Here are five stories we recommend this week. Visit our editors’ picks to browse more recommendations, and sign up for our weekly newsletter if you haven’t already:
Get the Longreads Top 5 Email
Kickstart your weekend by getting the week’s best reads, hand-picked and introduced by Longreads editors, delivered to your inbox every Friday morning.
Thomas Hale | Financial Times | November 2, 2022 | 3,902 words
After visiting a bar in Shanghai where a COVID-19 case is detected, Thomas Hale is whisked away to a close-contact quarantine facility on an island somewhere north of the city — “the kind of place that finds you, rather than the other way around.” Hale stays in a small shipping container-like cabin with an iron bed and other basics. (Interestingly, the internet connection is 24 times faster than at his hotel.) Although he never tests positive, he remains there for 10 days, and keeps to a routine that includes language study, work, exercise, online chess, and streaming TV. When he’s able to open his door or wander around, he has conversations with workers and other “residents,” which are captured in the piece as unexpected moments of human connection in an otherwise eerie place. Hale offers a chilling look into China’s zero-COVID approach, which uses constant testing, contact tracing, quarantines, and lockdowns to stop community transmission. This particular facility, “P7,” is one among many, and just a glimpse into a vast monitoring system, workforce, and way of life that most of us outside of China cannot fathom. —CLR
Sam Edwards | Guernica | October 18, 2022 | 2,646 words
In leaving Algiers, Mohammed wanted to escape compulsory military service and seek adventure. He knew there would be danger along the way. “His life at home was bearable, he said. But he wanted something more.” What Mohammed didn’t count on was spending years in a makeshift migrant camp in Spain, as his paperwork winds through the byzantine asylum process. As Sam Edwards reports at Guernica, the delays are punitive and performative; some rich countries want to make it difficult to enter. “Melilla had become a de facto holding cell for asylum applicants — and a symbol of two increasingly common trends in how rich countries handle asylum cases. Refugees are detained ‘offshore’ while their applications wind through the system; wait times drag on as applications pile up, and ‘host nations’ seem to deter future migrants by making those who are already there more miserable.” —KS
Kim Cross | Bicycling | November 3, 2022 | 6,878 words
Whether I’m on my feet or on a bike, I love climbing. Love it. (My wife hates this, especially when we’re hiking and I shift gears without realizing it.) It’s not the pain involved in the effort that attracts me; at least, not entirely. It’s more that the climb — or, rather, finishing the climb — in some way physically embodies the idea that hardship is temporary. It’s mindfulness in corporeal form. But all the lofty platitudes in the world don’t change the fact that I have no earthly idea how Braydon Bringhurst operates. Kim Cross’s profile of Bringhurst and his unfathomable quest to ride up one of mountain biking’s most brutally technical descents, known as The Whole Enchilada, makes that very clear. It’s partially his outlook, honed in part by taking the same sports-psychology class 10 times in college. It’s partially his otherworldly proprieception, which made him excellent at airborne sports from slopestyle skiing to pole vault. But there’s something else lurking in there too, and I suspect it’s the same something that fuels people like Eliud Kipchoge and Alex Honnold: the drive to do the impossible, paired with the absolutely certainty that you can. It’s never not fascinating to read about, and in this case Cross pairs it with an unerring descriptive eye that manages to turn the intricacies of the climb into something we mere mortals can understand. No matter the hill in front of you, you’re bound to take something from this. —PR
Jaq Evans | Truly*Adventurous | October 11, 2022 | 5,334 words
As it sets the opening scene, Jaq Evans’ essay reads like a thriller: As the light fades, two thieves search among the stones atop the Second Mesa on the Hopi reservation. It is a search that is fruitless until one of them sees an unnatural divot. A divot that affects the course of their lives for years to come. It marks the entrance to a cave where the pair find four figurines they later steal, planning to sell them on the black market. The figures are a family: Dawn Woman, Corn Maiden’s Husband, Corn Maiden, and Corn Maiden’s Daughter. Central to the religion of the Hopi, they are regarded as living entities. When they go missing, the Hopi priests hear them crying in the night, longing for home. After the theft, the essay gracefully morphs into a supernatural tale. The thieves see the faces of the figurines in their dreams and struggle with misfortune after misfortune. Desperate for a release from what they see as a curse, they sell the family of deities at a cut price — but still, remain haunted by them. I, too, found myself haunted, gripped by their story, hoping for an ending where they all return home together. Discovering their true fate was a gut punch. —CW
Matti Friedman | Smithsonian | November 7, 2022 | 5,377 words
I love visiting supermarkets while traveling, perusing aisles of foods both familiar and not. An Armenian grocery in the San Fernando Valley introduced me to pinecone jam. A store in Bishkek surprised me with its wide array of ketchup options. Then there was the supermarket in Abu Dhabi that boasted a bar filled with nothing but dates: big ones, small ones, stuffed ones, fresh ones — and in a rainbow of brown or orange hues. Until then, I’d had no clue there were so many varieties. Matti Friedman’s feature about the sumptuous fruit is equally surprising and instructive. It traces the date’s history from ancient times to the present and posits that the fruit tells the long, complicated story of the Middle East. Friedman takes readers on a tour of mythology, architecture, and empire; inside a Jurassic Park-style genetic experiment involving “resurrected” date palms; and into the halls of an agricultural conference about the future of the date in a fraught world and changing climate. By the end of reading this piece I felt enriched — and hungry. —SD
Help us fund our next story
We’ve published hundreds of original stories, all funded by you — including personal essays, reported features, and reading lists.