#362: A Good Man
Toxic masculinity, Oakland’s roots, Choose Your Own Adventure, and getting taller
Hi loyal readers! One question I get a lot is, “How many articles do you read every week?” As VIP Clare likes to say, “It’s impossible to say.” But maybe it’s possible to estimate? My usual go-to answer is, “Maybe around 40 or 50?” That’s what my gut says, at least. But here’s a little nerdy secret: Most everything I read online goes through a read-it-later app first. And I checked a few days ago: It said 30,000 articles since 2009. So maybe the answer is 44 articles a week?
But we all know the number of articles doesn’t matter. It’s the quality. And my hope is that every week, I find at least one article for you that’s thought provoking, worth your time, skillfully written, and maybe even perspective-shifting. After all, even though you love to read, you also have other things to do. It’s important that I share with you only the best stuff. Keep telling me where I make and miss the mark. ⭐️
I’m happy with this week’s selections: a profile of a mother who wants her son to grow up without the scourge of toxic masculinity; a podcast episode that explores the historical roots of Black Oakland; an essay explaining the lasting attraction of Choose Your Own Adventure Books; and a remarkable report about the latest trend in beauty: leg lengthening. Please enjoy!
+ This Sunday at Article Club, we’re discussing “A Kingdom from Dust,” by Mark Arax. I’m pleased to announce that 20 kind and thoughtful people from our reading community will participate in the conversation. If you missed it, here’s last week’s interview with Mr. Arax, and here’s more information about Article Club. If this kind of thing intrigues you, give it a try! Everyone is welcome. Tune in next Thursday, when I’ll be revealing October’s article of the month. It’ll be a good one.
+ I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to let me know how you’re doing and which articles you’re appreciating. It’s easy: All you need to do is email me (if you want to keep things private) or leave a comment (if you want to shout it out to the world).
Sarah is 23 years old and has a 5-year-old son. She makes $3 an hour plus tips at a restaurant in Johnson County, Wyoming. More than anything, Sarah wants to raise her son right, to grow up as a gentle and vulnerable man. But her whole life, Sarah has been abused by men: in elementary school, by a member of her adopted family, and more recently, by her boyfriend. “Men just take and take and take and take. That’s what they are taught,” she says.
In this poignant, despairing profile, national reporter Jose A. Del Real tells Sarah’s story to cast light on the ills of toxic masculinity in our country. Boys mislearn what it means to be a “real man,” and as a result, men commit 87 percent of homicides and 96 percent of rapes, while also being the victims of 80 percent of murders and 80 percent of suicides. Mr. Del Real pays respect to Sarah’s determination and resilience as she navigates the harm she has suffered. She clings to the hope that she does not have to pass down her trauma to her son. (25 min)
2️⃣ Tales Of The Town (podcast)
A couple years ago, I highlighted Hella Black, a podcast co-hosted by my former colleague Delency Parham that aims “to educate and inform our listeners on all things related to Blackness.” Now Mr. Parham and co-host Abbas Muntaqim have launched their new project, “Tales of the Town,” a 12-part series on Black Oakland. It’s part history, part love letter, and part revolutionary politics. In this first episode, Mr. Parham and Mr. Muntaqim interview their family members to tell the story of the second Great Migration, during which millions of Black people from the South sought refuge in Oakland. “They were running from somewhere to freedom,” says Auntie Anita. Mr. Parham adds, “Something I find frustrating is that sometimes people talk about the Great Migration as if it was just some enchanting excursion. You know, we have to think of the violence these folks were fleeing.” (34 min)
+ Check out People’s Programs, dedicated to serving houseless people in Oakland.
Last week it was Larping. This week it’s Choose Your Own Adventure books. Did you read them as a kid? (Are you now?) Since their launch in 1979, the books have sold 270 million copies, making Choose books the fourth-best-selling children’s-book series of all time. In this nostalgic essay, author Leslie Jamison recounts her fascination for Choose books and explains their allure.
The warning at the beginning of the book tells you, “Remember—you cannot go back!” But of course you can go back, and you will. After the first few books, the warnings stop saying “You cannot go back!” They understand that going back is the point—not the making but the re-making of choices, the revocability of it all. In childhood, you get to take things back.
Mr. Jamison’s writing would be enough to recommend this piece, but there’s also a perfect organizational surprise that makes this pick doubly worth reading. (26 min)
I’m 5-foot-7 on a good day. Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, and someone short is approaching me, I think to myself, Maybe I’ll be taller than this person! Almost always I’m wrong. (Don’t worry, I’m OK.) But if I were self-conscious about my stature, I could join hundreds of American men who have flocked to the latest cosmetic surgery craze: leg lengthening. For just $75,000 and several months of recovery, you too can be three to six inches taller. Benefits include getting noticed by women (most patients are straight) and getting noticed by bartenders when you’re buying a drink for a woman. Drawbacks include excruciating pain and having to explain why you’re all of a sudden taller. “I just told everyone I was in a ski accident,” one man said. (19 min)
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