EDITORS' NOTE: Happy Sunday! As you can tell from the date bar directly above, this is the 250th issue of The Sunday Long Read. Now's hardly the time for a big celebration, obviously. Instead, we're thinking of all of you amidst this tumult and hoping these next several SLRs can provide the right mix of information and distraction, with the SLR Syllabus returning this week in a modified format after your helpful feedback last week.
That said, we still wanted to take the occasion to once again thank each and every one of you who has stuck with us and pushed us forward over these last five-plus years (and also maybe beseech you to tell a friend about our little project?). You only turn 250 once, after all.
On another note, Don was on ESPN Daily this week to discuss his investigation into whether the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was rigged. You should check it out wherever you listen to podcasts—it pairs well with a cup of coffee and these exemplary works of journalism.
In this crushing piece, Times editor Jessica Lustig describes how her healthy 56-year-old husband quickly fell seriously ill with Coronavirus and her panic, isolation, uncertainty and fear as she tries to help him recover. “This thing grinds you like a mortar,” he says. On Twitter, Lustig confessed, “This was not easy to write, but I had to.” It’s also not easy to read, but we have to.
There were so many heartbreaking front linesreports from overwhelmed New York hospitals, doctors, nurses and other caregivers this week. Here’s a moment-by-moment COVID diary by the chief medical officer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Brooklyn.
We love this story for what it is—not a multi-part graphic-heavy series, or an overextended podcast project— but a perfect-length magazine piece, with context expertly sprinkled throughout a captivating narrative. It’s all mixed with a cogent argument that a simple Newark-to-Boston flight on Saint Patrick’s Day 1970 ended up marking the difference between the old world and the new.
Jane de Oliveira took on the near-impossible: Try to stop major landowners and multinational corporations from burning and churning their way deeper into the Amazon. Her campaign was going fine until the armed men showed up.
One thing we’ve learned in this crisis: Tom Verducci writes as beautifully about Not Opening Day as he does about America’s pastime. And Dan Barry taps his pinstriped (or is it Mets blue-and-orange?) imagination to paint a lyrical portrait of Opening Day between the New York Gothams and the Cincinnati Greens: “The crack of the bat could almost be heard, the blur of white almost seen, the communal joy nearly felt.”
In this excerpt of his new book, Samsung Rising, Geoffrey Cain delivers the inside story of the multi-billion dollar intellectual property war between Apple and Samsung. Who knew that Apple attempted to create a monopoly with a generic patent for the iPad’s black rounded rectangular shape? It was “a patent so silly that a court threw it out.”
A difficult book demands a cogent critic. Fortunately, we’re in good hands here as Sophie Gilbert deconstructs My Dark Vanessa to show what it says about the state of our literary world while going beyond the typical pick-it-or-skip-it recommendation (she’s not even sure if the book is valuable herself).
As if there isn’t enough to worry about: Rosa Lyster ticks off the causes of alarming water shortages in Cape Town and Mexico City, a list that includes climate change, not surprisingly, and inequality.
“At a moment when we are all profoundly cut off from one another, I’m finding that’s what I miss the most: the sheer unpredictability of what someone else will do while they happen to be in front of you,” writes ace profile-writer Zach Baron. In the time of the Coronavirus, Baron wrestles with the difficulty—or, more likely, the impossibility—of writing portraits of people you can’t spend one moment with.
The question of technology’s ability (and responsibility) to solve society’s problem is as pressing as ever. Looking specifically at the devices being created to prevent attacks on women, Jillian Keenan offers one of the more clearheaded investigations of that question yet, without disrupting our view that techno-utopia is an oxymoron.
Everyone was marveling at this insanely funny, incredibly dark docuseries last week. It is, perhaps, the optimal way to muddle through this surreal, hunkered down era (well, a distracting way to kill seven hours, anyway). Rachel Syme explains the allure of “Tiger King” and its instant-star: the eccentric (a very polite term) Oklahoma zoo entrepreneur known as Joe Exotic.
“How are you doing, love?” I call to my husband from the living-room floor, where I now sleep each night on a roll-up foam sleeping pad that my daughter has used on camping trips, topped with a couple of thin blankets. It’s quite literally hard to sleep on the floor, but after trying the couch and then, on the floor, the couch mattress — a bit of fabric stretched over some coiled rings — the floor itself has been a relief.
“I need some help,” he whispers hoarsely, shivering inside the wool undershirt and sweater he insists on wearing. “I didn’t want to wake you.” I forgot to put the Advil in the plastic dish in the bathroom that is now his. I can’t leave the bottle in there; it has to stay uncontaminated in the other bathroom, so that I can dispense the capsules into the dish and keep the bottle protected. Anything my husband, T, touches has to stay in his room or be carefully taken from his room to the kitchen, where I stand holding dishes while our 16-year-old daughter, CK, opens the dishwasher and pulls out the racks so I don’t have to touch anything before she closes it again. She turns on the faucet for me, and I hit the soap dispenser with my elbow to wash my hands.
If you need a break from coronavirus—and you know you do—feast on this mirthful 6,700-word feature about San Francisco "ambush comedian" Mal Sharpe. Sharpe, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83, prowled the Bay Area in the 1960s with partner Jim Coyle, microphones in hand, pranking the unsuspecting with their weird, absurdist questions. Their bits, aired on radio and press on vinyl, were packed, Boulware writes, with nasty, funny philosophical exercises in logic. It poked conventional morality and pushed people to the brink of anger or perplexity. They were a balanced duo: Coyle's insistent and often cruel interrogations playing off Sharpe's sly and goofy sensibility. In those early years, C&S were unbound: They had no client to appease, no television executives to impress." (Disclosure: I was editor of SF Weekly when it published "Mal on the Street.")
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
The last few weeks have been full of interesting podcast experiments, from people figuring out how to do their show from home to new shows aimed at people stuck indoors. Not to mention the many newsier programs aimed at giving us critical information about COVID. (Here’s where I plug my new project launching next week.) Explore the links in the preceding sentences, but my main pick this week is from the folks at Criminal. Phoebe Judge has… one of those voices. And she’s putting it to good use here, reading a wonderful Agatha Christie story. Maybe this is one of those wait-did-you-just-reinvent-the-audioboook moments, but I love it anyway. Thank you, Phoebe.
Jody Avirgan is a podcast host and producer. His newest show, This Day in Esoteric Political History, launches Tuesday.
Two things I’m pretty familiar with: a daughter insisting on painting my toes and the playful practice of testing a new camera or lens by photographing my feet. Primary school teacher-turned-photographer Marzio Toniolo is capturing the bittersweet moments of lockdowned life in San Fiorano, a small northern Italian town trapped in the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Now shooting for Reuters, he has turned his camera on himself and his extended family as they get to know each other better than ever before. On March 20, he photographed his 2-year-old daughter, Bianca, in the midst of a father-daughter ritual, framed just right to include forlorn mom in the background sitting on their balcony. Like a scene from the movie “Life is Beautiful,” Toniolo’s seemingly idyllic instances are in sharp contrast to the horrific events unfolding in the neighboring Lombardy region town of Bergamo, where the talented Italian photojournalist Fabio Bucciarelli has documented the new-virus-meets-old-world heartbreak in jarring, dramatic images for The New York Times photo essay, “We Take the Dead From Morning Till Night,” published March 27.
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.
I'm typing this before I watch the season finale, but I know I'll like it as much as the previous episodes. Wow. The HBO series from Damon Lindelof, the Lost creator, who also created The Leftovers, which is a book I've read but not a series I've watched, and might now need to watch because of Lindelof's latest work, because, well, this latest work is amazing. Watchmen is ostensibly the story of a police force, in this case Tulsa's, that wears masks to protect themselves as they battle the white supremacists who terrorize them. The story is also, or rather mostly, a kind of comic-book magical realism that examines vigilantism, identity, how history influences identity, time travel, mankind's battle against and sometimes alignment with superior forms of intelligence, and Vietnam. A lot of themes to cram into nine episodes. Frankly there are more themes than that. Somehow Lindelof and the writing team make it work. I finished episode 8 last night, which might be the trippiest hour of television I've seen—and one of the most satisfying.
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 COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of global life, but for the purposes of this feature, we’ll focus on comics—and comic shops specifically. The collection of independent comic book and graphic novel stores is often referred to by insiders as the “direct market”—a way for publishers to sell nonreturnable print product to core fans, via stores often run by diehard fans themselves—many of whom run on tight budgets driven by customer orders, and often find themselves in a challenging position—the direct market is, for many core comic publishers, the main means of cashflow for traditional, monthly comic book publishing. For many of the stores, it’s a passion project, often born of a love for the medium and the industry. The shops, aside from a few regional chains, are not built to withstand major, seismic changes to the flow of product.
Unfortunately, we’re facing just that. In the midst of the global pandemic and following the shuttering of a number of comic shops due to government ordinance, Diamond Comic Distributors, the biggest—and some would argue, the sole—distributor of comics to comic shops shut down its main warehouse, putting an entire industry on hold indefinitely. After decades of threats to the direct market of varying power and lasting power —including digital, the exploding bookstore market, and others—many shop owners and industry insiders fear that the comic book industry as we know it will be very different when we find ourselves stepping out of our national isolation. As the story notes—it’s a moment comic shops have always been dreading—a Thanos-size blow to the heart of the comic shop retail business. Kit and McMillan, two veteran entertainment and pop culture reporters, do a nice job of talking to the store owners on the front lines and getting a wide swath of reactions to an issue that, like the virus that created it, has many scared not only for their lives, but their livelihoods as well.
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
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 and Emma Peaslee
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 Clark, Anna 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, 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, Steven Levy, Jon Mackenzie, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Jeff Maysh, Jack McCallum, Susan McPherson, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Katherine Miller, Heidi N. Moore, Kim Morgan, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Elaina Plott, 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: Cornelia Li
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.