The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from bell hooks, Christopher Curtis, Kate Connolly, David Ramsey, and Henry Grabar.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. Love as the Practice of Freedom

bell hooks | Catalyst Project | 1994 | 2,900 words

Acclaimed author and feminist bell hooks passed away this week at the age of 69. Tributes to her life and work have been published far and wide. To remember her, we look back at this moving essay from her book, Outlaw Culture, published in 1994. In “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” hooks maintains that the only way for humans to make progress toward equality — toward achieving the “beloved community” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned — is by embracing love. Loving others, but almost more importantly, loving one’s self. This self love and acceptance means examining and acknowledging our own blind spots to racism, sexism, and classism so that we can begin to eradicate all forms of domination and oppression. “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.” —KS

2. Thoughts and Prayers in Cabot Square

Christopher Curtis | The Rover | November 30, 2021 | 3,399

In this heart-wrenching essay, reporter Christopher Curtis attends the Montreal street funeral of Elisapee, a homeless Inuit woman. As her friends gather on the street outside the unfinished condo block where her body was found, work on the building continues. Montreal does not spend long dwelling on such tragedies. Curtis’ haunting imagery highlights the city’s divisions: Above the spot where Elisapee was found, a poster for the new condo project features a glamorous woman and the slogan The exclusivity of life at the summit — a life, Curtis writes, “built on a haunted foundation.” This piece raises some important questions that I will keep thinking about: “Why do Indigenous people account for less than 1 percent of Montreal’s population but 10 percent of those living on the street? Why do women like Elisapee keep dying in unspeakable poverty? What has to happen for things to change?” —CW

3. Burying Leni Riefenstahl

Kate Connolly | The Guardian | December 9, 2021, | 6,500 words

It’s an ugly fact of history many Nazis were never punished for their complicity in Hitler’s regime. This was especially true for women who draped themselves in the myth that they had been oblivious bystanders. Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker and close friend of the Fuhrer, was one such woman. “Riefenstahl sought to distance herself from the regime she had served,” Kate Connolly writes, “portraying herself as an apolitical naif whose only motivation was making the most beautiful art possible.” Riefenstahl also mounted legal challenges “against those who had written or said anything about her that she disliked.” Many were successful, including her lawsuit against Nina Gladitz, a filmmaker who documented the forced labor of Romani extras in one of Riefenstahl’s projects — about 100 of whom are known or believed to have subsequently been killed at Auschwitz. The legal defeat transformed Gladitz’s life in remarkable, complicated ways. Connolly’s piece is a fascinating look at Gladitz’s four-decade, all-consuming obsession with Riefenstahl. “For most people, ‘pursuing the truth’ or ‘confronting the past’ are just platitudes or abstractions,” Connolly writes. “For Gladitz, nothing was more important.” —SD

4. Can’t You See That I’m Lonely?

David Ramsey | Oxford American | December 7, 2021 | 6,800 words

When you love a song, do you want to discover as much as you can about the person who brought you that bit of magic? David Ramsey does just this in his beautiful portrait of Fontella Bass, the woman behind the ’60s R&B hit, “Rescue Me.” More than simply a profile of a talented artist, Ramsey revels in the joy that comes from being together and hearing the music we love — a theme that persists for him. This essay reminds me of his thoughtful profile of Shovels & Rope from 2019, one where in loving detail, he describes the power music has to move the soul.

“Because when a song gets its hooks in you, it unfolds into stories, it latches onto memories, it colors in the margins of your life. And so our instinct is to seek to know the story of the singer, too. Her name was Fontella Bass…Some time soon you will hear it, you will hear her voice. It’s inevitable. You have heard it a thousand times, but then, you could say the same thing about thunder. I hope it’s at a party. I hope you see someone there who hasn’t been to a party in a very long time. I hope you start dancing. That, in any event, is my plan: I’ll be somewhere, dancing, too.” —KS

5. The American Addiction to Speeding

Henry Grabar | Slate | December 15, 2021 | 4,627 words

Having a lead foot myself, I may have been predisposed to enjoy a deep dive into the speed limit, but it’s hard not to think everyone would. As Grabar points out, speed-limit laws manage to invert the pyramid of risk, needlessly throttling speed on the nation’s relatively low-accident interstates while doing far too little to control fatally fast driving on smaller streets in densely populated areas. Meanwhile, the police use minimal speed-limit violations as a pretext for at-will traffic stops that disproportionately target Black drivers. Yet, in unspooling the history of the speed limit and discussing the options facing us, Grabar manages to resist a dry legislative review, instead finding the cultural resonances that put the issue in a more urgent (and relatable) context. “Enforcement is both inadequate and punitive,” he writes. “The cost is enormous. And the lack of political will to do something about it tracks with George Carlin’s famous observation that everybody going faster than you is a maniac and everybody going slower than you is an idiot. The consensus is: Enforce the speed limit. But not on me, please. Because while it would be nice to save 10,000 lives a year, it sure is fun to drive fast.” Read it as soon as you can — just not while you’re stuck in traffic. —PR