Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Sometime in the past few weeks, hidden in the hustle of year-end deadlines and shopping and travel, I passed the two-year mark with this weekly roundup of writing-worth-reading. That’s more than 100 columns (can that be true?), and somewhere between 300 and 500 short paragraphs trying to find a new and compelling way to say “you oughta read this.” Those little blurbs so often feel like an awkward though well-meant intrusion, inadequate against the writing they attempt to describe.
I’m not very much for social media, so the articles here come from my own travels across the web, from friends who are very much for social media, and from other curators — Jason Kottke, Matt Muir, Longreads and Longform. It’s harder and harder to find amazing essays that haven’t been posted on multiple such lists. It’s harder and harder to find amazing essays that aren’t on the same set of themes, the ones we all stared at all 2018: the alt-right, the tech elite, the patriarchy.
So I don’t make that a goal. I just look for essays that compel me to read all the way through, riptides in the ocean of digital words. Of those, there are few. I start and do not finish tens if not hundreds of essays and articles a week; I’m in Pocket’s top 1 percent of users again this year, based on volume (and compulsive digital tidiness; Pocket loves people who bookmark, read, and delete). The weekly scan can be tiresome, and numbing — until a gifted writer surprises me awake again.
I always wish I could share more work by Seattle’s writers. We are blessed, did you notice?, with stunning essayists: Kate Lebo; Kristen Millares Young; Anca Szilagyi, Jessica Mooney and Donna Miscolta, who to the Seattle Review of Books’s delight sometimes write here. So many others! Maybe someday I’ll figure out a foolproof way to discover their writing as it’s published — one that doesn’t involve Twitter. For now, it’s a good week every time they cross my screen.
Last Sunday of 2018; last post of the year. May 2019 bring more surprises and fewer Nazis. Here we go!
This essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation) is superbly written — barbed, crisp, disarmingly conversational (given the barbs) — and startling. It involves a case of mistaken paternal identity, breast cancer, and a chimpanzee. The patriarchy makes an appearance, as does the publishing elite (spoiler: those two appear in many of the same scenes), but it’s blissfully free of both the tech elite and and Donald Trump. Here, Wurtzel describes the realization that the troubled relationship she’d been trying to heal was with the wrong father.
I have been working out that relationship all of my life, in writing and therapy and conversation, with cocaine and heroin, with recovery and perseverance, and with my thoughts. I think so much. I can’t stop thinking. It’s all exposed. I don’t have a subconscious.
You can’t surprise me.
But this surprised me.
I have been working out the wrong problem.
Thousands of words on the wrong problem. I have perfected a two-handed backhand to clobber the lob that is coming at me that is: the wrong problem. I have aced the wrong problem.
The compromises described in Whitney Curry Wimbish’s article about the benefactors of the Whitney Museum — including a board member whose wealth comes from selling teargas to be used against migrants — are by no means peculiar to the art world. Most well-funded nonprofits, no matter what careful, committee-driven screening policies they put in place, will come up against the question of whether doing good justifies taking bad money.
Whenever moral compromise begins to feel like a necessity (e.g., “I have to be on Facebook! My job requires it!”), it’s time to check our assumptions — and double- and triple-check who shaped them for us. This is how structures of power are built, and how we all become complicit in maintaining them. And if you’ve got a lot of money to give: maybe ask who else is on the board, and take your money off the table if you don’t like the answer. It may not be the change you were looking to make, but believe me, it’ll matter.
It’s ... a stark reminder that people with blood on their hands will always have a chance to rehabilitate their image. In this case, museums use them to keep their lights on: by appointing big donors to the board, sometimes requiring they donate a minimum amount, and then assigning them such duties as fundraising, “educating policymakers,” and “thinking strategically,” according to the American Alliance of Museums’ most recent report on museum boards. And in exchange for this, donors can represent to the rest of us that they are our benefactors, regardless of what else they’re up to. Now they’re “philanthropists.”
We all thought the book of the future would be a sort of literary flying car — digital, interactive, transformative. Craig Mod says it is all those things, just not wrapped up in a Kindle: it’s self-publishing, it’s e-newsletters, it’s audio.
Interesting, but … disappointing? I want the Flying Car Book of the Future to be more delightfully bookish, to capture the, um, ur-ness of “book” but with rocket fuel and a dizzying sweep from the ground to the sky. I want to lean over the side and watch Amazon turn into a tiny, earth-bound dot. I’m holding out for that Future Book — see you up there?
A “book” is just the endpoint of a latticework of complex infrastructure, made increasingly accessible. Even if the endpoint stays stubbornly the same — either as an unchanging Kindle edition or simple paperback—the universe that produces, breathes life into, and supports books is changing in positive, inclusive ways, year by year. The Future Book is here and continues to evolve. You’re holding it. It’s exciting. It’s boring. It’s more important than it has ever been.