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Thoughts on finding feminist inspiration in Tennessee. An analysis of a controversial therapy treatment. A report on the complicated role of the library. A reflection on the bond between a mother and daughter. And musings on the ever-evolving nature of language.

1. Lady Vols Country

Jessica Wilkerson | Oxford American | June 6, 2023 | 3,644 words

I don’t just love that Jessica Wilkerson* takes on tough topics in her work, including racism, feminism, and outdated female gender roles; I love how she does it. In her writing, she gets comfortable with being uncomfortable, which allows her to go deep, probe difficult questions, and most importantly, come to some sort of (sometimes uneasy) understanding of what it means to live in a world that’s flawed. This is one of the great gifts of powerful writing. In “Lady Vols Country,” Wilkerson examines outdated southern gender roles through portraits of two women who were very important to her: her grandmother and Pat Summitt, the former head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers basketball team. In remembering two strong women and the change they stood for, Wilkerson finds the permission she didn’t know she was looking for—to be true to the life she wants for herself. —KS

*If you’d like to read more by Wilkerson, I heartily recommend her Longreads feature, “Living with Dolly Parton,” in which she turns her keen eye and strong heart to the life, legacy, and social power of the country music legend.

2. The Enigmatic Method

Meg Bernhard | VQR | June 12, 2023 | 6,923 words

Imagine for a moment a horrific trauma exists in your past, and it continues to wreak havoc on your life. In a cruel twist, talking about the issue remains so painful and triggering that multiple types of psychotherapy have brought you no relief. But then you hear about a process that doesn’t require deep excavation, yet promises near-magical results. That’s exactly what drew people to EMDR, a modality that allegedly processes traumatic memories and alleviates PTSD using rapid eye movements. Now, 30 years after EMDR first emerged, Meg Bernhard tackles its divisive and confounding legacy. Many claim it cured them, and hail its creator as a savior; others dismiss it as snake oil, pointing to its dearth of clinical validity. This is a fascinating story, one that contends with both sides of the conversation while also being informed by Bernhard’s own inconclusive experience with EMDR. “The business of healing is messy,” she writes. “People start and stop therapy, are triggered years after their traumatic event. They get better, and worse, and better. Or they don’t. Why should an eye-movement therapy work? Why should it not? Perhaps EMDR, with its loops and repetitions, its movements, its quiet, echoes this illogic. Perhaps, in doing so, it reminds us that healing doesn’t fit a single script.” Centuries of scientific progress have uncovered much, yet the human body remains unimaginably complex, especially where mind and muscle overlap. As we all stumble toward wellness, it’s helpful to remember how knotty that path can be. —PR

3. Have You Been to the Library Lately?

Nicholas Hune-Brown | The Walrus | June 12, 2023 | 5,333 words

The library in the town where I grew up was in an ugly, box-like, red brick building, starkly contrasting with the cobbled high street and medieval buildings surrounding it. But this location was key. Bang in the middle of town, it’s where my Mum would often drop me off while she did her shopping, leaving her free to peruse seventeen different types of bedsheets without a whinging child, and me to go ride dragons—in a fantasy book, tucked in a cozy nook of the children’s section. It was free babysitting. Libraries have always been about more than just the books. However, Nicholas Hune-Brown discovers in this thought-provoking essay that they are now being called upon to perform services far beyond their old remit. Spending months going from library to library across Canada, Hune-Brown finds that as “the last public space,” libraries have become a social services hub for their communities. A place to learn, apply for jobs, get warm, or use a washroom. Everyone is welcome through the doors, and librarians—who, as Hune-Brown writes, “probably chose the profession because of their passion for Victorian literature”—can now find themselves dealing with anything from a mental health crisis to opioid poisoning. The last safety net. I had not previously given much consideration to the current role of the library. Now I have. —CW

4. A Mother’s Exchange for Her Daughter’s Future

Jiayang Fan | The New Yorker | June 12, 2023 | 6,260 words

Early in the pandemic, I started going for runs through the empty streets of Brooklyn. These outings kept me sane, even as they took me past grim reminders of the crisis, including a refrigerated truck that our neighborhood hospital was using as a makeshift morgue. One day I listened to an episode of This American Life in which writer Jiayang Fan described the terror and grief she felt navigating COVID because her mother, who had advanced ALS, was in a medical facility that Jiayang couldn’t visit. Jiayang imagined what it would be like to lose her mother, her only family, at a time when the closest she could get to her physically was by standing in a park, looking up at the window of her room. The devastating segment literally stopped me in my tracks, and though I can’t say for sure, that may have been the day that I regularly started walking the last chunk of my running route so that I could call my own parents. Jiayang’s mom passed away last year, and now she’s written an essay that defies easy description. It’s about their bond, and it’s told through the lens of stories: stories Jiayang’s mother told her, stories she told her mother, stories she tells herself. I promise that it will stop you in your tracks. —SD

5. Beamer, Dressman, Bodybag

Alexander Wells | European Review of Books | April 19, 2023 | 3,551 words

Shared language is about communication, for sure, but as Alexander Wells notes in the European Review of Books, it’s also about identity and belonging. Sometimes, even understanding the latest slang makes you feel in-the-know, right!?!? (Not at all fond of how “right” has become the latest way to enthusiastically agree, but I digress.) As an editor of an English-language monthly published in Berlin, Wells is fascinated by ever-evolving common language usage in Germany, rife with combined English and German words cut like butter into flour to form something new and sometimes amusing, but always full of meaning. “German social media loves to mock awful Denglisch marketing attempts,” he writes. “But when the bilingual puns are good, they’re good—and enhanced by the thrill of belonging. I love this one billboard ad for classic indie radio that reads Everybody hörts (« everyone listens to it »), and I love it not only because I like the pun, but because I feel a surge of pride that I’m in on the joke, that maybe I do really speak German.” I came for the appreciation of evolving language and stayed for the pun of it. —KS

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I Re-Read My Teenage Diaries Hoping For a Dose of Nostalgia – Instead I Was Horrified

Amelia Tate | The Guardian | June 10, 2023 | 3,645 words

Amelia Tate finds looking back at her teenage diaries an awkward experience. Who wouldn’t? But Tate finds more than cringe in these books—she finds an understanding of who she was as a teenager. It’s not someone she is proud of. —CW