What Should I Read From Slate This Week? Film Critic Dana Stevens Shares Her Picks.

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May 23 2014 12:31 PM
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What Happened at Slate This Week?

Reparations, Beowulf, and a rum omelette, from Dana Stevens.

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Illustration by Charlie Powell

Hello, Slate Plus members,

You like us! You really like us! At least I’m assuming that’s why you chose to support the magazine by becoming a member of Slate Plus. (Unless this was a hate-join, in which case the joke’s on you ’cause we still get the $5. Psych!)

I am Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, co-host of the Culture Gabfest podcast, and host of the Spoiler Special podcast, and I’ve been asked to curate the week in Slate for you as Editor of the Week.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

This is both an enjoyable task and a daunting one. The site is publishing so much these days that I can’t keep up. (Stop fronting now—who out there is really keeping up? With anything?) I feel like most of my week is spent watching interesting-looking headlines whiz past, on Slate and elsewhere, as I try to focus on creating my own hopefully interesting-looking articles that will later whiz by other people. Then on weekend mornings while my child watches cartoons, I empty the butterfly net of my Instapaper reading list and see what’s there.

But with this editorial assignment in mind, I tried over the past few days to catch some of the headline butterflies as they went past. Here are a few things from around the site that I’m glad I read this week:

Mario Vittone’s piece on child drownings—and how they often don’t register as drownings to adults looking on—is an indispensable piece of service journalism we republished this week. If you’re going to be anywhere near swimming children this summer (which I hope you are at some point, as what’s summer without swimming children?), please read this, and make sure the people you love do too.

John Dickerson is dependably one of my favorite writers on Slate, but his essay this week on the Veterans Affairs scandal—a real, indisputable outrage that’s getting lost in the midst of our political culture’s outrage inflation—is especially worth reading for its heartfelt moral urgency.

By far the biggest topic of conversation on my Twitter feed the past two days has been Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic. If you are a working stiff like me, you have perhaps not yet been able to take on this 16,000-word piece of dense historical reporting—there are #longreads and then there are #longreads, and this is definitely one for the weekend reading list. But this excellent Slatest post by Ben Mathis-Lilley provided, not a summary, but a kind of reader’s guide—a quick analysis of what’s innovative about Coates’ approach to the problem of institutional and economic racism. It was the kind of writing that made me excited to have Ben as the new voice at the Slatest.

I’m not a J.R.R. Tolkien-head at all, though I did dig the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, back before Peter Jackson went too far up his own … never mind. But Katy Waldman’s review of Tolkien’s long-awaited translation of the Old English poem Beowulf (which he never intended to be published) is a superb piece of criticism. I especially love the passage where she compares the Oxford don’s fusty diction with the much more fluid poetic language of Seamus Heaney (whose magnificent 2001 translation of Beowulf once inspired me to review Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 movie version in vaguely Heaney-esque verse).

Finally, the Vault, Slate’s history blog run by the brilliant archive-picker Rebecca Onion, posted a document this week that was right up my alley: a typed list from the Jazz Age New Yorker writer Charles Green Shaw, detailing the anticlimactic progression of a “bohemian dinner” in Greenwich Village. It’s a delightful object to behold, a wry little poem in list form that makes you both glad and sorry you weren’t there to experience the “chemical wine,” the “rum omelette,” and the “doleful discords.” Follow @SlateVault on Twitter and you too can know the joy of such things appearing on your desktop every morning.

I hope this very incomplete and personally biased roundup pointed you toward at least one thing you wouldn’t have read otherwise! Thanks again for joining.

Yours,
Dana

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