This week has me thinking of the dynamics of power, racial and sexual, governmental and personal. An Iranian blogger who goes to prison for six years for his words. The wife of a famous (and famously philandering) writer who appears to subsume herself in that marriage while at the same time becoming one of the more powerful women in publishing. A politician who is arguably the most powerful woman in Europe, but still suffers the slight of a man during a visit to the White House. A young reporter who has covered the imbalance of power between African American communities and police. And, finally, a singer who dealt with all of these issues her entire career.
The making of binge-worthy serial narratives, from “S-Town” to “Framed.” Last month, Storyboard did a piece on an epic serial that the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet had done, a nine-part story run over five weeks. Now Nieman Reports contributor Ricki Morell has stepped back to look at the big picture of the rejuvenation of the ancient literary form. Podcasts, fueled by America’s love of binge-watching, have led the way, notably with the blockbuster “Serial” and the new “P-Town.” But print has taken chances and gone long (sometimes very long, as in the 15,000-word serial by the Los Angeles Times’ Christopher Goffard, “Framed”) with the form too. Although the serials use many of the same literary devices as fiction, one person notes: “Real life doesn’t unfold as seamlessly as fiction, It’s a lot more complicated, and very often has no real ending. You have to make your peace with the unruliness of real life.”
The soundtrack: “Don’t Leave Me Hanging,” by Great Lakes Swimmers. Sure, I could have gone with “You Keep Me Hanging On,” by the Supremes. But this song is lovely — lush folk, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
“But then the not-knowing returns, and it keeps him awake at night.”
Alex Tizon, “In the Land of Missing Persons,” The Atlantic, April 2016. Read why we think it’s great.
Iran’s “Blogfather” talks algorithms, hyperlinks and the lost art of communication. This interview with Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian blogger who spent six years in prison for his online efforts, is a cautionary tale. Not only for journalists and other writers who struggle against governments that would limit their free speech, but also for the direction the internet has taken in recent years. He points out that those in the West face at least some greater dangers than people in Iran: “I always find it funny when Facebook asks ‘What’s on your mind?’ They are being too modest, since with an analysis of your behavior, they pretty much know what is on your mind—and even what you might be thinking about next. This is Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ because we give them all this willingly and happily.”
The soundtrack: “The Brave New World,” by Richard Ashcroft. This is a solo effort by the frontman of the Verve, a singer with an old-soul voice. This song has the country-blues vibe of The Band. “Into the brave new world/I hope to see you on the other side/Of this changing world.”
What I’m reading online: This week’s reads focus on powerful women. In the first, writer Evgenia Peretz has a fascinating profile for Vanity Fair, “How Nan Talese Blazed Her Pioneering Path Through the Publishing Boys Club.” Talese, is of course, the wife of writer Gay Talese, and this piece is as much about the power dynamic of their marriage as it is about her brilliance as an editor of writers such as Ian McEwan. This anecdote is very telling: Nan has a small correction to make, but when she tries to interject, Gay’s not having it. “Either you’re telling the story or I’m telling the story,” he barks. “But if you keep doing this, I’m going to talk to her alone. You’ve had your chance . . . . You can correct it later. Write a letter of correction.” Nan responds with an eye roll.
And a friend pointed out this Washington Post piece on photographer Herlinde Koelbl, who has done portraits of German leader Angela Merkel through the decades of her rise to power. She looks so … unformed in the first portrait, a woman of ambition who has no idea where it will lead her yet. In the later photos, she looks very polished, and also a bit weary. The only thing doesn’t change is her eyes: knowing, and yet kind. And I think of that look in her eyes when President Trump didn’t respond to her offer to shake his hand.
What’s on my bedside table: One of the coolest things in the swag bag at the recent Power of Narrative conference at Boston University was a copy of speaker Wesley Lowery’s book, “They Can’t Kill Us All.” (Can I be partisan and say the coolest thing was the Storyboard bookmark, shown at the top of this post?) The Washington Post reporter (and Twitter star), who was part of the team that won the 2016 Pulitzer for national reporting for its “Fatal Force” project, uses his extensive reporting to go deep on police shootings of African Americans. As he says in the introduction to the book, “The story of Ferguson is the story of America.” An impressive book for a reporter still in his 20s.
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “Billie Holiday: The Original Recordings.” This album seemed to pair well with Lowery’s book. The liner notes point out the disparity between these early recordings and those at the end of her career, saying: “It is a wonder that Billie even survived as long as that, and it is even more remarkable that she was able to continue performing after twenty-three years of bitterly disappointing, often brutal love relationships, almost daily confrontations with racial bigotry, nightmarish bouts with drugs, dehumanizing Governmental harassment, exploitation by promoters, and selfish demands of audiences who, in Billie’s own words, often came to her concerts in hopes of seeing her “fall into the damn orchestra pit.”
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.