Editors Roundtable: 170 Million Pieces of Trash Orbiting the Earth and No One Knows How to Use an Apostrophe (Podcast)

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On our May 17, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Essays Editor Sari Botton, Audience Editor Catherine Cusick, and Senior Editor Krista Stevens share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.

This week, the editors discuss stories in Outside Magazine, Wired’s Backchannel, The New York Times Styles, and Longreads.


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00:20 “This Gen X Mess” (May 14, 2019, The New York Times

“We were in the digital stone age.” – Krista Stevens

This week’s New York Times Styles package on Generation X in 1994 inspired a wave of nostalgia.

Our editors discuss Alex Williams‘ piece on the impossibility of summing up an entire generation’s experiences in one label. (Caity Weaver‘s attempt at spending a week living with technology available in 1994 sends Sari down a memory lane of modems, payphones, and calling in her notes to the New York Times tape room.) They laugh at “The Rules,”a dating guide that looks to your grandma for advice, and discuss two more sections in the Gen X Styles package on John Singleton and Evan Dando.

12:30 “He Trots the Air” (Pam Houston, May 13, 2019, Outside Magazine)

“The first thing that I would caution about this piece is that you should not read it in a public space.” – Krista Stevens

The team discusses Pam Houston’s beautiful style in this personal essay about Houston’s 39-year-old horse, Roany, their quarter-century long bond, and having to say goodbye. We think we know family animals well — and that we have the power to delay when their time will come — but life makes its own decisions.

15:51The Curious History of Crap—From Space Junk to Actual Poop” (Ziya Tong, May 14, 2019, Wired)

This excerpt from Tong’s book The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions That Shape Our World, examines what, despite our propensity to record everything, we still don’t see: where our food comes from, where our energy comes from, and where our waste is going.

The team discusses some of the excerpt’s truth bombs, like how one person’s poop is enough to fertilize 200 kilograms of cereals per year, and how orbiting space garbage as small as a lens cap can hit a spacecraft like a grenade. Luckily, the piece also explores how we can repurpose some of humanity’s trash to our advantage.

22:24The Omen of the Wasps’ Nest” (Marlene Adelstein, May 2019, Longreads)

A collector of nests, Adelstein becomes fixated on a wasp nest as an omen, while her relationship and family nests deteriorate around her. 

24:10 Editor Q&A: Are you a reader or an editor first?

“If my internal editor doesn’t pipe in, is that a sign that something is good?”- Sari Botton

A behind-the-scenes look at whether the editor brain ever turns off, how editorial sensibilities are forever evolving, and a recommendation for Jenny Zhang’s Annotations newsletter, which deconstructs what works in popular articles.

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