Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.

Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Pope on a Rope Tow in Outside

This week’s papal conclave got me thinking back to a story I’d read years ago about Pope John Paul II’s skiing habit. I didn’t recall anything about the piece except its title – the very memorable “Pope on a Rope Tow” – and when I dug it up, I was pleased to find a fun, feisty story about Lisa Anne Auerbach‘s Polish papal skiing pilgrimage. Here’s a taste:

Pope John Paul II is widely known and revered by millions the world over as the spiritual guide and shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church. What is less well known is his history as a trailblazing two-planker. The Man in White ripped the Polish pow from the time the papacy was just a gleam in his eye until his mature years as the toast of the Vatican. In his younger days, JP2 was known as a megahiker, an avid kayaker, and a camper nonpareil. He preached in the woods, ate watery pudding for sustenance while surfing the backcountry, and repeatedly lost his prayer book in the wild. When asked, “Is it befitting a cardinal to ski?” his reply was, “What is unbefitting a cardinal is to ski badly.”

Eva

Claire Vaye Watkins’ “Keeping it in the Family” in Granta Magazine

Right now seems like a good time to celebrate the young writer Claire Vaye Watkins, who just won two whopping prizes on Wednesday, beating out Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz for The Story Prize. I loved this small gem of an essay in Granta not just for its lovely, understated prose but for all the ways it made me think about my own family and past: my grandfather worked his whole life in casinos, and there is perhaps no place on earth my father loves more than Death Valley, with the possible exception of the Sierras where he grew up. Like Watkins’ mother, my father is an amateur geologist — and an amateur of so many other things — and would fill our long car rides up to the Sierras or down to the desert with non-stop stories and lectures. It’s been ten years since I left the West, and almost just as long since my father left this continent, so I know, in a lesser way, what she means when she says Death Valley is the only place that satiates her hunger for her father, whom she lost when was 6. She had to discover him through newsclips, interviews, and books about his time in the Charles Manson Family, but this essay gives me the sense that she has found just as much of her father in the landscape of Death Valley itself: “…it was here that my father first felt the velvety texture of bentonite clay under his fingernails, the freedom of pulling an opal or a hunk of turquoise from the rock with his bare hands, the breathing smell of sagebrush after it rains.” — Simone

Megan Foley’s “The Tropics” in Free Range Nonfiction

In this concise essay, Megan Foley manages to chronicle a descent into depression in unflinching, painstaking detail. She connects a singular descent to the larger arc of depression in her adult life. I feel like I’ve read a lot of essays that cover this topic and follow a similar narrative structure but Foley manages to take it a step beyond. She captures the seduction of depression in an unsettlingly accurate way. Little gems are hidden throughout the essay but this paragraph was perhaps one of the most honest, truthful descriptions of depression I’ve ever encountered:

“No one else can see the change. My body makes its motions, walks and talks, but there is a film between the world and me. This feels romantic somehow. Special. There is the notion, skating along under the surface, that I’ve been let in on a secret. I feel as though I understand things that others don’t: a certain synchronicity to the people bumping shoulders and cars bumping bumpers and cold wind blowing, the afternoon light falling. I’m alive and feel attuned to the mystery of things.”

Um, how did you manage to get inside my brain, Foley? — Lauren

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