The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jason Fagone, Sukhada Tatke, Annie Sand, Starr Davis, and Falene Nurse.

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

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1. What Bullets Do to Bodies

Jason Fagone | HuffPost Highline | April 26th, 2017 | 7,799 words

I’m breaking from tradition here and highlighting a story that’s already been in one of these newsletters, and as a top pick no less. The circumstances demand it. On Tuesday, a gunman armed with two legally purchased AR-style assault rifles slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in a single classroom at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. As authorities worked to identify the victims, they asked parents to provide DNA samples. What’s unspoken in this detail is that the dead children were unrecognizable, or so mangled that it would have been an unimaginable cruelty to ask their parents to look at them. I can’t get this fact out of my mind, and it prompted me to re-read one of the best pieces of explanatory journalism in recent memory. Almost exactly five years ago, Jason Fagone spent time with the head of trauma surgery at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia to understand the damage that bullets do to bodies. What Dr. Amy Goldberg had to say about the Sandy Hook massacre could be said today about the shooting in Uvalde: “As a country, we lost our teachable moment…. The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” America is a country where the mass murder of children is followed by mourning and forgetting, but never action: Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of gun control legislation since Sandy Hook. Until that changes, Goldberg’s comment will be relevant again in another community, at another school. It’s only a matter of time. —SD

2. Man of Culture

Sukhada Tatke | Fifty Two | May 20th, 2022 | 4,280 words

Many scenes in Sukhada Tatke’s origin story about a bacterium found in the soil of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) feel plucked out of a movie: A ship full of Canadian scientists and doctors, landing on a mysterious island to collect samples from its inhabitants and the land. A Punjabi microbiologist who makes one last batch of this culture and stores it in his freezer after his lab deprioritizes his research. Then, some years later, fascinating experiments on mice confirming that this molecule — rapamycin — is a “life-saving wonder drug” that can save millions of lives, including organ transplant patients and people with cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Tatke tells the remarkable story of this scientist, Surendra Nath Sehgal, and a medical discovery that has brought hope to so many. —CLR

3. On Metaphors and Snow Boots

Annie Sand | Guernica | May 23rd, 2022 | 2,821 words

Have you ever felt pain that stabs, throbs, or tingles? Have you ever felt mentally stuck or scattered? At Guernica, Annie Sand suggests that the common metaphors we use to describe physical and mental pain and illness are reductive, in that they fail to truly describe what it’s like to endure a body and/or mind causing us trouble. “When we use metaphor to conceal the unknowable, we make symbols out of human beings and allegory out of experience. We reduce our own pain to a precursor, a line item, a weather report…There is a cost to romanticization, to needing metaphor too much. Things — people — are easier to destroy when they’re an abstraction.” She suggests that to truly convey our individual experiences, we need to create metaphors of our own. “I wonder instead if the answer is not to abstain from metaphor, but rather, each time society tries to wheat-paste an ill-fitting metaphor over our lives, to offer one of our own…I collect them: latitude of many storms, thaws that come and go, clouds that squeeze. In a strange way, thinking about anxiety as weather lets me slip past society’s questions of why, and how long, and are you seeing someone about this? It sets me loose from the terrible calculus of justifying my minute-by-minute expenditures. It leaves those unanswered questions of cause and cure off the table.” —KS

4. The Funk of Poverty

Starr Davis | Catapult | May 25th, 2022 | 3,088 words

To say I loved this essay feels wrong, because I despise so many of the things that informed this essay. A road out of hardship, splashed with the oil of bureaucracy. Get-by mechanisms that are only “coping” in the loosest, most fleeting sense of the word. Relationships that confine or harm; a world that tells you in no uncertain terms that it simply does not value you. But the love at the center of this piece — the love Starr Davis’ mother had for her, and that she in turn has for her infant daughter, that glows ember-like despite buffeting headwinds — turns it from a litany of pain into a catalog of perseverance. “I have never met a happy mother,” she writes. “All the mothers I know are crazed, tired, or selfishly dragging themselves away from their children. My biggest fear is becoming those types of mothers. The types of women who forget their dreams or, worse, stop dreaming altogether.”—PR

5. How The “Mother Of Yoda” Conquered Hollywood — And Why She Disappeared

Falene Nurse | Inverse | May 3rd 2022 | 2,767 words

Growing up, two of my favorite films were The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth. The worlds they created enthralled me — filled with magic, weirdness, and ethereal beauty. Iconic to this day, they were pulled from the impressive imagination of Jim Henson, but, behind the scenes, there were other magicians at work — the puppeteers. In this profile of Wendy Froud, Falene Nurse explains how she sculpted The Dark Crystal’s puppet leads, Kira and Jen (her first job out of art school, no less). In The Labyrinth, she lent not just her talent to the production; her baby, Toby Froud, played the child kidnapped by the Goblin King (a.k.a David Bowie in leggings so tight they came with a free anatomy lesson). Froud was even part of the force that created a certain little Jedi, earning her the nickname “the Mother of Yoda.” Yet, after this gluttony of ’80s icons, Froud seemingly disappeared for many years; Nurse reveals how CGI gradually destroyed the art of the puppet and Froud’s disdain for the Hollywood scene. Then in 2019, some new magic happened: Netflix commissioned a prequel series, The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance. Froud was brought back on board to help recreate the elegance of that world — real puppets and all. And guess what? Baby Froud, now all grown-up and freed from David Bowie, worked with his parents on The Age of Resistance as the Design Supervisor. Now that’s a Hollywood ending. —CW