It's vended in machines
from Punxsutawney USA to tropic Philippines.

But something started happening to those who drank this brew;
they broke out into blotches of bright green and red and blue.
The outcry was unanimous; the guilty folk that made
this poisonous elixir must be thrown in a stockade!

The CEO of Husky Juice did not give up the ship;
instead, he had his marketers convince kids it was hip
to have a skin of plaid instead of tattoos or nose ring—
and thus the money poured in and the till kept up its ring.

And now you know the story and can judge things for yourself;
should this parlous beverage remain upon the shelf?
I can think of liquors much more dangerous by half—
in fact I think I'll order me some in a large carafe . . . 

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

The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   Deleting Instagram, Installing Instagram: The Vicious Circle

By Claire Friedman

 (~5 minutes)

“8:24 AM Brush teeth and think about photo of toast. Re-install Instagram.”

Read Later

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

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

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

Header Image: Nigel Buchanan

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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