A Memoir With Spoiler-Proof Emotional Force

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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today’s special guest is Amy Weiss-Meyer, an Atlantic senior editor and frequent contributor. Most recently, Amy profiled the legendary children’s author Judy Blume for the April issue of the magazine and, in November, co-authored an article on the teenage Holocaust victim Marion Ehrlich, whose name is depicted in a plaque on the cover of the December 2022 issue. She is looking forward to watching Season 4 of Succession, enjoyed two recent museum exhibitions of artists named Alex, and was taken aback by last year’s stunning memoir by the writer Hua Hsu.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Amy Weiss-Meyer

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: I didn’t love Season 3 of Succession as much as I loved 1 and 2, but I will absolutely be watching the premiere of the fourth and final season today. After that crazy Season 3 finale, I’d be lying if I said I’m not excited to see what happens! Plus, it’s been long enough since last winter that I’m once again ready for a weekly dose of Roy family drama. [Related: A perfect—and cyclical—Succession finale]

An author I will read anything by: Lauren Groff is the only author who could get me to read a book about medieval nuns; her writing is so beautiful, so human, so surprising and moving no matter the subject. She can also be wickedly funny. Her Atlantic essay from last year skewering luxury beach resorts—complete with a loving roast of her in-laws’ vacationing style—is simply delicious. [Related: Beware the luxury beach resort.]

The last thing that made me cry: Hua Hsu’s memoir, Stay True, was such a poignant portrayal of college friendship and loss. I knew exactly what was going to happen (it’s written on the book jacket) and still felt totally unprepared for the emotional force of it. [Related: Six memoirs that go beyond memories]

The last museum or gallery show that I loved: It’s hard to pick just one! I loved the Alex Katz exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum when I saw it last fall. The scale of the individual paintings—many of them portraits—and of the show itself (which spans an eight-decade career) was breathtaking but somehow not overwhelming. I left feeling much better acquainted with an artist whose work I only vaguely knew before.

Another incredibly immersive solo show that I loved last year, by an artist also named Alex, was an Alex Da Corte exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, outside Copenhagen. All the rooms were completely transformed into a kind of neon-lit fantasyland that served as the backdrop for his playful yet serious work. The museum’s promo materials described the vibe as “like stepping into a parallel reality” and “pop-art on acid.” I’m still not convinced that Da Corte’s video of himself dressed up as Mister Rogers wasn’t a dream.

Something I recently rewatched, reread, or otherwise revisited: When I interviewed Judy Blume in Key West late last year, we discussed our mutual love for Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books. They first came out in the ’40s and ’50s, when Blume was young, and were reissued again in 2000, when I was in grade school. In the airport on the way home, I downloaded the third book in the series, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, on my iPad (I chose that one in part because Blume had written an introduction to the newer edition). It was so charming and fun and honest about the experience of being a kid (one of the major plot points is Betsy’s ambivalence about turning 10), and featured a secondary story line I had completely forgotten, about the perils of xenophobia and the importance of showing kindness to immigrants—even (or especially) if you don’t understand their language or customs. [Related: Judy Blume goes all the way.]

A piece of journalism that recently changed my perspective on a topic: Elizabeth Weil’s recent profile of the computational linguist Emily M. Bender, in New York magazine, helped me understand the possibilities and pitfalls of artificial intelligence (specifically large language models) in a way that no other piece of journalism has. If you, like me, are kind of avoiding the whole AI thing, if you know this is something you should care about but aren’t quite sure where to start, I can’t recommend this article enough.

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: I spend far too much time on Instagram, sometimes to keep up with friends and family and restaurants I like, and sometimes (more shamefully) going down extremely weird algorithm-generated rabbit holes or following links from freakishly well-targeted ads. I’m not especially crafty, but lately, for whatever reason, the algorithm has been serving me very crafty content—how to mend a hole in a garment in a cute way that looks like a ladybug, or pretty ceramics, or stop-motion wool animations, which are quite soothing to watch. [Related: The strange brands in your Instagram feed (from 2018)]

I’m also in two active word-game group chats with extended family members: one for Spelling Bee and one for Wordle. I don’t play either consistently at this point, but I like getting pings on my phone from people I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with on a daily basis, and seeing how others are scoring. My mom and my uncle have become real Spelling Bee snobs—they both get to Queen Bee almost every day now, which is annoying. [Related: I figured out Wordle’s secret.]

A poem, or line of poetry, that I return to: Nikki Giovanni’s “Just a New York Poem” is a gorgeous celebration of the city and of a certain kind of love. [Related: Nikki Giovanni on Martin Luther King Jr. (from 2018)]

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Jerusalem Demsas, Kaitlyn Tiffany, Bhumi Tharoor, Amanda Mull, Megan Garber, Helen Lewis, Jane Yong Kim, Clint Smith, John Hendrickson, Gal Beckerman, Kate Lindsay, Xochitl Gonzalez, Spencer Kornhaber, Jenisha Watts, David French, Shirley Li, David Sims, Lenika Cruz, Jordan Calhoun, Hannah Giorgis, and Sophie Gilbert.

The Week Ahead
  1. Succession, the aforementioned HBO drama about the diabolical Roy clan, launches its fourth and final season (premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on HBO)
  2. Above Ground, the second poetry collection, and third book, by the author and Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith (on sale Tuesday)
  3. Rye Lane, the buzzy British rom-com that charmed audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (begins streaming in the U.S. on Friday on Hulu)

Girl With a Pearl Earring
Illustration by The Atlantic. Sources: Girl With a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer / Mauritshuis; Girl With a Red Hat, Johannes Vermeer / National Gallery of Art.

Vermeer’s Daughter

By Lawrence Weschler

Fifteen years ago, a distinguished academic publisher brought out a densely argued, lavishly illustrated, wildly erudite monograph that seemed to completely reconceive the study of Johannes Vermeer. The author, an art historian named Benjamin Binstock, said that he had discerned the existence of an entirely new artist—Vermeer’s daughter Maria, the young woman Binstock had also identified as the likely model for Girl With a Pearl Earring—to whom he attributed seven of the 35 or so paintings then conventionally ascribed to Vermeer. To hear Binstock tell it, Maria’s paintings include one of the most popular: Girl With a Red Hat, at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. He believes that painting and another at the National Gallery are self-portraits by Maria, and that she is also the artist behind two out of the three Vermeers at the Frick, in New York; two out of the five at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also in New York; and one in the private Leiden Collection.

I happened upon Binstock’s book, Vermeer’s Family Secrets, not long after it was published, in 2008; at the time, I was picking up pretty much anything about Vermeer (and writing about Vermeer myself). I found the author’s argument by turns absorbing, perplexing, and confounding, but also curiously plausible and certainly worth entertaining. I was struck by how Binstock’s account helped explain the smattering of “misfit paintings”—those strangely uncharacteristic efforts, especially toward the end of Vermeer’s career, whose attributions were regularly being contested (or defended) by experts. So I was eager to see how the wider community of scholars and curators was going to respond.

The establishment did not respond at all. There was not a single academic review—not then and not ever.

Read the full article.

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A volunteer prepares iftar food for Muslim devotees breaking their fast at the Data Darbar shrine on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 23, 2023.
A volunteer prepares iftar food for Muslim devotees breaking their fast at the Data Darbar shrine on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 23, 2023. (Arif Ali / AFP / Getty)

Cherry blossoms bloom, a reveler greets the vernal equinox, and Muslims around the world observe Ramadan in our editor’s photo selections of the week.

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