The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alexander Sammon, Amanda Chicago Lewis, Hannah Smothers, Adam Fales, and Matt Dinan.

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

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1. Ikea’s Race for the Last of Europe’s Old-Growth Forest

Alexander Sammon | The New Republic | February 16th, 2022 | 7,137 words

Sure, your baby’s new SUNDVIK crib is cute and modern, but do you have any idea where the wood came from? Romania has one of the largest old-growth forests left in the world, home to ancient and rare spruce, beech, and oak trees. Joining the European Union in 2007 opened Romania up to a massive market for this prized cheap timber, which fuels the fast furniture industry. IKEA, which makes big sustainability claims, is the largest individual consumer of wood on the planet; in 2015, it started to buy forestland in Romania in bulk and is now the country’s largest private landowner. But more than half of Romania’s wood is illegally harvested and, as Alexander Sammon intrepidly reports, what’s actually happening on the ground is not always legit and, in some cases, has turned violent. “Tracing any individual tree from forest floor to showroom presents a near impossible challenge,” writes Sammon. “As wood moves through the supply chain, it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down.” This is a dismal but gripping and important read. —CLR

2. Driving While Baked? Inside the High-Tech Quest to Find Out*

Amanda Chicago Lewis | Wired | February 15th, 2022 | 5,932 words

Getting intoxicated drivers off the road is an inarguable good. Exactly what “intoxicated” means for cannabis users, though, is a touch more arguable. THC’s fat-soluble nature means that a person can exceed the legal limit in multiple states a day after consuming, despite feeling absolutely nothing. Lewis, one of the most prominent journalists to have carved out a beat in this particular branch of botany, takes readers inside the struggle to reach a smarter standard, and the result is as thought-provoking and entertaining as you’d hope. Whether detailing the intricacies of a promising cognitive test or playing out the comedy of a stoney testing session, she’s able to capture both the science and the spectacle: “Without the usual context of a possible arrest,” she writes about the subjects and the supervising cops, “the vibe … veers from surreal to downright chummy, as if Tom and Jerry took a break from the endless chase to discuss the finer points of mousetrap methodology.” So sure, keep telling your friends you drive better when you’re high — maybe just read the piece first. —PR

*Subscription required. (The vast majority of the pieces we recommend are free to read online. Occasionally, we will share a piece that requires a subscription when we strongly believe that piece is worth your time.)

3. How Much is a Dog’s Life Worth?

Hannah Smothers | Texas Monthly | January 11th, 2022 | 2,017 words

A few weeks ago, I got my first dog — a rag-tag collection of breeds, somehow muddled together to make something that I consider perfect. Perhaps it was because I was sitting with my scruffy mutt as I read, but Hannah Smothers’ essay about the loss of her dog had me holding back the tears. Augie, a mixed-breed rescue puppy, was only a part of her world for 36 hours before a dog attack brought his short life to an abrupt end. Smothers’ emotion is raw, seeping out of her words as she describes the gut-wrench of coming across his little toys around the house and the nightmares forcing her to relive the attack again and again. The grief led to her reaching out to a lawyer to see if she could vindicate her lost puppy. The answer was a resounding no. According to Texas law, the only possibility would be to sue for economic value: amounting to about $50 for Augie — a dog of indeterminate breed. In 2013, a case did argue that pets should have sentimental value, but, as Smothers explains, the big guys stepped in: “Among them were the American Pet Products Association, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Kennel Club. They argued that if pet owners could sue for sentimental value, veterinary malpractice insurance premiums would skyrocket, and pet product companies would be hit with class-action lawsuits every time someone’s cat got sick from a can of food.” This is a fascinating debate, but this essay does not delve into the technicalities too deeply — it is the human emotion that makes it such a powerful piece. —CW

4. This House Is Still Haunted

Adam Fales | Dilettante Army | February 15th, 2022 | 5,200 words

Here’s how fascinating this essay is: My husband read it and promptly went out to buy one of the books it mentions (Desperate Characters by Paula Fox), which I in turn, having read the essay while he was out, stole from him so that I can read it first. In seven sections — which he calls, appropriately, “gables” — Adam Fales considers the motif of the haunted house in American literature and film and what it can teach us about how we as a society have approached the wrongs of our collective history. With references to an impressive range of sources, from The Fall of the House of Usher to Paranormal Activity, Fales argues that, “Locating evil in a haunted place lets Americans concentrate the past’s wrongness. The haunted house is a place where we deal with how things have gone wrong.” —SD

5. On Winter

Matt Dinan | The Hedgehog Review | February 1st, 2020 | 1,771 words

I was born and have lived all my life in a place known for the harshest winters outside Siberia. When people in other places say it’s cold out, I try to stay quiet. (After all, cold is relative and it’s all about what you’re used to.) The radio announcer declared yesterday a beautiful day. (It was -20 Celsius / -4 Fahrenheit. It was a lovely day.) But at this point in February, when winter is well ensconced and spring is still a distant dream, we start to think of moving somewhere, anywhere warmer. Matt Dinan, in his piece at The Hedgehog Review, understands reality in a winter community and my thinking around this time of year: “But if we are being honest, it really is quite hard to sustain the illusion that there is anything good about winter after the hundredth day or so of temperatures below freezing.” This terrific essay looks at cold through the lens of poetry and literature, as Dinan collects winter reflections from Henry Miller, Emily Dickinson, and others, and of how the people of winter communities regularly faced with heavy snow and dangerous conditions help one another to get through it: “When a snowstorm is coming, we’re called on, in a relatively low-stakes way, to evaluate, deliberate, and decide—together…Schools, businesses, government offices, sports teams, choirs, volunteer groups, families, friends—every part of civil society needs to decide whether it’s worth staying open, going out, or hunkering down at home…The edifying character of winter, then, has less to do with heroic individualism than with its capacity to force us into something less common: community.” —KS