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She’s Like the Wind
The Schwarzenegger and DeVito of newsletters is breaking its collective brain over messy Marie, likable Lauren, and a wildly dishy Daphne.
We’re doing things a little differently over here today. As Johnny said to Baby, try to follow our lead and keep up with the changes, so no one will know you’re not a real ballroom dancer and suspect that’s because Penny’s getting a back-alley abortion…Wait, hang on…What were we talking about? Oh! Right! Today’s issue. It’s a little different? But you’re safe with us….
It’s been a week of writing and thinking about writing and thinking. In a scorching issue of former New York mag editor Max Read’s Substack (it’s called Read Max—geddit?), he takes on New York Times opinion writer Pamela Paul’s most recent column, which looked back at the furor surrounding Jeanine Cummins’s 2020 immigration novel, American Dirt. (Sidebar: Paul has got some heat around her this week—she’s also the subject of this insidery New Yorker story by Molly Fischer.) Read’s response to her piece is framed as a “rewrite memo,” sent from an editor to a writer after a first draft that failed to deliver—and it’s a masterpiece of the form, laying bare the maddening and largely unseen role of the editor, and just absolutely nailing the thinly veiled bewilderment and fury at the writer’s perceived laziness, all hidden in buddy-buddy encouragement. Phrases like, “There’s a lot to chew on” and “I think there’s a slight tension in your argument here that’s worth exploring in more depth” left Rachel and Maggie—who have both written and received many such memos—breathless.
After we devoured that hors d'oeuvre, in came a meal from our former Elle colleague (OK, idol) Daphne Merkin in “The Golden Age of Glossies,” a defense of the much-maligned women’s magazine, in the New York Review of Books1. Daphne, who really was among the very best in the business of crafting the “confessional”—though she explains why she loathes the term—personal essays that once elevated the whole business of commercial magazines, recalls climbing down from the pedestal of her own literary snobbery to realize, in the ’90s and aughts, that women’s mags were the best place to sound off on one’s interior life (and—moment of silence—to be handsomely paid for it, to boot). But over time, Merkin writes, such “sterling content” was increasingly buried under reams of advertising—particularly when the stories landed online, amid "a dizzying array of celebrity photos and lists of the ‘Five Best Toners’ or ‘Ten Reasons Not To Criticize Your Boyfriend.” Which, honestly, nicely sums up the Spread’s raison d’etre: We are your loyal truffle pigs, hunting every week for gems hidden among the muck.
While we’re on the general topic (Women: Writing! Talking! Thinking!), we’d like to take a moment to give an honorary mid-season Spreadie Award for the Art of the Interview to a somewhat undersung master of the genre, Debbie Millman, who’s been hosting her podcast Design Matters for nearly 18 years, y’all. Design Matters is the antidote to the Smartless school of non-journalism chat shows, where hosts spend half of every ep circle-jerking about how all famous people are not-so-secretly friends and the other half “interviewing” A-listers with zero preparation2. Well, Ms. Debbie3 does it right: She reads everything ever written about her subject, every quote they’ve ever uttered, then builds complex questions for them that reveal real insight and thought. To wit: Her new interview with pop singer King Princess, whose “1950” is on permanent rotation on the Spread playlist. Millman asks them about a poster of Jack and Meg White, posing in outfits made entirely of buttons (?) that King Princess had as a kid (a poster on their bedroom wall! What is this woman, a time-traveling spy?) Why was the poster “everything you wanted,” Millman asks: “Was it the music, the aesthetic—or being the centerpiece of a poster?” Dang, Debbie. That’s the way—uh-huh, uh-huh—we like it.
Now on to this week’s reading list, it’s a doozy.
Maggie & Rachel
P.S. Shoutout to Spreadfan and fellow Substacker Zara Wong, who named us on her list of favorite reads—and immediately unleashed a flood of subscribers from Australia! Ahoy, new mates! Do you get tired of Americans butchering Australian-isms like that? If so, apologies. Now where were we?
In other cleaning news… Last week, Marie Kondo, who sold north of 11 million copies of her books (plus a big fat Netflix series) about tidying up, admitted to giving into the mess now that she has three young kids. Her comment caused outrage and spawned a zillion lukewarm takes on the value of—say it with us—balance and the necessity of—you got it—evolving. We’re taking bets on how soon her publisher will announce a new guide to the magic of living in complete child-generated disarray (a book we Spreaditors could write with our eyes closed for significantly cheaper, in case any publishers might be interested…). Just ask Alison Roman—actually, don’t!—this is a business woman we’re dealing with and more power to her. Read “Marie Kondo’s life is messier now—and she’s fine with it,” by Jura Koncius in the Washington Post here.
Playing dominoes with your reproductive options! Since the devastating overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, its connection to IVF (hello, sayeth literally all of the Spreadbabies) and assisted reproductive technologies in general has felt at once very threatening and super-murky. Upon Senators Tammy Duckworth and Patty Murray’s (double swoon) recent introduction of the Right to Build Families Act—which would protect the whole reproductive assistance kit and caboodle—Spread fave Fiorella Valdesolo has laid out the landscape for Vogue. Read “The Connection Between Fertility Treatments and the Overturning of Roe v. Wade” here.
Pillow-fight club: Nobody loves to attend a slumber party like we do! Hosting a slumber party for our own kids, on the other hand? The enthusiasm wanes. Lucky for Rachel’s 12-year-old, whose friends love to bake at all hours (c’mon, ladies!), early-childhood educator and Atlantic contributor Erika Christakis convincingly makes “The Case for Sleepovers.” Read it here.
Pull up a chair: Derek Blasberg—who we’re contractually obligated to call the Truman Capote of our time—has a double-header out via WSJ: A comeback profile of Stephanie Seymour, who has been grieving the death of her son Harry (she wears his suit in some of the photos), and an “exclusive” that does feel legit exclusive with Jeff Bezos’s girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, who spends her spare time flying helicopters and giving away billions of dollars—that MacKenzie is hard to keep up with!—and who will go to space next year. For what it’s worth, Sanchez seems really fun, like please-seat-me-next-to-her-at-a-dinner-party fun. Considering her man’s, um, challenges (as a human being, as a public figure), she’s definitely, for lack of a better word, an asset in the press4.
Behind the seams: Harvard Business School is sort of like a stealth fashion school—tons of Silicon Valley fashion “disruptors” got their training (and their funding contacts) there. Now the Harvard Gazette covers a new study coauthored by the very cool Nancy Etcoff, who wrote the book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty5, looking at the link between personality traits and fashion choices. Read “Why you wear what you wear” here.
Totally Savage: Never has a piece of audio sparked as much passionate conversation among women married to men as Dan Savage’s interview on the Ezra Klein Show. During the hour-long chat last month, the relationship icon exposed the outdated mores and unnecessary traps that can suffocate hetero relationships and leave all parties unsatisfied—sexually and emotionally. The episode should come with a warning label: This pod comes with a high risk of thinking and rethinking your relationship for weeks to come. Listen here (or wherever you get your podcasts).
Change agent: You know that rush you get when a writer you’re kind of obsessed with comes out with a piece on a subject you’re kind of obsessed with? [Trumpet sounds.] We bring you Susan Dominus on menopause! Read “Women Have Been Misled About Menopause” in the New York Times here.
Hot for teachers: With all the press and the glut of awards, you’d think we might tire of hearing from Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph. And yet, as evidenced by our warm reception of their recent conversation in Harper’s Bazaar, we will not! Read it here.
Screen tests. The controversy over prenatal screening and the New York Times’s reporting about it rages on. But as is her way, Emily Oster has taken the reins and broken it all down for those of us who aren’t totally science-literate. Read “What The NYTimes Got Wrong On Prenatal Screening” by Ellen Matloff in Forbes here and “Prenatal Testing Deep Dive” in ParentData here.
Pop secrets: You get a popcorn dress! And YOU get a popcorn dress! Somehow, someway, textured Mara Hoffman frocks are everywhere. Witness: Spread bestie and on-call style consultant ERC, who killed in one at her cousin’s summer 2022 nuptials. In the Cut, Spread VIP Allison P. Davis—ever with that finger on the zeitgeist—outlines the demo: “hot Brooklyn 30-somethings making their way through the pandemic wedding backlog.” Yuuuup. Question is, now that “everyone,” even Bey, has a popcorn dress, can we still get one? Read “The Oh-So-Popular Popcorn Dress” here.
Benjamin Button in the howwwwse: In addition to menopause finding its moment in the sun, the wider concept of longevity is exploding—especially when it’s tied to men. How quaint. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Ashlee Vance profiles a 45-year-old tech dude who’s assembled a team of 30 (yes, 3-0) doctors to make his body look and feel 18 again. Meanwhile, Time has declared that “Scientists Have Reached a Key Milestone in Learning How to Reverse Aging” (the gist is that scientists have figured out how to reverse aging by rejuvenating body tissue, possibly including organs) and Natty Geo stares into the abyss and wonders, “Can Aging Be Cured?” (The latter story says that a bunch of different drugs have proven to turn back the biological clocks of mice and that humans could benefit in the future.) Read “How to Be 18 Years Old Again for Only $2 Million a Year” here.
Gross anatomy: Rachel E. Gross, author of the Spread-beloved book Vagina Obscura, has an Atlantic piece that will make you laugh and scream at once, about the bonkers and outdated medical terms used to describe pregnant women and their bodies. Gross gets a running start with the headline, “Please Don’t Call My Cervix Incompetent.” Read it here.
Rose-colored preview: Not to sound like a Pollyanna (though we will forever endorse a Hayley Mills joint!), but it is nice to read an essay with a lil uplift every once in a while. New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis has treated us to just such an essay, about how the conditions in Hollywood are finally looking up for women. Read “For the First Time Ever, I’m Optimistic About Women in the Movie World” here.
Please welcome the mediocrity police (really): Ross McCammon is clearly baiting the Spread with his new Fortune piece, “It’s time to talk about male mediocrity at work.” And you know what? We’ll take it! McCammon, who wrote the 2015 book Works Well With Others and worked upstairs at Esquire back when we were at Elle, is mostly a self-aware and self-deprecating guide through this territory. He zeroes in on the idea of performed competence and its cousin, strategic incompetence—tactics that we have seen up close wayyyyy too many times over the course of our career. Read it here.
Warning: More writers on writing about writing ahead!
On Saturday, I had breakfast at Atticus, a beloved New Haven, Connecticut, bookstore/coffee shop located in the long shadow of Yale. Every patron’s sweatshirt bore the name of a certain institution of higher learning, as if we didn’t already know; the walls were lined with, well, books. This would have been Xanadu at any other time of life, but on Saturday it was almost too much because, in five weeks—34 days, but who’s counting—my own book will be spit out into the world. Two days later, I’m in the dentist’s chair, earpods on HIGH, trying to drown out the drill with the familiar tones of Kim France and Jenn Romolini on their Everything is Fine podcast, interviewing septuagenarian author Julia Cameron—when France, the founding editor of Lucky, described the exact same sensation I’d just had. After leaving the magazine, France got a book deal for a memoir, but got totally stuck. She found herself “going into bookstores and feeling completely overwhelmed by how many words had already been written, how many books had come out and been ignored.” Indeed, she gave up on the project, and ended up returning the advance. (This implies a certain financial security: By the time I realized how hard it really is to write a book, my advance was long-spent, primarily at Trader Joe’s.) Cameron, who has written 40 books but is best known as a writers’ guru, creator of the creativity journal The Artist’s Way (which, as it happens, I've recently been trying for the first time), speaks in a grandmotherly voice that really was like novocaine for my soul. She told France she needed to dismantle that negativity, miniaturize her toxic inner critic, and instead collect “believing mirrors”—friends who are enthusiastic, positive, who can see the strengths in her work. Friends like Rachel and, I like to think, everyone reading this.—Maggie
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Reading Ed Norton’s Wikipedia page during the interview, dudes? Not knowing how many kids he has when your wives are friends? WTF.
We'd be remiss if we did not point out that Debbie Millman also happens to be half of a pop-culture intellectual power couple. She’s married to one Roxane Gay. Editors out there: We are WAITING for the dual profile/interiors story/how-they-get-it-done piece on this prolific and seemingly adoring duo. Ready, go!
Is it wrong to note a thru-line between Blasberg’s subjects' taste in body-con dressing and...dermatological advances?
This book was the foundation of 85% of the beauty stories Maggie wrote or commissioned, back when she was in that line of work.