The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jane Mayer, Priscilla Long, Claire L. Evans, David Alm, and Sophie Haigney.

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

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1. Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court?

Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | January 24th, 2022 | 6,800 words

Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement was the big Supreme Court news of the week, but don’t sleep on this disturbing story about Clarence Thomas’s wife’s many, many ties to right-wing groups and figures—including ones directly involved with major SCOTUS cases. Perhaps you read about Ginni Thomas expressing support for the January 6 insurrectionists and the lie that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. But did you know she sits on the advisory board of a conservative academic group that filed an amicus brief in the affirmative-action suit that SCOTUS just took up, or that she was a paid consultant at a “security” organization when its leader filed a brief supporting Trump’s Muslim ban? Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg in this damning story, reported by one of the great chroniclers of U.S. political power. Above all, Jane Mayer calls much-needed attention to the fact that SCOTUS is not bound by a code of conduct, the kind of rules that would prevent such egregious conflicts of interest. —SD

2. On Writing: An Abecedarian

The Hudson Review | Priscilla Long | January 24th, 2022 | 4,430 words

Sit down to savor Priscilla Long’s evocative musings on writing. Long’s essay, structured in fragments inspired by the alphabet, is a lovely journey across history, across ancient books and literary texts, and comments on so much: from the emergence of writing to the transformative experience of reading, from the age-old desire to write to the different ways of saying and seeing: “To be inside the cathedral of a language is to be inside a particular view of the world.” My husband made an interesting comment recently about his current online reading habit, in a time when so many distractions shatter our attention. Reading, for him, has become transactional — he reads to get practical information. The remark, which made me a bit sad, came to mind as I got deeper into Long’s piece. This is not that kind of read: it’s a treat, like a glass of my favorite red wine, and a nudge for me to take the time, for once, to read for myself and enjoy the space that writing creates. —CLR

3. Searching for Susy Thunder

Claire L. Evans | The Verge and Epic Magazine | January 26th, 2022 | 6,815 words

Depending on when you grew up and how much you cared, you may not know the name of any famous hackers. (Other than one named Neo.) But I defy even dedicated Luddites not to get sucked into Evans’ then-and-now tale of Susan Thunder, the most formidable phone “phreaker” (and prolific groupie) you’ve never heard of. Evans’ 2018 book, Broad Band, chronicled many of the women who laid the groundwork for the internet; now, consumed with the legend of Thunder, she sets off to find out what motivated that legend, and separate myth from truth. What makes it compelling isn’t merely the hunt for a woman who has no interest in being found — it’s what happens when she is found. From the Leather Castle to dumpster dives to DEFCON conferences, Evans weaves a twisting tale of deceit, manipulation, empowerment, and regret. Come for that, but stay for a visual design that unerringly evokes the days when all someone needed was a landline and some social intuition to take the power back from the system that had already robbed them of so much. —PR

4. After She Escaped Her Strict Religious Community, There Was No Turning Back

David Alm | Runner’s World | August 6th 2020 | 5,737 words

This essay shows us just how powerful sport’s mental lift can be. David Alm describes how running carried Connie Allen through a dark time in her life, giving her the strength to leave an ultra-Orthodox sect of Hasidic Judaism, Satmar. Connie found running on her own; it was not acceptable in the Satmar community, which rejects modern life and maintains the customs and dress of their Hungarian ancestors. Instead, writes Alm, Connie locked herself in her room to first do “jumping jacks, then high knees, then running in place…nearly passing out from the effort.” It was a way for her to carve out a small piece of her own identity, a seed that grew over the years until eventually, she rejected her old world. This piece provides a fascinating insight into Hasidic life and how hard it is to leave. By the time Connie is standing, shivering, on the starting line of her first 5K in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, you feel a real sense of pride. —CW

5. Mementos Mori

Sophie Haigney | The Baffler | January 27th, 2022 | 1,851 words

When was the last time you saw an ashtray? I don’t recall, but I do remember the heavy, green glass ashtrays my parents used every day. Growing up, my brother and I had to do the dishes. I refused to wash those ashtrays, my only form of protest against their pack-a-day habit. Ashtrays are among the objects that Sophie Haigney discusses in her review of Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects at The Baffler. The book’s essays cover objects that, for one reason or another, failed or fell out of fashion. It asks: “What was it that has disappeared and why? And then, what was the significance of this loss?” The loss of some things, such as ashtrays — for some — is nostalgic. There’s less nostalgia for zeppelins, all-plastic houses, and flying boats. What I enjoyed most about Haigney’s review is that it got me thinking about a social change that seemed to happen instantly, but in reality took place over decades. As Haigney responds to Catherine Slessor’s essay: “Ashtrays are no longer status symbols, displayed waist-high in suburban living rooms. Now, there is something illicit about possessing an ashtray, associated as it is with the mild rebellion of smoking cigarettes.” Slessor writes, “The ashtray is not only an adjunct to social pleasure, but a memento mori, a reminder that you are dancing with death.” —KS