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To Conquer My Fear of Heights, I Did the Scariest Thing I Could Imagine by Eva Holland for Reader's Digest Canada



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

Sunday, March 29, 2020 — Issue #250

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. 


Don's Favorite

   What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe
By Kim Cross for Bicycling
 (~25 minutes)

Leon had been riding west for 309 days and 11,337 miles. Noel had been riding east for 176 days and 5,388 miles. Leon, a Brit, and Noel, an American, met in the desert—and then…

Make time for this luminous adventure story.

Jacob's Favorite

   To Conquer My Fear of Heights, I Did the Scariest Thing I Could Imagine
By Eva Holland for Reader’s Digest Canada
 (~15 minutes)

Come for the equal-parts hilarious and stressful first-person narrative, stay for the fascinating details about the human ability to smell fear. And then pre-order Eva Holland's new book.

➢ The New York Times: Learning to Swim Taught Me More Than I Bargained for

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

SLR Syllabus: The Coronavirus Crisis

   What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus
By Jessica Lustig for The New York Times Magazine
 (~15 minutes)

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.

   Inside a Brooklyn Hospital Right Now
As told to Anna Silman for Intelligencer
 (~10 minutes)

There were so many heartbreaking front lines reports 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.

   The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19
By Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thomas & Noah Weiland for The New York Times
 (~20 minutes)

Failures by multiple agencies under the Trump administration cost the US government a month to prepare for and curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

➢ The Atlantic: How the Pandemic Will End
➢ The Los Angeles Times: He survived coronavirus. He’s broke. But he thinks America is overreacting.
➢ ProPublica: A Medical Worker Describes Terrifying Lung Failure From COVID-19—Even in His Young Patients
➢ Harvard Business Review: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
➢ The Bitter Southerner: Grace Under Lockdown
➢ The New Yorker: The Coronavirus Crisis Reveals New York at Its Best and Worst
➢ WIRED: The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming
➢ Time: ‘Without Empathy, Nothing Works.’ Chef Jose Andres Wants to Feed the World Through the Pandemic
➢ Charlotte Agenda: The coronavirus generation: We became parents of a baby boy in the cradle of a pandemic
➢ The New York Times: Alone on the Road, a Trucker's Long Haul as America Fights the Virus

   ‘You don’t understand, Captain. He has a gun’: The hijacking of Flight 1320
By Neil Swidey for The Boston Globe Magazine
 (~45 minutes)

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.


   Massacre in the Amazon
By Jesse Hyde for Vanity Fair
 (~20 minutes)

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.


   The Coder and the Dictator
By Nathaniel Popper & Ana Vanessa Herrero for The New York Times
 (~20 minutes)

Startups, strongmen and bitcoin. Now this is a 21st-century story. A terrifying one.


   YouTube Sensation. Progressive in a Purple District. Single Mom.
By Rebecca Nelson for California Sunday
 (~20 minutes)

Katie Porter, the 46-year-old first-term congresswoman from Orange County, California, could teach the Democratic Party a bushel-full of lessons about, well, practically everything.

➢ Politico: Why Is Congress Still Meeting in Person?


   In Cincinnati, It's Just Thursday
By Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated 
 (~10 minutes)

   Baseball Season Opens With a Dash of Imagination
By Dan Barry for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

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.”

➢ Sports Illustrated: One Striking Moment
➢ ESPN: Rex Chapman is a comeback story and a Twitter feed for our time


   Samsung vs. Apple: Inside The Brutal War for Smartphone Dominance
By Geoffrey Cain for Forbes
 (~15 minutes)

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.”

➢ Inc: This Cloud Storage Service Is Everything Amazon’s AWS Isn’t. Here’s Why Your Family IT Nerd Loves It


   The Controversial Novel That Immerses Readers in Teen Abuse
By Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic
 (~10 minutes)

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).


   Where Water Used to Be
By Rosa Lyster for London Review of Books  
 (~15 minutes)

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.


   How Do You Write About People When You Can’t Be Near Them?
By Zach Baron for GQ 
 (~5 minutes)

“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.

➢ Afar: In Big Sur, Learning the Value of Being Alone


   Harry Houdini and the Art of Escape
By David Denby for The New Yorker 
 (~15 minutes)

Why we’re still fascinated by Harry Houdini.

➢ The New York Review of Books: The Sweet Smell of Hipness


   To Combat Sexual Assault, Women Are Resorting to Electric Shock Underwear
By Jillian Keenan for Wired 
 (~15 minutes)

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.

➢ WIRED: The Mom Who Took on Purdue Pharma for Its OxyContin Marketing


   There Are No Winners with 'The Biggest Loser'
By Nick Heil for Outside
 (~20 minutes)

“Survivor” remains the only competitive reality show we recognize in this newsletter.


   The Sunday Review: I Clicked and Seven Hours Passed: Netflix’s “Tiger King”
By Rachel Syme for The New Yorker
 (5 minutes)

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.

➢ Vulture: Mad Max: Fury Road Is a Model Movie for Our Troubled Times
➢ Vanity Fair: OK Boomer: How Bob Dylan’s New JFK Song Helps Explain 2020

Last Week's Most Read

   My High-School Commute
By Colin Jost for The New Yorker

   The Killing of a Colorado Rancher
By Rachel Monroe for The Atlantic

   Real Estate for the Apocalypse: My Journey Into a Survival Bunker
By Mark O'Connell for The Guardian 


Lede of the Week

   What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus, by Jessica Lustig

“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.


Quotation of the Week

   To Combat Sexual Assault, Women Are Resorting to Electric Shock Underwear, by Jillian Keenan

“We should also be seeing more campaigns that aim to change social attitudes to sexual assault and higher rape conviction rates rather than, you know, crowd-funding gadgets.”

— Writer Layla Haidrani

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   Mal on the Street (1995)
By Jack Boulware for SF Weekly
 (~30 minutes)

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 Sunday Long Pod
from Jody Avirgan

Phoebe Reads a Mystery (Apple | Spotify)

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.

The Long View
from The Editors

Former NFL player Myron Rolle is on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19

Follow Rolle from Florida State to Oxford to a chaotic collection of ICU beds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Life In the Red Zone

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.

The Kix Picks
from Paul Kix


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 Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   How Coronavirus Will Reshape The Concert Business
By Dave Brooks for Billboard

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

The Su♬day Sou♬dtracks
from The Editors

Falling Son
By River Whyless

Hands Washing Hands
By Neil Diamond

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   "The Moment We Have Been Dreading": Coronavirus Lands Thanos-Sized Punch on Comic Shops
By Borys Kit and Graeme McMillan for The Hollywood Reporter 
 (~5 minutes)

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.

➢ How Marvel Set the Stage for This Week's Comics Shutdown
➢ New Comics Delayed Across Industry in Wake of Coronavirus Concerns

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

This is a remarkable turn from Neil Ferguson, who led the @imperialcollege authors who warned of 500,000 UK deaths - and who has now himself tested positive for #COVID;

Read the whole thread here


Hi. Here's a photo of a 3.5 million dollar listing at 21st and Locust in Philadelphia. It belongs to a guy named Joel Freedman. Who's Joel, you ask?

Read the whole thread here

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

   Working From Home During a Global Pandemic Bingo
By Kimberly Harrington for McSweeney's
 (~5 minutes)

“Me time now incredibly too much.”

   Will Coronavirus Finally End The Scourge of 'I Hope This Email Finds You Well?’
By Allyssia Alleyne for MEL
 (~5 minutes)

Aren’t we all guilty of this?

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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 ClarkAnna 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: Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.

Our mailing address is:

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