Lena Loves Magazines

Longform articles recommended by Lena Dunham about Jaime King, Lolita, and more.

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For the next couple of weeks, we're trying something new for Lit Thursday: Instead of recommending books, we're going to be recommending some memorable magazine articles by and about women.

This week, Lena Dunham recommends a handful of her faves.

1. Long before I knew Jennifer Egan as an artful, genre-bending novelist, and James King as Jaime King, playful and disarming star of Hart of Dixie, I was obsessed with this New York Times Magazine profile of James King's life in the fashion fast lane. It was the ultimate story of teenage independence, with an edge of loneliness that made Eloise look like Norman Rockwell. I wanted to be her and save her, resemble her and also stop burgeoning puberty in its tracks. It is as powerful a meditation on young femininity today as it was nearly 21 years ago.

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If You Can Do It, You Don't Have to Say It.

"James Is a Girl," by Jennifer Egan, the New York Times Magazine, 1996.

2. "Descent of a Woman" was a pun I wouldn't get for another ten years, but the story of Nadine Purdy, mother and fashion icon turned heroin addict and mole person, captured my imagination so thoroughly that I began to dream of life under manholes. While I didn't fully understand what heroin was, the idea of a mother, a creative who lived in my own downtown neighborhood, haunted me. Her glamour was inextricably linked with her mania and destructive impulses, something I've only recently come to understand as the opposite of chic. I still Google Nadine sometimes — she and her sister have a store, Purdy Girl. She is clean. She is blonde. She is aboveground.

"Descent of a Woman," by Rene Chun, The New York Times, 1996

3. Nancy Jo Sales, master of the sensitive yet salacious longform piece, did some of her finest when she chronicled the meteoric rise and terrifying fall of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake. I didn't know Theresa and Jeremy — they were peripheral to me, as I'd known one of Jeremy's ex-girlfriends early in life, while Theresa took to blogging about my mother in her most addled conspiracy entries — but they still seemed mythic, ancient, so close to yet so far from something someone I knew could become. Those tend to be the stories that grab me: tragedy that lives close enough to my block to seem like it could manifest in someone I love. While Theresa and Jeremy are easy to dismiss as people with untreated mental illness, I know what it's like to feel the world is against you. I just can't imagine doing anything about it.

"The Golden Suicides," by Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair, 2007

4. I wouldn't call Linda Taylor a heroine — after all, her story involves alleged cold-blooded murder and a whole bunch of pathological lying — BUT I do maintain she's the definition of an American folk legend. What's better than a woman who gets hers despite the system designed to fail her? A woman who does it and also worms her way into one of the most notorious political speeches of all times. If she'd stuck to the cars and furs, she would be a legend. Perhaps she still is.

"The Welfare Queen," by Josh Levin, Slate, 2013

5. What's sadder than reading Lolita? Reading the story behind it, rendered by Sarah Weinman with academic precision and a loving, literary touch. Humbert Humbert looks practically saintly next to the man who inspired him, and we learn about the limits of innocence and the way society discards its damaged creatures.

"The Real Lolita," by Sarah Weinman, Hazlitt, 2014.

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