Weekend Reading: The Sopranos, Christianity and Politics, Excerpts and Reviews of New Novels, and More

The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.

There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.

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Why Is Every Young Person in America Watching ‘The Sopranos’ — Willy Staley, The New York Times Magazine

A wonderfully expansive essay that not only looks to answer the question posed in the headline, but also to explore the history of the show, the mind of the man who created the show, and the show’s most recent offspring, The Many Saints of Newark, which premiered this week.

  • 🎥 The 12 Defining Scenes of ‘The Sopranos’ — Adam Nayman, The Ringer: I always love whenever Nayman publishes a story with The Ringer or appears on one of its podcasts. For a publication/podcast network that gives off a low-brow, easily accessible charm (albeit from very intelligent personalities), Nayman’s inclusion among its ranks always seems to elevate the discourse to an almost academic level. Here, he brings his keen eye to telling moments of the show, but they’re not necessarily big or momentous moments. That’s what makes them so insightful.

  • 📖 How Do You Follow ‘The Sopranos’? — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture/New York: A piece similar to the Willy Staley essay for The New York Times Magazine, in that it touches on the legacy of the show and the newly released prequel movie. But this is a profile, going deeper into the mind of David Chase, the show’s creator.

David Chase is Schrödinger’s showrunner, of two minds on almost everything. Outwardly, he expresses deep gratitude for The Sopranos’ medium-altering success, but I’ve always sensed ambivalence about the realization that it created a bottomless appetite for more Sopranos stories, not necessarily more David Chase stories.

  • 🗄️ From 2007: The Long Con — Emily Nussbaum, New York: I love this piece from 2007. It’s collected in Emily Nussbaum’s book I Like to Watch, and it’s an insightful look into the culture surrounding The Sopranos at the time, and what it meant for a country to so deeply love such a character as deeply flawed as Tony Soprano.

They Went to Bible College to Deepen Their Faith. Then They Were Assaulted — and Blamed for It. — Becca Andrews, Mother Jones

This is a disturbing look into one of the most influential Christian schools in the country, and how assault was not only tolerated but the victims were held responsible because they’d somehow “tempted” their abusers. This was partly due to the school’s biblical teachings, and it made it even harder for the victims’ voices to be heard.

  • 📖 The Baffling Legal Standard Fueling Religious Objections to Vaccine Mandates — Charles McCrary, The New Republic: An interesting look at the vague and nebulous standard by which those opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will seek exemption. It’s hard to comprehend what a winning argument might look like, but that’s not to say winning arguments will be few and far between.

  • 🖥️ White, Evangelical, and … Progressive — Alex Samuels, FiveThirtyEight: The headline to this piece felt like it might as well have been describing a unicorn. While the article paints a picture of the existence of white evangelical liberals, the data included just reiterates the obvious: There are very few of them, and the mainstream doesn’t seem likely to follow them any time soon.

  • 📖 How the Christian Right Embraced Voter Suppression — Sarah Posner, Vox: A comprehensive overview of recent history when it comes to the emergence of voter suppression laws and evangelical Christian support for such laws. Theirs is a demographic known for getting out the vote, and they’re working hard to make sure others can’t exercise that right so easily.

The Church of Jonathan Franzen — Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker

A new book from Jonathan Franzen can’t help but catch the attention of the literary world, as evidenced by this lengthy and thorough review and analysis in The New Yorker.

It is true that Crossroads is also concerned, like every Franzen novel, with the makeup and the breakdown of American families. And it is concerned, too, with the issues implied by the title he gave it: those moments in the lives of individuals and in the history of a nation when stark choices with permanent consequences must be made. But, deliberately and otherwise, the book returns again and again to the same question: What does it mean — for a person and, in a different sense, for a novel — to be good?

  • 📖 The Republic of Literature — John le Carré, Harper’s: “John le Carré was the best-selling author of more than two dozen novels, and first wrote for Harper’s magazine in 1965. He died in December of 2020, leaving behind a final, completed novel, Silverview, which will be published this month by Viking.” Thus reads the brief author bio at the bottom of this excerpt. Sit back and let the words of a master wash over you.

  • 📖 Day One at the Every: An Excerpt From Dave Eggers’ New Novel — Dave Eggers, Wired: Eggers is returning to familiar ground, which he first explored in his 2013 novel The Circle. From the Wired teaser language: “When the world’s largest search engine and social media company, the Circle, merges with the planet’s dominant ­ecommerce site, it creates the richest and most dangerous — and, oddly enough, most beloved — monopoly ever known: the Every. … Delaney is an unlikely new hire, but she charms her way into the ecommerce giant with one goal in mind: to take down the company from within.” With parallels to the real world plainly obvious, it should be noted that his book will only be for sale through independent bookstores.

  • 🎧 How Colson Whitehead Writes About Our ‘Big Wild Country’ — Ezra Klein, The Ezra Klein Show/The New York Times: It’s my firmly held belief that we should listen to Colson Whitehead as much as possible, and the publication of his latest novel, Harlem Shuffle, makes for a great conversation with Ezra Klein.

More of Our Favorites From the Past Week

We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic — Ed Yong, The Atlantic

The New Yorker Writers and Editors Who Inspired ‘The French Dispatch’ — Erin Overbey, The New Yorker

I Had A Chance to Travel Anywhere? Why Did I Pick Spokane? — Jon Mooallem, The New York Times Magazine

Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer-Winning Journalist Who Honored Fallen Troops, Dies at 53 — Harrison Smith, The Washington Post

When Public Health Becomes the Public Enemy — Jane C. Hu, High Country News

The Follow-Up

The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.

Labor and Workers

True Crime Stories

Life in Texas

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The Postscript

This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.

Miles Franklin and the Women Literary Journalists of Gonzo Ethnography

Immersing in low-wage labor brings to mind George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London," yet there is a history of literary journalists that predate him and his work.

'You Can Write About Reality and Do Literature': A Conversation With Susana Moreira Marques

The Gulbenkian fellowship recipient and Guardian contributor on literary journalism in Portugal and the differences between reporting for newspapers and reporting for book-length projects.