This week's picks include pieces from Allie Brosh, The Believer, Miami New Times, GQ, The New Yorker, fiction from Guernica and a guest pick by Michael Macher.
The story of Sadakichi Hartmann, a Japan-born poet who had befriended everyone from Walt Whitman to Ezra Pound and John Barrymore—and who once attempted to stage the first-ever "perfume concert" in New York:
"But no one had ever heard of a perfume concert. It was an invention so faddish the newspapers had inked themselves in excitement and still managed indifference by the second column. 'All lovers of good smells are expected to patronize the concert,' one hopeful feature began. However, 'It may be that after a time the olfactory nerve of the New York gatherings will become jaded, and will require smells of more and more pungency.' It was suggested Mr. Hartmann take a trip to Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal."
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5531 words)
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, The Believer
has just published a handful of classic stories for the first time on the web, and they were nice enough to share them with the Longreads community. Enjoy.
PUBLISHED: April 29, 2013
The author on writing nonfiction and fiction, and the current state of criticism:
"BLVR: There has been a lot of talk recently about the rules of criticism. When is it too mean? When is it too nice? The internet makes it so that you’re very much aware of the human you’re writing about—you don’t want to see them in pain. It’s good for the critic’s psychology, but maybe not so great for criticism.
"RA: Well, it used to be one way a young writer made it in New York. He would attack, in a small obscure publication, someone very strong, highly regarded, whom a few people may already have hated. Then the young writer might gain a small following. When he looked for a job, an assignment, and an editor asked, 'What have you published?' he could reply, 'Well, this piece.' The editor might say, 'Oh, yeah, that was met with a lot of consternation.' And a portfolio began. This isn’t the way it goes now. More like a race to join the herd of received ideas and agreement."
PUBLISHED: April 10, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3161 words)
On the life and career of writer Nelson Algren, one of the most prolific—yet underappreciated—writers of the last century:
"For my money, no book more elegantly describes the world of men and women whom the boom years were designed to pass by. In the decades after Golden Arm, the country obsessed over the behaviors and fates of women and men like Algren’s characters—and dedicated millions to altering them through wars on poverty and drugs—but in 1949 Algren was nearly alone in reminding the country that having an upper class requires having a lower class. For the skill and elegance of its prose, its compassion, and its prescience, I’d rank Golden Arm among the very best books written in the twentieth century. Before Algren’s fall from favor and the onset of his obscurity, many people agreed with that assessment. The book received glowing reviews from Time, the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, even the New Yorker. Doubleday nominated it for the Pulitzer, and Hemingway, who had declared Algren the second-best American writer (after Faulkner) when Never Come Morning was published, wrote a promotional quote that went too far for Doubleday’s taste but pleased Algren so much he taped it to his fridge:
"Into a world of letters where we have the fading Faulkner and that overgrown Lil Abner Thomas Wolfe casts a shorter shadow every day, Algren comes like a corvette or even a big destroyer… Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful… Mr. Algren, boy, are you good."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8997 words)
Much of Hawaii's history has been lost or whitewashed for tourists, including the story of Eddie Aikau, a Hawaiian lifeguard and surf legend who was proud of his native cultural identity, and taught others about Hawaii's true history of Western exploitation:
"The beach had been a refuge for Eddie, but, like many Hawaiians during the 1960s, he was becoming aware of the impact that annexation and statehood had had on native traditions. It’s impossible to know for sure how many Native Hawaiians lived on the islands at the time of first contact with British explorers, in 1778, but historians estimate that before Cook arrived there were around five hundred thousand. By 1890, disease, wars between islands, and poverty had reduced the number to a mere forty thousand. The history Kelly taught the younger surfers contradicted the story of a conflict-free annexation and statehood they’d learned in school. The reality was grim. The U.S. military was testing weapons on the island of Kaho‘olawe; sugarcane and pineapple plantations had replaced diverse, sustainable agriculture that preserved the scarce freshwater supply; Hawaiians were subject to the rule of a government based nearly five thousand miles away. As Kelly drove Eddie and his friends past Hawaiian valleys and mountains toward its beaches, they began to comprehend how Hawaii had been transformed into America."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 4, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4039 words)
In 2007, Eric Fair wrote an article in the Washington Post
describing his experience as an interrogator in Iraq. He has had trouble finding a way to move on.
"I tell my professor I am sick. I put away verb charts, participles, and lexicons, board a train for Washington, D.C., and meet with Department of Justice lawyers and Army investigators in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. I disclose everything. I provide pictures, letters, names, firsthand accounts, locations, and techniques. I talk about the hard site at Abu Ghraib, and I talk about the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I talk about what I did, what I saw, what I knew, and what I heard. I ride the train back to Princeton. I start drinking more. Sarah takes notice. I tell her to go to Hell.
"I sit for my final Greek exam in August. It is a passage from Paul’s letter to the people of Thessalonica.
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.
"I am not one of the believers in Thessalonica. I am one of the abusers at Philippi."
PUBLISHED: April 1, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2653 words)
"Today what I do is—I do this every night we play—I have a little quiet moment where I picture some guy having a fight with his girlfriend, getting into his car—the battery’s dead—then he gets to the parking lot and it’s full. Meets up with his friends. Comes into the show. I try to picture this one person having their own experience, and I picture them way in the back of the room. And I try to remember how insignificant my experience is, and how people’s experiences with music are their own thing."
PUBLISHED: July 1, 2011
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6012 words)
I say “he” because my subject is the specific kind of boy who takes up running, and he is very different from the girl who is his counterpart. This boy, whom I know well, is just not good at any other sport. He may have tried baseball, but could not throw; he may have tried soccer, but could not kick. He is not coordinated or strong or big. So he runs. No American eight-year-old thinks it would be cool to be a distance runner someday. If he becomes one, it is not the realization of a dream, but the acceptance of reality.
PUBLISHED: March 28, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3721 words)