We are pleased to introduce a new weekly down-list feature: THE KIX PICKS. Each week, editor and best-selling author Paul Kix will offer a “fan letter” about a new book, film, podcast, TV series, acceptance speech, or some other cool new thing that’s worthy of your time and attention. If you like what you find in THE KIX PICKS, Paul offers more recommendations in his weekly newsletter. He is also the host of a new podcast, Now That's a Great Story. Novelists, screenwriters, journalists and songwriters talk about their favorite work, the one that reveals their artistic worldview. Now that’s a great idea for a podcast.
With only a few months to live, Prince summoned writer Dan Piepenbring to Paisley Park, his private, palatial Minnesota compound. Prince was considering Piepenbring to be the ghost-writer for a very ambitious autobiography, a book that “would have to surprise people—provoke them, motivate them.” The ensuing courtship of Piepenbring—or was it a courtship of Prince?—is fascinating and revealing.
Piepenbring’s strong narrative drops so many new details (Prince’s favorite hotel alias was Peter Bravestrong; in the ’80s, he wrote in a longhand precursor to our texting shorthand: “Eye” for “I,” “U” for “you,” “R” for “are.”) that you’ll find yourself effortlessly tugged into Prince’s cloistered world, where associates are never officially hired. “Prince simply told them to show up again, and they did.” More than once, you’ll likely be surprised by something Prince says or does, particularly his immovable stance on the evils of music and book publishers. And in the end—the end following 57-year-old Prince’s sudden death, at Paisley Park, on April 21, 2016—Piepenbring offers this bittersweet coda to the way the legend lived, by embodying dualities: “He had told me that he was O.K., and he was not O.K.”
(1) I didn’t think I had strong feelings about Car Talk because (2) I've never really owned a car. And yet in this moving ode to the NPR staple for 35 years and its surviving cohost, I was proved wrong on the first count and convinced the second didn’t matter. The show was never about vehicles, of course. “They’re just machines,” as Ray Magliozzi said. It was about people.
Be prepared for this story to be so emotional that you forget the shocking opening, in which Magliozzi admits to now hating cars.
The M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Jeffrey Epstein’s status as a sex offender, and accepted contributions from him in amounts exceeding the totals that the center had publicly disclosed. Ronan Farrow has the receipts, including evidence that M.I.T. Media Lab’s leaders purposefully concealed the donations from “Jeffrey” as “anonymous,” after Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database. On Saturday afternoon, Joichi Ito, the lab's director, stepped down.
Renee Zellweger is back—in part because she ran into friend Salma Hayek in an airport during a particularly tough time for her, a “rough patch” that lasted about a year. “She shared this beautiful… metaphor? Analogy?” Zellweger says. “ ‘The rose doesn’t bloom all year… unless it’s plastic.’ ” What Zelleweger took from that line—and how it led to her forthcoming star turn as Judy Garland—sets up the launching pad to a particularly revealing, superbly written celebrity profile by Jonathan Van Meter.
In the acclaimed documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold expressed concerns that a relationship or even happiness would keep him from achieving greatness. Now that Honnold has pulled off the ascent of a lifetime, Seth Wickersham finds him (maybe) changing his tune.
How do humans process and overcome rejection? Well, there’s a lab for that. As Alison Kinney puts herself through the rejection lab’s paces, she discovers all sorts of interesting things, including “Not all rejections are equal.”
How’s this for an unlikely political movement as we steam toward the 2020 Presidential election? A bikers’ group for President Trump, commandeered by a man who grew up in politics. James Pogue writes this tour de force with a dark Hunter S Thompson-esque vibe that we bet you’ll enjoy.
Turns out, clouds play a huge, and poorly understood, role in determining just how destructive climate change could be. That makes understanding them critical or, as The World Climate Research Programme put it, “It is the intellectual and experimental challenge of our lifetime.” This report on some cloudchasers in Argentina is somehow understandable, fun, and frightening, as complex as those puffy white sky sailors that—if you squint—could spell doom.
With an opening paragraph that easily qualifies as our Lede of the Week (and in the running for Lede of the Year), Emily Badger captures the lovely absurdity of Paul Romer, the 2018 Nobel Prize for Economics laureate, trekking to Burning Man to argue that the 21st century needs more “Burning Man urbanization.”
“When a veteran military man gave me that advice before I left to join U.S. forces in Baghdad,” writes Sandra Sidi, “I thought he meant that I needed a way to protect myself from the enemy.” A very troubling account of sexual harassment in the U.S. military.
Fools Rush Out By Jonathan Freedland for The New York Review of Books (~25 minutes)
The origin story of United Kingdom’s wrenching to-Brexit or not-to-Brexit self-harm drama is told here in all its absurd glory. And if you didn’t think it could any get worse, the bad soap opera is now being (somewhat) orchestrated by buffoonish prime minister Boris Johnson. “The explanation for how Britain came to this point says much about the country and its long, tangled relationship with itself and its neighbors,” writes Jonathan Freedland. “But it also sheds a dispiriting light on the nature of modern politics, with resonance far beyond these islands.”
A Long Yarn By William Browning for Oxford American (~20 minutes)
The intense focus and deliberate patience that Mississippi artist Ruth Miller applies to her art, combined with an oasis of personal grit, is an inspiration to many artists—and a profile tailor-made for William Browning.
In one of the world’s first publicly reported artificial-intelligence heists, voice-mimicking software that imitated a company executive’s speech helped dupe a subordinate into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secret bank account, the company’s insurer said.
Our producer Étienne Lajoie fact-checked this story about the rollicking and ever-changing life of Dion. A few years after the death of her husband and with her Vegas residency ending, she is off on the road again—and she's cool now.
Who is billionaire B. Wayne Hughes? He is the founder of self-storage giant Public Storage. What wasn’t known about him until now is that he has secretly donated $400 million to the University of Southern California. But the Hughes name is not emblazoned on a single building or illuminated sign. What does he want (if anything) besides a chance to cheer his lungs out for his beloved USC Trojans?
Besides being an illuminating portrait of a down-to-earth wealthy philanthropist, this piece also shows Hughes as a devoted, idiosyncratic horseplayer. At Santa Anita, Hughes insisted on cashing a Pick 6 that he had hit with three friends because the winning ticket would pay $120,000. Hughes wanted to see all that cash because, he explained, he “had never seen that much money in cash.” Never mind that he was a billionaire at the time!
You cango home again: At 11 pm Friday night, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick were back at ESPN’s SportsCenter desk, for one time only, to celebrate the network’s 40th anniversary. Bryan Curtis smartly explains why Dan and Keith’s “big show” in the 1990s revolutionized sports broadcasting and late-night television.
It was dusk on the opening night of Burning Man, and the makers and misfits were touching up their art projects and orgy dens. Subwoofers oontz-oontzed as topless cyclists draped in glowing LEDs pedaled through the desert. And Paul Romer, a reigning laureate of the Nobel Prize in economics, sat on a second-story porch at the center of it all, marveling at a subtlety of the street grid.
Jessica Contrera covers a wide range of topics as a narrative reporter for The Washington Post and in this week's podcast she chats with Don about her happiest (and saddest) stories, taking care of her mental health while covering traumatic events, and the positive influence a good editor has on a young reporter. Jessica has been featured several times in The Sunday Long Read; the stories of hers that we've highlighted include a deep dive about children sexting, a piece about the ongoing recovery of mass shooting victims, and a delightful tale about one particularly controversial dog park.
As the magazine industry dies off, the nostalgiac in me wants to hold cherished memories of them to my chest—or read 22,000-word histories of my favorites, which would include Sports Illustrated, which did as much for long-form as any of the so-called New Journalists did. This self-history is a lot of fun.
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
A small show about small things that have shaped the world. Each episode is ten minutes long, if that, and focuses in on one item. There are times that the sound design is a little too heavy handed, but if you’re not feeling a particular episode—it’ll be over in a few minutes! I ripped through a bunch of these at the gym this week, learned a lot of stuff about tea, nails, the Titanic and more. I can’t really tell if they are making new episodes, but there are plenty sitting in the archives to satisfy your curiosity.
Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.
Like a visual SOS, veteran Miami Herald photographer Al Diaz’s photograph of Aliana Alexis raising her arms from the concrete remains of her Bahamian home on Sept. 5 became the iconic image of Hurricane Dorian, helping mobilize international response. Some coverage this past week did an excellent job of showing the expanse of devastation in “The Mudd” shantytown on Great Abaco Island, but it took a still image of Alexis in a house dress and blue Crocs, surrounded by smashed plywood and soggy mattresses, to send a clear message. Shared on social media and newspaper sites around the world, the power of the photograph stirred a global reaction. “Hold on tight mama,” one reader wrote on the Miami Herald Instagram feed. “Help is coming.”
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 didn't want to buy this book. I saw it at Barnes & Noble and thought, "Yet another book cover as marketing ploy. This thing's probably just a picture book." I put it out of mind. Then a friend on Facebook raved about it enough to get me to find a cheap copy online.
Wow. Mark Manson argues that when we give too many f*cks about the small stuff—basically anything other than our life's purpose and family's well being—we suffer as petty creatures who will always be frustrated. But then Manson says suffering is the point. That happiness derives from finding solutions to our suffering. That when we solve one problem, life presents us another: "The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next." The goal in life is pretty simple: Solve ever better problems. There's Buddhist thinking here, and something Nobel-winner Herman Hesse would approve of, and something consistent even with yesterday's After Show, about how pain is the best path to a satisfying career.
All of which is to say: Pay attention to that book cover. Because what we can put in practice is in fact a very subtle art.
Paul Kix is a best-selling author, an editor, and the host of the podcast, Now That's a Great Story, where novelists, journalist, 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 below, please sing up for Paul's newsletter.
There is new evidence in the 'skill versus luck' debate. Alessandro Pluchino and two co-authors recently published an academic paper about the "role of randomness in success and failure" in certain life outcomes. The authors find that "almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success."
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.
Acclaimed cartoonist Dustin Harbin had an intense, painful bike accident - clocking in at over 40 stitches, some lost teeth, and months of recovery. He did not have health insurance.
Like many in today’s modern and ineffective health care system, Harbin turned to crowdfunding to help pay off the massive, seemingly insurmountable medical bills. Thanks to the kindness of friends, strangers, and fans, Harbin was able to manage the bills, his own care, and his life - but it also raised a disturbing question: what if those resources didn’t exist? Why do people have to pay these kind of bills in a developed country like the United States? Why must people beg for money to survive?
Told in comic strip format, Harbin’s story is jarring, haunting, and raw - a zoomed in view of an issue many people face in silence and obscurity. The story lingers with you, and makes you wonder about the myriad issues people with and without health care deal with on a regular basis. It also raises the question - what is the true price of basic health care? And what should it be?
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, Curator: Étienne Lajoie Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar 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: Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales Webmaster: Ana Srikanth Campus Editor: Peter Warren
Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019
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, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Jonathan Coleman, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Jodi Mailander Farrell, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, 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, Lyra McKee, 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.
Header Image: Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo
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.