The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for Al Jazeera America

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Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. For Hire: Dedicated Young Man With Down Syndrome

Michael Bérubé | Al Jazeera America | May 25, 2014 | 14 minutes (3,549 words)

A father reflects on his son’s job search:

What is Jamie capable of doing for a living? Our first checklist filled us with despair: factory work, nope; food service, nope (not fast enough); hotel maid service, nope; machine and auto repair, nope. (Though Jamie expressed interest in auto repair — not a moment of astonishing self-awareness.) With one agency, Jamie had two CBWAs followed by detailed five-page write-ups: one doing setup for conferences and meetings (tables, chairs, A/V), the other doing shelving at a supermarket. Neither went well. He had trouble stacking chairs, dealing with the duct tape for the A/V setup, and attaching skirts to tables. At the supermarket he had trouble with the U-boat, the device that carts dozens of boxes out into the aisles — and besides, they were only hiring graveyard shift.

2. Waiting for Exile

Julia Cooke | VQR | May 1, 2014 | 24 minutes (6,039 words)

Getting by and getting out of Cuba:

“I think I know who can find you an apartment,” Lucía said. I was on her couch picking at its fraying white vinyl. My address book lay open on my knees. I’d moved to Cuba with two suitcases, a ten- month student visa, plans to take a weekly class on popular culture, and visions of a terrace, balustrades, maybe an apartment in Vedado, the downtown heart of Havana. But after two weeks, I’d found nowhere to live. A legal resident foreigner could rent only from an authorized case particular or directly from the state— apartments that were usually bugged, priced for businesspeople and reporters on expat packages. I’d met a “real estate agent” with frosted pink lipstick who set foreigners up in long- term casas and took a cut, but she shook her head when I told her I hoped to pay less than $25 a night for a monthly rent. On a full apartment! She didn’t return my calls. Lucía, the most connected twenty- six- year- old I’d ever met in Havana or anywhere else, was my best hope to map out opportunities.

3. You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

James Somers | May 23, 2014 | 12 minutes (3,198 words)

What John McPhee and a good dictionary can teach us about writing:

John McPhee — one the great American writers of nonfiction, almost peerless as a prose stylist — once wrote an essay for the New Yorker about his process called “Draft #4.” He explains that for him, draft #4 is the draft after the painstaking labor of creation is done, when all that’s left is to punch up the language, to replace shopworn words and phrases with stuff that sings.

The way you do it, he says, is “you draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.” You go looking for le mot juste.

4. Overcome Your Programming And Be A Better Man

Chris Gethard | May 27, 2014 | 13 minutes (3,259 words)

Comedian Chris Gethard on being an angry high school outcast, and how he found a place in a world that “doesn’t owe you anything”:

As someone who’s spent most of his life feeling like a round peg running into many square holes – it is so much more gratifying when you stop trying to force yourself into those square holes, or prove to those square holes that you’re valid too, and instead go out and find the round holes, and even better, the other round pegs. To try to be something you’re not, to try to go places that reject you, to try to fit in, to try to force people who aren’t accepting you to accept you… it drains you of energy and it never works and it makes you bitter and tired and angry.

But to find the other round pegs out there, those loners, those wanderers, those people who get rejected for whatever reason, that’s the ultimate gratification. They’re out there. I just turned 34, and at this age I am friends almost exclusively with other people who didn’t say much growing up, who felt scared a lot of the time, and who felt like they shouldn’t say what they were thinking because it didn’t fit and they didn’t have a right to speak up. A lot of my friends were people who could never get dates, most of my social circle is composed of people who had reasons to feel angry or alone or scared or sad.

And now we have each other.

5. Shot in Missoula

Karin Assmann, Marc Hujer, Fidelius Schmid, Andreas Ulrich | Spiegel | May 8, 2014 | 10 minutes (2,615 words)

Diren D., a German high school student from Hamburg, wanted to get a taste of American freedom during an exchange year abroad. Instead, he ended up dead. Are American gun laws to blame?

Diren spent nine months as a foreign exchange student in the Rocky Mountain town of Missoula, population 70,000. He was in the 11th grade at Big Sky High School, played soccer for the Missoula Strikers, spent time in the mountains, had fun in the snow and enjoyed the friendliness of the people there — people who are proud to live in a place where a handshake still means something.
But Diren’s death laid bare the dark side of this idyll. And it raises the question as to who or what is to be blamed for the tragedy: America’s loose weapons laws that promote a culture of vigilantism? Or the strict rules that make it almost impossible for young men and women to safely test the boundaries, leading them to take stupid risks?

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