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Everything in This City Must

Before returning to the U.S., the author is asked what he'll miss about living in Leipzig, Germany and discovers that the answer is complicated:

"Why do I live there, I then ask myself. The recent revelation that the TSA may record every phone call, and hopes to record social media interactions as well, suggests we’re now a nation of suspects—America has become one big terrorist watch list. Everyone is on it. As I think about expatriating, if only to object to a life inside that complex, I know, if they’re monitoring me, it won’t matter if I expatriate. It would only continue, perhaps even increase, the move confirming whatever theory had put them onto me, should that even be the case. It would be enough that I would find it objectionable, and it shouldn’t be.

"I think of the Chinese dissident who, when he learned he was being spied on by the state, said, 'I’ve been trying to get them to listen to me for years.' If they were spying on me, I would want to take the TSA on a tour through the Stasi museum.

"See all they did to try to control their citizens, I would say.

"See how it failed them."
PUBLISHED: May 14, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5641 words)

Go Away

A writer on his experience spending time in an artist colony—and why they actually work:

"The poet in the studio next to me, Kathryn Levy, was at the time revising her work by reading it aloud, recording it, and playing it back to herself. The murmur of it was reassuring somehow. Years later, when I remembered it to her, she laughed and said 'I don’t work that way anymore.' I recently asked her about thoughts on colonies, and she said: 'You have all the solitude you want, with none of the usual distraction of daily life at home, and then when you want to be in a social situation with interesting people, you have that as well. I find that I experiment in colonies more often than I do at home because I have such an expanse of time, and that I not only write more and think about writing more, but think about life more as well.'

"Colonies also teach lessons. Typically, there are older, more experienced artists who offer tips on, for example, finding and maintaining silence. I also learned there is almost nothing better for your work than having someone cook and clean for you who is neither a relative nor someone you’re sleeping with. I am something of a cook, for example, and between food prep and shopping, I spend about 14 hours a week on meals. But when I go away to a residency, that becomes writing time. I gain two whole working days from the week.

"And so sometimes people would complain about a meal and my only thought was What is wrong with you?"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 13, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4404 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of 2011: Your Picks

See the latest from our community's Top 5 lists celebrating the year's best nonfiction and fiction. Includes picks from Jessica Pressler, Jenna Wortham, Steve Silberman, Matthias Rascher, Lev Grossman, Doree Shafrir, Alexander Chee, Elliott Holt, and more.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 14, 2011

The Querent

I was 13 at the time of the accident, 16 when my father died of complications related to his injuries. When I look back at why of all the forms of the occult I’d found the one that appealed to me most was fortunetelling, it seems to me the answer came from my father’s accident and death. I wanted to know how to tell the future. I wanted one of those mirrors, the ones positioned so you can see around a corner, but for my whole life. That’s what I believed the Tarot could be.
PUBLISHED: Aug. 10, 2011
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5971 words)

I, Reader

I opened the [Kindle app] on my next subway ride downtown. It began with approximately two paragraphs of the book, lit up on the screen of my phone. I tapped the side of the screen and it flew to the next three paragraphs, and so on. A few minutes passed and I observed that I was reading peacefully. It was both an entirely new reading experience, like I had a secret that fit inside the palm of my hand, but it was also familiar: In the fifth grade I was taught to speed-read on a machine that projected sentences onto a wall at high speeds, sentences in the white box of a screen, flashing in a dark room.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2010
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4074 words)