The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Rachel Aviv, Clare Gerada, Fatima Syed, Leslie Jamison, and Deb Olin Unferth.

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

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1. The Price of Admission

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | March 28th, 2022 | 10,600 words

I’ve started writing this blurb, erased my attempt, and started again a few times now. The difficulty of summarizing Rachel Aviv’s latest feature is a testament to how good it is, and how complex. What starts as the story of a teenager escaping an abusive parent, navigating foster care, and making a life for herself in the form of a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania, a Rhodes scholarship, and even a new last name pivots at a certain point to something else entirely: an examination of the narrow frameworks that powerful institutions impose onto trauma and suffering, an indictment of the unforgiving expectations society has of abuse victims, and a study in human resilience. Just read it. Then talk about it. We need to talk about it. —SD

2. ‘In my 30 Years as a GP, the Profession has Been Horribly Eroded’

Clare Gerada | The Guardian | February 22nd, 2022 | 3,707 words

This essay tells the story of two days: one in 1991, the other in 2021. On both days, Clare Gerada was on-call as a General Practitioner in London, but 30 years have brought immense change to life as a community doctor. This comparison offers a simple yet incredibly effective story-telling technique. Gerada made three house calls on her first day on call in 1991. Each person’s story was very different — from an addict with pneumonia to a little girl with an earache — but the care and time Gerada was able to take with each of them remained the same. Fast forward to 2021, her very last day on-call, and Cohen finds herself juggling numerous visits arranged through a call center, part of a “gig economy, as impersonal as the driver delivering a pizza.” Her patients have also changed, and she explains that “with advances of medicines and technology, patients are living longer, often with three or even four serious long-term conditions.” It has stretched the system into something thin and fragile. Gerada used to see the same patients for decades but “each patient I saw that day was a stranger, and each contact an isolated encounter. We would never meet again.” This piece paints a concerning picture, but one that warrants discussion. Gerada offers a clear-eyed, first-person insight into the healthcare debate in the UK. —CW

3. Plovers Quarrel: A Tiny, Endangered Bird Returns to Sauble Beach to Find Sunbathers Dug Into the Sand

Fatima Syed | The Narwhal | March 26th, 2022 | 5,029 words

Sauble Beach, a lakeside community and tourist destination on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, is currently the backdrop of a lengthy, expensive legal battle. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula was fined $100,000 for destroying the habitat of the piping plover: a tiny endangered bird that had vanished from the Great Lakes region for 30 years, until a pair suddenly returned to the beach in 2007. The community has since actively protected these birds, calling themselves “plover lovers.” But some people, including the town’s mayor, want a pristine shoreline of smooth sand for sunbathers and vacationers — and have raked and bulldozed the beach, scraping away the natural dunes and vegetation that plovers need to nest, breed, and live. So, who is this beach for? Can humans and plovers share the sand? This is a well-reported story from Fatima Syed on the battle within this community — and what it means to “damage” a habitat — accompanied by gorgeous photographs. (You’ll love the unexpected plover puns, too.) —CLR

4. Bright Passage

Leslie Jamison | Orion Magazine | March 11th, 2022 | 5,501 words

At Orion Magazine, Leslie Jamison explores her experiences in hospital and the necessary indignities and frustrations of being vulnerable. She recounts the heightened and dulled sensory experiences of recovering from surgery, a place where pain and numbness merge, a place where the patient is struggling to make sense of the world around her and the boundaries of a body now irrevocably changed: “Each time, I felt part of a world—just briefly, in passing—that was structured by a series of contradictory intensities: the simultaneous exposure and anonymity of sharing cramped spaces with strangers; the vulnerability and disconnection of needing strangers so badly; the intimacy and tenderness of bodily care alongside the brisk assembly-line necessities of caring at scale…Private lives become public. The nurses know your business, the other patients know your business, the doctors know your insides. The surgeons see your insides. Extreme emotion—whether desperation or relief—becomes impossible to contain, visible for all to see.” —KS

5. My Friend Goo

Deb Olin Unferth | The Paris Review | March 28th, 2022 | 3,463 words

“In March 2020 the entire human world was out walking,” begins Deb Olin Unferth’s charming, tender essay. We all remember that time; in those earliest days of terrifying mystery, the only thing we could do was find whatever unoccupied bit of the planet we could, and move through it. While most of us did so to avoid anyone and everyone, however, the writer found connection — with a massive goose she names Goo. There’s more to this story, as she reminds us throughout: a long-dead older brother, a strained relationship, the hostile vagaries of the natural world. Above all, as she recounts her growing intimacy with Goo, the essay serves as a paean to the idea of difficult friendship. There’s less of a wallop here than a prolonged, low-grade emotional ache; Unferth draws you through her life and loss with an unerring sense of pace, and from the very beginning you sense that there’s only one place this path can end. It does, of course, at least in a way. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hold your breath waiting for the punch to the gut. —PR