The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend notable features and essays by Jackie Flynn Mogensen, Justin Heckert, Gloria Liu, Sharon Levy, and Mychal Denzel Smith.

We read a number of stories across the web this week, and you can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what you may have missed. Among this week’s #longreads, here are five standout pieces that we recommend.

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1. A Plane of Monkeys, a Pandemic, and a Botched Deal: Inside the Science Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

Jackie Flynn Mogensen | Mother Jones | June 23rd, 2022 | 6,566 words

In May 2020, a plane full of monkeys intended for COVID-19 research was supposed to depart Mauritius. But it never did. Who purchased the monkeys? Where were they supposed to go? When Jackie Flynn Mogensen looked into the failed flight, and began to investigate the secretive global trade of research monkeys, she found there was an even bigger story: The U.S. is experiencing a primate shortage, and there aren’t enough monkeys for research across many areas of medicine. Primate research has led to life-saving discoveries over the decades, but it remains controversial, with no guarantees, despite animal testing guidelines, that animals are treated properly. “But no matter how you or I feel about it,” Mogensen writes, “it’s clear the practice has saved—and is saving—human lives.” This is a fascinating dive into the monkey trade and the players within it, like Matthew Block, who’s been a target of animal rights groups for years and, as you’ll read, is the owner of the company who arranged the flight. Mogensen also reports on a few alternatives, like lab-grown organs, but we’re still a long way from a world without animal testing. —CLR

2. Jason Brassard Spent His Lifetime Collecting the Rarest Video Games. Until the Heist.

Justin Heckert | Vanity Fair | June 27th, 2022 | 5,900 words

I can count on my hands the number of video games I’ve played in my life, and the only way I ever won a round of Mario Kart in middle school was by shoving my friend off the couch in the den where she kept her console. But even as an uninitiated reader, it was impossible not to become invested in this story of a man who amassed an impressive collection of old and rare games, only to have them stolen in one fell swoop. A satisfying true crime tale, much more Knives Out than Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, this piece features quirky characters who work at game stores with names like Grumpy Bob’s Emporium. It’s also a poignant meditation on nostalgia and how we assign value to objects that speak to our past. I needed a distraction from the barrage of terrible news this week, and Justin Heckert delivered. —SD

3. One Woman’s Wholesome Mission to Get Naked Outside

Gloria Liu | Outside | June 13th, 2022 | 3,100 words

It may come with being British, but growing up I was very prudish about nudity. A communal changing room meant an elaborate wiggle dance under a towel, into a swimming costume that would have met with Queen Victoria’s approval. Upon moving to the Pacific Northwest, I found more liberal attitudes toward nudity, and I relate to Gloria Liu as she discusses her jealousy of “friends who were less inhibited, so comfortable in their own skin.” Liu takes us on a gentle journey as she attempts to emulate these friends, and go naked outside. Spoiler alert: She makes good progress and ends up describing a beautiful nude night hike, where “Taking my clothes off with others wasn’t the exercise in courage or cutting loose that I thought it would be. It was an exercise in faith. To be naked, I had to believe that the world could be good. And tonight it feels like it can be.” This essay starts by considering nakedness — but ends up reflecting on friendship and the importance of building memories. —CW

4. How the Yurok Tribe Is Bringing Back the California Condor

Sharon Levy | Undark | June 22nd, 2022 | 3,433 words

Condor 746, on loan from a captive breeding program in Idaho, traveled to California in spring 2022. He’s the first California condor in over a century to reach the ancestral land of the Yurok Tribe, and made the journey to mentor four young birds in a condor facility in Redwood National Park. Condors are very social, explains Sharon Levy, learning best and benefitting from being under the wing of an elder. In this piece, Levy beautifully traces the journey of the species, and the incredible efforts of the tribe to ensure the bird’s successful reintroduction to the wild. It’s an insightful look into what it takes for captive breeding programs to work over time: creative solutions, dedicated biologists, and — in the condor’s case — monitoring for lead poisoning. (And a bonus: there’s an amazing photo of a chick next to a hand puppet — the first condors reintroduced were reared by puppets!). —CLR

5. The Confessions of a Conscious Rap Fan

Mychal Denzel Smith  | Pitchfork | June 28th, 2022 | 2,287 words

Hip-hop has had subgenres nearly as long as it’s had the spine of a breakbeat, but at some point it was riven by a more seismic distinction: mainstream vs. underground, and specifically the rise of “conscious” rap. Mychal Denzel Smith was one of the many people who internalized that stance, who viewed hip-hop as a vessel of liberation and awakening to a degree that became an identity of its own. That was then, though. Now, with the 2022 return of Black Star and Kendrick Lamar — both avatars and resurrectors of conscious rap — Smith interrogates his onetime fandom, as well as the evolution (or lack thereof) of the music itself. “I was artificially limiting my perspective,” he writes, “in the name of some grand vision of consciousness that never cohered into anything other than my own sense of intellectual superiority.” This isn’t a discussion about art vs. artist. It’s a coming to grips with our own reductive tendencies, our willingness to flatten ourselves in the name of aesthetic belonging. If you’ve found that the backpack fits a little bit differently these days, this piece will help you notice where the straps are chafing. —PR