The Envelope, Please
The Billy Crystal and Ellen DeGeneres (but nicer) of newsletters takes our final bow of the year: Presenting…the second annual Spreadie awards!
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
It’s the most cha-ot-ic time of the year.
We’ve got sick kids at home,
Four prescriptions alone
for the bronchitis that’s heeeere!
Oh! It’s the most cha-ot-ic time of the yeeeeear.
Friends, let’s look beyond the physical manifestations of our mental state that surround us—that is, the plastic bins of 7,500 ornaments and sentimental doodads that need to be taken out, arranged…and then re-binned in three weeks’ time. Let’s take a sec to take stock: Looking back through our first full year (minus that summer maternity/book leave that already feels like ancient history, or maybe an optical illusion…) of Spreading with you, first and foremost, we can’t believe how much we wrote—thank you, readers, for your fortitude in slogging through these issues. Candidly, we don’t remember most of it and for sure can no longer recall which of us wrote which items (Rachel’s mom had to remind her over Thanksgiving, for instance, what Rachel had promised she’d name her next cat). Seriously, we had to check the byline to be sure. Which means we’ve either lost the plot completely, or the Rachel-Maggie mind meld is complete. Pity the poor husbands left to deal with that two-headed monstress.
So here are the top Spreads of the year: the GREATEST reads; the MOST essential, Spreadable writers; and the DEFINING moments/characters/happenings of the past twelve months. (We’ve taken care not to repeat last year’s winners, so if you don’t see certain names, that’s probably because we already consider them Hall of Famers.) Take some time over the coming weeks to read or reread them, and we will see you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in 2023.
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Please know that we declare ourselves the ultimate winners. Not because we’re about as principled as the Hollywood Foreign Press, but because we’ve already won you—your valuable time, your inquisitive eyeballs—tuning in to read us rant and rave and opine every week. You, dear readers, are the only Golden Jell-O Mold we need.
P.P.S. Now that we’ve said all that nice lovey-dovey stuff, maybe you could love us back by hitting that little heart button at the top?
Without further ado, the second annual Spreadie Awards go to…
11 Radically Great Reads
If you allowed us to be your Cliffs Notes of lady journalism this year, thank you. We got you. Still, do yourself a favor: Click these links. Print them out, if that’s what it takes to get you to read them start to finish. These stories are so much richer, smarter, more articulate, and more important than any blurb we could toss off about them.
Ain’t no profile like a New Yorker profile, and everybody knows it. This summer we got Ariel Levy on Amy Schumer, pretty much the Spreadiest pairing we could ever hope for. (Read it here.) But in late fall, along came John Lahr with a story on Emma Thompson that is a thing of rare beauty: the product of years of reporting, it told us 100 fascinating things we’d never heard about a woman we thought we knew everything about. Isn’t that the whole point of the exercise, really? We think of them as a wonderful wine pairing: Amy is our close friend—shut up, she totally IS; while Emma is the glamorous aunt we got drunk with one night and learned allll her stories. Wait, we just wrote a screenplay. Agents? Read “Emma Thompson’s Third Act” here.
After the pandemic forced us all to prune or at least reprioritize our relationships, the Atlantic gave us a cover story called “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart.” In it, the divine Jennifer Senior digs into why friendships naturally wax and wane, and all the reasons we shed friends in midlife—after our thirties and forties, in which we are so relentlessly, “stupidly” busy (hello!) with jobs and kids and spouses and all of it—and why those losses hurt. The scariest and most poignant question she raises is, What will be left once our kids move on? The answer with any luck, of course, is our friendship. Read it here.
Penned by the extraordinary Lila Shapiro and accompanied by The Perfect Cover Line—“Interview With the (Alleged) Vampire”...gah!—New York’s cover story about Joss Whedon is a clear, elegant, and insightful 360-degree exploration of the rise and fall (and real-time redemption attempt) of a superstar showrunner/director. In our book, it’s a definitive #MeToo profile, one in which the monster is given room to slay himself. (Shapiro also took home New York Newswomen’s 2022 Front Page Award for the story. It’s no Golden Jell-O Mold…) Read “The Undoing of Joss Whedon” here.
In the New Yorker’s dramatically reported (though dryly titled) “Johnson & Johnson and a New War on Consumer Protection,” writer Casey Cep expertly lays out the legal quagmire that is the megacorporation’s scandalous and deadly use of cancer-causing talc in baby powder. It’s among the most important women’s health stories of the year—a worthy read that will make you sick indeed. Read it here.
With her Atlantic feature on the ouster of the Guggenheim’s chief curator Nancy Spector, Spread hero Helen Lewis sticks the landing on a feat only a true journalistic daredevil would attempt: How are historically old/white/male institutions reckoning with finding their place in post-George Floyd America? Without flashing any spoilers, we’ll just say that the title, “The Guggenheim’s Scapegoat,” refers to more than one character in the ordeal. Read it here.
Maggie is working on committing a passage of Sophie Gilbert’s Atlantic piece “How Did Healing Ourselves Get So Exhausting?” to memory—or at least she would be, if her memory wasn’t shot by the exact exhaustion Gilbert is writing about. We often call out Gilbert’s work, which makes both of your Spreaditors feel very seen. (Yeah, we said seen.) What’s great about this one in particular is that she found a way to write about two quite hackneyed subjects—the overwhelm of working motherhood and the hypocritical oversell of “self-care” culture—in such a funny yet poignant way. Read that here.
Glamour’s “28 Days” photo essay depicts the first month of several mothers’ lives with their newborns—a representation that felt so specific and so true that it gave us chills, bringing both smiles and tears at various points in these women’s journeys. Glamour is making a point here about the reality of living in a country without paid leave. By following multiple families at different points on the socioeconomic spectrum, they show both how universal the mental and physical toll of new motherhood is and the degree to which families of privilege are insulated from the hand-to-mouth anxiety that drives others back to work. Also: so many babies to ogle! (Kudos to Glamour eds Natasha Pearlman and Ruhama Wolle.) Experience “28 Days” here.
Between the flood of articles, the New York Times/Hulu doc, and the Netflix doc, we didn’t think we needed any more reporting on Britney Spears and daddy Jamie. New York magazine’s Kerry Howley (also a screenwriter and author) knew better, bringing us the definitive feature on the subject with “The Curse of Kentwood.” In it, she skips many of the details of Britney’s much-dissected conservatorship and instead goes deeper on the why: “why a father would seek to exert dictatorial control over the hour-by-hour life of his adult daughter.” It’s a stunningly reported, evocatively told page-turner you didn’t know you desperately needed. Read it here.
Rarely are a writer and photographer as in sync as Sandra E. Garcia and Naila Ruechel, who together produced the high-access, high-empathy New York Times Magazine cover story “Butt Lifts Are Booming. Healing Is No Joke.” The story is tightly centered on the mixed blessing of recovery facilities in South Florida where patients who can’t afford high-end plastic surgery or post-op care check in to be looked after while they heal, and its subjects—all Black women whose trust was gained by Garcia and Ruechel at an exceedingly vulnerable time in their lives—are treated with great tenderness and respect. Read it here.
Jean Garnett’s essay “Scenes from an Open Marriage” in the Paris Review really blew open the brains of Maggie’s girlfriends on a winter weekend at the dawn of 2022, and we haven’t stopped talking about it since. (This is the Spread’s third mention of this story and—sorry not sorry—it won’t be the last.) Garnett’s account of opening her marriage very soon after the birth of her first child—and how it benefited both parents—is framed with gorgeous language, probing thought, and radical honesty. It will make you rethink the concept of “openness” on a number of levels. Read it here.
10 Must-Follow Writers
We suggest keeping tabs on these genius reporters, thinkers, and wordsmiths—and reading every morsel they produce.
When we see Jessica Winter’s name, we click. And that’s a lot of clicking: This year alone, Winter tackled a long list of concerns—including early puberty, gentle parenting, black-market baby products, Montessori education, “vibes-based” literacy, pregnancy in post-Roe America, Uvalde, and the baby formula shortage, for starters—with rigor, grace, and humor.
The Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang uses science to wring fascinating insights and ethical questions from everyday topics. Recent stories have covered everything from pets (how much should you spend to keep Rocco alive?) to Covid, to the science of, say, cord-banking (don’t do it, she says).
Whether or not you’re a fashion person, Harper’s Bazaar fashion critic Rachel Tashjian (fashion news director is technically her title) is worth your eyeballs. Like all the best critics, she’s heavy on context and pop-culture references—and at her best, hilarious dialogue overheard as she takes in whatever collection she’s riffing on. While Tashjian doesn’t make fashion approachable, exactly, she makes thinking about it feel both more intellectual and more fun.
Few writers make us laugh out loud like Rachel Handler, whose passion for pop culture (and steel-trap memory of the past 25-plus years of it) radiates through every phrase of her work on Vulture. No corner of the entertainment world is safe from this woman: If you’re putting on a production of an alt-history of the Titanic in which Celine Dion survived the shipwreck, for example? Handler will be on the front row.
Who What Wear cofounder Hillary Kerr’s newsletter Hi Everyone—newly transported to Substack—is about shopping, but it requires as much pavement-pounding as you’d expect of a legal investigation: Kerr takes on huge categories of fashion and beauty and combines her personal know-how with good old-fashioned trial and error to deliver ultra-literate service journalism that saves us time and ultimately money, too. Who else do you know who’d buy 29 pairs of jeans or 36 pairs of trousers so you don’t have to?
New York’s inimitable Allison P. Davis once again proved that she’s on the cusp of the cultural vanguard—and that she’s very funny—by enlightening, delighting, and confusing the reading public with her trend-forecasting essay/spoof, “A Vibe Shift Is Coming” in January. The rest of the year was gravy of the royal variety: In “Meghan of Montecito”, Davis cozied up at Prince Harry & Meghan Markle’s tasteful California manse and in a masterstroke of show-don’t-tell, Davis introduced us all to an unsparing, less-covered side of the duchess.
New York Times critic-at-large Amanda Hess has a way of taking exactly whatever mess is on our mind and brilliantly making sense of it on the page, whether it be a rash of violent birth scenes in pop culture or Meryl Streep’s eyeglasses choreography.
The lefty-feminist-opinion Substack landscape is crowded, but there’s one name we’re always excited to see in our inbox: Jill Filipovic, whose newsletter and companion podcast are serious, though somehow not cynical, and even occasionally optimistic. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she moonlights as a yoga instructor.
Twice this year Jazmine Hughes has been invited to tag along for international travel with a Hollywood icon to report a New York Times Magazine profile: First, Viola Davis, then Whoopi Goldberg. In both cases, Hughes delivered features so textured and wise that we could hear the cymbals crashing. We can’t wait to see what the 31-year-old writer does next year and beyond.
Kathryn Jezer-Morton staked out an ultraspecific niche by doing her sociology PhD research on the phenomenon of the “momfluencer.” She built a following on that topic in her newsletter, Mothers Under the Influence, which she took to her Brooding column at the Cut this year. Parents, and anyone thinking of being a parent, and anyone who is just so, so glad to not be a f*cking parent: Subscribe!
The 18 Top Spreadlines of 2022
It goes without saying that this was the year of Roe. The overturning of Roe v. Wade—on the eve of what should have been the decision’s 50th anniversary—has been the story that has broken our hearts and taken over our brainspace, and the one our favorite writers have returned to most this year.
But then there was…everything else: Herewith, the themes, memes, and real characters we couldn’t get enough of.
Ginni Thomas: Jane Mayer blew the lid off Mrs. Clarence Thomas’s sinister dealings in January; things have only gotten scarier since. And this video of Hakeem Jeffries absolutely torching Clarence—and Ginni by extension—is 100 percent the cure for anyone who suffers lingering Pelosi nostalgia. Justice Thomas, Why are you such a hater?
The Bear: We can hardly take the heat! Our obsession with Jeremy Allen White-led The Bear can be summed up here.
Maternal Ambivalence: Thanks to The Lost Daughter’s Oscar contention—and two years stuck inside with our kids—this enduring Spread topic began bubbling up in the mainstream media, with thinky pieces all over the New York Times, Slate, and the Atlantic.
Keke Palmer herself will tell you: 2022 will go down in history as the year of Keke, baby. And the first clip we heard of her new podcast involved her and her mom comparing notes on OnlyFans. So there’s that.
Spread Takedowns of the Pod Stars everybody else loves: Apologies to Meghan Markle & Emily Ratajkowski, after our negative reviews of their respective pods stalled out each woman’s meteoric rise. Gals, we didn’t know our own strength!
Julia Fox: Sure, our romance with Fox began with the ex who shall not be named, but she’s since emerged as the rare celeb who’ll actually talk (and talk)—a quality we appreciate, naturally.
Psychedelics: Spread friend S. reports that last weekend, at her suburban neighborhood Christmas party, more than one well-heeled, upstanding-citizen parent was high on psychedelics. It doesn’t get much more mainstream than that. This year we’ve shared stories on Jia Tolentino’s recipe (of sorts) for trippin’ chicken; Popular Science’s exploration of “Open Minds” in a Winter ’22 issue themed, simply, “High”; and about Bazaar’s look at Mommies who 'Shroom.
Top Gun: Everyone from our parents to Caitlin Flanagan couldn’t keep cool about Maverick. It’s so pleasing when everyone gets on board with pure cheeseball entertainment and cruises into the danger zone.
Religious influencers: Culture Study writer Anne Helen Petersen turned us on to the fascinating, now-sex-positive Baylor twins Brooklyn and Bailey. CBS turned us on to the Mormon mom who wrote Ejaculate Responsibly, which you can buy at the Spread Bookshop here.
Katie Darling: The candidate for Congress in Louisiana’s first district who didn’t have a prayer of winning—but did change the game on political ads, maybe forever, by showing herself during the birth of her own child for a new and groundbreaking spot.
Honor Jones: The Atlantic’s Jones has become something more than just a writer to us after publishing this gorgeous essay about her divorce and then a much-needed follow-up that finds her dating in Italy. The work she is doing to sort through the conflicting demands and satisfactions of parenting/marriage/writing/sex/love/freedom/commitment feel oddly...foundational to us, over here in Spread-ville. Honor, if you’re reading, can we buy you a drink?
Elizabeth Holmes: The Theranos founder’s trial inspired us to get out the popcorn for Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of her in Elizabeth Meriwether’s excellent The Dropout. But where the show left off, the real Holmes kept a’chuggin’: Weeks before her sentencing, the convicted fraudster revealed she was pregnant with her second baby.
MacKenzie Scott: Scott is the white whale of Spread dream profiles—all the more so after her surprising second divorce from that perfect-seeming science teacher, Dan. MacKenzie, babe, what happened? Though she didn’t participate, that didn’t stop the New York Times or Fortune from reporting—or us from riffing—on the philanthropic enigma.
Laura Wasser, Esq.: Speaking of celebrity divorce. It could be argued that every year is attorney Laura Wasser’s year—those A-listers just never stop filing!—but this year she truly found her platform in a lengthy Q&A with Naomi Fry, who teed up each question and then let Wasser go and go and goooooo…
The dressing-like-a-baby boom. From Batsheva to the Batsheva-Laura Ashley collab to LoveShackFancy to other doll-inspired get-ups, there was a notable spike in grown-ass women choosing to dress like toddlers. Go figure! The Barbie-pink boom is still with us, which makes Maggie’s upcoming book very on-trend, don’t you think?
Looking for a gift? May we humbly direct you to the Spread Cannon section of our l’il Bookshop where you will find essential and highly giftable tomes from easy-breezy memoir to classic-to-us door stoppers.