Jeannette Cooperman

A member of the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame, Jeannette Cooperman was the staff writer at St. Louis Magazine for twelve years. She was named Writer of the Year at the 2019 City & Regional Magazine Awards, and she was named to the 2017 FOLIO: 100 list of “the best and brightest” in the magazine industry nationwide. Cooperman spent a decade doing investigative reporting for Riverfront Times, where her work was recognized by the National Education Writers Association, the National Mental Health Association, the National Black Journalists Association,  the National Gay and Lesbian Journalism Association, and the Society of Environmental Journalists. She holds degrees in philosophy and communication and a Ph.D. in American studies, and she has written five books—four of them dealing with history, literature, and social psychology, and one a murder mystery. She and her husband, a historian, live with Louie, an overeager standard poodle, in a century-old farmhouse in Waterloo, Illinois.

Posts by Jeannette Cooperman

Alien Intelligence

How smart could an octopus really be? I mean, sure, all those suction cups would be handy. But otherwise, they just hang out by themselves waving all those arms around … It was the pranks that changed my mind. More than one octopus has learned to turn off the aquarium lights by squirting jets of […]

The Grisly Habits of Beatrix Potter

“You like Beatrix Potter?” my friend Jodi, a retired English teacher, asks casually. “Love her. Flopsy, Mopsy—and Squirrel Nutkin was my favorite. Those gentle little books are so great for kids. So peaceful. Did you know they named an asteroid after Bea—” “She boiled bunnies,” Jodi cuts in. “Read Scary Stories for Young Foxes.” And […]

What Trends in Crime Fiction Tell Us About Ourselves

A few years ago, a literary agent told me I needed to make my murder mystery’s detective suffer more, struggle more, face more problems and threats and terrors. She had no idea she was talking to a woman who recovered from surgery by watching reruns of The Thin Man, Nick and Nora dressed to the […]

Red Meat Yes! Red Meat No! Red Wine Yes! Red Wine No!

The alarm shrills at seven o’clock. That means I had seven hours of sleep—was that right, or was it supposed to be eight? Eight glasses of water is no longer a magic number, I read; for some, it might even be too much. Shrugging off the question, I head for breakfast, the most important meal […]

Some Like It Hot

Years ago, I went on a date with a short, dark, and handsome architect who had the colossal arrogance of anyone who thinks he can decide what sort of giant building the rest of us have to look at for the next five decades. He wanted to introduce me to sushi (this was a long […]

Beware the Binary

After years of doggedly alternating “he” and “she” or choosing mischievously contrarian pronouns (“If a welder joins the union, she can expect …”), the struggle is over. Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year and the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Decade are one and the same: the gender-neutral “they.” No longer must we presume that […]

Star Wars

Our first night living miles away from downtown’s bright lights, I went outside, looked up, and felt a deep contentment wrap around me. I was used to a night sky that looked like a black shoebox with a few holes punched. This looked like diamonds sewn onto layers and layers of tulle, so even the […]

Confessions from the Aisle of Shame

“You don’t know what the AOS is?” The shock in Shawn’s voice borders on pity. “We’ll take you,” promises Susan. They dive into a conversation about the latest hot item, a rug of magical price and quality. The lucky folks who snagged one started photographing their dogs sitting cute atop the fuzzy rug, and one […]

Personal Effects

The wallets were what got me. They fool you, because they seem so practical, just neat, safe folders of money. Yet they also hold us, flattened into paper: our name, our age, where we live, who we love. Their edges soften a bit more each day as we reach for proof, currency, or our honor, […]

Is Camp Still “Camp”?

Camp is brilliant at introducing irony where it once did not exist, but now irony exists everywhere; its distance and layering are our habitual mode of perception, absent only in cults and Waldorf preschools. What role is left for camp to play?

Paradise Lost

The room is a velvety, lightless black, except at the center, where light refracts through dichroic glass pendants and makes rainbows on the holographic floor. They are meant to cheer us up. This is Margaret Keller’s Botanica Absentia installation at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and we have just stepped seventy years into the […]

Four Seasons—in One

“Today, it’s spring,” I announce to myself, taking the cheery tone kindergarten teachers use with the recalcitrant. Deep inside, I am still stomping my foot, because this is all wrong. It is still winter. Last week, there were a few sunny, chilly days that felt like late fall, and now the air feels warm and […]

A Screen Test for the Academy Awards

I was happily watching a British murder get solved by two smart female detectives when my husband pointed out that every conversation that was not about murder was about men. Neither of us realized that he was applying the Bechdel test; I learned only later about Alison Bechdel’s deliberately, ridiculously low standard for movies. Announced […]

Why We Are All Amazed

I titled my friend’s recipe “Susan’s Amazing Candied Pecans.” I called my favorite Bosnian restaurant “amazing,” recommended a film as “amazing,” gushed about Robert Macfarlane’s “amazing” nature writing and my friend’s “amazing” travel photographs. To even called a slow-cooker pot roast “amazing.” Writers should have more vocabulary. I imagine my English literature professor in college, […]

Passage to India

The number of Indian immigrants eager to work at Indian restaurants has dropped sharply, and I am fretting about it. My husband looks at me like I have joined The John Birch Society. Why does it matter what someone’s ethnicity is? Well, normally, it does not. What he does not realize is my capacity for […]

A TED Talk Hits Home

Hair dripping, soul at peace, I unlock the door, wet towels and swimsuit bunched under one cold arm, and hear the phone ringing. It is a landline (my husband is the human incarnation of retro) so I check caller ID on my way to the laundry room. Missouri Department of Corrections. My heart sinks. Bertha […]

Defending the Enemy

All these years, I have been reading ACLU press releases without ever knowing that the organization—100 years old this year—was inspired in St. Louis. Public defender Patrick Brayer lays out the history here, describing how Roger Nash Baldwin came to St. Louis fresh from Harvard, on the advice of a future U.S. Supreme Court justice […]

A Shaky Resolution

When a text popped up from my oldest, dearest friend, I cringed. We had made a pact to hold each other accountable. My New Year’s resolution was to learn to like healthier foods (read: lose twenty pounds), and hers was to exercise more. No doubt she was now checking in to tell me how she […]

Size Matters

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said so last fall. He was not presenting this as a problem, but I wonder. When just a handful of people show up at book club, the conversation goes deep; when everyone is there, it splits into five […]

Domestic Chaos

It stole the air, trading sweet oxygen for something grassy and ragged, with hints of skunk and rot and Venetian sewage. And it was wafting from a cabinet in the kitchen, which doubled the horror. When repeated mentions of The Smell failed to rouse my husband, I returned to the kitchen with my face pressed […]

Pam Hupp and the Question of Evil

A few years ago, I wrote a longform feature about Pam Hupp, a blond middle-aged Midwesterner convicted of murdering a brain-damaged man in cold blood in an elaborate ruse to deflect suspicion from herself in the murder of her “best friend”—just before a suspicious fall that killed Pam’s mother. The story hit Buzzfeed and went […]

We Can Even Kill Christmas

It is bleak, colorless January, the time so many of us breathe secret sighs of relief. It is over—at least until August, when the engines of commercial Christmas will rev with a high whine. For a time, though, we are freed from expectations and comparisons, checklists and chores. What is wrong with U.S. culture? Maslenitsa, […]

Little Women Takes on the Warrior Princesses

When my bank asked for my favorite childhood book, I had to lie. Little Women seemed too obvious. I read it in the tub, under the bedcovers, on my lap at dinner. I read it aloud to the dog. I snuck it outside when my grandmother told me to stop reading and get some fresh […]

The Most Symbolic American Catalog

  Hammacher Schlemmer speaks with all the confidence of a Madison Avenue account exec in the ’50s, just before things started to crack. Every product is the definitive, consummate iteration: The World’s Slimmest 3D Printing Pen. The Only Heated Beard Softener. The Best Gentleman’s Foil Shaver. The Lady’s Fatigue Relieving Sandals. The Superior Comfort Advanced […]

A “Botanical Pompeii” Beneath Our Feet

Until I brushed up against those 300-million-year-old ferns, I thought of coal and pollution and global warming as a single, dense lump of worry, uncomplicated by history or irony.

The Mandarin Duck Was Here All Along

In fall 2018, a mandarin duck landed in Central Park. New York went crazy. They named him Mandarin Patinkin, and The Cut pronounced him the city’s hottest bachelor. Entrepreneurs captured the duck’s forest green, indigo, royal purple, and orange coloration on T-shirts that sold faster than flatscreens on Black Friday. A dog came to the […]

Chain of Love

Aw, man. I did not want to forward a chain request for a poem to twenty BCC’d friends. I have a readymade rant about all these chain things, these copy-this-message-and-send-to gimmicks that suck time and prove only that you are schmuck enough to fall for them. A friend used to send me cloyingly sweet and […]

A Holiday Party Primer: Ask Deeper Questions

In his December newsletter for The School of Life, Alain de Botton—the beloved British philosopher of everyday relationships, work, art, and meaning—begs his readers to stop asking superficial questions. If someone says they are spending the holidays with their partner and their partner’s family, instead of asking, “Whereabouts do they live?” ask “Do you feel […]

A Defense of Dots and Dashes

When I wrote for an alt newsweekly, I was teased for overusing ellipses, a gutless sort of trailing off … that expects the reader to understand that my thought is incomplete on purpose, that there is far more involved than what I have mentioned. I stuck up for my dots, accusing my (male) critics of […]

Why We Care More About Koalas Than Kin

In a reality-tv survivor show, koala bears would be off the island in five minutes flat. At the first sign of a raging bush fire, they panic and scramble even higher, thinking they will be safe if they can reach the top of the tree. Once there, they curl into a tight ball—and wind up […]

We Are Divided by How We Define What Unites Us

I was curled up in a window seat, skimming through E.B. White’s musings for The New Yorker, and I hit a definition that must have sounded obvious in 1943. Democracy, he wrote, “is the line that forms on the right. It is the ‘don’t’ in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt […]

Before You Get All Extra, Parse This

Lexicographers in Germany have been pounding away at a Thesaurus Linguae Latinae since the 1890s, with deaths and replacements along the way. They are not merely defining or finding common meanings, mind you. They are writing a biography of every Latin word and noting every possible known way in which it has been used. They […]

The Rich Toss Aside Technology

Years ago, I dreamed of a world in which technology took over all the chores that were soul-crushingly boring and freed us to be more fully human, paying more attention to creativity and compassion and relationship. Then pessimism slid back, and I worried that the wealthy would take control of technology. Access would be granted […]

A Different Kind of Reverence

I was city through and through. And then we moved to rural southern Illinois. Pausing to check messages in a parking lot, I near dropped my phone when a rooster crowed in the back of the rusty red pickup next to me. On one of my first trips to Rural King, a horse strolled in […]

How the St. Louis Wheel Could Change the City

Glowing at the west edge of downtown, the new St. Louis Wheel rounds out the city’s geometry. We have the rectangular high-rises, the diamond points of Union Station’s red tile roof; the diagonal lines, like thumb-tacked string, of the Stan Span; the sharp angles of Lumière Place casino; the gentle arches of Eads Bridge; the […]

Rage Rooms Explode

Called rage rooms or smash rooms, they are popping up—like the emotion that prompts them—all over the place. The idea is as simple as an old comic strip: Wham! Pow! You whack and shatter anything you like with neither apology nor consequence, then leave someone else to clean up the mess. Proprietors say the rooms […]

How Prayer Rugs Turned into War Rugs

When the sacred geometry of the Persian carpet was replaced by tanks, weapons, and bombs, Westerners were fascinated. But how do the women who weave them feel?

Whence All the Puking on Screen?

My phobia keeps me from drinking heavily. It makes visiting hospitals a sphere of the inferno. Even watching a movie at home is fraught, although my husband usually manages to warn me or clamp his hand over my eyes. It all started early in grade school, when three kids threw up on me in rapid […]

Ghosting Needs to Die

“ … if he was Anita Baker’s man He’d take her for her masters, hit it once an’ shake her hand  On some ol’ thank ya ma’am an’ ghost her” —from “Figaro” by Madvillain     I have been puzzling, from the safety of a marriage, over the phenomenon of ghosting and what prompts it. […]

Why Cancel Culture Is Worse Than We Think

Cancel culture seemed, for a while, to be a reaction to celebrity culture. Like mortals scaling Mount Olympus to steal a thunderbolt or two, we had grown weary of blind worship. Determined to take back a little power, we watched closely, and whenever one of our gods proved unworthy of our ideals, we pounced. Social […]

The Truth Is Out There

A giant white speech balloon is tethered at the foot of the grand limestone steps of the St. Louis Central Library. Passersby pause, some thinking of comic strips, some of texts. One guy misses the little tail pointing out at the bottom of the bubble and reads it as a giant eyeball. Which makes sense, […]

Did Superstition Win the World Series?

“I’m not watching,” my husband announced at the start of Game Five. I twisted on the sofa to stare at him. Andrew has been a staunch, unabashed Nationals fan since 2005, and the last time Washington won the World Series was as the Senators in 1924. “Every time I watch, they don’t get runs,” he […]

Trial by Fire

We start something new, or should, by defining our terms. “Wait, does this mean we’re not seeing other people?” “Did the doctor mean no dairy, not even yogurt?” So when I joined the staff of The Common Reader, I went a little clammy at the realization that I was not entirely sure what the word […]