#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.
Writer Alex Mar constructs an essay of fact and introspection as she tells the story of the explorer Juan Ponce de León and her family's ancestral claim to him.
The story alone of Juan Ponce is told with great energy and vivid detail. Mar takes us well beyond the "fountain of youth" legend to describe the life and times of Juan Ponce and other European contemporaries settling the New World.
Mar adds to that the big eternal question: Who makes us what we are today?
"A self-mythologizing takes place when we assimilate the stories of our ancestors into our own—it's automatic. We tell ourselves that their triumphs have somehow entered our bloodstream. We're not descendants, we think; we're heirs—heirs to intangible qualities (ambition, brilliance, endurance) through the fact of a thoroughly diluted blood tie."
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What makes us yearn so to see something of ourselves in the distant past? Is Juan Ponce really even part of her family history? And if he is, does it matter?
Stay with this one until the end. Long after you put it down, you'll be thinking about your own family legends and how we use them to shape the narratives of our lives.
My first encounter with cowboy poetry came, oddly, in Hawaii, when I found myself on a tour bus with an enthusiastic (and, I must say, rather talented) performer, reciting an apparent classic about a cowboy trying to attract some ladies on his first visit to a tropical beach.
I'd lived in Nebraska for nearly five years, but the cowboy-poetry concept was novel and mesmerizing. It made me think, all at once, about poetry slam, Irish folk songs and Russian bard music beloved by my father.
So this story in the New Yorker completely gripped me. Carson Vaughan (a college classmate who's now a writer) followed his cowboy poet cousin-once-removed around the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada.
The storytelling, to borrow the words from the author, snakes "through handlebar mustaches and hearty handshakes" — revealing along the way the far-reaching history and intriguing literary context of the fascinating tradition.
Athlete endorsements are nothing new, but what happens when they sell their star power to promote a questionable product? In ESPN The Magazine, writer Mina Kimes delves into a nutritional supplement business called AdvoCare, backed by New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees. The company's business model is called multilevel marketing (or "direct sales," as the company prefers), but it sounds suspiciously like a pyramid scheme. Advocare promises people the chance to make big bucks in buying inventory and selling the company's products to their friends and family, but in the end, many of the company's 640,000 salespeople end up making near-zero profit.
The article explains that these endorsements from famous athletes are crucial to the success of these MLMs "because they legitimize murky companies to the outside world."
Kimes talks to people in all levels of the AdvoCare machinery, from a former salesperson who admits to feeling like a "con artist" to the company's general counsel who, predictably, staunchly defends the business model.
The article is not the first to explore the shady world of MLM companies, but its focus on professional athletes' roles in selling what may amount to false hope makes it compelling from start to finish.