The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend notable features and essays by Jason Fagone and Alexandria Bordas, Jennifer Senior, Lachlan Summers, Lupita Limón Corrales, and Anna Wiener.

Here are this week’s standout stories from across the web, and if would like to find more you can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed.

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1. It Was a Secret Road Map for Breaking the Law to Get an Abortion

Jason Fagone and Alexandria Bordas | The San Francisco Chronicle | July 10th, 2022 | 6,195 words

Before Roe vs. Wade, there was “the List”: a secret document that helped 12,000 people get safe abortions in the 1960s and ’70s. Created by Patricia Maginnis, a former U.S. Army nurse, the List began as an activist project and evolved into a clandestine yet well-organized health care system that spanned multiple countries, notably Mexico, which was viewed as the best, most affordable option at the time. Fagone and Bordas sift through a trove of Maginnis’ documents, including letters from desperate women seeking access to competent providers, and describe what some of these women had to go through to get the vital care they needed. “If you don’t know about the past, you cannot learn from the past,” said Karen L., one of the women who got an abortion in 1968 with the help of this underground network. The List, a “road map for breaking the law” when abortion was illegal, now provides a blueprint for the present. —

2. American Rasputin

Jennifer Senior | The Atlantic | June 6th, 2022 | 10,500 words

It’s hard to write about liars and megalomaniacs who are also raging bigots — which is to say that profiling the people angling to shove America fully over the fascist brink requires being able to recognize, endure, analyze, and contextualize hateful bullshit. Jennifer Senior was up to the task — no surprise for the most recent Pulitzer Prize winner in feature-writing — in her profile of Steve Bannon, who just this week agreed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. Senior paints a picture of a dumpster fire and implores readers not to look away: Bannon, she explains, is a powerful agent of chaos, keen to leave “a smoldering crater where our institutions once were.” Senior’s use of first-person perspective and text messages in her storytelling is expert. So too is her depiction of Bannon’s slippery relationship with facts and ethics. (OK, in the latter case there’s no relationship at all.) It’s hard to come away thinking Bannon will tell the truth in his congressional testimony, unless it serves his goal of “attempting to insert a lit bomb into the mouth of American democracy.” —SD

3. Deep Time Sickness

Lachlan Summers | Noema | July 14th, 2022 | 3,699 words

Mexico City’s two most significant earthquakes happened exactly 32 years apart, in 1985 and 2017. Both further destabilized what is already a miracle of geology: As Lachlan Summers puts it, CDMX is, seismically speaking, a “floating city.” For many residents who lived through one (or both) of these quakes, such disruptions were neither beginning nor end. These tocado — touched as they are by a combination of PTSD and vertigo — find themselves assaulted by sensory reminders of the entropy around them. “Cracks in a wall, shifts in the Earth’s surface, the angles at which buildings lean,” Summers writes, “people who are tocado have geological sensors that foreground the indicators of the city’s ongoing collapse.” A PhD student in anthropology, Summers has spent years speaking with the tocado, and posits their difficulties as the result of temporal collision: the epochal irrupting into the timeframe of lived human experience. This is a piece that delivers poetry and terror in equal measure, a quiet awe at the enormity and fragility of our physical world. And in a week we all spent marveling at the images from the James Webb Space Telescope, it serves as a crucial reminder that the infinite doesn’t lurk solely overhead — but all around us, in every fissure and foundation. —PR

4. There are Trees in the Future, or, a Case for Staying 

Lupita Limón Corrales | Protean | June 24th, 2021 | 2,887 words

“Why struggle to stay?” asks Lupita Limón Corrales in this essay on pandemic life, reimagining both public and private space, and living in California — which, for many, has become impossible. I’d realized after reading the piece that it was published last year, but these observations still feel so fresh, as I continue to ask myself questions in the face of constant devastating news: Should we leave? Is everything pointless? What are we even doing? I’m most drawn to the musings on our changing relationship to space, such as the movements the privileged among us have been able to make, and how those shifts have affected other people and the ecosystems around us. (Who wins and who loses in this remote work revolution?) Corrales reflects on an uncertain present, but considers a future — one where communities mobilize and people come together — with much-needed optimism. “Maybe rather than asking ‘Should I leave or should I stay?’ we should ask, ‘In which versions of the future can everyone have a choice?’” I share this one in the hope that you, too, may benefit from its beautiful insights. —CLR

5. The Weird, Analog Delight of Foley Sound Effects

Anna Wiener | The New Yorker | June 27th, 2022 | 6,185 words

There is something lovely about an essay that includes the phrase, “I need more ka-chunkers,” and Anna Wiener’s dive into the bizarre world of Foley sound effects is endlessly delightful. I love learning about things that I never even knew were a thing. I assumed that sound effects were always added post-production in some soulless studio. I was wrong: The sound of E.T.’s movements — just one example — is raw liver sliding around in a packet and “jello wrapped in a damp T-shirt.” Wiener finds that although “technology has changed the process of recording, editing, and engineering sounds … the techniques of Foley have remained stubbornly analog.” Wiener spends time with the Foley artists at Skywalker Sound, and their passion is infectious. As I read, I found myself starting to listen differently: Could slurping this cup of tea be an alien slug sliding off his chair in his intergalactic spaceship? Could munching this packet of crisps be centaurs rustling through the forest? Our soundscape is truly amazing, and this vivid, information-rich article will truly make you hear. —CW