The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend stories by Michael Wilson, Joseph Bien-Kahn, Jason Anthony, AC Shelton, and Tom Breihan.

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.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Mystery Behind the Crime Wave at 312 Riverside Drive

Michael Wilson The New York Times | September 14, 2022 | 3,229 words

I don’t know what your usual media diet looks like, but there’s a little upstart out of Gotham that’s been serving up some riveting stories lately — and at the front of the pack is this empathetic profile from Michael Wilson. Every month, 911 dispatchers in New York City field dozens of calls about crimes in progress at an Upper West Side apartment building. Robberies. Stabbings. Self-harm. Elder abuse. All those calls are from a single man named Walter Reed. The thing is, the hellish edifice he’s calling about doesn’t exist. There is no 312 Riverside Drive. Wilson doesn’t string you along to learn that truth as a twist, though. Instead, he gets it out there immediately, so that he can spend the rest of the feature explaining what’s driving Walter Reed’s inescapable compulsion, and how the city’s social safety net is unable to get him the lasting help he so clearly needs. It’s not a mystery at all; it’s a frustrating tragedy. But it’s also a perfect example of the mind-changing, emotionally affecting journalism a newspaper feature can deliver. —PR

2. Roll With It

Joseph Bien-Kahn | Sports Illustrated | September 14, 2022 | 5,410 words

Ian Mackay was paralyzed 14 years ago in a bike accident, leaving the active 26-year-old with the physical abilities of an infant. The unconditional support from his mother Teena, an incredible friend network, and years of emotional healing have all helped Mackay rediscover his love for the outdoors. He first began to explore trails around his family’s home, testing his wheelchair’s limits. Eventually, he tackled weeks-long routes: 335 miles from B.C. to Portland, 476 miles from Coeur d’Alene to Port Angeles. But these rides, Joseph Bien-Kahn explains, are dangerous: Aside from the exhaustion of such challenging trails, Mackay can no longer regulate his body heat, and there’s also the risk of spasms, infections, and sores from sitting for long journeys. Still, he’s up for the adventure. “This wheelchair is my bike,” says Mackay. “I am of the firm belief that more people, not just the mobility-challenged, should get outside and pursue a passion.” Bien-Kahn goes to Sauvie Island to watch Mackay break a world record: the greatest distance covered in 24 hours by a motorized wheelchair. Through beautiful and tender writing, he tells an inspiring story about rediscovering oneself and finding new ways to do what you love. —

Jason Anthony | Wired | September 1, 2022 | 6,974 words

I have never tried LARPing (live-action role-playing), but I always thought it sounded pretty jolly. Adorn a suit of armor and vanquish someone else dressed as a dragon, that sort of thing. I was naive, for I had never heard of Nordic Larp. Jason Anthony enlightens me in his riveting essay describing these underground games — often played in northern Europe — that take players on dark “thinky head trips.” Anthony attends “The Future is Straight,” where players pretend to be at a gay conversion therapy camp. Reality switches at the end of a James Blake ballad, and things rapidly become bizarre. Reading, I found it hard to fathom why people would choose to put themselves through what ultimately seems a very miserable, disturbing experience. Anthony, too, grabbles with this question: “I try out a new theory on some of the players—that Nordic Larp is black licorice for the soul. By some neurological alchemy, all that sadness feels good.” Somehow, in choosing to re-create the worst possible version of his adolescence, Anthony finds catharsis, but I came away from this essay feeling unsettled. It is in itself a “thinky head trip” — one you won’t be able to stop reading. —CW

4. They Call Her Lamb Mom

AC Shelton | Outside | September 13, 2022 | 3,364 words

Growing up, I had a pet magpie. After the great storm of 1987 destroyed his nest, we found him in our garden — a tiny bedraggled thing with a beak spread astonishingly wide, blindly chirping for food. I proudly gave him the unoriginal name Chirpy, and my mum fed him cat food off the back of a teaspoon. He lived with us for years until, according to my parents, he “moved in with a girlfriend.” (Nowadays, doubts around Chirpy finding domestic bliss creep in.) The magpie turned out to be just the start of a parade of animals to pass through our doors, as people began bringing my mum — a renowned animal lover — creatures to nurse back to health. I remember a hedgehog family in the laundry, robins in the kitchen, pheasants in the downstairs loo, and my dad huffing. These memories flooded back while reading AC Shilton’s beautiful essay about caring for two sick lambs. It’s a simple tale, but one filled with emotion — both for the plight of the lambs and the sense of loss caring for them brings to the surface, as Shilton grabbles with not being able to have children. The prose is magnificent, and the scene of Sebastian the lamb getting to run with a mobility cart is particularly vivid. So too, however, is his passing, and I defy you not to shed a tear. Shilton explains it took a year before she felt she could write about Sebastian. I understand. One day, my mum added a duckling who couldn’t walk to our menagerie. Percy the duckling didn’t make it either: I cried for a week. —CW

5. The Number Ones: Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”

Tom Breihan | Stereogum | September 14, 2022 | 3,306 words

There was some stellar longform journalism published this week —  of Hasidic yeshivas, for instance, and Casey Cep’s damning look at how Johnson & Johnson is eschewing responsibility for consumer protection — but for this newsletter, I’m going to recommend a deep dive into one of the worst pop songs ever composed. I was 15 when “Butterfly” hit the airwaves. You probably know it; you might even be able to hum the hook or “rap” along to the chorus. It is not a good song. It might be a crime against art. But as part of his effort to review every #1 single in the history of the Billboard‘s Hot 100, Tom Breihan traces how “Butterfly” came to be, illuminating the currents of rap, rock, pop, and fan culture that led to the utterance of the lyrics, “Hey sugar mama, come and dance with me / The smartest thing you ever did was take a chance with me.” There are moments of deadpan humor and cameos by Paul Ryan and Nancy Meyers. Breihan makes the case that “Butterfly” manages to tip from bad into something else — “the kind of silly bullshit hit song that makes the world just slightly more fun.” I buy it. —SD