Substack Reads: The story behind Sandberg’s exit, long-lost bohemianism, and monetizing your K-pop boyfriend
Welcome to another weekend installment of Substack Reads, your weekly roundup of the best writing from across Substack.
Up this week: Former Sunday Times Magazine editor Eleanor Mills gets the inside scoop (and a world-exclusive interview) with Sheryl Sandberg, who tells her why she’s stepping down as COO of Meta. Novelist Mary Gaitskill makes her Substack debut, writing about the power of story.
And remember, we’d love to know what you’ve been reading on Substack this week too. Simply leave a comment in the thread below to tell us about the writers and podcasters keeping you up at night. Or, if you know someone who loves discovering new voices, then please feel free to share Substack Reads.
Have a great week wherever you are, and as always … happy reading!
As Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand person, Sheryl Sandberg helped blaze a trail through Silicon Valley. Now she’s walking away from it all. Here, she tells Eleanor Mills why
Unlike many senior women, Sandberg really has walked the walk when it comes to female empowerment. She has always been practical and passionate about what needs to be done. Her maxims—including Done is better than perfect, Don’t leave before you leave (about women opting for the mummy track) and Take your seat at the table—are good mantras for all working women. Last week and over the last two years, we have talked often about that urge for a change in midlife, about how in our fifties we reach a new flex point in our lives and there is just an overwhelming urge to do something different, perhaps a sense of the drumbeat of time, of there being more of life under the bridge than there is to come. Of shifting priorities and choices. The sense that if we want to do something different, we have to get on and do it now.
“You and I have talked a lot about life stages and transitions,” Sandberg says, “and the burden that women carry around life stages and children—and of course at this stage in our lives, around caring for our parents too.”
There is another pause. “People keep asking me if there is another reason… But there is no big story…”
Her voice sounds hoarse with emotion. And then maybe we get to the crux of things. “My mother-in-law passed away. We went to her funeral last week… You know what I mean, it is definitely a moment. It’s a moment of realising that there are these days and these transitions. That life…” She pauses again. “Really, Eleanor, there isn’t one thing that drove this decision. Just life…”
The new Substack writer in residence, fiction writer Mary Gaitskill, opens her publication by delving into the guts of story
We all have had the experience of speaking with someone who seems friendly, who is smiling at you and yet who is making you very uncomfortable—or the reverse, we’ve all known people who act like aggressive jerks, yet for some reason we feel warmly towards them; we are responding sympathetically to something that is happening under the social signaling and is even at odds with that signaling. Unless you are a surgeon or are the witness to a horrible accident, you aren’t going to see the guts of the body, but if you touch the person you will feel them beating under your hand—on a hot day you might even smell them. But smell them and feel them or not, they are what is holding the body up. The unconscious and the viscera; each is a fundamental force behind the person you look at. Something comparable to that fundamental inner quality or qualities are what make a piece of writing alive or not. These inner qualities determine what the work is about as much as the plot or the theme or even the characters. Strangely, writers themselves sometimes don’t know what this inner force is in their own work because it is so entwined with our own way of seeing, we barely notice it, any more than we notice our own breath.
How parasocial relationships are driving the genre’s merch sales
A PSR is a one-sided connection that an individual might develop with a public personality or a fictional character. The term was coined by social scientists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in their 1956 paper “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction.” In their study, they observed the way people developed feelings of friendship or intimacy with media figures despite not knowing them personally. And yes, even you might be in a PSR with someone—be it a political pundit, a podcaster, a TV show character, an athlete, or a celebrity.
“We are social creatures and need interpersonal connection. PSRs can help fill that innate need,” says Dr. Kate Kurtin, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, who has researched social media and parasocial interactions. “The reason why it is a parasocial relationship and not an interpersonal relationship is because you will never meet the person you are in a parasocial relationship with.”
K-pop is a fertile ground for parasocial content, in large part because the business model of the industry relies on forming a cult of personality around band members. BTS has in many ways pioneered and perfected capitalization on parasocial relationships in the age of social media through its use of proprietary TV shows, such as BTS Run; WeVerse, BTS’s multimedia app; and V-Live, its streaming platform. These media outlets give fans a closer look into the members’ lives offstage.
What a viral fake news story about a school’s alleged “race-based grading” can tell us about the internet, the media ecosystem, and partisan reporting
So why should intelligent people share a sensationalistic headline story from an unfamiliar source, with some pretty large gaps if they cared to look closely at the details?
Blame it on motivated reasoning, a form of confirmation bias that makes us more critical of information that runs contrary to our ideological beliefs but more credulous of information that aligns with those beliefs. In my own research I’ve pointed to the ways that motivated reasoning causes policymakers both to make decision-making errors and then double down when challenged.
Other researchers have looked specifically at how motivated reasoning relates to the sharing of fake news. They examined the behavior of 2,300 actual Twitter users. The most frequent sharers of fake news were not ignorant, but highly polarized.
Is the mindset depicted by Beat writers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs in “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks” long gone?
“Hippos” depicts a different pace of life that seems impossible now. It’s full of moments of languor that allow minds to relax and spread out, allow for uncertainty to bloom and for unexpected things to happen. Characters lay back on the floor of their apartments, smoking and staring at the ceiling. People call round to each other unannounced or run into each other on the street unexpectedly. That stuff still happens, but mostly social networking has murdered those moments. In 2022 there’s no directionless pause for thought, no silent freedom from distraction, no empty psychic spaces to dawdle in. Every experience is catalogued, mediated and frozen before it can bloom. That’s a loss.
The Bohemian dream was to live a life of individual freedom, or failing that, to at least rattle the bars of your cultural prison cell. But in 2022 the jailer gets in the cage with you to help you break out; and then he tags along with you after escape, whispering his jailer thoughts in your ear about how brave you are, how right you are, how we’re all in this together. I’m the most bourgeois and conventional person alive; I never would have lived that bohemian life one way or another, but it helped to know it was out there, and someone was living it. No longer. I can’t help but feel something’s been lost.
Need a catch-up on Stranger Things? Veteran film critic Christopher Lloyd dissects the first seven episodes of the Duffer brothers’ new season—no spoilers!
I adored the first season of “Stranger Things,” a mix of terror and itch-scratching 1980s nostalgia. The second year seemed too much a retread, and the third was a bit dizzying and all over the map. Russians secretly building a laboratory underneath the local mall where they were trying to blast a hole into the Upside Down world?
And before you ask: yes, if you haven’t been watching the show, or the details just seem hazy, you’d better catch up on some episodes or at least Google up recap videos, because you will be lost without the refresher.
But “Stranger Things 4” seems imbued with renewed energy and a sense of old-school creeper vibes.
With reports of bison attacks at Yellowstone National Park this week, nature writer Tom Ryan revisits his own encounter with the curious beast
—Tom Ryan in his newsletter
It was Samwise who awakened me. That distant bison herd had slowly made its way across several hilltops and was now but two away from us.
I sat up with my back against the pine’s trunk, and together man and dog watched those bison graze while moving along ever closer to us.
I could feel my heart dance when they were on the closest ridge and only 100 yards away.
A year before, Samwise had been on death row in a kill shelter with less than a day to live. I was hooked up to a dialysis machine and required oxygen to breathe. When I was dying, I knew I wanted not only to survive. I longed to live.
And here we were, two unlikely survivors with a bison herd closing around us, so close we could hear every breath, grunt, and snort; so intimate; we looked into each other’s eyes.
Substack Reads is a weekly roundup of writing, ideas, art, and audio from the world of Substack. Posts are recommended by staff and readers, and curated and edited from Substack’s U.K. outpost with writer Hannah Ray and editor Farrah Storr.
Got a Substack post to recommend? Tell us about it in the comments.