My Besties

Like most writers, I spend a great deal of time looking at a screen, reading it.

When I sit down to get to business, I focus in on a pretty tight perimeter of email and social media sites, sifting for what may be considered local news. But, just as every good therapist has a therapist, writers are also readers, and I’m starting the year sharing my ‘besties,’ my top of the list – in an offering that they may also become your top of the list.

While I read the LA Times and the NY Times daily, and I often read the Sacramento Bee, and the Washington Post, my real daily diet is blogs. I don’t like the word ‘blog’ – a playwright some years ago pointed out that it sounds like an accumulation of mucus – but a ‘column’ (like this one) is generally considered part of a larger assortment of journalism, features and such that run under a masthead. Originally defined as a ‘column of text’ – back to the days of newsprint and ‘column inches.’

The internet gives us a lot of freedoms, including the freedom to redefine a form. 

Maria Popova’s site was originally entitled “Brain Pickings” a phrase I confess I never liked. I’ve joked with friends that the question “Can I pick your brain?” sounds so intrusive and painful, I wince. Popova now publishes as “The Marginalia,”  a title I think is much more accurate, but still not 100% on the mark. It sounds just a bit like an afterthought, and she puts a lot of thought and an amazing amount of research into her stuff. 

While I don’t read her every day, I do read several times a week. Her vast background, her delicious language and her mind opening insights always – always – give me a fresh perspective. Even when she’s focused on some dusty Roman philosopher or obscure American poet, her introduction to the material often inspires me to dive in. 

One of Popova’s most valuable contributions is to restore women’s names and accomplishments to the places where they have been knowingly or unintentionally erased. The number of scientists, policy makers and philosophers I’ve been introduced to through Popova’s work is a long and impressive list. Giving these women their due is part of highlighting women’s essential status in every field. 

I have learned, and remembered, so much from reading Popova over the past several years, all I can do is urge you to connect. 

In a different direction, but every bit as readable; I have come to rely on the daily blog “Letter from an American” by Heather Cox Richardson as much as my morning coffee.  

A history professor and author who started writing for friends on FB to put Republican authoritarianism into perspective during the previous federal administration, Richardson has expanded ‘Letter from an American’ in proportion to demand. She has hundreds of thousands of readers just as enthused as I am. With a rich knowledge of American law, culture and evolution, and the compelling task of using the past to understand the present, she has a voice that is unmatched. Her work is vital to anyone who lives in this country, and should be essential for every voter. 

Both Richardson and Popova support their work with subscriptions, and if you choose to enjoy their work, you should, of course, pay for their efforts. 

Find Maria Popova at /

Find Heather Cox Richardson at /

Of course, reading and subscribing to The LA Times, The New York Times and all your other favorite sources of information is essential to keeping democracy alive. 

Who doesn’t need a few new friends? 

Judith Martin-Straw




The Actors' Gang

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