Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic by Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine



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

Sunday, April 12, 2020 — Issue #252

EDITORS' NOTE: Happy Easter! We hope you can find some space for solace and solidarity on this Easter Sunday unlike any we've celebrated before.

Don and Jacob

Don and Jacob's Favorite

   'The impossible has already happened': what coronavirus can teach us about hope
By Rebecca Solnit for The Guardian
 (~15 minutes)

Having lived through and written extensively about past disasters, Rebecca Solnit senses as well as anyone what comes next. We’re still in the middle of a global battle, but slowly talk of “after” will come, and we will need guidance from those who have endured similarly treacherous stretches. “It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency,” Solnit writes, “but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it.”

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SLR Original

   The Ripples of Title IX and the Women who Played in its Wake
By Ellyn Ritterskamp for The Sunday Long Read
 (~10 minutes)

Sunday Long Read correspondent Ellyn Ritterskamp explores the lives of 11 women and their relationships with Title IX, the 1972 landmark U.S. law that altered the sports landscape for women. Ellyn’s subjects span generations, and include a long-time Division I athletic director, a former WNBA star, and a 10-year-old who is the only girl on her Little League team. 

SLR Syllabus: The Coronavirus Crisis


   How Anthony Fauci Became America’s Doctor
By Michael Specter for The New Yorker
 (~40 minutes)

Dr. Anthony Fauci once explained the method he uses for dealing with political leaders in the times of crisis: “I go to my favorite book of philosophy, ‘The Godfather,’ and say ‘It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business.’”


   It’s Okay to Be a Different Kind of Parent During the Pandemic
By Mary Katharine Ham for The Atlantic
 (~10 minutes)

Parenting in the Age of the Coronavirus. 


   The Pandemic Will Cleave America In Two
By Joe Pinsker for The Atlantic
 (~20 minutes)

Too often during this pandemic, “inequality will be the actual cause of death” and the consequences for an already deeply divided America will be profound. 


   The Ballad of Howard and Lois
By Joshua Schneyer for Reuters
 (~10 minutes)

Married for half a century, they are now separated by the Coronavirus. A love story.

The Guardian: 100 Days That Changed the World
➢ Politico Magazine: Inside America’s Two-Decade Failure to Prepare for Coronavirus
➢ The New Yorker: How Did the U.S. End Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags?
➢ National Geographic: A new battle zone for the coronavirus looms: the developing world
➢ The New York Times: They Were the Last Couple in Paradise. Now They’re Stranded.
➢ Vanity Fair: The Digital Burnout Was Coming. The Pandemic Is Expediting It.
The Bitter Southerner: The People We Feed
➢ The New York Times: I Think We’re Alone Now. Welcome.
➢ The Wall Street Journal: How Rituals and Focus Can Turn Isolation Into a Time for Growth [$]
➢ Esquire: I Can’t Answer My Daughter's Questions About COVID-19
➢ Vice: The Viral ‘Study’ About Runners Spreading Coronavirus Is Not Actually a Study
➢ The Guardian: The WHO v coronavirus: why it can't handle the pandemic

Local Coronavirus Coverage

The pandemic has also had a devastating impact on the journalism business. News organizations that had been operating on slim margins have now lost nearly all their advertisers and many of their subscribers, and yet journalists' work is more important than ever. Thankfully, we are seeing solidarity and cooperation between journalists. Reporter Paige Cornwell, for example, has started a furlough fund to help out with next month’s rent and to help put food on the table. This month, please consider subscribing to your local newspaper, if you’re able, and today, enjoy these important stories by local reporters.


   'Unimaginable' pain: Coronavirus robs Michigan woman of whole family
By Francis X. Donnelly for The Detroit News
 (~10 minutes)

In a matter of days, Sandy Brown lost her husband and her son to the coronavirus. She also lost the ability to grieve. Every death to the virus has a story. Take some time to read about Freddie Lee Brown Jr. and Freddie Lee Brown III.


   For a grocery store employee, a hard life filled with work and happiness, suddenly gone
By Katie Johnston and Marcela García for The Boston Globe
 (~5 minutes)

Vitalina Williams left Guatemala years ago to start a new life in Salem. She worked long hours in the service industry, found love, and a new home. Then the virus arrived and swept everything away like a hurricane. Her story—beautifully told by the Globe—is about the American dream and the vulnerability of low-wage workers.

Miami Herald: Miami doctor tests homeless for coronavirus while volunteers deliver food, clothes
➢ Chicago Tribune: Before data showed Chicago blacks dying at higher rates, communities of color knew recovery from COVID-19 would be slow
➢ The News & Observer: ‘You’re a meme now.’ A UNC nurse becomes the symbolic face of the coronavirus fight.
➢ Toronto Star: ‘We just pray for one day that we go without a death.’ Bobcaygeon left reeling by coronavirus
The Seattle Times: How UW Medicine, small business and Amazon combined to airlift key testing kits from China in coronavirus fight
The Sacramento Bee: The controversial story of the Sacramento Slavic church linked to 71 coronavirus infections
➢ The Mercury News: Meet the doctor who ordered the Bay Area’s coronavirus lockdown, the first in the U.S.

   Rising Tides, Troubled Waters: The Future of Our Ocean
By Jeff Goodell for Rolling Stone
 (~20 minutes)

Honestly, now is probably not the ideal time to sink into this story about our dying oceans. But then again, that’s the problem: there is no time to wait. “Because we live on land, we often think of the climate crisis as a terrestrial event,” Jeff Goodell writes, giving a cogent voice to an environment dealing with its own unprecedented change. “But as the planet heats up, it’s what happens in the ocean that will have the biggest impact on our future.”

➢ WIRED: Why Old-Growth Trees Are Crucial to Fighting Climate Change


   The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic
By Sam Anderson for The New York Times
 (~40 minutes)

An irresistible fan-boy profile of Weird Al, with sharp prose about all sorts of things, including Yankovic’s face: “He still looked oddly young, as if his face had been locked into place, for copyright reasons, in 1989” and “He uses that face to mimic music-world cliches: rock-star sneer, boy-band smolder, teen-pop grin, gangsta-rap glower.” Even if you aren’t a Weird Al fan, Sam Anderson may help you understand why Weird Al can still, after all these years, trigger “tantric nerdgasms.” (By the way, years ago a friend met Weird Al, and ended up spending an afternoon with him: “The nicest, coolest, funniest dude I’ve ever met.”)


   How Kobe Bryant’s death brought Bobby McIlvaine — an athlete, a scholar, the friend I should’ve known better — back to life
By Mike Sielski for The Philadelphia Inquirer
 (~20 minutes)

How a video clip from 1992 that recently dropped in Mike Sielski’s inbox connected two young athletes whose lives would end tragically. On a week when we’re highlighting fantastic Coronavirus work from local newspapers, it’s fitting we feature this lovely piece by one of America’s finest sports columnists that will tug hard at your heart.

➢ The Athletic: Remembering Glen Waggoner, the shepherd of this silly little game [$]


   “When can we really rest?”
By Nadja Drost for The California Sunday Magazine
 (~30 minutes)

Nadja Drost joined a group of Cameroonian and Pakistani migrants as they traversed the Darien Gap, one of the world’s most dangerous regions. More migrants than ever are crossing the Colombia-Panama border to reach the United States. A courageous, well-reported story.


   The Ballad of Clay Travis
By Tim Miller for The Bulwark
 (~15 minutes)

When sports stopped, “sports journalist” Clay Travis pivoted to “telling the truth” about the dangers—or lack thereof—of the Coronavirus. Travis was dead wrong, but it turned out to be a very sound business decision.


   The Sunday Q&A: Fran Lebowitz Is Never Leaving New York
By Michael Schulman for The New Yorker
 (~25 minutes)

A let-me-tell-you-another-fun-thing-she-says Q&A with New Yorker For Life Fran Lebowitz, “the patron saint of staying at home and doing nothing.”


   The Last Train Trip Before Everything Changed
By Lauren Markham for LitHub
 (~10 minutes)

On solitude, snow and finding reasons to write.


    The #SundayLR List: What to Stream: 40 of the Best Movies on Netflix Right Now
By Richard Brody for The New Yorker
 (~10 minutes)

In alphabetical order, film critic Richard Brody lists the deep-bench of quality films available on Netflix, with thumbnail summaries to quench the stream-thirstiest among us.

➢ LitHub: The 40 Best Literary Adaptations to Stream Right Now
➢ The New Yorker: What to Stream: 83 of the Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now
➢ TechCrunch: Quibi is the anti-TikTok (that’s a bad thing)


   A Love Letter to My Curmudgeonly Big Brother
By Steve Friedman for Outside
 (~15 minutes)

Perhaps magically, this essay about two aging brothers facing depression manages to soothe.


   Counterspy: The Russian Plot to Take Over Hollywood
By Nathan Masters for Truly Adventurous
 (~30 minutes)

Hat tip to Shmuel Rapaport’s link-filled Telegram channel for this Hollywood story made for, well, Hollywood.

➢ The Dallas Morning News:  The Memory Room


   Inside the Strip Clubs of Instagram
By Taylor Lorenz for The New York Times
 (~30 minutes)

Our new digital-only world might just be a good thing for dancers.


   The Remembrance: John Prine, 1946-2020
By Craig Jenkins for Vulture
 (~5 minutes)

John Prine, the 73-year-old midwestern mailman turned Nashville songwriting legend, died last week after a battle with COVID-19. As Craig Jenkins writes in this beautiful tribute, Prine’s “music was a celebration of the fullness and the randomness of life.”


   John Prine Taught Me to Stay Vulnerable
By Jason Isbell for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

Game recognizes game: The great songwriter Jason Isbell’s ode is one of the most beautiful tributes we’ve read, an essay that is an effortless prose poem, like Prine’s timeless lyrics. “His songs sounded like they’d been easy to write,” Isbell writes, “like they’d just fallen out of his mind like magic.”

➢ The New Yorker: John Prine’s Perfect Songs
➢ NPR: John Prine’s Life in 10 Songs
➢ Saving Country Music: John Prine, a Jukebox, & The Perfect Country & Western Song 

Last Week's Most Read

   Celebrity Culture Is Burning
By Amanda Hess for The New York Times

   From Bats to Human Lungs, the Evolution of a Coronavirus
By Carolyn Kormann for The New Yorker

   If I Wrote a Coronavirus Episode
By Maria Elena Fernandez for Vulture


Lede of the Week

   Spousal Distancing: The Chinese Couples Divorcing Over COVID-19, by Fan Yiying

Zhang Ning will soon be reunited with her husband. He left the couple’s hometown of Wuhan to visit relatives in late January, and just days later the central Chinese city suddenly went into lockdown, leaving him unable to return for over two months. But China is now easing travel restrictions as its COVID-19 epidemic subsides, allowing him to finally come home.
Zhang couldn’t be less excited.
“I’ve told him I’ve decided to divorce him,” the 34-year-old tells Sixth Tone.


Quotation of the Week

   They All Retired Before They Hit 40. Then This Happened, by Steven Kurutz

“We’re in a society that values capital more than labor,” Mr. Long said. “I don’t like that, but I take advantage of it, I guess.”

— Jason Long

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   The Secret Inspiration Behind Warren Zevon’s "Werewolves of London" (2016)
By George Plasketes for Cuepoint 
 (~5 minutes)

This nothing-but-fun piece, excerpted from George Plasketes' book about Warren Zevon, traces the origin of "Werewolves of London" to Phil Everly who told Zevon he had just seen Werewolf of London (1935) on TV and wouldn't the idea make for a great song about a dance craze. It never sent dancers to the floor, but 40-plus years on it still makes people laugh. "The romp is comic noir, featuring a stylish werewolf on his way to Lee Ho Fooks for a “big dish of beef chow mein” and another “drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s,” Plasketes writes. In compiling the song's compete history, Plasketes makes the obvious connection between "Werewolves" and "Sweet Home Alabama" that had never occurred to me and notes how Kid Rock sampled both songs for his "All Summer Long." Ahh-ooh!


Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Long Pod
from Jody Avirgan

   The Big Picture: 25 Movies on the Criterion Channel (Apple | Spotify)

The Big Picture has been doing a lot of the recommendation shows lately, cruising through short riffs on movies that would make for good quarantine screening. Here they take on the Criterion Channel collection, though a lot of these movies are also available elsewhere to stream and buy if you don’t subscribe. Special guests include Barry Jenkins, Sam Esmail, Erin Lee Carr, the Safdie brothers, and many more. To be honest, I’m not going to watch a lot of these, but it sure is fun to hear smart people talk about great films they love.

Jody Avirgan is a podcast host and producer. His newest show, is This Day in Esoteric Political History.

The Sunday Surreal
from The Editors

Some sports are slower. More about the strategy.

No matter the result, dogs remain undefeated.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

The Invisible Enemy

Risk is an occupational hazard for photojournalists who subscribe to Robert Capa’s “Close Enough” rule. AP photographer Emilio Morenatti lost his leg in a bomb blast in Afghanistan in 2009. Accustomed to covering fires, floods and wars, Morenatti and other conflict photographers now rise to the challenge of documenting a killer they can’t see. Based in his native Spain, Morenatti spent the past two weeks following healthcare workers in Poble Sec, one of Barcelona’s oldest neighborhoods. His series of photos, published on April 10, document the fear, misery and isolation of the home-bound elderly, shunned from hospitals prioritizing younger, healthier patients with higher chances of survival. Shot in the low, soft light of ancient, narrow apartments, Morenatti’s images of COVID-19 house calls contrast the religious artifacts and rumpled bed linens of seniors’ homes with caregivers’ startling modern gowns and masks. Squeezing into cramped corners, Morenatti and his camera are unseen as they humanize the crisis, bringing us close to the invisible enemy.

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

The Only SNL Story That Matters

The clip is five minutes long and, oooooh boy, lives up to its billing. 

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

   Zoom Goes From Conferencing App to the Pandemic’s Social Network
By Drake Bennett and Nico Grant for Businessweek
Cover design by Adam Ferriss

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

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

Hello In There
By John Prine

   Dave Grohl’s Pandemic Playlist
By Dave Grohl for The Atlantic
 (~5 minutes)

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   Todd McFarlane’s Urgent Warning To The Comics Industry: ‘We Can’t Just Sit Here And Do Nothing!’
By Rob Salkowitz for Forbes
 (~10 minutes)

Todd McFarlane’s CV is long and impressive: legendary comic book artist, creator of Spawn, and CEO of his own toy company, just to list the highlights. He’s also not short on opinions—especially controversial ones. In this Q&A, veteran journalist Rob Salkowitz, who knows the industry as well as any reporter, touches on a variety of topics—including McFarlane’s foray into crowdfunding, the long-gestating Spawn feature film (which the comic writer/artist plans to write AND direct), and McFarlane’s view on the crippled direct comics market. It’s that last point that is the most relevant and interesting, as McFarlane—who isn’t beholden to any master—cuts loose on what comics can and, in his eyes, should do. It makes for interesting, unfiltered reading from one of the industry’s lasting and independent voices.

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 Sunday Long Thread
from @BGrueskin

What’s the first sentence of the best novel that will be written about this epidemic?

Read the whole thread here

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

   Movies Remade For Socially Isolated Viewing
By Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell for The New Yorker
 (~5 minutes)

“Home Alone” was ahead of its time.

   I Love You All, But Please Don’t Make Me Zoom With You
By Sarah Knight for Forge
 (~5 minutes)

“Bearing witness to this volume of collective suffering is, quite simply, freaking me the fuck out.”

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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, Bill Grueskin, 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: Art Streiber

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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