Aaaand, We're Back!

Hello, friends. A great light has gone out. 

From Morrison’s incredibly concise elucidation of racism for Charlie Rose in 1993

Toni Morrison died on Tuesday and the world is diminished by her absence. Whether her books lie in your future (as they do for Dame Margaret) or are an indelible part of the formation of your literary loves (as for Dame Sophie), her presence in the world has affected you deeply whether you realized it before Tuesday, or not. Here are some highlights from her life as a public intellectual and the outpouring of eloquent grief her passing has occasioned:  

Finally, if, like Dame Margaret, you have managed to make it this far in life without reading one of Toni Morrison’s novels (despite being assigned them multiple times in school!), remember:


Dame Sophie’s Personal Is Political Mishmash

A very useful gif, whose sentiment can never apply to Linda Ronstadt

  • Linda Ronstadt is one of those musical artists who was kind of always running in the background throughout my most impressionable years. She duets beautifully with Paul Simon on Under African Skies from Graceland, an album my entire family loved & played constantly. My sisters & I used to watch & rewatch these Muppet Show compilations from the local video store, and there were several that included her performances: It’s In His Kiss, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, and the one I remember most vividly and fondly, Blue Bayou. All of these performances are treasures -- When I Grow Too Old To Dream in particular is a poignancy arrow straight to my heart -- but I want to spend a little time with Blue Bayou, just to recognize how sweetly odd it is. It’s set on a bayou, so far, so expected. The Electric Mayhem are there, as a quasi-jug band, ok, ok. Out strolls Linda wearing...a weird lacy romper? Some kind of early 1900s swimming costume? She’s singing so earnestly while a chorus of felt frogs ribbits very seriously behind her! I’m left with two thoughts: good god, what a professional! And: I would bet 5 entire US dollars that this peculiar fever dream inspired some of the animation of Ashman & Menken’s classic “Kiss The Girl”. All of which is to say, of course I love Linda Ronstadt, but not in a way that made me devote a ton of headspace to her or her place in musical history, until I watched the Eagles documentary on Netflix and learned that Glenn Frey & Don Henley had been in her backing band. (She talks a little bit about how she met them & how they put their own band together in this interview from some time in the mid-70s & I just love how her enjoyment of other people’s musical gifts shines through in the conversation). It was just so clear that the Eagles owe Linda Ronstadt a great deal, and I’ve been longing ever since for a four-hour examination of her career. I don’t think we’ll ever get that, but a forthcoming documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, will finally go some way towards filling the gap. 

  • JLo turned 50 (!!) in July, and for NBC News’ THINK section, I got to write about how much I’ve enjoyed watching Jenny From The Block weave elements from her personal life and career into her public performance of her celebrity persona as a booty ambassador, a regular yet outstandingly fit divorced mom of tweens looking for a love that will last, and a luxury lifestyle icon. 

  • Ocean Vuong gave a talk at the recent Asian American Literature Festival, which fellow author Minh Lê recapped in wonderful detail in this Twitter thread. Running through every sentence of Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous are brutality and tenderness and the profoundly optimistic insistence on claiming a space here, in the country that nearly destroyed Vuong’s own birth country. His talk captures how and why the novel is structured as it is and embraces the possibility that he may not write another book, which is a very gutsy thing for an acclaimed young writer to say aloud.

  • Rebecca Traister profiled Elizabeth Warren for The Cut this week and I’m caught between loving the picture she paints and feeling deeply vexed and put off by the idea of a Teacher-In-Chief as off-putting to my fellow voters. I hate that premise and it makes me mad that we’d accept it so wholly that it would merit being taken seriously by an explicitly feminist venue and writer. Elizabeth Warren is, among other things, a teacher of substantial natural gifts working hard over decades to improve, challenging herself to make her teaching techniques support her egalitarian philosophy, wielding her influence to push Harvard Law School to admit more first-generation college students. Having just one good teacher is life-changing for any learner, so why wouldn’t we want one of the nation’s very best, most thoughtful teachers as our President? I know why. I reserve the right to reject the premise while also encouraging everyone to read the profile. The truth is, a number of us are going to have to have conversations about Why Elizabeth Warren, Teacher, Is A Great Choice, Actually with friends & family over the next few months, and this piece is full of solid talking points.

  • My Dad turns 70 today! He is not only a super parent, he’s also a beloved Contributor Emeritus to this very newsletter, having worked with us on our longest issue of all time, about nostalgia formation. As a retired historic preservationist, he had particularly valuable insights to share about how preserving historic buildings should be an easy sell, but isn’t, and how even good efforts don’t always hit the mark. He’s now a very accomplished printmaker, and if you’re so inclined, check out his work

  • I’ll close with a Good TV News Round-Up:

    Also here for this monoprint of Merce Cunningham dancing by my Dad. You can buy this and hang it proudly in your house!


Dame Margaret Learned Tonight That a Bar Near Work Has VERY Sparsely Attended Karaoke on Fridays and It’s a Real Game Changer

Me, trying to describe Jed Wyatt’s perfidy to the Uninitiated

  • In further good luck, my favorite former contestant Lawyer-turned-sports commentator Rachel Lindsay (the only black lead in the franchise’s history to date) launched a new Bachelor-breakdown podcast, Bachelor Happy Hour, which featured long interview with both Jed and Hannah. While Rachel’s co-host Ali Fedowtowsky-Manno (another former Bachelorette) is MUCH too eager to let Jed off the hook for his incredible shitheel behavior, Rachel is deliciously good at giving him just enough rope to hang himself. In a summer of feuds and rubbernecking, this one is probably the one I find most personally compelling, so I’m very grateful to have such great content.    

  • I was somewhat less uniformly pleased with Hulu’s recent Veronica Mars revival. While I agree with critics that it’s the best it’s been since its first season, it made some choices that really annoyed me and, luckily, I was able to hash all those feelings out with the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew in a rare, spoiler-rific episode. I was also lucky that while one mystery was failing to live up to my exacting standards, I managed to find another I absolutely loved: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. I have been swimming around in Lippman’s back catalog all summer, listening to her Tess Monaghan books, and this book has everything I like about those, but with even more polish and nuance. It is simultaneously discursive, and page-turning, and I cannot recommend it enough. 

  • On the subject of books, and podcasts, I appeared on the new romance-centric podcast Hot & Bothered to answer the important question: is it possible to read too many romance novels? And it will perhaps foreshadow my answer to mention that I’m looking forward enormously to Bookstore Romance Day, Saturday, August 17th, when bookstores all across the country are going to be putting their love of romance front and center with sales, events, and other cool features. Here in Cambridge, I am going to be leading a panel discussion with Loretta Chase, Satin Russell, Cecilia Tan, and Kerry Winfrey, and I think it is going to be a terrifically good time! Whether you can come to my event or must be forced to attend a lesser one, I hope you’ll find a way to participate!

  • The last two weeks have been an absolute cultural bacchanal for me, containing as they did both my annual pilgrimage to the Newport Folk Festival and a trip to New York to see Hadestown and Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma revival. From this fertile soil grow the following recommendations:

  • I have long been a huge fan of the celebrity gossip comedy podcast Who? Weekly, but today, I finally made the jump to supporting them on Patreon (only $5 a month to get all their bonus content!!) and was richly rewarded when literally minutes later they sent out their most recent bonus: a bespoke commentary track for the CLASSIC FILM The First Wives Club. If I had finished this email in anything even vaguely resembling a timely fashion, I would be home watching this movie with commentary right now.  

  • And finally, if the continuing saga of Gwyneth Paltrow being incapable of identifying her various Marvel castmates is revealed to be a FAKED BIT that she’s in on to like have a laugh at our expense for actually believing that she could be so out of touch, literally never tell me. I want to keep living in this world where Gwyneth picked up her paycheck and immediately forgot everything about her years playing Pepper Potts. I need Glamorously Oblivious Gwyneth to continue blythely and benignly forgetting her castmates like a plant needs the sun. Let her remain the shining beacon towards which to turn my face. Never make her relatable. Never allow her to be down to earth. 


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