LISTcavage: The 5 Best Things I Read in January


By Adam Vitcavage

I turned 29 on Jan. 3 and made 30 goals of sorts to do prior to the time I turned 30 in 2019. One such goal was to read more. Now, you may think, don’t you already read a lot of books? I do. Fiction, mostly. I also read the news via tweeted links, and I keep up on the entertainment business (production deals, actor hires, viewership ratings, etc). I read a lot. In theory. But I found myself reading a lot of the tl;dr, clickbait versions of article that some sites regurgitate with just the pertinent information.

Not anymore. I’m going to the source. I’m reading in depth reporting about a wide variety of subjects. The whole piece, too. No more petering out near the end of the article because the premium information was at the top of some inverted pyramid.

That’s the reason I’m collecting the best things I’ve read every month. So maybe you can find something interesting as well.

“‘I Want it to Stop’”

By John Woodrow Cox (Washington Post)

I’m cheating. This article, the sixth and last in a series about violence and the American adolescence, was published on Dec. 27, 2017. It’s an important and chilling read nonetheless. John Woodrow Cox navigates the story of 15-year-old Ruben Urbina, who after unsuccessful suicide attempts called to police threatening to blow up his block with a bomb. He didn’t have a bomb and suicide-by-cop was his goal. The narrative weaves his family’s reaction, as well as his best friend Jessica Newburn’s own struggles with depression, with an informative investigation into teen suicide.

On average, one child under the age of 18 committed suicide every six hours last year, according to a Post review of new data released Dec. 21 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly half of those children died from hanging, strangulation or suffocation, while 41 percent used guns. The total number — 1,533 — was the largest in at least a decade, nearly doubling over that period.

“Is This the Golden Age of Drag? Yes. And No.”

By Isaac Oliver (The New York Times)

As a straight, white male, I shouldn’t like drag. At least according to the majority of society. I do, though. It’s art. It’s a great performance. It’s intriguing. VH1’s "RuPaul’s Drag Race" helped launch drag queens into a wider audience. My sister has been watching for years. It’s something we enjoy together. Queens have become stars--going on tours, attending conventions, and selling their won merchandise—but for the cream of the crop, or those past their prime, drag is becoming…a drag.

New York bars pay anywhere from $50 to $250 a gig, plus tips, which can be fruitful — Bob, before “Drag Race,” said she paid off student loans with 10,000 singles — or not.

Regular expenses like new outfits and wigs, makeup replenishment and cabs (to avoid harassment on 3 a.m. subways) add up, as does drag’s physical toll. “There’s athlete’s foot, joint pain, U.T.I.s, pink eye,” Katya said. “There’s bizarre sexualization, not being sexualized when you want it, and the almost complete forfeiture of a regular gay relationship.”

Charlene, laughing at her kitchen table, said, “Unless you win ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ the rewards are mostly spiritual.”

“A New Old Skywalker”

By Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Facebook post)

Never has a fan-base been so split on something the love so much. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi has divided "Star Wars" fans to the opposite ends of the galaxy. Those who loved it versus those who hated it. I’m in the camp that says, “Yeah, I enjoyed it.” But I’m also someone whose Star Wars mantra is that no film is as good as the world thinks it is, but no film is as bad as the world thinks it is. Fans rank "The Empire Strikes Back" as an A++ and "Attack of the Clones" as an F--. I say the bell curve is closer than you think. Anyway, Johnson’s friend JGL, who also has a cameo in the film, both of which he addresses in the piece, decided to share his opinions on TLJ and film in general.

I also wanna say, I’m not here to tell anybody they’re wrong. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to be wrong when it comes to movies, or art, or literature, or whatever you wanna call it. In our ever more gamified culture, with endless awards shows, publicized box office figures, and the all-knowing Tomatometer, it seems conversations about movies are more and more often put into quantified terms of good and bad, best and worst, right and wrong. And then there’s the twitface-insta-fueled tribalism, people taking sides, pointing fingers and spitting venom at the other guys. There seems to be a lot of that going around right now from both lovers and haters of this movie. Dear oh dear, folks. This isn’t politics or sports. The fruit is in the subjectivity. If you feel differently than I do, I’m 100% cool with that. I think it’s often in these very differences of perspective that movies can be at their most enlightening, helping us learn something about each other and ourselves.

“Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered House map was just struck down — with huge implications for 2018”

By Andrew Prokop (Vox)

In late January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted that the U.S. House maps were a violation of the state’s constitution. While I was gathering articles for this list I was originally going to suggest this New York Times article about the issue (which I still recommend). But here I’m talking about a simply written, but informative example of how gerrymandering greatly affects the entire nation.

Republicans tried to pack Democratic-leaning areas together into very few districts. The hoped-for result was that the GOP would lose a few districts by large margins, yet win a majority of districts comfortably and consistently.

That’s exactly what happened. In statewide elections, Pennsylvania was a competitive swing state.

“The Invasion of the German Board Games”

By Jonathan Kay

What do I know about board games? Next to nothing. This article is about hobby board games—those niche games for super fans. Settlers of Catan is one. I’ve played it and I see what they mean. While anyone can play a board game, there are some which require skill for the game in particular instead of a general sense of intelligence or humor or what have you.

Hobbyists around the world started paying serious attention to German-style board games (or “Eurogames,” as they’re now more commonly known) following the creation of Settlers of Catan in 1995. While it took more than a decade for that game to gain a cultural foothold, there seems to be no going back: Much in the way that Cold War–era American beer connoisseurs gravitated to the higher quality and vastly larger variety offered by European imports in the era before stateside microbrews took off, players who’d become bored with the likes of Monopoly and Scrabble started to note the inventive new titles coming out of Germany.