The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend notable features and essays by Katie Barnes, Rachel Handler, Alex Hawkins, Lila Shapiro, and Raksha Vasudevan.

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. Signs of Life

Raksha Vasudevan | Hazlitt | June 28th, 2022 | 5,827 words

My introduction to French writer André Breton was in college, during a course on Luis Buñuel, which opened my eyes wide to surrealist cinema. I remember watching films like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie for the first time, slipping into worlds where dreams invade everyday life. I thought about this interplay of the familiar and the bizarre while reading this essay by Raksha Vasudevan, in which she recounts her time as an aid worker in southern Turkey. She describes the surreal experience of remotely leading a team in a war zone just 45 kilometers away in Syria, as she performed daily tasks on her laptop — like tallying civilian injuries and deaths in Excel — while holed up in a purple-walled room. “I was far from war, physically,” she writes. “But still, it wormed into my consciousness, refusing to be brushed away into the realm of things abstract and distant and therefore ignorable.” Vasudevan beautifully reflects on this time, making thought-provoking insights on surrealist art, secondary trauma, and the surreality of both tragedy and love. —CLR

Katie Barnes | ESPN | June 22nd, 2022 | 5,000 words

One of the most underreported stories in recent memory is WNBA player Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia, where officials say they found cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. Griner has been behind bars since February; this week she pleaded guilty to drug charges, seemingly in hopes of leniency. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed published in April, Griner’s agent explains why her client was in Russia in the first place: the gender pay gap, which forces many WNBA stars to play in international leagues in the off-season. Which brings me to Katie Barnes’s excellent feature about another WNBA powerhouse, Jonquel Jones, who as a Black, queer woman has yet to achieve the same cultural and commercial prominence as straight, white, and/or more conventionally feminine women in the league. “In wbb you gottah be the best player, best looking, most marketable, most IG followers, just to sit at the endorsement table,” Jones recently tweeted. “Thank God for overseas.” Taken together, Griner’s and Jones’s stories are timely reminders of the misogyny and racism many female athletes must contend with, in order to do what they love. —SD

Alex Hawkins | GQ | July 5th, 2022 | 3,705 words 

I have not spent much time contemplating men’s hair, but it appears other people have — with a whole industry based around creating brand new hairlines. Turkey is its epicenter, and in this essay for GQ, Alex Hawkins takes you along as he travels to Istanbul to get an unknown person (presumably a doctor) to “cut 4,250 holes in my head.” He is not alone: “Every morning at breakfast—a never-ending buffet that sprawled over at least 20 tables—there were several lonely-looking guys sitting by themselves, their heads newly shaved, at various stages of post-operation rawness.” People head to Turkey for this unique breakfast experience for an age-old reason: It’s cheap. But with budget hair transplants come budget frills, and Hawkins gets about 30 seconds to choose a lifelong hairstyle. He chronicles his story with great humor and honesty, and I hope he’s happy when his new hairline grows in. (It takes about a year before you get to see your new hairdo, so there’s still a while to wait.) —CW

Lila Shapiro | New York Magazine | July 5th, 2022 | 7,122 words

I’ve always loved comedy, yet over the years the form gave rise to certain cultural phenomena I just couldn’t connect with. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, for one. Rick and Morty, for another. But nothing made me run faster in the opposite direction than cringe comedy — specifically, the kind that conscripts an unknowing non-actor into a web of ever-ratcheting discomfort. And nothing has done that quite like Nathan Fielder’s beloved series Nathan For You. Now, with Fielder’s return to TV imminent, Lila Shapiro pierces his persona to find … basically the exact same person lurking underneath. The profile manages to wring out laughs and pathos in equal measure, though rarely from Fielder himself. Instead, the piece’s finest moments come courtesy of Fielder’s collaborators (intentional and otherwise), who embody exactly why so many people adore his work — and why so many others feel burned by their unwitting role in it. —PR

Rachel Handler | Vulture | June 29th, 2022 | 13,400 words

I love the movie Contact, which for the uninitiated is about a female scientist who makes contact with aliens that provide schematics for building a machine that eventually carries said scientist through a wormhole to encounter said aliens. The movie came out when I was 11, and I saw it twice in theaters. I’m pretty sure I forced it on friends at sleepovers. Later, for a high school project in which we had to compile scenes from movies that helped explain our worldview — I think we were learning about the concept of zeitgeist, and in retrospect the assignment doesn’t make much sense, but I digress — I chose at least one scene from Contact. All this is to say: I’ve been waiting 25 years for an oral history of the movie, and here. it. is. I gobbled it up. I came back for seconds. My only complaint? Not enough John Hurt. “Wanna take a ride??” Trust me, you do. —SD