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Will you unzip us from our latex bodysuit?
Friends don’t let friends get stuck in their fashion statements. Plus…the Mariah Carey and Mariah Carey’s side-part of newsletters (eventually) knows a con when we see it.
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.
People on the internet—perhaps some of you people on the internet, even—have responded with enthusiasm to a piece in the Guardian this week (we’re not talking “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?”-level enthusiasm here, but enthusiasm nonetheless). Who could resist this title? “My boyfriend, a writer, broke up with me because I’m a writer,” is by novelist Isabel Kaplan, whose professional website we can now quote from memory because we are deep readers of things (it’s given Maggie lots of high-quality inspo for her imminent personal website—more on the evolution of her “brand” in a moment!). The crux: Kaplan’s successful-writer boyfriend, who ironically enough was obsessed with Nora Ephron, told Kaplan he didn’t approve of her journaling because he didn’t want to show up in her work one day; asked if she’d ever write about their kids—if, you know, they had kids one day; and then coldly dumped her when she said she wouldn’t write about these maybe-future children, because he couldn’t trust her to keep that promise. Kaplan gets in some good lines: “The ability to bend an inch at a time while seeming to stand up straight is a useful and gendered skill. Most women I know do it regularly. They bend until they’re pretzeled and then blame themselves for the body aches.” But the primary takeaway for your Spreaditors is deep appreciation for the pluck and fortitude of our own partners, family members, and friends—forced to watch us unpack their lives (and even crowdsource the name of their own child) like one long therapy session in this weekly missive. Kaplan’s ex would pass out if he ever read this esteemed publication. Somebody please send him the Spread and tell him “Maggie” and “Rachel” are pseudonyms for ex-girlfriends of his…just to see what happens!
Kaplan’s essay, by the way, was timed to promote her new novel, NSFW—a book which would never have landed on our radar if not for Kaplan’s airing of her bad breakup, and which is now available for sale in our Spread Bookshop.
Wait…did someone say something about promoting a book? Boom!
Funny enough, our own Maggie Bullock—ever heard of her?—is also beginning to stick her head out of its protective shell, inch by everloving inch, to promote her book, The Kingdom of Prep: The Inside Story of the Rise and (Near) Fall of J.Crew. We know, we know: Maggie has no problem spilling her guts weekly in this newsletter for the benefit of literally millions of readers, but selling herself is, as another writer friend recently put it, like a form of immersion therapy. Still, your girl worked hard on this book and we don’t mind saying, it shows: Less biased readers than Rachel are said to find KOP a zippy, intriguing read that gets at 40-something years of American retail—and a century-plus of the subculture of prep—through the story of how J.Crew was built and how it nearly fell to pieces (twice), with a deep dive on its larger-than-life behind-the-scenes characters. Including, yes, newly crowned (non-house, non-wife) Real Housewife Jenna Lyons, who just this week survived a vicious attack by black latex! The book is out March 7 from Dey St. Books, and we will both be eternally grateful for any and all support. At this point a pre-order, via our Bookshop or Uncle Jeff’s ragtag operation, is really kind of the thing. Also: an invitation to your book club? A Tweet, a ’gram, a Tok, a prayer, a mint, a square—whatever you’ve got to spare. Want to throw a full-on, in-person book event celebrating Kingdom’s publication? The fulllll Spread could be yours. By which we mean Rachel is available to moderate! Call us.
Writing about y’all in our diary,
Rachel & Maggie
Ding-ding-ding-ding! (That’s a spoon on a water glass, in case you didn’t hear it properly.)
Cue the Andy Williams: It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, the second annual Spreadie Awards are almost upon us. Next week, the makers of the very best “women’s media”—very loosely speaking—of 2022 will receive one of our prized Golden Jell-O Molds (is it a 24-karat trophy? Is it a bargain-basement NFT? Only the winners will know for sure!). Join us by voting for the Spreadiest, most memorable profiles, features, covers, writers, pod eps, newsletters, tweets, and telegrams you read this year by Monday, December 12, via this easy, breezy but oh-so-profesh nomination form!
Still flinch-y about Finchie.
In this, the week that I try to sell you all on a book I wrote, it seems a little reckless to spotlight a story that is arguably a blight on my career, but hey— I’m nothing if not unpredictable! Yesterday, for the first time, “Shondaland Hoaxter” Elisabeth “Finchie” Finch went public on the lengths to which she went to perpetuate her extensive lies in the Ankler; the article is the result of several hours-long sit-downs with Peter Kiefer. Close Spread readers will recall that time I outed myself as the editor of Finch’s original published lie: I had a big hand in helping the now-disgraced TV writer craft a 2014 essay in Elle about a battle with cancer that, it turns out, was completely fabricated—the first of many egregious untruths she would use to juice her career and garner widespread attention and sympathy before her spot got blown up by her own wife early this year. Like many editors and TV bosses after me, I was totally duped by a woman I found deeply charming, sympathetic, generous of spirit, and really just…very likable. Nothing like the skittish woman who “mixes drawn-out pauses with staccato-like interruptions” and can’t hold eye contact with Kiefer. Today, Finch claims her lies were a “maladaptive coping mechanism” for the trauma of surviving physical and emotional abuse as a child at the hands of her brother (her brother and parents did not comment). Reading how she shaved her head and taped a fake catheter to her arm; how she roamed the halls of the Mayo Clinic for hours while a faithful friend patiently waited for her to finish “treatment”—I can’t stop thinking about what must have been happening on her end of the line, during our months-long editing process, as we sent copy back and forth, hammering out the specifics of an ordeal (her physical pain, her doctor’s exact words to her) that existed only in her own head. Did she worry, ever, that I might face repercussions if she was found out? Also thinking: how much is she going to get paid for the memoir and Netflix adaptation. “The whole interview is written like a pitch doc,” a fellow TV writer and former Finch friend groused on Twitter. She may be a “pariah,” as Kiefer says, disowned by family members, colleagues, and her wife—and, according to an expert Kiefer spoke with, potentially suffering from something called “factitious disorder.” But is Hollywood really going to pass up a narrative this twisted?
A note: Kiefer points out that Elle has never addressed its role in the Finch debacle, beyond quietly stripping her essays (the one I edited and several published online after I left the company) from its site. True. I wish they had; I can tell you that the first story was fact-checked, but that it was not editorial practice to check the details of a writer’s own medical treatment—which most doctors would not discuss with an editor anyway, because: HIPPA. I suspect that the example of Elisabeth Finch has now changed that editorial practice at a lot of publications. And that Elle’s decision to stay mum about publishing Finch has to do with a) not-great internal politics at parent company Hearst and b) the fact that Finch’s initial relationship with Elle was established under different leadership. After a massive turnover under current EIC Nina Garcia, no management-level or features editor that Rachel and I worked with is still there. The people running Elle now would have a hard time speaking to how exactly the Finch thing all went down. But I also wonder: Did the Ankler reach out to Elle for comment before condemning it for a lack of comment? It certainly did not fact-check Kiefer’s assertion, for example, of the age of the magazine. (Elle has existed in the US for 37 years; it’s the original French Elle that is 77.) Maybe I’m living in a glass house on this one, but gosh, RB: In a story like this, wouldn’t you want to cross every journalistic T and dot every I? —Maggie
Read “The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Liar Confesses it All” here.
Is Taylor Swift the new Bob Dylan?
I mostly wrote that title to explode my husband’s Dylan-loving brain. Still, when the question came up in a recent episode of the Vulture pop-culture podcast “Into It,” I reflexively guffawed but also thought: Wait, is she? This ultra-satisfying episode, titled “A Portrait of the Artist as Taylor Swift,” bypasses the obligatory sound bites from Taylor herself to get into the meat of her oeuvre and her cultural impact—bringing music history, industry insight, and psychological profiling to bear on her real meaning and import. Come for such theories as a) Why Taylor Swift has the biggest superego of any artist in history and b) How everything she does still reflects the corporate music-making process of the country music genre from whence she comes. Stay to hear supersmart NPR music critic Ann Powers unironically ponder the true meaning (virginity loss?) of the infamous Swift/Gyllenhaal scarf. The level of thinking Sanders and Powers devote to their topic totally validates how much mental space I, too—also an adult in the world, ostensibly with “better things” to worry about—often assign to subjects like this. Guess I’m “Into It,” too.—Maggie
Find all episodes of “Into It: A Vulture Podcast with Sam Sanders” here.
Hot tub time machine.
We’ve spent many hours of the past couple years wringing our oh-so-enlightened hands over the mistreatment of pop-culture figures from the 1990s and early 2000s: O.J. Simpson, Pam Anderson, Tonya Harding, Monica Lewinsky, Britney Spears—they’ve all gotten the “in the clear light of the early 2020s treatment” and to be honest, I’ve lapped up every one. In a clever extension of this trend, journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis’s new podcast series Infamous (cohosted by Gabriel Sherman, though we haven’t heard from him at this point) takes stories she’s written for Rolling Stone and New York over her 20-plus-year career and well, reconsiders them in the clear light of 2022! It works. The first installment goes deep on the twisty-turny-stomach-churny rise and fall of the vile Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis. Grigoriadis is the right woman for the job: Not only did she tag along with Francis for Spring Break in Panama City during the height of his “shenanigans”—she literally wrote the book on consent on campus.—Rachel
Listen to the podcast here (or wherever you listen to podcasts).
Since I’ve already ripped off the self-promotional Band-Aid…
As it happens, this afternoon, an article that has been in the works for only slightly less time than my book (exaggerating, slightly) came out in the Economist. Many thanks to Spread Advisory Board Member and old pal Laurie Abraham, the skilled story doula who brought this baby into the world. I say baby not that lightly, because this is about every parent’s worst nightmare, SIDS. And the culture of maternal anxiety. And the Snoo, that “magical” baby-soothing, $1695 robot bassinet whose creator, Harvey Karp—those of you with kids will surely know him as the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block—claims it has the potential to reduce numbers of sudden infant death by as much as 90 percent. Look, there’s nothing wrong with getting a Snoo; if I could afford one, and if I was ever to have another baby (NOT HAPPENING), I might want one myself. An extra-long stretch of newborn sleep is a very big deal for a frazzled parent, and the Snoo sometimes delivers that for some babies. But through a lot of reporting and diving into what is and is not known about SIDS, I walked away believing Karp’s sweeping SIDS claims are nowhere near possible, and equipped with a new skepticism of some of the accepted wisdom about infant safe-sleep practices. Which, talk about a third rail topic—Rachel, batten down the hatches, the safe-sleep army that populates a thousand Facebook groups will surely be coming for me. Eeek!—Maggie
Read “This crib costs $1700. Can it stop a baby dying?” here. (A note here for my parents, regarding the Economist’s very sturdy paywall: If you want to read this, you can register for access to a few free stories without having to sign up for the full subscription.)
“We do the hashtag all the time: #RapistsLoveAbortion, because it destroys the evidence.”
On Monday mornings Maggie and I begin furiously texting each other links to Spread-y stories that have just been published by the weeklies. This week, she sent a fresh New Yorker profile with the message, “Barf Lake City, Utah.” I was intrigued! Would this be an article revealing that Ozempic (my favorite topic; stage an intervention—and no I’m not taking it…yet) was sweeping the Mormon mommy-blogger community?! And then I saw the headline: “An Anti-Abortion Activist’s Quest to End the Rape Exception.” Oh. Actual yyyyick. Because abortion increasingly seems to be my beat—Maggie’s outrage sometimes extends to things like climate; mine is pretty laser-focused—I dutifully read Eren Orbey’s profile of attorney Rebecca Kiessling. Herself the product of a rape who was adopted as a baby by a nice Jewish couple, Kiessling has risen to become a Gloria Allred-esque figure of the far right who fights for mothers whose children were conceived through sexual assault. She sniffs out rare cases in which rapists have been legally given some degree of custody or involvement in the child’s life, and goes after them on behalf of the mother. Her real raison d’etre, though, is to do away with rape exceptions in abortion law: “If victims know they’re going to be protected from their rapists, they’re going to be more likely to choose life.”
Orbey pulls no punches, including details such as the way Kiessling identifies with Annie—as in, Little Orphan. But like the best New Yorker profiles, this one explains a lot about some corner of the culture, in this case how family law works in this country and also the complicated legal implications of “personhood.” As I read, I found myself thinking of Kerry Howley’s extremely empathetic New York Magazine cover story from this spring, which examined the anti-abortion side from an enlighteningly wide-lens point of view, and also Ezra Klein’s interview with ethicist Kate Greasely, who peeled back layers of rhetoric to get at the essence of the most sincere anti-abortion advocates’ belief system: If an embryo is a person, abortion is murder—no matter how that embryo was created. “Exceptions,” Keissling says, “are discriminatory.” Do I think she’s wrong? 100 percent. Does her logic follow? Scarily, yes. —Rachel
Read it here.
Anybody know where I can find 24-karat-gold embroidery floss?
I’m considering needlepointing myself a pillow: “Be Loyal to the Royal in Yourself.” That’s the title of Rachel Tashjian’s new review of the Bunny Mellon bio I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise in Bookforum. Tashjian, whose day job is fashion features director of Harper’s Bazaar, is such a professional, she somehow resisted following this title up with the inevitable Yaaas Queen followed by lots of 👸 👑 . But I am less restrained and am going to throw in an extra 🌷, a 💅 , and a few💰 💳 💎 in honor of Mellon, the woman who designed the Kennedy-era White House garden that Melania so Trump-ily threw out. The “loyal to the royal” maxim comes from Miss Charlotte, the headmistress of Bunny’s “horsey boarding school, Foxcroft,” but applies neatly to the way Mellon—empowered by her second husband’s obscene wealth—“created an American way of living, brimming with graceful contradictions: understated and lavish, royal and democratic, greedy and generous.” While I don’t have the appetite for a book-length read about Mellon, after spending an inordinate amount of time in recent weeks pondering the horrors of SIDS, I found the review soothingly scratched a l’il Bunny itch that I didn’t know I had.—Maggie
Read “Be Loyal to the Royal in Yourself” here.
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