This week's Longreads Member pick is "Contest of Words," Ben Lerner
's October 2012 essay from Harper's Magazine
. Lerner is author of the award-winning 2011 novel Leaving the Atocha Station
and three books of poetry: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw
and Mean Free Path
The story comes recommended by Matt O'Rourke, a longtime Longreads community member and creative director for Wieden and Kennedy in Portland (he also runs the Twitter account @fuckyesreading
Support Longreads—and get more stories like this—by becoming a member for just $3 per month
PUBLISHED: Feb. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5243 words)
Monopoly has become "the world's best-selling proprietary board game," but the original game allowed players to cooperate so that everyone could prosper:
"With us in Jarrell’s cottage was Mike Curtis, an Ardenite who twenty years earlier had played a round of Magie’s original 1906 Landlord’s Game (one of his opponents, as it happened, was Patrice McFarland). The Georgist rules by which Curtis had played were known as the Single Tax set, and they went beyond having players simply pay rent into Magie’s 'Public Treasury.' They also aimed to teach the shared ownership of public goods. Under Single Tax rules, when the amount in the treasury reached fifty dollars, the player who owned the lighting utility was forced to sell it, and thereafter the utility cost no money to land on, as it was now publicly owned. This process repeated itself with the Slambang Trolley, then with the railroads, then with the Go to Jail space, which became a public college that, instead of sending players to jail, provided extra wages at the end of the game. After that, each fifty-dollar deposit in the treasury raised players’ wages by ten dollars. A 'win' in Single Tax, which Magie later dubbed Prosperity Game, occurred when the player with the least amount of money had doubled his original capital. 'The Landlord’s Game,' said Magie, 'shows why our national housekeeping has gone wrong and Prosperity Game shows how to start it right and keep it going right.' Curtis admitted that he didn’t think much of the game, pronouncing it 'kind of boring after a while.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 19, 2012
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6234 words)
The demolition of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago was supposed to open up new opportunities for low-income families. But the community has disappeared:
"The fifteen-story high-rise was known by its address, 1230 N. Burling. Already stripped of every window, door, appliance, and cabinet, the monolith was like a giant dresser without drawers. The teeth tore off another hunk of the exterior, revealing the words I NEED MONEY painted in green and gold across an inside wall. Chicago was once home to the second-largest stock of public housing in the nation, with nearly 43,000 units and a population in the hundreds of thousands. Since the mid-1990s, though, the city has torn down eighty-two public-housing high-rises citywide, including Cabrini’s twenty-four towers. In 2000, the city named the ongoing purge the Plan for Transformation, a $1.5 billion, ten-year venture that would leave the city with just 15,000 new or renovated public-housing family units, plus an additional 10,000 for senior citizens. Like many other U.S. cities, Chicago wanted to shift from managing public housing to become instead what the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) called 'a facilitator of housing opportunities.'"
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2012
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7103 words)
[National Magazine Awards finalist, Public Interest] An investigation of rampant sexual violence that goes unpunished at a Sioux reservation:
"Kim reported the rape, and Mike was arrested and jailed. As soon as she returned to the reservation, his family began threatening her, calling her a liar and a bitch. Whenever they saw her on the street, they told her they would beat her up and make sure her son was taken away from her if she didn’t drop the charges. Kim believed they could do it, since some of Mike’s family members worked in the tribal court. 'I was getting threats right and left, and I wasn’t scared. I was going to go through with it—they had him in jail, and it was all going to work out. But then they let him out,' Kim said. 'Nobody would do anything. He just walked around town.'"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 1, 2011
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8136 words)
PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2010
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7722 words)
In search of the American Crypto-Jew
PUBLISHED: Dec. 1, 2009
LENGTH: 31 minutes (7865 words)
PUBLISHED: Nov. 1, 2009
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6396 words)
Let’s draw a bath. Let’s set a rubber duck afloat. Look at it wobbling there. What misanthrope, what damp, misty November of a sourpuss, upon beholding a rubber duck afloat, does not feel a crayola ray of sunshine brightening his gloomy heart? Graphically, the rubber duck’s closest relative is not a bird or a toy but the yellow happy face of Wal-Mart commercials. A rubber duck is in effect a happy face with a body and lips—which is what the beak of the rubber duck has become: great, lipsticky, bee-stung lips. Both the happy face and the rubber duck reduce facial expressions to a kind of pictogram. They are both emoticons. And they are, of course, the same color—the yellow of an egg yolk or the eye of a daisy, a shade darker than a yellow raincoat, a shade lighter than a taxicab.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2007
LENGTH: 77 minutes (19297 words)
PUBLISHED: Feb. 1, 2005
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7437 words)