Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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1. Ghosts of the Tsunami
Richard Lloyd Parry | London Review of Books | February 6, 2014 | 28 minutes (7,185 words)
The writer visits a Zen temple in Japan, where he meets with a priest who has been exorcising the spirits of people who had drowned in the 2011 tsunami and taken possession of the living. A story about loss and Japan’s cult of ancestors:
Over the course of last summer, Reverend Kaneda exorcised 25 spirits from Rumiko Takahashi. They came and went at the rate of several a week. All of them, after the wartime sailor, were ghosts of the tsunami. For Kaneda, the days followed a relentless routine. The telephone call from Rumiko would come in the early evening; at nine o’clock her fiancé would pull up in front of the temple and carry her out of the car. As many as three spirits would appear in a single session. Kaneda talked to each personality in turn, sometimes over several hours: he established their circumstances, calmed their fears and politely but firmly enjoined them to follow him towards the light. Kaneda’s wife would sit with Rumiko; sometimes other priests were present to join in with the prayers. In the early hours of the morning, Rumiko would be driven home. ‘Each time she would feel better, and go back to Sendai, and go to work,’ Kaneda told me. ‘But then after a few days, she’d be overwhelmed again.’ Out among the living, surrounded by the city, she would become conscious of the dead, a thousand importunate spirits pressing in on her and trying to get inside.
More LRB: “The Way Out of a Room Is Not Through the Door” (Christian Lorentzen)
2. How the Beatles Went Viral
Steve Greenberg | Billboard | February 8, 2014 | 42 minutes (10,704 words)
At the end of 1963, few people in America had heard of the Beatles. Then six weeks later, they blew up. Greenberg explains how the band finally broke through after multiple false starts trying to gain traction with radio airplay:
Transglobal licensed “She Loves You” to a tiny indie, Swan Records of Philadelphia, which released it stateside on Sept. 16. Swan had even less success with the Beatles than Vee-Jay: The song failed to chart at any station, and was roundly rejected by audiences when it was played at all. DJ Murray the K at WINS New York spun “She Loves You” on Sept. 28 in a five-way “battle of the hits,” where it came in third. He continued to play it every night for a week solid, but got no reaction. Swan convinced “American Bandstand,” which broadcast from the label’s hometown, to play the song in its “Rate a Record” segment, where it received a score of 73 out of 100. Worse, the teens on “Bandstand” laughed when host Dick Clark held up a photo of the moptopped Beatles. After that incident, Clark recalled, “I figured these guys were going nowhere.”
More Greenberg: “Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ at 30”
3. Into the Pines
Patrick Michels | Texas Observer | February 5, 2014 | 25 minutes (6,362 words)
A man, deep in debt, hides in the woods of East Texas for several months, stealing from the residents of a small community:
Few residents were willing to discuss the run of break-ins—the sheriff estimates at least 35 in all—that spanned most of 2013. Dyes Kountry Katfish, the last spot in town where locals might gather to gossip about the mystery over iced teas and fried lunch, went out of business in 2011. But privately, in homes or at the school nearby in Woden, residents spun their theories. Popular opinion first blamed delinquent youth on spring break; investigators even pulled kids out of classrooms for questioning. The sheriff’s department rushed out for calls about suspicious vehicles that could be the thieves’ getaway cars. Deputies patrolled Melrose at night in unmarked cars and called in the Texas Department of Public Safety to fly over the area. But the break-ins continued—cars, homes and abandoned trailers—without a sign of the culprit. Cash and Social Security cards disappeared from wallets, but oddly, not checks or credit cards. The thief plucked food, guns and other tools of the outdoors from their homes, but perhaps most disturbingly, he robbed residents of the secluded security they prized above all.
More Texas Observer: “Bloodlines” (Melissa del Bosque, Jazmine Ulloa)
4. Grief Has No Deadline
Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Narratively | February 6, 2014 | 18 minutes (4,505 words)
She spent two decades as a local reporter covering L.A.’s grisliest crimes. But when the victim is a member of her own family, she learns what hard news feels like from the other side:
Memories of that night are a mosaic: the flashing lights, police cars, yellow tape, and Lil Bit’s car, stopped in the middle of the intersection of Century and San Pedro, where the shooting took place. Then to the lobby of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where we multiply—more family, more friends. We form an entourage. A guard directs us to the hospital’s chapel, where the matriarchs of the family are sitting—Lil Bit’s grandmother, Alberta, and my mother, Ida. The room fills with us: aunts, uncle, sisters, brother, stepmother, cousin. Then his twin walks in, not knowing what has happened—until he looks around the room at everyone who has gathered, at everyone’s faces, and he knows. “No!” he says, and I remember wanting to make this go away, to bring Lil Bit back for all of us, but especially for him. Had I been reporting the story, I would have taken notes to remember the details, like the tears in the eyes of the hospital’s social worker as she talks to us.
More Narratively: “Growing Up Clown” (Brandon Ambrosino)
5. That ‘Distressed Baby’ Who Tim Armstrong Blamed for AOL’s Benefit Cuts? She’s My Daughter
Deanna Fei | Slate | February 9, 2014 | 6 minutes (1,689 words)
Author Deanna Fei speaks out on the fight to save the life of her daughter, who was born just five months into her pregnancy, at 1 lb., 9 oz.—and what happened when AOL CEO Tim Armstrong pointed to their family as a reason the company had to cut benefits:
I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a “distressed baby” who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits. How he exposed the most searing experience of our lives, one that my husband and I still struggle to discuss with anyone but each other, for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.
More Slate: “The Welfare Queen” (Josh Levin)
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