The Wednesday 5: Best Longreads of the Week

In this week’s Wednesday 5, we share with you the best longreads of the week: Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility; The Role of Black Dolls in American Culture; Losing the Thread: How Textiles Revolutionized Technology; Why the Hotel Room Is Such a Place of Loneliness and Despair; and The New York Doctor Who Got Ebola.




Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility

dearsugar_tinybeautifulthingsMaria Popova of reminds us of the incredible writing in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Before she penned the memoir Wild (Reese Witherspoon recently starred in the movie), Strayed was giving out advice to letter-writers in The Rumpus in a column titled “Sugar.” Popova writes of Strayed’s brand of advice as “so vitalizing that it is never dispensed as a holier-than-thou dictum; rather, it weaves tapestry of no-bullshit solace from the beautifully tattered threads of her own experience, messy and alive.”






The Paris Review

The Role of Black Dolls in American Culture

imagesBrit Bennett, in a fascinating article on the history of Addy Walker, an American Girl doll and the only black historical doll produced by the Pleasant Company, unpacks both the controversy and the contemporary relevance of the doll in American childhood. Bennett declares,

“Addy is not a pickaninny doll. She is beautifully crafted, and her story portrays her as a girl who is smart and courageous. Generations of black girls before me would’ve loved to hold Addy in their arms. But she is still complicated, fraught with painful history. If a doll exists on the border between person and thing, what does it mean to own a doll that represents an enslaved child who once existed on that same border?”

It is certainly a complicated history. And as Bennett tells us, there are petitions to have the doll discontinued. But she offers an alternative perspective: “Perhaps playing with dolls like Addy and reading books about her life provides children with the language to confront that terrible, menacing weight of racism. Perhaps it is better to have language, even when language hurts . . . Addy humanizes slavery for children, which is crucial since slavery, by definition, strips humanity away.”

Read more in The Paris Review.




Losing the Thread: How Textiles Revolutionized Technology


In the opening sub-headline of her article, Virginia Postrel aptly declares:”Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology—and they have remade our world time and again.” Often, when we talk about fashion (and we live in an era where we talk about fashion a lot), we fail to talk about the essence of fashion—fabric. According to Postrel,

The story of technology is in fact the story of textiles. From the most ancient times to the present, so too is the story of economic development and global trade. The origins of chemistry lie in the colouring and finishing of cloth. The textile business funded the Italian Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; it left us double-entry bookkeeping and letters of credit, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. As much as spices or gold, the quest for fabrics and dyestuffs drew sailors across strange seas. In ways both subtle and obvious, textiles made our world.





Hotel Melancholia

Colored Folks CornerWestern Motel, by Edward Hopper. 1957.

In another brilliant piece on— this time by Suzanne Joinson—we are given the question “Travel is supposed to make us feel more alive, so why is the hotel room a place of such loneliness and despair?” In this provocative piece, Joinson talks about her own relationship with hotel rooms, “the suicidal impulse triggered by the architecture of hotels and all the signifiers connected to them—key cards, long corridors, the ting of a service bell—kept growing stronger. I had been restless for 10 years, swinging between a ‘home’ that consisted of a transient rented room and the never-ending process of arriving alone at an Italo Calvino-esque city of everywhere/nowhere. I was lonely, getting lonelier, and ebbing across to the other side of the mirror with no idea how to stop it happening.” She also shares with us the stories of three strong women who “came undone, psychologically speaking, in hotel rooms.”




The New York Doctor Who Got Ebola

Craig Spencer was New York City’s first Ebola patient. And as you probably recall from the headlines, the city did not react so well. Writing for New York magazine, Helen Ouyang recalls both the harrowing experience for Spencer and what has transpired since then:

His brush with the deadly virus launched a wave of often misplaced panic among city officials and the media and ignited a debate about our pandemic preparedness. It also thrust Spencer and Dixon [his fiance]  into a media circus. They were hounded by the press, which implied Spencer had recklessly endangered the lives of New Yorkers, an experience that still haunts the couple. . .

Over the past few months, we’ve talked often about his ordeal, what he would have done differently, and where he thinks health officials made mistakes. What bothers him most, it’s clear, is what he considers the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s departure from scientific protocols. He also believes the health department played a role in the media’s discovering his name, a claim health officials categorically deny.

Read more at New York magazine.


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