The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend longreads by Janelle Nanos, Paloma Pacheo, Radley Balko, Claire McNear, and Tad Friend.

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

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1. Kate Price Remembers Something Terrible

Janelle Nanos | The Boston Globe Magazine | July 28th, 2022 | 11,329 words

I would be remiss if I didn’t start by noting that Janelle Nanos’s story contains graphic details of childhood sexual abuse — some readers may want to proceed with caution, or not at all. Should you choose to click through, you will find a feat of narrative journalism, as propulsive as it is compassionate. As an adult, Kate Price, an authority on child sex trafficking, began to remember being abused by her father, grandfather, and other men. But no one believed her. Even she wasn’t sure she could trust her memories. So, in collaboration with Nanos over roughly a decade, Price went looking for evidence of what her brain told her had happened. I won’t reveal what they found; readers should experience it in the context of Nanos’s excellent prose. I’ll just say that the piece took my breath away. Twice. —SD

2. Where There’s Smoke

Paloma Pacheo | Maisonneuve | June 24th, 2022 | 5,764 words

Although no wine connoisseur, I have been to the Okanagan Valley — a wine region in British Columbia — several times. I enjoy sitting on a vineyard patio, cockily swirling a big glass round and round while I pretend to detect oaky notes or hints of grass (all I smell is the reassuring whiff of alcohol.) The last time I was there, the air was also sadly filled with the smell of smoke as wildfires burned across the region. Although I feared for properties in the area, it never crossed my mind to consider the wine itself; but for those who can taste the difference between a cab sav and a merlot, the tinge of smoke is a growing concern. In this essay, Paloma Pacheco persuades several Okanagan winemakers to discuss the threat of “smoke taint” — still quite a taboo topic outside the industry. The taint occurs when compounds in woodsmoke bind to sugars in a ripening grape’s skin, and with wildfires growing in intensity each year, the risk of wine tasting, in Pacheco’s words, “like you’re licking the bottom of an ashtray,” has grown in many wine regions. Wine is a low priority in the many challenges of a burning world, but Pacheco points out that “the solutions that winemakers and growers have adopted represent a form of resilience many of us can learn from.” A riveting read. —CW

3. Code Snitching

Radley Balko | Nashville Scene | July 28th, 2022 | 8,219 words

Nashville isn’t the only American city to have seen a recent spike in both population and gentrification; it’s also not the only city to have a byzantine set of zoning codes governing what can and can’t happen on a person’s property. But when you put those two things together, as Radley Balko explores in this investigation, you get a perfect storm of bureaucracy-perpetuated inequity. Real-estate developers and property-value-minded neighbors anonymously call the Metro Codes Department on longtime residents, many of whom are older, Black, and poor — and almost none of whom (Balko included) can fight the compounding deluge of citations. That’s not even considering the bloated city council that’s uniquely susceptible to lobbying from housing associations, and thus not exactly disposed to address this syndrome at the root. Yet, in this case, change may be in the offing: Nashville Scene has already published a follow-up story detailing the ensuing uproar, which includes mayoral pledges and a whole lot of neighborly strife. Every time a hedge fund guts a local paper or alt-weekly, it jeopardizes the future for pieces like this. —PR

4. Moral Panics Come and Go. Sex Bracelet Hysteria Is Forever.

Claire McNear| The Ringer | July 29th, 2022 | 3,000 words

I remember laboring over sociology essays on classic moral panics such as the Mods and Rockers (two British youth subcultures, supposedly rather fond of beating each other up.) However, I never learned about parents getting flustered over colorful jelly bracelets. Luckily, Claire McNear is here to fill me in with this captivating essay on why seemingly innocuous bands became labeled as sex bracelets and banned from schools across the U.S. McNear explains, in far more entertaining terms than any of my turgid tomes on the topic, how the fear behind a moral panic is a “perception problem.” In this case, people assuming “the generation or generations behind them are more salacious.” There is little evidence that middle schoolers in the early 2000s were actually busy snapping bracelets to indicate sex acts — it was all far more Brady Bunch than the grown-ups would ever have suspected. —CW

5. Sam Taggart’s Hard Sell

Tad Friend | The New Yorker | Aug 1st, 2022 | 9,497 words

Where do I even begin to endorse Tad Friend’s safari into the world of modern-day door-to-door salespeople? First, I guess, would be the disclaimer that this sort of subculture piece is catnip for me. I’m a sucker for industry argot, from “bageling” to “tie-downs” to the BOLT system. I’m a sucker for play-by-play annotations, as when Friend details the conversations that Taggart — would-be king of the “knockers” — has with the folks unlucky enough to answer the door and expose themselves to his white-toothed psychological siege. I’m a sucker for anything that plumbs the depths of alpha-bro “performance” thinking, foreign as it is to my character. But that’s only the starting point. What Friend delivers here is a portrait of the want that plagues so many of us, a want for success that’s really a want for redemption. It fuels the cold calls, the seminars, the mind games. “Failure is abhorrent because it can induce a contagious loss of faith in the whole enterprise,” he writes. That was likely the case in the days of Fuller brushes and vacuum cleaners, and it’s certainly the case today, with the knockers peddling home-security systems and high-commission solar panels. Somehow as devastating as it is entertaining. —PR