If you’re late to the party, this is a running list of stories I’ve read in 2020 — part of a New Year’s resolution to consume 366 feature(ish) stories in 366 days this year. As of April 1, we’re all caught up after a late start. The pieces I’ve particularly liked get a ⭐ next to them, so feel free to just read those. Or anything. Reading is good. It’s like listening, but with your eyes.
On to April…
92.) ‘He didn’t even pretend to let us win’… Growing up with the world’s biggest stars, by their children collected by Joshua David Stein in The Guardian
This was a fun piece with some middling insight from children of John Lennon, John Wayne, Miles Davis, Caitlyn Jenner and Samuel L. Jackson, but the star of the show here is Jeff Bridges, who sounds like he’s every bit as wonderful as you might hope.
⭐ 93.) Favorite Players: Dan Quisenberry by Joe Posnanski in The Athletic
Because we’re all trying to fill some space without sports, The Athletic is doing some creative essay work, and Posnanski’s picture of the former Royals closer is just beautiful. I’d read Joe on anything, but aside from Springsteen and Buck O’Neil, Quiz might be his most soul-filling topic.
94.)A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music by William Weir in Slate
This piece is from 2014 (btw, Pocket is a great spot to find some fun older features) and asks a question I’ve been contemplating for 20 years… why don’t songs fade out anymore? The story has a soft spot for the fade outs. I, however, do not. They are the laugh track of pop music.
95.) Touting Virus Cure, ‘Simple Country Doctor’ Becomes a Right-Wing Star by Kevin Roose and Matthew Rosenberg in The New York Times
This story feels like it symbolizes the absolute worst of every part of our modern culture. A potentially critical medicine is politicized because of course it is. A guy gets on YouTube to promote something that hasn’t been proven. People who actually need the drug aren’t able to get it, a community is up in arms, and in the end, we’re all suffering for it.
⭐ 96.) The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller in The Washington Post
This is the best synopsis of the failings of the federal government during the pandemic I’ve read. And it’d be easy enough to say this is a political issue. It’s not. It’s a Trump issue. Many Republicans have been exceptional during this crisis, including the governors in Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky, to name a few. But when Trump has created a culture in which experts are derided, every issue is a referendum on him, cronies and kiss-ups hold high office, the State Department has been ravaged, and hundreds of federal jobs remain unfilled — well, none of this should be a surprise.
97.) 18 Tigers, 17 Lions, 8 Bears, 3 Cougars, 2 Wolves, 1 Baboon, 1 Macaque, and 1 Man Dead in Ohio by Chris Heath in GQ
I’ve not watched Tiger King. I doubt I will watch it. This piece from 2012, however, takes a deeper dive into the culture of exotic animal ownership and I can’t say I came away feeling particularly good about the world.
98.) There Are No Winners with ‘The Biggest Loser’ by Nick Hall in Outside
The central conceit here — the fat-shaming is bad, that no one should have their entire self-worth wrapped up in their weight — is commendable. I just struggle with a lot of the “oh well it’s OK to be overweight” conversations. The modern idea, detailed at length here, that somehow your weight is a thing to be embraced regardless feels wrong. I mean, there are real health issues at play — even if some of those issues have been misrepresented. There are real psychological and emotional issues, too — not just feeling bad about being obese, but all the things in life that get missed because of that obesity. Tommy Tomlinson’s book “Elephant in the Room” gets at the root of so much of that — not just the self-loathing, but the fact that his life has been impacted by his weight regardless of whether he’s accepting of himself or not. To ignore the inherent issues with obesity or the fact that it is a modern phenomenon and not an inherent part of one’s DNA glosses over too much of the reality.
I think the piece ends on what is the real heart of the issue:
The new Biggest Loser wants us to believe that the journey of transformation is internal and individual, that we can shape our bodies to our will. But what if it’s not us we need to transform but the world we’ve built? Real wellness—regular movement, nutritious food, social connection, access to health care, and quality rest and relaxation—can’t be at war with the way we live. It has to be baked into our lives, our schools, our work, and our cities.
Yes! Fat shaming is awful. But being fat isn’t just a thing we should accept for ourselves or our society. An entire ecosystem has been created that pushes people to eat more and move less, and that’s a problem that shouldn’t be overlooked because we all want to feel better about ourselves in this era of “woke fitness.”
99.) How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker
This is rather well reported and offers a lot of insight into McConnell’s personality and psyche. Obviously he doesn’t come off looking good, but it does really showcase what a shrewd politician he is.
100.) Why Mitch McConnell Wants States to Go Bankrupt by David Frum in The Atlantic
This was really eye opening and a good view of the practical applications of McConnell’s brilliance as a tactician.
101.) Why the Big Bang Produced Something Rather than Nothing by Dennis Overbye in The New York Times
This was a pretty solid way of telling a very complex story to make it palatable to people who aren’t all that smart (like me, for example).
102.) Walk on by: why do we ignore bad behaviour? by Amelia Tait in The Guardian
103.) The Colorful History of the Troll Doll by Michelle Delgado in Smithsonian Magazine
104.) The Woman Who Is Remaking AMC by Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic
An aside on “Killing Eve”: I’ve watched only Season 1. There were parts I genuinely liked, but I found Sandra Oh’s character utterly appalling. This, I know, makes me a mansplainer with no appreciation of important female writing. But there’s a scene in the movie “As Good As It Gets,” where Jack Nicholson’s gruff, misogynist writer character is asked how he writes women so well: “I think of a man,” he says, “and then take away reason and accountability.” And that, to me, perfectly summed up Oh’s “Killing Eve” character, who continually did inexplicable things to endanger those around her and expected to pay no price for it because she was somehow smarter than everyone else. I loved “Fleabag” though, so I’m not all bad, right?
105.) Sanders — And The Media — Learned The Wrong Lessons From Trump In 2016 by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight
106.) As Clayton Kershaw waits for baseball to return, a look at his family, legacy and future by Wright Thompson at ESPN.com
The brilliance of Wright’s approach is that he’s always looking for the deeper thread, the thing that makes someone great feel human and universal. From reading this, I don’t get the sense that Kershaw helped with that cause much, but it still turns out really nicely.
107.) The Lawyer Whose Clients Didn’t Exist by Francesca Mari in The Atlantic
This is one of those really well reported stories about how things work in the legal system that makes you wonder if we’re all doomed and powerful people never have to pay a price for anything.
⭐108.) The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic by Sam Anderson in The New York Times
We’re living in a depressing moment in history. This profile of Weird Al is a delightful tonic.
109.) The Ballad of Clay Travis by Tim Miller in The Bulwark
Just a perfectly reported takedown of one of media’s biggest con artists and worst human beings.
110.) The Woman on the Bridge by Sarah Weinman in New York Magazine
Fascinating story about a part of history I didn’t know much about, which then diverted me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole for background.
111.) The Secret of Scooby-Doo’s Enduring Appeal by Christopher Orr in The Atlantic
112.) Jason Isbell’s Redemption Songs by Zach Baron in GQ
113.) John Prine Taught Me to Stay Vulnerable by Jason Isbell in The New York Times
A beautiful obit.
⭐114.) We Are Living in a Failed State by George Packer in The Atlantic
This is incredibly depressing and, I feel, pretty spot on.
115.) They Started a Ned Flanders Metal Band. Then ‘The Simpsons’ Called by Jon Blistein in Rolling Stone
116.) Setting the Stage: Syracuse 8’s legacy lies in progress, evolution in athlete activism by Danny Emerman in The Daily Orange
Part of a package of three stories on the Syracuse 8, and it’s really well done. It’s a story more people need to hear, but the thing I’m blown away by is the courage of the Syracuse athletes during a time of upheaval nationally. I don’t think people understand the immense pressure toward conformity in college football. It’s like the military. You’re not supposed to speak out. But as Emerman details, it was essential that they did:
Just a quick glimpse of what they were up against:
The team physician, Dr. William E. Pelow, was a practicing gynecologist who had repeatedly operated on players’ healthy body parts instead of injured ones.
“(Pelow) said he hated touching Black people,” McGill said.
Again, hope you’ll read all three pieces as it’s a story that shouldn’t be forgotten to history.
A few things I read that probably don’t quite fit into the “feature” standard for this list, but are nonetheless worth sharing:
- The best of college football coaches’ cookbooks by Dave Wilson at ESPN.com
- Ten Surprising Facts About Everyday Household Objects by Amy Azzarito in The Smithsonian Magazine
- The worst Price Is Right showcases of the 1990s by Ryan Nanni for Banner Society
And, a quick note after linking to a Banner Society story: So many really talented writers have been laid off as a result of the pandemic, including many of the best voices at Vox/Banner Society. I hope they’ll all find homes writing elsewhere, but both in journalism and beyond, I fear the current economic conditions are proving just a useful tool in accelerating a restructuring of media that was already well underway. Regardless, I wanted to offer a huge thanks to Alex, Matt, Jason, Spencer and all the folks who’ve provided so much great reading material over the years, and wish them the best of luck moving forward.