The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend stories by Bushra Seddique, Simon van Zuylen-Wood, Laura Mauldin, Kathryn Miles, and Lucas Mann.

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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Bushra Seddique | The Atlantic | August 15th, 2022 | 4,429 words

A year ago this week, Kabul fell to the Taliban. A year ago this week, Bushra Seddique tried to leave. At 20 years old, Seddique had never lived under a Taliban government, but as a journalist and a woman, she realized she could not stay. It was an agonizing decision; while a friend helped her and her youngest sister get a place on a flight, her mother and middle sister had to stay behind. This essay focuses on a seemingly small thing — the journey to the airport — but conveys so much. In an instant, Seddique’s prose pulls you closely into this tight-knit family, leaving you pulsating with the sisters’ turmoil as they reel between emotions. The joy: when after three days of waiting in fear near the airport, they are sent home and see their family. The grief: when the airport briefly opens again, forcing them to flee before saying goodbye. The excitement: when they are finally on a plane to a new country. The constant underneath it all is a deep sadness for a home that is disappearing, a place where just a few weeks ago “[p]eople were going out to sing and dance; music played in restaurants and taxis.” I vividly remember the scenes at Kabul airport playing out on the news last year: people clinging to planes, the bomb, the chaos, the filth. This essay takes you back — and removes any detachment you may have felt along the way. —CW

Simon van Zuylen-Wood | Vulture | August 17th, 2022 | 4,430 words

Each decade seems to bring with it a new version of social panic around hip-hop, generally rooted in sex or violence. In the ’20s, that mantle so far has been laid on drill rap, and especially New York City’s version of the scene. But while the moralizing around drill had already ramped up, the February 2022 murder of Bronx teenager Jayquan McKenley brought a simmer to a boil. And as Simon van Zuylen-Wood captures in this affecting look at the McKenley tragedy, it gave NYC mayor Eric Adams and many other people the perfect symbol for a crackdown. This is more than a profile of a sweethearted teen, though. It’s a sober, neutral-minded tour through the fallout of the drill scene’s uniquely inflammatory recipe, from the artists who engage in hyper-personal social-media baiting to the NYPD detectives whose investigations often collide with the music. It’s not a fun read, but it’s a necessary one. —PR

3. Care Tactics

Laura Mauldin | The Baffler | July 26th, 2022 | 3,204 words

I read a few tweet threads recently about Pottery Barn’s new line of accessible furnishings. While many people praised the upscale furniture company for this ADA-compliant collection, others noted it was yet another example of inclusive design led by abled people. This discussion came to mind as I read Laura Mauldin’s enlightening piece on disability hacks. We live in a world in which health care systems and tech innovators are more invested in shiny objects that don’t consider disabled people’s actual, basic needs. As Mauldin explains, disabled folks and caregivers often rely on their own simple but ingenious hacks, and lean on shared knowledge “to MacGyver their way through daily life.” Perhaps surprisingly, Amazon has emerged as an indispensable service for disabled people to get affordable and essential health care equipment quickly. Mauldin offers us an insightful look at how disability and caregiving communities use creativity and collaboration to make their worlds more accessible in a time when businesses and larger systems continue to fail them. —CLR

4. How Three Amateurs Solved the Zodiac Killer’s ‘340’ Cipher*

Kathryn Miles Popular Mechanics | August 9th, 2022 | 3,776 words

I’m not a true-crime aficionado. I’m not one of the people who’s watched David Fincher’s Zodiac a zillion times. But I like weird shit, and I like puzzles, and this Kathryn Miles tick-tock unpacking one of modern culture’s enduring cryptographic mysteries serves up both. For more than 50 years, an encoded note from the Zodiac Killer went unsolved, until a trio of sleuthing obsessives connected online and brought all their combined power to bear on the problem. (To be fair, they had a supercomputer too.) The solution process itself would likely be more at home in a slide deck than in a blockbuster narrative — essentially waiting for a computer to brute-force various combinations of solving paradigms — but Miles manages to squeeze some real glee from the proceedings. Or, hey, maybe that’s just me. —PR

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5. An Essay About Watching Brad Pitt Eat That Is Really About My Own Shit

Lucas Mann Hobart | Aug 16th, 2022 | 8,227 words

Meet Joe Black is a bad movie. It’s long, and slow, and pretentious. But it has one thing going for it, and that is Brad Pitt eating. Specifically, Brad Pitt licking peanut butter off a spoon, considering it with his tongue, and then asking for more. Watching this scene in the theater in middle school was a seminal moment in my sexual awakening. Needless to say, I clicked fast when I saw the headline of this essay. And I wasn’t disappointed: Lucas Mann uses Brad Pitt eating — in a number of films, but starting, rightly, with MJB — as a lens through which to consider his relationship to his own body and to the bodies of others, some of which he knows intimately, others of which he knows only from watching them on screen. It’s a lovely, surprising piece that makes me crave peanut butter, straight out of the jar. —SD