Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

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



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

Sunday, April 5, 2020 — Issue #251

EDITORS' NOTE: Hello again! Has it already been a week since we last checked in? Has it only been a week? We are continuing to think about you and wishing you the best as the world beyond our quarantined bunkers continues to crack in ways all too real.

In lighter news, Jacob and Jody Avirgan have a new podcast for you: This Day in Esoteric Political History. Twice a week, Jody, historian Nicole Hemmer, and special guests will discuss (in 10 minutes or less!) moments from the past that speak to the present. The first two episodes could hardly be more timely or fun listens, as the hosts discussed one president's decision to give up his re-election bid to focus on the Vietnam War, and another's struggle to negotiate the end of World War I while personally being knocked down by a pandemic flu.

Why look back? Nicole eloquently summed up the show's raison d'être while taping the trailer: "A historical sensibility gives you a kind of grounding in a moment when everything seems really uncertain.  It allows us to see what's happening in the world on a much broader timescale, and that longer view is actually really helpful, especially in moments of crisis."

We'd love for you to check out This Day in Esoteric Political History—it's on social media too—and send your thoughts to Jacob and Jody as well as your suggestions for future topics of discussion. 

One last thing before we get to our list. You'll notice lower down in today's newsletter that we've swapped out our Long View section with something we're calling The Sunday Surreal, where we'll highlight pieces that help us wrap our minds around our current reality, marked as it is by fear and uncertainty, courage and hope.

Stay safe,

Don and Jacob's Favorite

   If I Wrote a Coronavirus Episode
By Maria Elena Fernandez for Vulture
 (~25 minutes)

Just what we need: Hit TV show-runners Tina Fey, Norman Lear, our pal Mike Schur and 30 other TV writers create sketches and plot outlines with their beloved characters enduring this horrific global pandemic. Kudos to Maria Elena Fernandez for a brilliant idea, perfectly executed.

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

SLR Original

   What Would I Have Done?
By Meg Bernhard for The Sunday Long Read
 (~10 minutes)

Meg Bernhard is a freelance writer and SLR contributor locked down in Belgium amid the spread of the coronavirus. In this stirring personal essay, she shares her anxiety and fear about her grandfather, a complicated man with a deep connection to his granddaughter, who lives in a Dallas nursing home. Dementia has troubled him in recent years and so Meg writes of family history, “what ifs,” and the possibility that she may never see him again.

SLR Syllabus: The Coronavirus Crisis


   From Bats to Human Lungs, the Evolution of a Coronavirus
By Carolyn Kormann for The New Yorker
 (~15 minutes)

For anyone yearning to understand the origins of COVID-19, its relentless ability to spread and the world’s all-hands-on-deck bid to slow it down and, hopefully, stop it with a vaccine, this is a must-read piece by Carolyn Kormann. Rigorously reported. Simply written. And so smart.

(Note: This pick and several others went out to our members earlier this week as part of a sneak preview. You can join us and support the SLR here.)

   I Don't Miss My Friends. I Miss the Strangers.
By Joe Keohane for GEN
 (~10 minutes)

For most of 2019 as an experiment for a forthcoming book, Joe Keohane made eye contact and initiated chats with complete strangers in New York City. And perhaps not surprisingly, New Yorkers rose to the social engagement challenge. But now everything has changed. The city has become a “large red dot on the map of the world, an invasion zone, a ghost city.” But Keohane holds out hope for a post-COVID-19 NYC.


   Celebrity Culture Is Burning
By Amanda Hess for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

In this smart, multiple-laughs-per-paragraph essay, Amanda Hess takes a wrecking ball to the celebrity-industry complex, exposed every which way by a global pandemic.

The Washington Post: The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged
➢ New England Journal of Medicine: Ten Weeks to Crush the Curve
➢ The New Yorker: A Boston Hospital Nears Its Limits
➢ Vanity Fair: Coronavirus Will Change the Media Business Forever
➢ The Guardian: I fled New York with my wife, kids, and dog – just as my ancestors fled the 1918 pandemic 
➢ The Atlantic: It Wasn't Just Trump Who Got It Wrong
The Washington Post: Zoom has become the movie of our lives, boxed for an occasion we didn't know was coming
➢ Montreal Gazette: Movies, my cat and depression in the time of COVID-19
➢ Marker: What Everyone's Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage
➢ London Review of Books: Rolling it out, ramping it up
➢ Wall Street Journal: Coronavirus Means Everyone Wants Jigsaw Puzzles. Good Luck Buying One. [$]

   Operation Limelight
By Jason Fagone for the San Francisco Chronicle
 (~85 minutes)

Two years of reporting went into this masterfully crafted and engrossingly told story of California’s marijuana ‘Superman.’


   'He didn't even pretend to let us win' ... Growing up with the world's biggest stars, by their children
By Joshua David Stein for The Guardian
 (~15 minutes)

What’s it like to grow up with a world-famous father? The sons and daughters of John Lennon, Caitlyn Jenner, John Wayne and Samuel L. Jackson pull back the curtain. A highlight is Julian Lennon revealing being estranged from his father for about a decade while he was “deeply and publicly in love” with Yoko Ono.


   The Worst Friend Date I Ever Had
By Samantha Irby for The Cut
 (~20 minutes)

This excerpt from Samantha Irby's new essay collection is as fun as it is true.

   The History of Loneliness
By Jill Lepore for The New Yorker
 (~10 minutes)

As she often does, Jill Lepore recasts this seemingly unprecedented period of isolation in historical—and biological—terms. We promise you’ll feel more connected (if not more optimistic) after reading this.


   Campus Is Closed, So College Students Are Rebuilding Their Schools in Minecraft
By Pearse Anderson for The Verge
 (~10 minutes)

Inspiring? Or troubling? You decide. For now, we’ll take all the inspiration we can get.


   Greta's World
By Stephen Rodrick for Rolling Stone
 (~15 minutes)

How Swedish teen Greta Thunberg turned a single homemade sign into a crusade that launched a worldwide movement.


   Ozark Life
By Terra Fondriest for The Bitter Southerner
 (~15 minutes)

Let Terra Fondriest’s words and photos transport you to rural Arkansas.


By Max Blau for The Atavist Magazine
 (~40 minutes)

A heroin overdose begins a mother’s quest for answers and healing, helped by a remarkable coincidence and some unlikely allies.


   The World is Changing—So Can We
By David Byrne for Reasons to be Cheerful 
 (~5 minutes)

The epidemic is an opportunity to learn how to change our behavior for the better. A beautifully written, uplifting essay by the great David Byrne.


    The Sunday Oral History: "It Was 'The Office' Does Major League Baseball"
By Luke Mullins for Washingtonian
 (~20 minutes)

The story of Major League Baseball’s long-awaited return to Washington, D.C., was a litany of mistakes, bloopers and “live-to-tell-it tales.” Luke Mullins pieces together a hilarious oral history.

➢ LitHub: The Operatic Rise and Fall of Tiger Woods


   The Remembrance: Adam Schlesinger, 1967-2020
By Dorian Lynskey for GQ UK 
 (~5 minutes)

The Fountains of Wayne frontman, who died last week of COVID-19 at the age of 52, was an extraordinary talent, the master of every thing he touched, halfway to an EGOT, gone too damn soon.

➢ The New York Times: Adam Schlesinger's 30 Essential Songs
➢ The New Yorker: Adam Schlesinger's Incandescent Songwriting


   The Remembrance: Bill Withers, 1938-2020
By Andy Greene for Rolling Stone
 (~5 minutes)

Bill Withers, the oh-so-smooth Grammy-winning singer of “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died at the age of 81. (Check out Jack Shafer’s Sunday Classic, below, for the very best profile of Withers.)


   The New Testament Of Tame Impala
By Tom Banham for Esquire
 (~20 minutes)

Kevin Parker is a man who seems to come from another era. His Jesus-like persona attracts followers but he's a much simpler, solitary man at heart.


   Larry David, Master of His Quarantine
By Maureen Dowd for The New York Times

 (~15 minutes)

So you figured the era of social distancing is Larry David’s idea of heaven. You’d be wrong. A fun FaceTime conversation between the Maestro of Petty Gripes and Maureen Dowd.

Last Week's Most Read

   What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe
By Kim Cross for Bicycling

   What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus
By Jessica Lustig for The New York Times Magazine

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


Lede of the Week

   Celebrity Culture Is Burning, by Amanda Hess

America is in crisis, but the celebrities are thriving. They are beaming into our homes, reminding us to stay indoors and “stay positive,” as “we’re all in this together.” When I watch their selfie public service announcements, I find my attention drifting to the edges of the frame: to the understated wall molding visible behind Robert DeNiro’s shoulder; to the Craftsman beams on Priyanka Chopra’s balcony; to the equine wallpaper framing Zoe Kravitz’s crackling fireplace.


Quotation of the Week

   Larry David, Master of His Quarantine, by Maureen Dowd

“In a few months, if I walk into someone’s house and stumble onto 50 rolls of toilet paper in a closet somewhere, I will end the friendship. It’s tantamount to being a horse thief in the Old West.”

— Larry David

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   Bill Withers: The Soul Man Who Walked Away (2015)
By Andy Greene for Rolling Stone 
 (~15 minutes)

Ain't nobody don't like Bill Withers. As Questlove says in this profile, "Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.” In my extremely white household, Bill Withers is the closest thing we have to a Bruce Springsteen. A pop anomaly, Withers entered and conquered the music world with no musical training, only special knowledge of a previously undiscovered express route to the heart. He basically left the music business in the mid-1980s, living off the royalties of his hits. Here's my favorite Withers quotation from Greene's sympathetic profile. “I need a motivator or something to goose me up,” he says. “They need to come out with a Viagra-like pill for folks my age to regenerate that need to show off. But back where I’m from, people sit on their porch all day.”


Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Long Pod
from Jody Avirgan

   This Day In Esoteric Political History (Apple | Spotify)

Here I am to plug my new podcast. But I do hope you’ll listen. A few months ago, I approached Radiotopia about launching a small history podcast, looking at moments from previous elections and politics to help track what I anticipated would be a tumultuous year. I had no idea. But I think we need lessons from history more now than ever, and in this show I’m teaming with historian Nicole Hemmer to talk about small and big moments from the past. My hope is that we’re making a show that isn’t about this moment, but speaks to it. Launching a new project into the teeth of a pandemic is overwhelming, but I’m glad we have. We could use all your help in spreading the word, subscribing, writing reviews, and suggesting topics. Or, just take a listen. It’s short. Thanks, all.

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

The Sunday Surreal
from The Editors

Family’s lockdown adaptation of Les Miserables goes viral

A family in Kent, England, has the right remedy—and melody—to endure their lockdowned cabin fever. Watch this.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Stranded at Sea

Before it was allowed to dock in Fort Lauderdale this past week, Holland America’s TMS Zaandam was one of the “virus death ships” nobody wanted. Carrying nearly 200 passengers confined to their cabins and four dead bodies, the cruise ship was in limbo for days after South American ports denied it entry. AFP photographer Luis Acosta captured the sad saga as the ship passed through the Panama Canal on March 29. Most news outlets ran wide shots of the indistinguishable ship at sea, but Acosta’s image of a solitary passenger framed in the glowing window of his cabin zoomed in on the story. His stark photograph is a frame within a frame, creating multi-dimensional layers made more compelling by the emptiness of the other lit windows. The photo’s solitary silhouette spoke volumes about what was at stake – not a big ship, but the frightened, isolated lives on board. 

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

Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl

I picked up the book this week because I had to—I'm writing a story whose themes complement Frankl's—but also because I wanted to. Man's Search for Meaning is a book for hard times. Frankl wrote it while reflecting on his life in a Nazi concentration camp but it is not like, say, Elie Wiesel's Nighta chronicling of the horrorsInstead Frankl writes about how he found the mental will to transcend them. It began with realizing he, and he alone, could choose how to respond to any situation in the camp. His choices were his agency. So he could have a conversation in his head with his wife while he worked in the freezing cold and German guards boot-heeled him for working too slowly. On other days he could choose to accept that suffering was his fate and think about what that suffering might teach him. 

The book is profound, and one I return to a couple times a year. It's guided me and given me solace. Maybe this week it could do the same for you.

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

   The Guardian Weekly

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

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

All Kinds of Time
By Fountains of Wayne

Lovely Day
By Bill Withers

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   Overlooked No More: Kate Worley, a Pioneer Writer of Erotic Comics
By George Gene Gustines for The New York Times
 (~5 minutes)

The comic book history books are littered with underrated and “lost” creators - talents deserving of more recognition and acclaim. But few come close to Kate Worley, one of the most important creators in the erotic comics space. As part of the Times’s “Overlooked” series, which retroactively (ironic, since we’re talking comics) crafts obits for people who the paper missed the first time around.

Gustines does a fine job of recapping Worley’s career, and her seminal series, OMAHA THE CAT DANCER, about a sexy, anthropomorphic feline stripper. Though the strip was sexy, it wasn’t exploitative or needlessly violent. OMAHA was sexy, sure - but it was more grounded, talking cats notwithstanding. Take a minute to get to know a lost comic book legend, finally getting her due in the paper of record.

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 @nicopitney

A partial list of warnings that Trump and senior admin officials received months or years before impeachment:

Read the whole thread here

The Sund&y Ampers&nd
from The Editors

Check out the other characters here

The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   Take this (weirdly precise!) quiz to find out which fictional character’s personality matches yours
By Emily Temple for LitHub
 (~5 minutes)

So we became helplessly obsessed with this silly quiz Friday. I won’t tell you who the quiz says I’m most like… unless you really want to know—well, OK, if you insist: Tony Stark.

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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: Cari Vander Yacht

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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