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A glimpse into what it’s like to have aphantasia. An account of escaping wildfire in Yellowknife. A profile of an NBA-reporting phenomenon. An essay about taking control of one’s own story. And a read on meat and the English language.
Marco Giancotti | Nautilus | October 4, 2023 | 3,644 words
Marco Giancotti has aphantasia, which means “the absence of images” in Greek. Ask him to picture a top hat or recall a sound or a smell and he can’t imagine it. He has trouble remembering events unless he can deduce their timing by assembling facts such as where he was living and the people in his circle at the time. For Nautilus, Giancotti does a terrific job breaking down his lived experiences and the studies he’s participating in so that science, society, and the lay reader can begin to understand more about this fascinating condition. “As soon as I close my eyes, what I see are not everyday objects, animals, and vehicles, but the dark underside of my eyelids. I can’t willingly form the faintest of images in my mind,” he writes. “I also can’t conjure sounds, smells, or any other kind of sensory stimulation inside my head.” What’s most beautiful and poignant about this piece is how, by learning more about aphantasia and contributing to its study, Giancotti comes to appreciate his condition as an example of what makes humanity so beautifully diverse. “The question I started with—what’s wrong with me?—was both rhetorical and itself wrong. The better question is one we all ask ourselves at some point: ‘What makes me who I am?’” Can you imagine how much better our world would be, if we all dared to do so? —KS
Jessica Davey-Quantick | Maclean’s | October 5, 2023 | 3,842 words
This September, I saw flames licking up the side of a hill near my house. The smoke spiraled above in thick, sinister plumes while the taste of bonfire invaded the once-crisp air. I was lucky: my local wildfire was controlled before evacuation was necessary. Many in Canada were not so fortunate. Nearly 200,000 Canadians were under evacuation orders this summer, Canada’s worst wildfire season since records began. Jessica Davey-Quantick was one of them, fleeing her home in Yellowknife as the area burning across the Northwest Territories reached roughly the size of Denmark. She left reluctantly, boarding one of the last evacuation flights with her cats—Allen and Bruce—squeezed in beside her. Her account is one of both fear and the mundane logistics of evacuation travel, a mixture that makes this piece incredibly relatable. When she finally reaches her destination, the wait begins. She waits to see how long before she can go home. She waits to see if she has a home. When she finally does return, the sky is still smoke-filled. I know how that feels—days on end of murky light, filtered through a hazy lens, air that clings hot and heavy as claustrophobia creeps up to envelop you. This apocalyptic atmosphere brings reality home, as it does for Davey-Quantick, who ends her piece with a desperate plea: Climate change is screaming at us. We have to listen. —CW
Reeves Wiedeman | Intelligencer | October 11, 2023 | 6,695 words
In The New Yorker this week, Choire Sicha tells Kyle Chayka that he pegs 2014 as the beginning of the end of social media. Coincidentally, that’s the same year that a young sports journalist named Shams Charania landed his first big NBA scoop. As it turns out, tweeting first about an impending trade wouldn’t just turn him into a first-name-only phenomenon among basketball fans; it would eventually place him at the dead center of sportswriting’s current existential crisis. Reeves Wiedeman isn’t the first to profile Charania, as he did this week for New York’s Intelligencer vertical. He is, however, the first to do so in a way that lays bare the larger forces set in motion by Charania’s ascendancy: chiefly, The New York Times’ decision to disband its sports department in favor of The Athletic, its $550 million acquisition that just happens to be Charania’s current home. Wiedeman has written stories far more cinematic—2021’s “The Spine Collector” and 2018’s “The Watcher” come to mind—but there’s something undeniably pleasing about how this acts as both unflinching profile and business story. As much as Charania’s indefatigable M.O. is the stuff of legend (and no shortage of resentment from his competitors), it happens to be a prime example of how journalism has been subsumed by that formless extrusion known as “content.” Yes, during the offseason a good #ShamsBomb delivers a frisson. But as a representation of how we consume and share information, it might also be laying waste to its surroundings. —PR
Emily Fox Kaplan | Guernica | October 2, 2023 | 6,552 words
Spellbound. This isn’t a word I use often. But rarely does a piece mesmerize me like this one. Emily Fox Kaplan recounts growing up with an emotionally abusive and manipulative stepfather (who is also a prestigious surgeon). Smartly written in second person, Kaplan uses the power of voice and narration to take back control of her story, shifting effortlessly between her perspective as a child to self-assured present-day narrator. “And you’ll realize, too, that a person can tell a story any way she likes; that the same story — a little girl who loves to read — can be told as a horror story or a fairy tale, depending on the choices of the author.” It’s a tense read, likely triggering for some people, about the power of “bad men” and the effects of toxic family dynamics. But it’s also a brave piece, and I’m glad Kaplan could tell it. —CLR
C Pam Zhang | Eater | October 3, 2023 | 1,300 words
I love words. (I know, shocking.) I am also a vegetarian. So it was with delight and horror that I read C Pam Zhang’s piece all about the English language—and meat. Have you ever considered why most animals are shielded by a fancy term once they hit a plate? Why is it a beef bourguignon, not a cow casserole? Zhang muses extensively on this prissiness—while spatchcocking a chicken, as a student at Cambridge, no less. It turns out (like many things in England) it has to do with the French. And class. Zhang explains: “The names of the living animals have Anglo roots, whereas the names of the ingredients came from the French—a trademark of Norman conquerors who, in the 11th century, hoped to subjugate the ‘savage’ Natives of the British Isles.” (The humble chicken managed to keep its name by being considered peasant food, not worthy of a new anointment.) Zhang compares this coyness with words in Mandarin, where pork can literally be labeled “pig flesh.” It’s a fascinating and fun essay, with the added pleasure of imagining the smell of baked chicken guts wafting down the hallowed halls of Cambridge and into the nostrils of disgruntled young lords who like their veal marinated. (Helped by the marvelous illustration of a chicken running down said halls.) While a little shorter than our usual Longreads offerings, you can’t say “spatchcocked” without encountering some joy, so I hope you will forgive me. —CW
Our most-read editor’s pick this week:
Alexander Chee | Guernica | October 2, 2023 | 2,587 words
What is a monster? Why has a fictional character like Dracula stayed in our minds through the centuries? In this piece for Guernica, Alexander Chee asks us to revisit and sit long and hard with Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic while also considering the modern real-life evils of our world. Chee also makes connections between the story and Stoker’s potentially queer love triangle with Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, the latter a possible inspiration for the Count himself. The essay is the foreword to a new edition of the novel, published by Restless Books. —CLR