The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jeremy Redmon, Alex Perry, Jeremy D. Larson, Kevin Nguyen, and Egill Bjarnason.

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

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1. “I’m Still Alive but Sh*t Is Getting Wild”: Inside the Siege of the Amarula

Alex Perry | Outside | June 1st, 2022 | 20,187 words

Stop me if you’ve heard the plot before: Westerners descend on Africa in search of valuable natural resources, hellish chaos ensues. This version of the story, though, is far more complicated. For one, it sets the predatory global remote-construction industry — in this case, working to establish infrastructure for imported natural-gas workers in Mozambique — on a collision course with a local ISIS affiliate known as Al Shabab. On the other, it culminates in a series of events that’s as maddening as it is hopeful as it is tragic. Alex Perry manages to reconstruct a multi-day standoff and escape attempt with cinematic exactitude, folding in centuries of context and colonialism to create a marathon piece that leaves you exhausted in more ways than one. —PR

2. Tell the Kids I Love Them

Jeremy Redmon | Oxford American | June 1st, 2022 | 3,695 words

Donald Lee Redmon was a husband and father, a man with a sharp, dry wit. He was a decorated Vietnam war combat veteran, and an accomplished member of the U.S. Air Force who took his own life after a diagnosis of total disability. In this essay at Oxford American, his son Jeremy, who was a teenager at the time of his father’s death, explains how he became a journalist and entered the military to try to understand the singular event that had shaped his life. “But after studying everything I have gathered about him, I have formed my own beliefs about his decision. His illness caused him severe pain, robbed him of his ability to support himself and his family in uniform as he had for seventeen years, and drove him into a deep depression.” Jeremy Redmon maintains that despite the anguish and unanswered questions, his father’s death has shaped him in unexpected ways. “My father’s suicide carved a deep gash in me. Though that wound has been a source of intense pain, it has also given me a greater capacity to experience joy. These are the best days of my life.” —KS

3. On The Woes of Being Addicted to Streaming

Jeremy D. Larson | Pitchfork | May 23rd, 2022 | 3,423 words

During a recent audit of the subscriptions we pay for, my husband suggested we cancel our Spotify accounts, something I’ve been considering for months. Among other things, I miss the satisfying, deeper journey of listening to albums — of listening with intention. Even so, I shuddered at the idea of getting rid of the streaming service. In this piece, Jeremy D. Larson explores the loss of the “textured and unique connections” we used to have to music, the homogenizing effects of playlists that are seemingly curated for us (when, in fact, we’re all just stuck in Spotify’s “mushy middle,” serviced the same popular tracks over and over), and the “fabricated reality” of the app. “I have personalized my experience enough to feel like this is my music, but I know that’s not really true,” writes Larson. Is Spotify an addiction? Has it changed our lives? Sounds dramatic, but the answer to both is yes. Larson’s piece reminds me of other thoughtful essays, by Jason Guriel and Kyle Chayka, on consumption in the age of streams and algorithms. Dive into all of these for a nice mini reading list on the topic. —CLR

4. A Once-in-a-Lifetime Bird

Kevin Nguyen | The Verge | May 31st, 2022 | 6,040 words

I would not call myself a bird watcher. I do not own binoculars, do not have a bird app on my phone, and do not conduct many bird-related discussions. However, underneath this nonchalance, there may be a twitcher waiting to get out. Each spring, I am delighted to dust off my bird feeder and quickly get to know my regulars. If someone different appears it’s an event, and I will sweep to the window, phone in hand, ready to google the new guy. According to environmental educator Sheridan Alford, I am already part of the birding gang: “To see a bird is to bird!” This inclusivity is what Kevin Nguyen finds as he explores the birding world. He also discovers joy, with everyone keen to tell him about their “spark” moment — that instant you see something that inspires you to be a birder for life. Nguyen’s case study, Chris Michaud, even uses birding to get through alcoholism, a breakup, and lymphoma, reaching a birding pinnacle when he sees a redwing, his “once-in-a-lifetime bird.” Redwings are common in Europe but had not been seen in America. This one was no Christopher Columbus however — it only reached new lands because a low-pressure system had flung it across the Atlantic, an increasing issue due to climate change. Nguyen points out the irony: Thousands of people totted up their carbon footprint trying to see this unusual bird — only there because of us. —CW

5. It’s 10 P.M. Do You Know Where Your Cat Is?

Egill Bjarnason | Hakai Magazine | May 17th, 2022 / 3,900 words

I am writing this blurb with my cat, Trouble, sitting on my lap, as is her wont lately during work hours. Once upon a time she preferred to nestle between my husband’s arms while he typed on his laptop. What changed? Who knows. Cats are fickle. They are wonderful. They are also, as this essay details, murderous. With equal doses of love, humor, and scientific data, Egill Bjarnason illuminates the danger that free-roaming (aka outdoor) cats pose to other species they see as prey — birds, namely, which are especially vulnerable on islands like Iceland, where Bjarnason lives. In cultures accustomed to letting cats prowl in yards and alleys, coming inside only when they please, the notion of keeping them indoors at all times or, as some towns in Iceland are making a matter of policy, after an evening curfew can feel like a betrayal. How to navigate this conundrum? Bjarnason offers some suggestions. I for one am happy to keep Trouble in our apartment, where she routinely directs her killer instinct at the mice that sometimes take up residence under our stove. My husband once claimed, his eyes wide in horror, that he witnessed her swallow one of them whole. RIP Mr. Mouse, but better you than a rare bird. —SD