Something to Sink Your Teeth Into
The Laverne and Shirley of newsletters is here to ease the post-election blues with hot sauce-slathered hijinks, high kicks, and rhinestone-bedecked slip-on sneakers.
“Bold.” “Juicy.” “Hot.” “Subtly sweet.” “Sassy.” “Decadent.” “Savory, delicious, and tender.” “Packed with heat.” “Plump.” “A more full-bodied taste.” “Pink-ish red.” “By far my favorite.” How about these rave reviews!?! Guys, we are honored and humbled. We would like to thank...Oh, you’re not talking about the Spread? You’re talking about...Megan Thee Stallion’s new Hottie collaboration with Popeyes?
Right. Next on the menu from 2021’s second most mouthwatering launch: Meet the exvangelicals. Billionaires with bobs. And boy do we have a bone to pick with THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. Eat your heart out, Megan!
Rachel & Maggie
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I know what we did last summer.
Back in June, I texted Rachel: “No one can find magazines anymore. We should start some kind of reading list.” Within what felt like minutes, Rachel—having always been 10,000 times ballsier and more on-the-ball than me—had pressed send on a Google invite for a “meeting” about our new “business.” In our very first conversation we agreed that the best way to sum up the thing we both missed was “women’s magazines,” but that the term was also deeply imperfect. Not only do plenty of people harbor a burning rage for the “women’s magazine” genre, but it had become antediluvian to launch something specifically for “women.” Even period underwear is now for “people who bleed.” On the whole that’s a change we both applaud. We wanted to curate stories that would appeal to all different kinds of humans—with the possible exception of Glenn Youngkin enthusiasts and those who stopped watching Succession after season one. Still, as we batted around other (clunky) phrases, our guts kept coming back to…“women.” Eventually, we punted: We’d go with “women” and hope that the proof would be in the pudding—the Spread’s breadth of content would reflect the breadth of its intended readership. But the fact that we never did come up with an answer always felt like a bit of a cop out to me. Helen Lewis: Why weren’t you in the meeting?
I have a hardcore writer’s crush on the Atlantic columnist, whose screeds on everything from AOC’s “tax the rich” ball gown to Chapelle-gate are so cogently reasoned, so full of artful burns—so damn fun to read. I find myself hoping she will tackle thorny subjects just so that I can hitch my wagon to her take: “Right! What she said.” (So much less tiring than formulating thoughts of my own!) Conveniently, last week, in the wake of a tweet from the executive director of the ACLU that amended RBG’s famous legal opinion on Roe v. Wade—replacing women with people and she with they—Lewis delivered “Why I’ll Keep Saying ‘Pregnant Women,’” in which she reviews the (fascinating!) history of gender-neutral language and also pushes back on its excessive political correctness. Turning every “she” into a “they” risks defanging any political argument that does, in fact, pertain specifically to women. It reduces a statement about reproductive rights to “anemic corporate speak”—and doesn’t help the cause. Right, what she said.—Maggie
Maggie, As your proud vice president of the Helen Lewis Fan Club, I found myself nodding—even fist-pumping once or twice!—throughout Lewis’s piece. But I also nodded along to Irin Carmon’s take—what Huma Abedin2 might call a “both/and”—on the question for New York. Carmon’s case pushes us to be as inclusive as possible if for no other reason than the seismic legal stakes all non-men are facing under our new Supreme Court. While her argument is somewhat complex, it’s also convincing. The best part of the piece is when she gets to matter-of-factly slip in one hell of a bit from her CV—what one might call a trump card if we were still using that idiom: “But it is equally clear to me AS A GINSBERG BIOGRAPHER that it is far too limited to confine her views on reproductive equality to the observation that “male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class.”—Rachel
Read “Why I’ll Keep Saying ‘Pregnant Women’” here.
Read “You Can Still Say ‘Woman’ But You Shouldn’t Stop There” here.
Pairs well with Succession.
In the latest issue of Town & Country, everyone’s favorite rich-person’s magazine goes full bore on billionaire art lover Alice Walton, with a lengthy profile of the world’s second-richest woman and a straightforward photo shoot in front of a favorite masterpiece. Set at her Crystal Bridges art museum in the Walmart family kingdom of Bentonville, Arkansas, the profile is written by high-society writer Chloe Malle, who T&C seems to have borrowed from Vogue for the occasion (Malle is a contributing editor there; she’s also the daughter of Candice Bergen). Like only a rich-person-talkin’-to-another-rich-person interview can accomplish, the piece is full of over-the-top quotes and scenes emanating from a woman with so much money she’s basically post-money. Like this one, about her interview-day outfit.—Rachel
The only deviation from Walton’s forest color scheme is her shoes—ballet-pink sneaker slip-ons covered in rhinestones (“I like shiny shoes!”) and Frank Lloyd Wright geometric print knee socks from the Crystal Bridges giftshop...Asked who made her crisp, pine-colored blazer, she shrugs and invites the Art Bridges publicist to check the label. “It’s Armani,” he says. “It’s a-what?” Walton crows in her Arkansas alto. She buys what she likes; she does not know brands, nor does she care.
Read “What’s in the Big Box?” here.
Confessions of a lookist book reader.
It’s not that I can’t love a book with a homely lead—quite the contrary: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread Jane Eyre—but I do want a writer to tell me, one way or the other, if the characters I’m reading about are considered attractive. Partly I’m superficial; partly I just know we live in a world where a person’s external “value” inevitably influences the way they (or, let’s get real, she) will be viewed and treated—and when a writer fails to address that piece, it leaves me a little dissatisfied. Please, don’t just tell me a lady has an elegant neck and leave it at that: Spell it out. Cracking open Lauren Groff’s latest, Matrix, the other day (no spoilers, please!) I knew where we stood by the fourth paragraph: “A giantess of a maiden,” Marie’s “stark” face “knows no beauty, only canniness and passion yet unchecked.” Got it. Check. Lucinda Rosenfeld: Get you a copy of Matrix! Writing for Lithub, the novelist references titles from my beloved Jane to The Unbearable Lightness of Being to Where the Crawdads Sing (!) to argue that modern writers rarely tangle with the subject of beauty—and especially a lack thereof—at all. Where have those “less than comely protagonists” gone? The only place you spot them is in the romance or beach-read section, “and the noted ‘flaw’ is excess weight.” Rachel, one theory is because, as you might say, “this ought to be a movie”—i.e., if you make a book about an ugly woman, will Netflix still option it?—Maggie
MB, Not even the plainest of Janes can stop Hollywood from a star-studded adaptation. Remember Mia Wasikowska as Eyre? And Anne Hathaway as Austen? I can’t wait for those guys to cast the wispily stunning Zendaya as Matrix’s sturdy, unlovely lead!—Rachel
Read “Whither the Plain Female Protagonist?” here.
“Here’s the pitch: It’s the Kardashians meets Dr. Phil.”
Yesterday, when a man on the street loudly professed his love to my seven-year-old—from a safe distance, but still—I found myself trying to explain on the fly the concept of “mental illness” in language he could understand. “Mom, I already know about that,” he told me with an eye roll. Of course. As Selena Gomez and the Biebs and Simone Biles talk openly about emotional self-care, things like “mental health”—along with big ideas like nonbinary and social justice—have been baked into daily life before his generation even gets to them. Now, in the New York Times Magazine, Amanda Hess gives us the D’Emilios, a family of super-rich TikTok stars with a combined 200 million followers and, apparently, a whole lotta angst. Fame is making their kids nuts. But instead of abandoning fame to try to get better, they decided to make a Hulu show about how crazy fame makes you! It may not be great parenting but it’s great positioning for must-see TV circa 2021, Hess observes: “Framing the family’s social media rise as a psychological crisis makes it seem both relatable and acutely serious, even important.”—Maggie
It’s been a banner week for Hess, who also published a consideration of those multicolored yard signs that announce what “in this house we believe.” Whether or not you live in a bright-blue college town dotted with these things like we do (Charlottesville; Amherst), it’s an interesting mini-history of a phenomenon that began with crafty, outraged moms—a subgenre I always enjoy.—Rachel
Read “How Social Media Turned ‘Prioritizing Mental Health’ Into a Trap” here.
Read “‘In This House’ Yard Signs and Their Curious Power” here.
A belated introduction to the mother of the exvangelical movement.
In last week’s Spread, we greeted the New Yorker’s discovery of self-help superstar Brené Brown with something of a groan. Was there really somebody left on planet Earth who did not know about The Brené? This week, when I saw the New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold profile of Rachel Held Evans—a leading Christian thinker, who died tragically at 37 in 2019—and thought, Huh, who’s she? I had to check myself. Apparently Held Evans, whose sixth book, a memoir called Wholehearted Faith, was published posthumously yesterday, may not be a household name in households like my own, but she is a Brené-like figure in modern Christianity, a world I once knew well.
I grew up in the Methodist church in Mississippi, a place where youth group was hardly optional and questions about one’s “walk with Christ” came up in casual conversation. I was banished from Sunday School on multiple occasions for raising questions about Biblical contradictions. I now take my kids to a nice Episcopal church where sermons cite Mary Karr and quote from the Atlantic—it’s all very cozy and brimstone-free. But I find myself lying awake at night trying to square how the dogmatic evangelical churchgoers I grew up with—and millions of Americans like them—could have taken up Trump as their patron saint. Not to mention how so many smart girls I grew up with continue to live within—and even vocally agree on social media with—the patriarchal bounds of that church.
Reading Griswold’s story, I knew at least one of my old friends had to be a Held Evans disciple. After some light text reportage, yesterday I called my childhood church friend Bethany—who in my head is still singing along to Jars of Clay after Sunday night youth group. Today Bethany identifies as “exvangelical”—disenchanted with the evangelical church. Held Evans, she said, could be called exvangelical as well, but would probably have preferred “the mother of progressive Christianity.” She “gave women who had grown up in the evangelical church permission to question and doubt—but not in a cynical, bitter way. Like hey, we’re allowed to use our brains a little bit here—that doesn’t mean we’re throwing everything out,” Bethany explained. By the time our phone call ended, I felt ready not just to buy the book but to begin work on what felt like Held Evans’s inevitable 2024 presidential run. If only she were still alive.—Rachel
Read “The Afterlife of Rachel Held Evans” here.
Did we really have to rebrand the Tooch?
Like my father before me, I’m mad at “the media.” Though our reasons are a little different. After decades of being unfailingly delighted by the sight and sound and spirit of Stanley Tucci in one film after another, I’m overcome by Tucci fatigue. Why did the media have to rebrand the world’s finest character actor into some kind of sinewy Ina Garten? Is nothing sacred? My first encounter with the gradual commodification of Tucci was an innocent-enough post by the Cut in April 2020, about his martini-making on Instagram. Thinking that it was a quirky one-off, I clicked. I enjoyed. I was even okay with Tucci’s food-travel show Searching for Italy, a nice little Euro project for an unembarrassing, beloved American. HELL, I’D HAVE BEEN OK WITH HIM PUBLISHING THE MEMOIR HAD WE ALL JUST LEFT IT AT THAT. But now Tucci is everywhere. And the people who are putting him everywhere are acting like he’s not everywhere and that including him in their holiday-prep extravaganza or their London travel story is, like, clever. And it’s making me tired. And that’s why I’m mad at the media. Thank you.—Rachel
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
There’s a pop singer called Self Esteem. (Alex Marshall, New York Times) // An introduction to hot writer/podcaster Rax King via her stomach. (Grub Street) // Uncle Vin (Diesel) walked Paul Walker’s kid down the aisle. (Grant Rindner, GQ) // Rachel needs to shower more. (Jennifer Benjamin, Real Simple) // 97 percent of hetero couples still give the kid the dad’s last name. (Michael Waters, Atlantic) // Before Rosa Parks there was Claudette Colvin. (Eduardo Medina, New York Times) // Have y’all seen Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir? Catch up, then catch part two. (Kerensa Cadenas, the Cut).
Ladies and gentleman please welcome the 2021 edition of Oprah’s Favorite Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings! The grandmother of holiday gift guides is…sponsored by Amazon. A total bummer, although a convenient one. (We were heartened to see there is also a non-Amazon source listed for each item, in many cases with a discount code for the alternative retailer.) Check out all 110 commuter cups, cushy footwear, funky eyewear, waffle irons, antimicrobial backpacks, doggy travel sets, pima cotton pajamas, Oprah-branded planners, and the like, via Oprah Daily here.