A Voluptuous Bug in Your Ear
The green-bean casserole and candied sweet potatoes of newsletters is calling an audible.
Allow us a brief moment of earnestness: With turkey season upon us, we, the ladies of the Spread, raise a glass of Grüner Veltliner to you—our new family of readers, who keep us on our toes and give us reason to keep reading, and chattering, and basically doing what we like to do best. Merci. We’re not great at this sincerity stuff—we’d much rather be making a John Mayer joke right now—but that overworked word, gratitude, comes to mind. Whether this week finds you with family (given or chosen) or in glorious solitude, this week we seek to fill your ears, rather than your eyes, with a roundup of podcasts you can digest while traveling, cooking, or walking off all that cooking. It’s the perfect mental feast for those moments when you want to be “present,” without actually being present. So listen, learn, hang out, and let it all hang out—because sucking in that gut? Bad for ya.
One housekeeping note: Have you unspooled in the Spread Awards nomination form yet? Well, get going, sister! You’ve got ’til December 17 to share your hot recs.
Pass the pie,
Rachel & Maggie
Andrew & Debbie & Helga & Willa
Journalist Willa Paskin’s monthly-ish Slate pod Decoder Ring, in which she investigates pop-culture mysteries, is always a delight. I highly recommend her episode on the origins of the mullet for family road trips if your kids are elementary school or older. But this month’s “The Great Helga Hype” is my new favorite. It dissects the 50-year soap opera surrounding painter Andrew Wyeth’s iconic Helga Pictures, which for me is a many-layered cake: Helga’s boobs have been tattooed into my mind’s eye ever since I tagged along on a day trip to New Orleans as a kid to see a Wyeth show with my mom. Paskin unpacks this tale of art, commerce, partnership, lust, jealousy, and love with her usual joie de vivre, ultimately reframing the whole ordeal with an original, heartfelt perspective.—Rachel
Listen to “The Great Helga Hype” on Decoder Ring here.
Street dreams are made of these.
As a New York expat destined to spend the rest of my days low-key mourning my old stomping grounds, I could listen all day to Vivian Gornick—her Bronx accent still thick as a schmear of cream cheese on an onion bagel—reminisce about her most New York-y of lives. In this episode of his modestly titled pod, Myself with Others, host Adam Shatz, editor of the London Review of Books, taps his long relationship with Gornick and a deep knowledge of her work for what feels like a rich, warm fireside chat. This is my favorite kind of pod—a great listen that also teaches you something you didn’t know. Led by Shatz, Gornick covers a huge amount of ground, from her Communist childhood and her struggles with her mother to her feminist awakening, her evolution as a memoirist, turn-ons and sexual escapades (she’s wonderfully frank about sex), and even an abrasive first meeting with the “socially bizarre” Susan Sontag. Gornick explains pretty convincingly why, as a memoirist in the ’60s and ’70s, she did not adopt what we now know as intersectional feminism. And when Shatz asks her why New York—what is it about the city for her?, Gornick’s reply is instant and, for me, gutting: “Street life,” she says. “It’s very simple. Street life and a very strong, slangy language—the vernacular of New York is…vivid, theatrical, revealing, full of nuance. You walk out in the street and you’re immediately charged.” (Helpfully, the episode notes also offer a handy reading list of references. How nice.) —Maggie
Listen to Vivian Gornick on Myself with Others here.
She Haddish me at hello. (Sorry.)
Dear Tiffany Haddish, Will you marry me? I’d like to stay married to my wonderful husband, James, too, but with you, I would thrill at doing all the mundane domestic things—tax filing, Target runs—and also accompanying you to weddings and funerals. Sigh. Haddish’s interview on Conan O’Brien’s podcast—which is gloriously lengthy, extemporaneous, joyful, and dirty—is, I realize, the closest I’m going to get. So I will relisten the next time I bumble around Home Depot looking for a garden hose.—Rachel
Listen to Tiffany Haddish on Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend here.
Fast and furious, cordial and professional.
Wow, just wow. We don’t do political debate at the Bullock fam Thanksgiving table. Being more or less of the same liberal streak, my people get along just fine by sticking mostly to intra-family gossip and light current events. But listening to Andrew Sullivan and Briahna Joy Gray hash out their mostly opposing views on race and class on his pod, The Dishcast, makes me want to throw some critical race theory talk onto the nice starched tablecloth, just to see what happens. Sullivan v. Gray was never going to be an ice cream social: These two are here to debate. He’s the gay, Biden-voting conservative writer, commentator, newsletterer, and (some personal news!) founding University of Austin faculty; she’s the idealistic attorney and political consultant who served as National Press Secretary for the Sanders campaign and gained a following cohosting the Feel the Bern pod—and now cohosts her own (excellent) pod, Bad Faith. What knocked me out here was not just the substance of their arguments (born-to-steamroll Sullivan meets his match in Gray), but the consummate civility of their discourse. The debate is lightning fast and wide ranging; each concedes the odd point, but both mainly stick to their guns, remaining wed to the views they walked in with. Yet each time you think they’ll blow their top (and many times I was rooting for Gray to take off the gloves and have at him) they turn the wheel before driving over the edge. Man, are these two artful. Should you find yourself hooked, don’t worry, there’s more: This conversation began on Sullivan’s Dishcast, but on November 5, the two met again on Bad Faith. I know we said this issue of the Spread was all podcasts, all the time, but I also recommend a peek at the video version of that second convo on Bad Faith’s YouTube channel—just for the fun of watching this formidable, super-hip young Black woman go toe to toe with Sullivan, the patron saint of thinking conservative Boomers.—Maggie
Listen to Part 1 of Sullivan v. Gray on The Dishcast here.
Listen to Part 2 of Sullivan v. Gray on Bad Faith here
Better for it.
This month, with Ezra Klein on paternity leave, his New York Times colleague Tressie McMillan Cottom stepped in to host Klein’s eponymous pod, interviewing author Kiese Laymon (who, like me, grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and whose work destroys me). The result is a triumph: A conversation between two leading Black writers and thinkers that’s as tender as it is incisive. Much of the episode revolves around the concept of revising one’s work—as we evolve and the world shifts—as an act of self-actualization and also of love. McMillan Cottom at one point notes that, in an effort to put her money where her mouth is, she no longer listens to one of her favorite Salt-N-Peppa songs, “Whatta Man”—she just can’t stand by some of its derogatory language in the clear light of today. It’s a small moment in a robust, multifaceted conversation, but the sincerity took my breath away.—Rachel
Listen to Tressie McMillan Cottom interview Kiese Laymon on The Ezra Klein Show here.
Bend, snap, etcetera.
Last summer, on vacation with my husband and two young sons, I did what freelancing parents do on vacation: Negotiated time “off” so I could...work. My husband agreed to take the kids for a few hours so I could get some writing done. And people, I meant to write, really I did. But no sooner had they pulled out of the drive than I was curled up on the wicker couch of our loaner beach house, watching Legally Blonde. Even as this happened, I was thoroughly mystified: If I was gonna play hooky, why the hell was I spending these precious few hours on Elle Woods? But somehow, it needed to happen. When the family came home, I slammed the laptop shut so fast you’d have thought I was watching porn. And it did feel like a bit of a guilty pleasure. What I didn’t know was that LB was in the air that month: On this summer ep of The Rewatchables, Ringer editors/personalities Amanda Dobbins and Juliet Litman defend LB as a worthy coming-of-age comedy that does a lot more than it gets credit for, while mostly indulging in an hour-long group meditation on the specific power of Reese Witherspoon (Dobbins is an unabashed fangirl)—with necessary detours into the Ryan Phillippe era and the strange pointlessness, yet undeniable appeal, of Luke Wilson.—Maggie
Listen to The Rewatchables rehash of Legally Blonde here.
Mommy issues run deeeep.
Hoo boy. For those of you who’ve lost track—there’s a lot to keep track of—Meghan Daum has made going there her thing. See: Her 2019 book The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars (I’m sweating after just typing those 11 words). See also: The Unspeakable, a weekly podcast named for her fantastic 2014 book of essays,and dedicated to discussing “the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about.” In this fall’s episode “What Is a ‘Good Mother?” Daum interviews swashbuckling author, professor, lawyer, and criminal-justice reformer Lara Bazelon, who has previously written about putting her job above her kids. Daum, for her part, has written extensively about her decision to remain childless; she edited 2015’s Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, a collection of essays from writers who’d also chosen not to have kids—a book I picked up when I was feeling ambivalent about having biological children (Baby F.B. is now 13 months). While the freighted concept of “the good mother” is hardly a fresh topic, the Daum-Bazelon chat is a humdinger. Bazelon, who is divorced and has her two kids half the time, is so unsparing in her description of her priorities that even I—a woman who thinks of herself as super-ambitious—found my jaw on the floor. The episode is a not-insignificant 90 minutes, but I’ve been thinking about Bazelon’s courage, not only to organize her family life around her professional one but also to talk about it…on a podcast…that has 360 reviews on iTunes...pretty much daily since I first listened.—Rachel
Listen to Bazelon on Daum’s The Unspeakable here.
The Jessica Simpson Award goes to…
Find yourself a manwho loves you as much as the Spread loves a good celebrity memoir on audiobook. Just as I was gearing up to hit play on Bossypants for the fourth time, a friend flashed me her iPhone screen and there it was: Casey Wilson’s angelic, half-cringing mug. As Maggie can attest, I’ve long loved this woman—I relished every second of her amahzing performance on Happy Endings. I even tried to make Marry Me a thing. And now she’s got a memoir. It’s called The Wreckage of My Presence, and m’girl Casey, who is a real writer in addition to being a pretty face, if you can believe it, nails it both in content and voice-acting. She movingly and matter-of-factly tackles topics from postpartum depression and her grief over her mother’s death at 52 to weight in Hollywood and her addiction to pricey L.A. gurus (also: sugar) with her signature optimistic, usually breezy, touch. Maybe I’m easy, but I laughed out loud at least every eight minutes. I also cried more than once.—Rachel
Buy Wilson’s audiobook via the Spread’s Bookshop here.
Practically everyone in my life received The Unspeakable as their Christmas present in 2014, including my mother and my mother-in-law, both of whom were less than thrilled to open it up to the first essay, titled “Matricide.” Oops! My realtor, on the other hand, received this one.
How does she have the time?! Oh, right. Also, due to this prolificness, the Spread’s Bookshop is now basically the Daum Show.
Because she is an inclusive and detail-oriented person/collaborator, Maggie wanted me to change the word “man” here to “lover.” She was trying to keep me from looking like a boob, but I insisted that the switch would step on my brilliant use of a standard joke/idiom. I do not actually believe that all of our readers should find themselves a man. In short: Find you a partner like Maggie Bullock…
Truth. Swifties have nothing on Rachel’s loyalty for Casey Wilson. I cannot count the number of times Rachel pitched her for Elle, including, more than once, for the cover of the Women in TV issue. I was…diplomatically silent on that one.
I adore Ken Marino almost as much as I love Casey; sue me.
The Cut profiled Wilson last week! Girl’s a star.
Rachel! Maggie! You ladies are COOKIN,' alright!!
I listen to the Vivian Gornick interview last night--thanks for such a great recommendation. A friend of mine is good friends with her and I've always been in awe of that friendship. Could I even speak normally to the great Vivian Gornick? Probably not! I'm sure I'd be struck silly or mute with worship and say something dumb and then forget I'd ever read even one book about anything at all. (Thankfully, we have her books and her wonderful interviews).
One of the most thought-provoking podcast episodes I've listened to all year has been a conversation between Adam Grant and Mellody Hobson on Taking Tough Feedback. Agents get and give feedback all the time as part of our job. When the process is working well, it's transformative in the best way. I thought Mellody's views on the subject were inspiring and instructive. And also fodder for debate: I wanted to know for how long she has felt she can dish out feedback the way she does. Because as anyone knows who works in corporate America now (I do not any longer--to be clear), that kind of feedback can sometimes be dangerous for the person giving it. Is she in a place where she can say what needs to be said and not worry about job security (arguably, yes). So how do others not in that position go forward? There is definitely a path and I wanted to hear more from her on that.