The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jason Fagone, Shannon Gormley, Nickole Brown, Jason Kehe, and Abe Streep.

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

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1. The Man Who Paid for America’s Fear

Jason Fagone | The San Francisco Chronicle | March 2nd, 2022 | 14,500 words

This is the definitive story of Hamid Hayat, a man wrongfully convicted of terrorism, sentenced to prison on his 25th birthday, and finally set free after 14 years behind bars. It is a profile, yes, but it is also a deep, unflinching examination of just how ugly and far-reaching Islamophobia became in America after the 9/11 attacks. True to form, author Jason Fagone — whose work was featured in our Best of 2021 collection — offers readers a master class in structure. When I read the closing anecdote, I said aloud, to no one in particular, “Damn.” —SD

2. The Airport

Shannon Gormley | March 7th, 2022 | 15,807 words

“I say I’ll get them out. I mean this, too. But in Afghanistan whatever we meant turned to sand; what we did is the only trace we left behind. In time our actions, also, will be subsumed by the actions of others, like the wind moves tracks across a desert plain.” Shannon Gormley self-publishes a breathtaking narrative about her friend’s escape from Afghanistan as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Gormley weaves her own personal story of her time in the country, as well as the backstory of her friendship with Asghar, in this meditative piece. Through exquisite yet gripping writing, Gormley conveys the gravity of the situation on the ground as she calls on colleagues to help Asghar get his wife Zahra, his 4-month-old son Farhan, and himself to safety once they reach Kabul’s international airport. I read this slowly and steadily one evening, gasping at times. It’s a long read — even by Longreads standards! — but well worth the dive. —CLR

3. On Memory and Survival

Nickole Brown | Orion Magazine | February 9th, 2022 | 2,348 words

In this deeply moving essay at Orion Magazine, Nickole Brown relates how routine dissociation and an inability to form memories helped her cope with childhood trauma. While dissociation protected Brown from memories of childhood abuse, it also left her unable to recall moments of beauty. In one instance, she struggles to remember an aggregation of monarch butterflies seen from a New York City high-rise not long after 9/11, a kind of random yet all-encompassing beauty that helps fend off despair amid the ongoing horrors of climate change and worldwide human suffering. After encountering the body of a vulture that died entangled in fishing line and willing her brain to remember the bird, Brown discovers that remembering is more important to survival than forgetting: “So what is it I need to learn well enough to recite by heart? Why work so hard to verify a cloudburst of butterflies migrating so long ago through the busiest part of one of the busiest cities on Earth? Why struggle to memorize a vulture who likely starved upside down? Because survival has to do with remembering what you most do not want to face. It has to do with not turning away, in believing your own testimony, in writing it down. We must keep remembering in case one day another needs that memory to survive.” —KS

4. Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation

Jason Kehe | Wired | March 9th, 2022 | 3,518 words

True story: When I started working here, the very first thing someone asked me was “What do you think of simulation theory?” What I said to him then is what I’m saying again now: I’ve always thought of it in the same way as the existence of life elsewhere in the universe. In other words, the idea that our reality is in fact some gargantuan digital illusion may sound nuts, but it’s nearly impossible for it not to be the case, even if that truth never touches our lives in a perceptible way. That also happens to be the perspective of Wired‘s Kehe, though he unspools it in delightfully loopy fashion in this essay that’s part provocation, part book review (of David Chalmers’ recent Reality+), and part excuse to play with language like a young Stephen Fry. There’s an argument in here, and an interesting one, but there’s also a real joy — which is seldom the case in tech criticism, or technophilosophy, or whatever you want to call that realm of rhetoric concerned with teasing out the implications that we’re all actually inside a video game. This is unlike anything else you’ll read this week, and it may just be the thing you remember most. —PR

5. The Great American Antler Boom

Abe Streep | The New Yorker | March 7th, 2022 | 5,307 words

I found myself engrossed in Abe Streep’s account of a subculture I knew very little about — didn’t know existed, in fact — the world of the shed hunter. Initially, I suspected a shed hunter was someone who ambles into the woods to take a casual glance about to see if a deer antler catches their eye. I was wrong. Streep illuminates me with vivid descriptions of shedder social media stars, furious bidding wars, and the May hunt — which sounds more like an intense endurance race. At 6:00 a.m. on May 1st, public lands in Jackson are opened up to antler seekers, and Streep describes the ensuing mad scramble, where people “raced across the water and ascended into tawny meadows. One rider was bucked off his horse and injured himself. A teen-ager from Montana alleged that someone stole an antler he had spotted first.” This story made me consider both the foibles and ingenuity of the human race; it was fascinating to learn of the obsessions and livelihoods formed around a bone that another animal discards as waste. It is very human of us. —CW