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Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words: so Eliza Doolittle sings to Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” and, at the start of this week, I kind of felt the same. I was doing a lot of writing myself, including turning in a 5,000-word investigation for a business magazine and trying to hit my 1,500-word daily writing target for my second novel. So, frankly, I didn’t much feel like reading long stuff—until I got started. I don’t usually have cause to ask my college roommate in Davis, California, an avid reader who gets something like four newspapers at home each day, to send me her favorite stories (the Lyme-disease one, below, came from her). I don’t usually ask my journalist and writer friends what they’ve read that’s spectacular. Doing Long Reads, I had an excuse to jump in and appreciate words once more; I hope you enjoy these reads as much as I did.
All of us have noticed Joe Biden’s trouble getting sentences out; lots of us have blamed it on age; he himself has blamed it on being a “gaffe machine.” Here, in a fascinating profile that is the most revealing I’ve read this campaign season about Biden—who’s largely been avoiding interviews—John Hendrickson talks to Biden about his stutter. Hendrickson, who writes that he has a lifelong stutter that gets so severe that he sometimes can’t say his name or has to point at menu items, weaves his own compelling story with Biden’s and a broad pullback on the science of stuttering. Even if you’re tired of politics, read this piece—it’s outstanding.
My basic reaction to Sue Dominus writing something is to read it, envy her brilliance for a minute, then tear it out to study how to write lively, emotional, brilliantly perceptive pieces. Here, Dominus jumps into what could be a yawn of a Washington story—what it’s like to be a high-profile freshman Congresswoman—and makes it read like a novel.
It’s been fifty years since Altamont, “The West Coast Woodstock,” that turned violent and ugly, with four people killed there. As the Rolling Stones played, a young black man was stabbed to death in the crowd by another concertgoer. The reporter talks to Keith Richard, Grace Slick and other legends to find out what went wrong. It’s worth viewing this one on a laptop—the multimedia, with unsettling clips from the concert, interviews and photographs, is immersive and eerie.
The headline makes this sound like clickbait from a bad healthcare site, but this is in fact a moving profile about a woman with Lyme who is willing to try an unproven treatment, stinging herself with bees, in order to try to feel better. I’m close with a couple people with Lyme, and the disease can be life-altering; the lack of an established treatment for it, and the refusal of some in the medical community to take it seriously, is maddening. As Katy Vine writes of this woman with Lyme, “She could not sit on the couch and groan in pain year in and year out while doctors told her she was fine, or that she should be fine, or that she would feel better in time. She’d tried that already. ‘What am I going to do? Because this isn’t fair. I deserve to have a life, to be functional.’”
Stories about the gig economy often make me think that there’s a revolution coming. This one adds to that feeling. The reporter tries working for Mechanical Turk, an Amazon-owned site where corporations pay literal cents for humans to do dull tasks that computers can’t do yet, like assessing the emotional impact of a photo or transcribing business cards into sales databases. If it were students getting an extra buck, OK, but Newman finds that the “Turkers” are trying to support themselves—this is how a wife, after her husband lost his job and his insurance, helps pay for her husband’s insulin.
The Quiet Rooms By Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis for the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois (~30 minutes)
Schools call them the “quiet room” or the “reflection room.” In fact, this Chicago Tribune/ProPublica Illinois investigation found, children, most with disabilities, are sent here during the schoolday for hours, and they scratch, scream and beg to be let out of what is essentially solitary confinement. With its data, reporting, and writing, this is a strong reminder of why investigative local journalism matters. After this article was published, Illinois governor Jay Pritzker put into place emergency rules restricting the use of these rooms.
Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has done little about the sex trade in his country, even saying he’ll attract tourism by promising “42 virgins.” Redfern talks to the girls and young women who are forced to work in the sex trade, either through trafficking or out of their families’ economic desperation, interviewing one who is just 10 years old.
As Bloomberg renounces his stop-and-frisk policy, here’s a first-hand account by one of the plaintiffs in the Floyd v. New York lawsuit, in which stop-and-frisk was deemed unconstitutional, about his encounters with police as a young black man growing up in New York. He’s now a lawyer—and spent the early hours of one bar-exam day in the precinct after police hauled him in.
Great reporting, like the Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke screaming at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during a cell-phone call at a Beverly Hills Coffee Bean, underscores this story of the forced, awkward marriage between the Rams and the Chargers as football power brokers pour money into making Los Angeles a football town.
“Frozen” fever has taken over my house right now, but with all the conversations I’ve had with my kids about Anna and Elsa, I never thought much about their outfits. In this interview with the costume designers, I learned not only about the technical difficulties of making CGI clothes, but also that Anna’s “Frozen 2” dresses are inspired by Norwegian folkwear and Christian Dior’s “New Look,” while Elsa’s draw from Alexander McQueen. I’m gonna drop that knowledge when we see “Frozen 2” this weekend and be the envy of all the other parents.
In the dying coal town of Newcastle, an entry-level job at Barclays was a way for the town’s teenagers to step into the middle class in the 1970s and 80s. But Barclays sent the teenagers to a doctor for a fitness exam before it would let the teenagers start work, and, more than 100 of those people say, the doctor abused them. This story is an excellent, evocative piece of work.
Caity Weaver is a favorite at The Sunday Long Read, appearing in multiple newsletters every year, always giving us thoughtful, clever, and enjoyable stories to read. This week, The New York Times features writer joins Jacob to talk about how she interviews celebrities, to outline how she interacts with editors, and to perform a real-time dive into her search history on the Oxford English Dictionary. Along the way she provides a few tips for writers and talks about how she discovers new stories.
Due to some technical difficulties, we had some trouble with the audio quality of our interview with Caity. So if you'd prefer to read this conversation instead of listening to it, we've published a transcript of this episode on our website.
Well before Tom Waits started romancing his junkie pals in song, even before Charles Bukowski delivered his reports from the bottom of a bottle, Nelson Algren was giving America the lowdown on hobos, strippers, card-sharks, and jailbirds in his fiction and journalism. Not everybody was a fan. Literary critic Leslie Fiedler dismissed him as ''the bard of the stumblebum." But I've been on an Algren jag since reading the new biography, Never a Lovely So Realby Colin Asher, and figure if I'm going to wallow in his gin mills tales I should bring along some company. In this short piece for Esquire, Algren wanders from his Chicago home-base to explore the sin 20 miles south in the "baby Babylon" of Calumet City, Ill. See the "spitback kittens" play their marks. Hear the MC lipsync to Al Jolson as he touts the action and stirs up the crowd. Listen to the jukes blowing the blues. If this piece lifts your appetite, get thee to his novels, The Man With the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side and his essential collection, Entrapment and Other Writings, which teem with such real-life noir.
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
Getty Images Chief Photographer Win McNamee knows his way around Capitol Hill. When U.S. Ambassador and Trump donor Gordon Sondland arrived for his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 20, McNamee was ready to give context to the hearing’s importance by getting behind the star witness and framing him with the crowd of visual media gathered for the standard frontal view. When Sondland cheerfully glanced over his shoulder, McNamee caught the memorable moment preceding a day of damning testimony that implicated top officials in a “quid pro quo” Ukraine scheme.
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.
Ryan Holiday and I talked on my podcast Monday about the practical lessons of Stoicism and also about Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome who was that school of philosophy's most notorious proponent. I love Aurelius' Meditations—I've plugged it in this newsletter and on the pod—but I think Seneca is the more accessible writer. He was a Roman senator and his Tao of Seneca is a series of letters to a young Stoic named Lucilius. For anyone intrigued by the philosophy I'd say start with Seneca. His letter on overcoming fear I return to constantly. His letter on why you should prepare for death every day—because by preparing for death you lead a fuller life, valuing each day for the gift it is—inspired me to write this story. If Meditations is the book I always have open on my Kindle, the Tao of Seneca is the one I continue to take notes on.
Paul Kix is a best-selling author, an editor, and the host of the podcast, Now That's a Great Story, where novelists, journalists, screenwriters and songwriters talk about their favorite work, the one that reveals their artistic worldview. For insights from writers that go beyond what's covered in the podcast, like the entry above, please sign up for Paul's newsletter.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—a federal court one level below the Supreme Court—recently decided a case at the intersection of cheerleading, social media, and constitutional law. The case arose after a high schooler was removed from her position as head cheerleader after school administrators discovered certain social media posts deemed objectionable. The minor plaintiff sued, alleging a violation of her rights to "free speech, due process, and equal protection." Citing "qualified-immunity," among other things, the judges ruled against the plaintiff's claims.
Sunday Esoterica curator Ryan Rodenberg works as a professor at Florida State University, where he teaches research methods and sports law. He writes a lot of academic articles and some mainstream pieces too.
I’m working on my second novel, tentatively titled “The Farewell Tour,” about a female honky-tonk singer out of Washington State, my home, in the ‘50s and ‘60s. That’s gotten me deep into the women who pioneered the West Coast honky-tonk sound, including the salty, brash Rose Maddox. Her family, Alabama sharecroppers, headed West after cotton prices imploded, hitchhiking and hopping trains to get to California, where they picked fruit during the Depression. As they grew up, Rose and her brothers became fixtures of the California country scene and performed twangy, danceable music that would later define the so-called Bakersfield Sound. Here’s her with her brothers singing what was then a risqué tune, which will have your feet tapping: “Sally, Let Your Bangs Hang Down,” from 1950.
Jason Todd has always been a problematic character. The second teenager to wear the Robin costume and serve as Batman’s sidekick started off as a carbon copy of his predecessor, Dick Grayson - a child of circus performer parents who found himself orphaned and taken in by Bruce Wayne. But after DC Comics revamped their backstory and continuity in the legendary CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS series, and as crime writers and artists like Frank Miller and Max Allan Collins stepped in to give Batman a noir refresh, the idea of a new Robin was retooled - and Jason Todd became less of a Dick Grayson clone and more of a jaded rebel with pulp underpinnings. But this new take on Robin - a street urchin adopted by Batman who had a huge chip on his shoulder - didn’t exactly resonate with fans, and a 1-800 number later, he was dead - murdered by a few votes by the very readers who brought him to life. But as comic fans know, no one stays dead very long - though, Todd, comparatively, ended up six feet under for longer than most. In this fun, engaging, and very readable oral history, McLaughlin talks to the key players involved in the plot to bring Jason Todd back and his eventual transformation from dead Robin to the Red Hood, one of the mainstays of the current DC “Bat-Family” of titles. This is the latest in SyFy’s fantastic series of comic book oral histories - some of which we’ve spotlighted here at Sunday Comix - that are very much worth your time.
(Full disclosure: I worked at DC Comics around the time Jason Todd returned as Red Hood, and am also friends with many of the people involved in the piece, including the author.)
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.
I wished Alexandra Petri were hanging out with me and making me laugh as I listened to the impeachment hearings this week. (I mean, I wish Alexandra Petri were hanging out with me a lot, but, as I’ve never met her, that makes me sound like a stalker.) Her Washington Post columns are a pretty good substitute, though, starting with this riff on—for real—Eric Trump tweeting that now (i.e. the impeachment hearings of his father) is a “perfect day for a nice bottle” of Trump-branded wine.
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 Clark, Anna 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: Mark Peckmezian
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.