Slate Plus

Everything You Should Read This Week

Slate Plus Digest: These were our favorite stories for the week of Jan. 11.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

Welcome to the Slate Plus Digest, a weekly newsletter that provides you with great stuff to read from both inside and outside Slate. We’re combining What Happened at Slate This Week, our roundup of Slate stories, with Reading List, which pointed you to stories on other sites. There’s new stuff too; you’ll see. Future issues will be guest-edited by other Slatesters from around the magazine, but I alone am to blame for this one. I hope you enjoy it.


Our second Slate Academy series, A Year of Great Books, is in full swing, and we’ve got more big things planned for 2016. I’m glad you’re here for them. As ever, send your thoughts and comments about Slate Plus to

—Gabriel Roth, Slate Plus editorial director


What Not to Miss on Slate This Week …

This week, Slate confronted the death of pop titan David Bowie with powerful responses from an impressive range of angles. Music critic Carl Wilson assessed Bowie through his relationship with his awkward, anxious fans, and dug deep into Bowie’s parting gift, Blackstar, which charts expert Chris Molanphy hoped would be his first album to reach No. 1. Pop critic Jack Hamilton and Bowie expert Chris O’Leary offered close-readings of individual songs, approaching Bowie’s massive body of work through small fractions of the whole. Christina Cauterucci expressed her gratitude for Bowie’s pathbreaking androgynous style, and J. Bryan Lowder investigated the singer’s sexuality, concluding that, private life aside, he was “one of the most culturally queer artists to grace this earth.” That’s just scratching the surface of our Bowie coverage—proof that Slate’s culture desk can be heroes, if just for one day.


Reading List

My Accidental Career as a Russian Screenwriter” by Michael Idov, the New York Times
Idov, a past Slate contributor and former editor of GQ Russia, tells the unlikely story of how he ended up as an American screenwriter in Russia. “I’d rather live in a Russia that produces the next House of Cards than one that fuels its plotlines,” he writes. Londongrad, his series about Russian expatriates in Britain, sounds pretty great. —Joshua Keating, staff writer


Bill Cosby and His Enablers” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic
Coates parses how different forms of oppression and power collide in the case of Cosby’s alleged serial sexual abuse. It’s a smart take on the blind spots that systemic oppression can create, and helps explain why so many black men have stood by Cosby. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer


How to Be Liberal in Lower Alabama by Roy Hoffman, the New York Times
Living in the South, I was happy to read this in the New York Times. The author gets what it’s like to be a political fish out of water. —Holly Allen, graphic designer

There’s a Good Reason Americans Are Horrible at Science” by Danielle Teller, Quartz
A physician and researcher makes a good case about why the learn-these-facts approach to science education doesn’t lead to true scientific literacy. She writes, “Scientific literacy has little to do with memorizing information and a lot to do with a rational approach to problems.” —Doug Harris, director of technology

Rick Ross on Dissing Donald Trump, Why He Wants to Meet Adele” by Simon Vozick-Levinson, Rolling Stone
A friend of mine called this interview with Rick Ross an instant classic, and I think that’s exactly right. The best part is his response when he’s asked about 50 Cent, his onetime enemy from years ago—a winding, hilarious, impressively vicious thing. —Leon Neyfakh, staff writer


And from Twitter:

“If you ever wonder how economic troubles in China ripple though the global economy, here’s a story for you,” says John Dickerson. Then you could read this, which Jordan Weissmann calls “A really useful read on China’s incoherent market moves.” 

Allison Benedikt marveled at the story “My Wife and I Are (Both) Pregnant,” tweeting “I cannot imagine. These women rock.”

“The world’s greatest trolling operation strikes again” tweets Annie Lowrey, a former Moneybox writer and current Podcast for America panelist. She’s talking about the New York Times Weddings section.

Overheard on Slate Slack

(Slack is a chat program we use for important internal conversations about pronouns.)

phil.plait: My friend Sean Carroll on the use of “they” as a singular. This is great.


megan.wiegand: excuse me while I go sob.

katy.waldman: I don’t disagree with this but it’s convenient that he doesn’t mention the alternative of using “she” as a blanket pronoun, or, even better, alternating he’s and she’s in cases where that’s not confusing…

rachael.larimore: They is plural and should remain plural. Sigh. Sign of the decline of Western civilization

christina.cauterucci: really?! without any other gender-neutral pronouns, I think they is the perfect word to use, especially after years of “ze” and all that


andrew.kahn: shakespeare used “they” as a singular (old news)

phil.plait: @katy.waldman: I disagree, alternating is confusing when a simple use of “they” works better. The point of communication is clarity, not rigidly sticking to rules which make things less clear.


megan.wiegand: English desperately needs a gender-neutral singular pronoun. They is not it. It has another job.

phil.plait: @megan.wiegand: Again I disagree. Many words have double duty. You is singular and plural.

rachael.larimore: My ears physically hurt when I hear “they” as singular. Too many years as a copy editor

phil.plait: If you don’t like “they”, we’ll need another word for “you” as a plural.

rachael.larimore: That’s what y’all is for

phil.plait: In fact, why have gender/sex specific pronouns at all? Who needs ’em?

megan.wiegand: That we can agree on, Phil. Many languages do have a gender-neutral singular. I’d love to see English adopt something like that instead.


seth.maxon: What exactly is the argument against ze ? Because “people don’t say that” strikes me as a bad argument.

christina.cauterucci: @seth.maxon: as this thread indicates, people are uncomfortable using new words in new ways. “they” lightens their load


forrest.wickman: I think the argument against ze is what I might call the Fetch Problem? It’s pretty hard to institute new words in widespread use by edict.

seth.maxon: If media started using it more, people would say it more

forrest.wickman: I am not against ze. I just think that “they” is perfectly good and is more likely to catch on, because it has in fact already caught on.

andrew.kahn: this feels related:

katy.waldman: My head says “they.” My heart says “not-they,” which I guess in practice means my heart says “ze,” since that’s the runner-up


andrew.kahn: i vote “Thermidor”

One Personal Question

Slate Plus: I heard you on a podcast and you have a weird voice. You sound like a radio announcer from the 1940s. Why is your voice so weird?

Gabriel Roth: I grew up in England, but my parents were American. I decided early on that I wanted to speak like an American, but I didn’t quite nail it and now I talk like a very uptight person from a previous era. Sometimes I try to talk in a more contemporary, down-to-earth manner, but I always lapse back into this weird stiff transatlantic thing.

Thanks, as always, for your Slate Plus membership, which makes Slate’s work possible. See you next week!