The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Sasha Archibald, Michael W. Clune, Victoria Livingstone, Danyel Smith, and Drew Magary.

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

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1. Love and Longing in the Seaweed Album

Sasha Archibald | The Public Domain Review | March 9th, 2022 | 2,500 words

The news of 2022 is like an anvil weighing down on our collective psyche. This week, I found myself hungry for a read that felt like a relief — a collection of words that would inspire delight, not despair. This essay delivered. It’s the quintessential example of a factoid-filled piece you read and then find yourself immediately (and perhaps annoyingly) telling people about. Me to a friend: “Did you know that seaweed collecting in 19th-century England was a feminist activity?” Also me: “It’s possible that seaweed collecting inspired George Eliot to start writing fiction.” Me again: “Tweens once exchanged seaweed albums like kids now trade Pokemon cards!” Sasha Archibald writes with grace and humor, and she shows how, far more than just a charming pastime, the bygone practice of seaweed collecting intersected with the wider currents of history. It’s a breath of sea air. —SD

2. Night Shifts

Michael W. Clune | Harper’s Magazine | March 4th, 2022 | 6,731 words

I’ve always been fascinated by my dreams. I’ve made attempts to become more attuned to them over the years, but the books on lucid dreaming I’ve bought or the notepads I’ve kept on my nightstand to jot down middle-of-the-night notes end up collecting dust. These days, I’ve given up viewing sleep as a state I can control: my experiences with sleep paralysis — and my sleep apnea, whose treatment requires bulky hardware — make me feel completely powerless. So I read Michael W. Clune’s essay on dream incubation, the shaping of dreams according to a dreamer’s chosen words or images, with great interest. Clune takes us along for the ride as he tries a prototype of the Dormio, a device that enables you to shape the images that appear during hypnagogia, the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. He explores thought-provoking questions about the mind and its potential for creativity once we’ve lost conscious control of our own thoughts, and what this might mean for the future — including more dystopian possibilities. I’ll end with a line I haven’t stopped thinking about: “Just below the surface of wakeful awareness, just a minute or two under it, everything is change.”—CLR

3. What Lies Beneath Hip-Hop’s Swagger

Danyel Smith | The New York Times Magazine | March 11th, 2022 | 2,391 words

The NYT Magazine‘s annual music issue hit a special gear this year, from Hanif Abdurraqib’s “sad bangers” paean to Jody Rosen’s exegesis of scam rap. However, one piece in particular was so dialed in, so sleek and powerful, that I had to get up and walk it off once I’d gotten to the end — and I’m not speaking metaphorically. Danyel Smith’s bonafides have long been indisputable: from running Vibe and Billboard to the recent Black Girl Songbook podcast, she’s been part of the music journalism firmament for more than 30 years. And here, she takes the measure of aggression and identity within hip-hop (“I am a fan, and I want all the smoke,” she writes early on), tracing it from today’s young nihilists back to her own early engagements with the genre. The magic isn’t simply in the threads she extends, yarn-mapping Moneybagg Yo and Kash Doll to Golden Age artists like LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, but in how she traces the underlying terrain that made that map necessary. “Spoiler alert: The bombast is a response, a defense, a pose, a stance,” she writes. “It’s magic, and it seduces. But it’s labor. Under threat of a variety of harms, you have to camouflage your soul. So if I’m tired — of always staying ready, so I never have to get ready — imagine the music-makers themselves.” Make time today. —PR

4. The Shape Of Walking

Victoria Livingstone | Joyland | March 15th, 2022 | 1,524 words

As Victoria Livingstone recounts the early days of the pandemic and the uncertainties about being around people — even outdoors — she retraces the many steps she took in a local park, observing others as they too navigated a familiar communal space that at the time, felt like uncharted territory. As the pandemic continued, Livingstone walks and walks. As her young daughter emerges from a stroller to take her own first tentative steps, Livingstone mulls the varying shapes and directions her essay could take as well as the simple and oh-so-necessary pleasures of discovery: “By spring of 2021, when pandemic restrictions briefly eased, she was running: a bouncing toddler run, more up and down than forward. She ran towards the swing-set or to the dandelions or to someone walking a dog or to a park bench or to a piece of trash that looked like a treasure or to the geese sitting in the middle of the field. Her direction was often impossible to predict…I struggled to write this essay even when I believed I was the singular author. Now my daughter continually reminds me that our steps intersect with the movements of those around us in illegible patterns. The rhetoric of walking resists order.” —KS

5. Under The Big Sky

Drew Magary | Defector | March 7th, 2022 | 2,443 words

As a teenager, I loved the Baz Luhrmann song “Everyone’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” but it was not until much later that I learned to appreciate the line, “Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they are gone.” A couple of ski accidents and a knee surgery later, I sure do miss those springy youthful knees. These lyrics were in my head reading this beautiful essay. Like the song, it is a lesson on how to get the most out of life — even when your body does not work in the way it once did. It’s a gentle piece — Drew Magary simply reminiscing about skiing with his Dad, his friends, and his family — but the writing draws you in, letting you share his happiness. Over the years, this joy becomes peppered with frustrations as new limitations appear: “I could feel my thighs and spine ready to burst as I held crucial turns. When I felt myself going too fast, I reflexively dragged my poles behind me, as if that would slow me down any. Skiing will expose you like that.” But, even while dragging his poles, Magary is still awed by simply being on a mountain and declares he will keep skiing even as his body and ability deteriorate, “It’s not about conquering the mountain. It’s simply about going there. A mountain is a god.” A sentiment with which I concur — even with my dodgy knees, I also still ski. —CW