The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Maurice Chammah, Jeff Weiss, Rasha Elass, Danielle Tcholakian, and Lila Shapiro.

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

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1. Anatomy of a Murder Confession

Maurice Chammah | The Marshall Project and Dallas Morning News | January 18th, 2022 | 6,600 Words

“They put us together…and tell us that we can do whatever we want, as long as we solve cases.” That’s what James Holland, a Texas Ranger and media-dubbed “serial killer whisperer,” once said about the Rangers’ work on unsolved murders. The person he said it to was James Driskill, a suspect in a cold case, and Holland wasn’t kidding: To pin the murder on Driskill, the Rangers used hypnosis, deception, a “hypothetical” confession, and other investigative methods criticized by criminal justice experts and advocates as dramatically increasing the risk of convicting an innocent person. Which is exactly what Driskill, now serving a prison sentence, and his legal team say happened to him. Maurice Chammah’s story about Holland’s questionable techniques, which aren’t isolated to Driskill’s case, is as jaw-dropping as it is expertly crafted. —SD

2. The Assassination of Drakeo the Ruler

Jeff Weiss | Los Angeles Magazine | January 13th, 2022 | 6,842 words

The heyday of hip-hop magazines like XXL and Rap Pages might be behind us, but there’s still a cadre of thoughtful, incisive journalists chronicling the culture in a way that transcends the usual artist profiles and album reviews. One of my favorites of the past few years has been Weiss, who has become an ardent keeper of the L.A. flame, creating compelling portraits of hometown heroes like 03 Greedo — and here his gifts are on full display, though they’re the sour fruit of a tragedy. In December, when Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler was ambushed backstage at a music festival and fatally stabbed, Weiss was feet away. The two had kindled a relationship over the years, one that had begun under the auspices of journalism but evolved into friendship; now, over the course of nearly 7,000 words, Weiss braids together Drakeo’s all-too-short life with his own journey of grief. Proximal but never predatory, it peels back the myth to reveal a young man who sought to put his sprawling city on his back, even though it meant a collision course with a grisly fate. This isn’t music journalism; it’s human journalism. —PR

3. The Day My Wartime Cat Went Missing

Rasha Elass | New Lines | January 14, 2022 | 6,368 words

In this unexpected essay about living in wartime Syria, Rasha Elass writes about her adventures over the past decade with her two cats, Pumpkin and Gremlin, whom she adopted as kittens in Abu Dhabi. In 2010, before the Arab Spring, Elass goes to Damascus, where she was born, in the hope of connecting more deeply to the place of her birth. Conflict and civil war, however, make this impossible; Elass describes day-to-day life in the capital as both a resident and a journalist: the mortar attacks and the bombs, the hostile checkpoints and the dangers of reporting in rebel-controlled areas. But through it all, Pumpkin and Gremlin are there — watchful witnesses, beloved companions — as cats are. “When the war starts the cats will continue to soften the rough edges of the humans around them, even those who become agitated and brandish Kalashnikovs.” You don’t need to love cats to enjoy this essay, but if you do, you’ll certainly understand the bond Elass has with hers. —CLR

4. I Got Sober in the Pandemic. It Saved My Life.

Danielle Tcholakian | Jezebel | January 19th, 2022 | 2,371

Here at home, we would have a couple beers and probably a glass of wine every evening during that first year of the pandemic. We drank to have something to look forward to. (Well, at least there is a cold amber ale or two — or three — awaiting me at the end of yet another long day.) We drank to avoid the reality of the case and death counts here and elsewhere. We joked about it, a dark humor that helped justify and enable our choice of coping mechanism. But as Danielle Tcholakian recounts in her brave and poignant essay at Jezebel, alcohol became a weighted blanket that suppressed not fear, not self-loathing, nor the world at large, but a necessary perspective shift — one that life with less alcohol, or in Tcholakian’s case abstinence — could bring. Tcholakian’s piece recounts deep, dangerous depression. That’s where our experiences diverge, though the evolution in mindset she describes so well is something I recognize. “Maladaptive behaviors create what I imagine to be rutted little canals in our wiring, like scratched up dive bar tables…But over and over, pushing forward through these feelings that I previously would’ve poured alcohol over got me to a place I couldn’t have understood.” This piece is clear and deeply compelling: While we all experience and respond to the world and its stressors in different ways, we all feel scared and helpless at times. In being so vulnerable, Tcholakian reminds us of the most important thing, so often forgotten while we snuggle with the black dog: we are not alone. —KS

5. The Undoing of Joss Whedon

Lila Shapiro | Vulture | January 17th, 2022 | 8,989 words

The ’90s were a different era — a time before Netflix binging — when a whole agonizing week passed between each episode of your favorite show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on Fridays at 7 p.m., and I was either ready on the sofa or scrambling to record it on VHS tape. I loved it! To me, Buffy was a symbol of “girl power” (a beloved ’90s phrase), a young blonde woman finally playing the hero rather than the victim. Lila Shapiro, however, writes that the show can be interpreted differently: “the titillating tale of a woman in leather pants who is brutalized by monsters.” Disconcerting for me to consider, but in line with the recent revelations about Joss Whedon, Buffy‘s creator.

Shapiro has carried out extraordinary research for this article, interviewing Whedon’s former colleagues and lovers, as well as Whedon himself. Once a god to his fans, public revelations from his ex-wife and former cast detailing affairs with young actresses and casual cruelty have led to his fall. People are conflicted about whether he was merely difficult or crossed the line into abuse, and Shapiro finds no clear answers. Whedon is keen to deflect blame, claiming that, with regard to affairs with cast members, “He felt he ‘had’ to sleep with them, that he was ‘powerless’ to resist.” An uncomfortable and frustrating read — which may tarnish some childhood memories — but a brilliant exploration into the ruin of Whedon’s reputation. —CW