The House That Ye Built
The Kelly and Brenda of newsletters has lost all chill. (Not that we had much in the first place.) This week: High-flying nuns, Jessica Simpson’s assets, and a Gap hoodie that just won’t quit.
On Monday, our friend J. texted a photo of the complete contents of her kitchen cabinets—every last jar, can, and dish—loaded onto a table, ready to be boxed up and carted over to the Airbnb she and her family will live in this month while their kitchen is ripped apart and put back together. Another friend sent a photo of her new art wall. Another showed us a series of freshly installed ceiling fixtures. That night, we stayed up for hours scrolling hundreds of “best living room standing lamps” on Pinterest, seeking the one, the one that had just enough mid-century swagger but was not so archive-y that it looked pilfered from the set department of Mad Men. ‘Tis the season, folks. We’ve got the fever. No, not a fever! The fever for fluffier throw pillows. A moodier paint color. A full house teardown. It’s that fix-it time of year and, whether it is a function of our age and stage of life, or of the world closing in during another long Covid winter, the thing we want to fix is our house. All the funds and perfectionism we once poured into outfits, haircuts, vacations, and dinners out—things we might, say, enjoy in the company of humans outside our immediate family—is now being funneled in, into a borderline mania for interior design. There’s some comfort, at least, in knowing that we’re not alone: Even Spread patron saint Tressie McMillan Cottom is a sucker for an Instagram house tour. And it was no less than Roxane Gay who called our attention to the story that’s been making the rounds, about the poor souls whose urgent need for home improvement (and home-improvement TV) led them to be snookered by a Magnolia Network TV-makeover couple. If, like us, you have an appetite for every detail—banal and over the top alike—of the living room of a person you’ve never met, we invite you to this meta analysis of Architectural Digest’s viewing of Tinder cofounder Sean Rad and wife Lizzie Grover Rad1’s L.A. manse.
Feast your eyes! And grab your hammers!
Rachel & Maggie
Curling up with Ye and bell.
I don’t have to tell you that the artist formerly known as Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, is having a week! I mean, sure, he often has a week. But this one feels extra special because he’s eating lots of pasta (my favorite pastime) and traipsing around with that girl from Uncut Gems (she seems fun) while wearing the hoodie he designed for the Gap. And because I recently read Niela Orr’s piece in the Baffler about Kayne’s foray into designing Gap hoodies and it blew my mind: The essay, at 7,400 words, maps the relationship between Orr’s own recent loss of two important loved ones and her pandemic spiral, and Kanye’s iconoclastic art, his mental health struggles, his grief over the death of his mother, and the history of the Gap2 (where Ye once worked!), and the layered and racial significance of the hoodie. Plus loneliness, and many other nodes (again, 7,400). The piece is heartfelt, smart, and fun at once. Here’s a taste:
“In this moment of corporeal change, when weight fluctuations, long term physical disability, and death are common on a public scale, in adopting the hoodie, wearers are also plugging the need for comfort, or covering up the result of too much comfort food. By publicly donning the Perfect Hoodie and other non-Gap hooded apparel during [his] extended, ongoing, decade-plus tribute to his mother, one that has also seen him negotiate his own body image, mental health, and sartorial sensibility, Ye has put together much of what’s in the ether—commerce and convalescence, retail and recovery, body politics and the process of bemoaning loss—advertising nothing and everything on the usually blank front of his thick sweatshirts.”
You will want to own one of Ye’s Gap hoodies after reading this consideration3. To save you the Google, they are now $400 on resale sites across the internet. Meanwhile, Orr’s piece is, for better or worse, free.—Rachel
Rachel, It’s been a prolific stretch not just for Julia Fox, but—at a much, much gentler pitch on the dial—for Niela Orr, who is one of those writers who seems to be suddenly, somehow everywhere, or at least at all the smarty-pants everywheres: A producer for Pop Up mag, columnist at the Baffler, and ’til recently editor-at-large of the Believer (RIP). She’s also over at Paris Review this week, serving up a tribute to her intellectual forebear, bell hooks, who died of kidney failure at 69 in December. In a world of hot takes and relentless churn, I was struck by Orr’s account of “the slow burn of revelation that comes through encountering and re-encountering” hooks’s work. Who has the time for a slow burn? Orr writes: “I’ve learned the importance of being patient enough to let meaning reach me when I’m ready for it, allowing an insight to land slowly and settle in my mind. Rereading hooks has helped me to revel in ideas without necessarily articulating them to anyone but myself, lest I interrupt the process of recognition by blabbing what I think I know too soon.”—Maggie
Read “Everybody in Hoodies” here.
Read “A Tribute to bell hooks” here.
The sisterhood of the traveling memoir.
A single hardcover copy of Jessica Simpson’s unlikely 2020 hit memoir, Open Book, has made the rounds of my girlfriends, jumping from D.C. to Montclair, NJ, to me in Amherst, MA—and a friend here just cracked it last weekend, and I anxiously await her review (I mean, she’ll love it). I’m not in the habit of recommending pop-star memoirs but what can I say, this one’s catchy…in a way that Jessica Simpson’s music never was. It really pins her particular boozy/religious, Texas/Hollywood glitter-blasted patois to the page. But even after reading it, I remained skeptical of Simpson’s moguldom. Her clothing line—which I’ve never actually laid eyes on—made a billion selling wedge ankle boots at Dillards? Seriously? I know billions are the new millions, but I can’t seem to catch up. And I can’t un-remember this line from a 2009 New York magazine cover story on Simpson’s big B: “To put that figure in context,” the article read, “it means Jessica Simpson is doing roughly the same volume in sales as Michael Kors.” The line is now quoted in a Businessweek story by Stephanie Clifford and Eliza Ronalds-Hannon on Simpson Inc. that answers questions that a self-actualization memoir about addiction and laundry savant John Mayer never could, weaving together a celebrity profile, an update on the retail landscape and the state of celebrity brand ownership, and real reporting on the inside details of Simpson’s quest to buy back her brand (now more like a $500-$700 million operation, after a few hard years) for $65 million. The one who really emerges as a star here is Jessica’s mother, Tina Simpson, a woman who once taught an aerobics class called Heavenly Bodies at their church and who comes across in the memoir as having spent much of her life dragged along by the drive and impulses of her (sketch, IMHO) husband, Joe—and who is now divorced from him, has started over, and sits at the helm of her daughter’s company, while Joe’s out in the cold.—Maggie
Read “How Jessica Simpson Almost Lost Her Name” here.
Oh what a Hanya-ful world.
January, 2016. It’s freezing in New York, but that’s not my problem, because I’ve got to go to sunny L.A. to have dinner with Julia Louis Dreyfus, Viola Davis, and a baker’s dozen of other women you’d know from screens large and small. For work. It is one of those rare moments where my actual life as a magazine editor rivals the Kate Hudson-magazine-editor-rom-com version. Except on the plane, I start reading A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara’s epic novel, and my trip is doomed: Save for the actual event (where I did gush to Davis about The Help producer Brunson Green, a legend at my Mississippi summer camp), I spend the entirety of my West Coast jaunt holed up in the Sunset Tower with Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB, the leads of Yanagihara’s captivating, devastating book about the lifelong friendships of four college roommates (the book is 700 pages—no 7-word descriptor can do it justice). Afterward, I become A Little Life junkie—the type who wears the merch and follows the Insta account and lingers whenever crossing Lispenard Street and throws around phrases like “it’s gay canon!” and can only be fully understood by other Little Lifers. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Order a copy from our Bookshop here.) A year later, the same human being who birthed A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, becomes the editor of T Magazine, transforming the ever-cool New York Times style glossy into its best self: ultra-creative, visually esoteric, and full of top-notch writing. Those of us who are working our buns off just trying to make good magazines scratch our heads: How can one woman do both, making meaty novels and a culture-defining magazine? What is she like? How does her brain work? When does she sleep!? Finally, this week, the New Yorker is on the case with a thorough profile of Yanagihara, released on the occasion of her latest 700-page epic, To Paradise (buy it here!), by D.T. Max. Fans, the answers are allllll here.—Rachel
Read “Interiors” here.
No chill is the new chill.
It’s not just me. The universe still can’t stop—won’t stop!—talking about Michael Schulman’s pivotal New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong. Now, after countless tweets, statements from celebrities defending him, and at least two (make that three) items in the Spread, the latest turn in the meta story about the story comes via an essay by Elizabeth Spiers about the classist implications of judging Strong’s relentless careerism: Who says striving is a bad thing? After all, not everyone was born with Al Pacino’s cell phone number in his back pocket! Some of us had to work hard to get to where we landed! Cue the self-described “strivers with no chill” coming out of the Twitter woodwork. Okay, fine: Including me. Maggie literally called me to say: “You have less chill than anyone I know, so you should definitely write about this one.” All along, I’ve maintained that Schulman’s piece wasn’t a takedown. Now I see that I was just reading it through chill-free glasses: Schulman, a Yalie with a whole lot of chill, was judging Strong for his try-hard-ness. I just don’t happen to see try-hard-ness as a flaw. As someone who would have dropped everything to drive Tina Brown or Graydon Carter or Jim Nelson or almost any early 2000s editor-in-chief to Canada while clutching what Devil Wears Prada fans know as “the book”—and let’s be real, still would for any of those greats!—exactly the way Strong lovingly transports Daniel Day-Lewis’s mandolin in Schulman’s piece, I feel both singed by Schulman and indebted to Spiers. But mostly, I can’t wait to see where this story will take us next. Maggie, Do you identify as a striver?—Rachel
RB: First of all, this is a misquote. I believe I said you were the most enthusiastic person I know. Or at least that’s what I meant to say. Anyway, I identify not as a striver, exactly, but as a slogger. Sure, everyone is praising Strong’s “method” method (if you will), but when will those of us who just lean into the grindstone and, by god, get ‘er done, get our moment in the sun, I ask you?—Maggie
Read “A Defense of Jeremy Strong and All the Strivers with No Chill” here.
“So, are you breastfeeding?”
I will never forget my panic on day two of my son’s life, when the maternity-ward nurses wanted to give him a few ounces of formula to sustain him while we waited for this whole breastfeeding thing to sort itself out. Finn was a morsel of a human being, shockingly small to my unpracticed eye, and getting smaller—rapidly dropping below his six-pound birth weight as he struggled to “latch” despite the efforts of every lactation consultant on the ward. I was only hours into motherhood and already my built-in, “natural” baby-feeding system was failing, as were my instincts. Would I let them feed my child, as the medical experts seemed to be encouraging? Or would I protect his health and our bond for the long-term (so I believed at the time) by insisting we were breast-only—and then listen to him cry and, far as I could tell, starve in the meantime? This week Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse jumps into the motherhood fray, recalling her feeling of abject failure after a string of consultants, equipment, supplements, one scary-sounding non-FDA approved drug ordered from a far-off country—and, on the recommendation of a friend, two weeks of downing 64 ounces of blue Gatorade a day—could not get her milk to flow. Compounding this was her sense of feminist failure for caring so much in the first place: “Before it was my lactation system, I would have told you that formula was the way to go: It gives mothers freedom and flexibility, it lets fathers be equal caretakers. Once this question became personal, it became psychotically personal, tapping into everything I’d ever subconsciously absorbed about what it meant to be a good and present parent.” That phrase, psychotically personal, feels right-on to me, and recalled my feeling reading Hanna Rosin’s 2009 polemic in the Atlantic—which I came to many years after she wrote it, and long after my own semi-fraught breastfeeding experience. Rosin, a mother of three who had spent 28 months of her life nursing, ably pokes holes in our assumption that breast is best (the science isn’t as conclusive as you may think) while reframing the practice as a sexist domestic drudgery, “keeping me and my 21st century sisters down.” My thought upon first encountering it, though, was “easy for her to say”: Rosin had already given her kids the benefits of breastfeeding. By questioning the politics of the practice after the fact, she doesn’t have to deal with the guilt of deciding to opt out. —Maggie
Read “Feeding my daughter taught me about what it means for the body to need help” here.
Read “The Case Against Breastfeeding” here.
Three for the road
In last week’s Spread, we included Heather Havrilesky’s book excerpt, which dramatically and hilariously complains about her husband as a way of declaring her undying love for him and was published in the New York Times. There has been a lot of, um, conversation about this piece, but in our estimation (and Havrilesky’s) critic Kate Harding, writing for Dame, has the final word. Read “Have we forgotten how to read critically?” here.
Taylor Harris’s memoir has arrived, and you heard it here first: This woman is on her way to literary stardom. In This Boy We Made, Harris, a Black mother, writes about the medical mystery that afflicts her son at 22 months, tenderly exploring marriage, work, higher education, and Blackness along the way. This excerpt, which the Cut published on Monday, is guaranteed to shake you up; it’s worth it.
Here’s the elevator pitch for you: There’s this pair of celebrity French twins. They’re nuts for science and also plastic surgery. Like, really nuts for plastic surgery. And despite looking totally otherworldly, they date models and heiresses and host a TV show. And then, at 72, they both die of Covid, within days of each other. Too far out to believe? Meet the Bogdanoff brothers here.
Apologies for identifying Mrs. Rad simply as “wife of” since she appears to have a day job. Arch Digest calls her a fashion designer, but nowhere else on the internet can we find backup for that. LinkedIn says she’s the cofounder and CEO of an interior design app called Homee…but we think maybe she just hasn’t updated her profile in years. Let us know if you can solve the mystery!