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This week’s edition highlights a series of dispatches from Gaza, a true-crime story about a family of turtle hunters, an essay on the literal messiness of death, a portrait of the last lighthouse keeper in the US, and a can’t-miss profile of a legendary basketball coach with a complicated legacy.
Atef Abu Saif | The Washington Post | October 30, 2023 | 5,279 words
This week marks a month since, in response to attacks by Hamas, Israel launched a campaign of unconscionable violence against the Palestinian people. As of this writing, Israel has slaughtered more than 10,000 men, women, and children. Much has been written about the unfolding genocide—it should not be controversial to use that word—and this stark diary of life under siege is among the most arresting. A raw draft of history, its contents began as voice notes that Atef Abu Saif, a novelist and the minister of culture for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, sent to friends abroad. He was in Gaza, enjoying a morning swim, when the bombing began, and he describes the horrors of the present through the crucial lens of the past. “I often think about the time I was shot as a kid, during the first intifada, and how my mother told me I actually died for a few minutes before being brought back to life,” he says. “Maybe I can do the same this time.” This memory, like many in the diary, is a stark reminder that Israel has oppressed Palestinians in a system of apartheid built on the heels of the mass dispossession of their land 75 years ago. And that is the wellspring: the violence that begets more violence in a devastating cycle. “Just as life is a pause between two deaths,” Atef Abu Saif says, “Palestine, as a place and as an idea, is a timeout in the middle of many wars.” —SD
Sonia Smith | Texas Monthly | November 7, 2023 | 5,973 words
I was hooked from the first line of Sonia Smith’s true-crime tale about the elusive alligator snapper—a large species of turtle found in the southeast US—and the Louisiana family of prolific hunters who poached them for decades. The snapper was declared endangered in the ’70s in Texas, which allowed a protected population to multiply. But that didn’t stop the Dietzes from crossing the border to capture and smuggle them home to sell, the carloads of turtles so heavy they’d sometimes blow out the engine or overwhelm the brakes. Smith’s piece unravels like an engrossing movie. The Dietz relatives, whose lives are deeply embedded in the bayou, are fascinating characters, and so is the Marine-turned-wildlife inspector who grows determined to catch them. My favorites, though, are the two enormous turtles, Brutus and Caesar, who are undoubtedly the most memorable characters by far. —CLR
James McNaughton | Guernica | November 6, 2023 | 5,369 words
James McNaughton’s brother Conor died of an overdose at 27, relapsing after two years of sobriety during which he built a successful roofing business. McNaughton bookends this essay with scenes where he and his family are clearing out Conor’s apartment, literally cleaning up what his brother left behind. Death and grief are messy, and Conor’s passing was no different. But in the face of the sheer force of death, it’s the subtlety of McNaughton’s writing that will knock you flat: “We stopped by Publix and rented a Rug Doctor. We signed a contract on the counter that said we would return it clean.” That last sentence is filthy with nuance, as is the whole piece. McNaughton deftly juxtaposes those there to help with those who prey on vulnerable people like Conor, struggling to stay sober. He exposes the scurrying cockroaches using Conor to further their own agenda, those out to make a quick buck off a distressed sale, off the distressed family of the deceased. This is by no means an easy read, whether you’ve lost someone dear to you or not. But sometimes braving what’s dark and messy—equipped with only words as a beam of light to shine on the dirty work of grief—is the one way you can try to get clean. —KS
Dorothy Wickenden | The New Yorker | October 30, 2923 | 4,500 words
Sally Snowman is the 70th keeper in the history of Boston Light lighthouse. She is also the first woman. And the last. When Snowman retires, the station will be “unmanned”—“unwomaned,” as she puts it—and Boston Light will go the way of many a lighthouse before it. (The United States currently has about 850 lighthouses, but only half are active, and these use automated eclectic lamps.) In this lovely ode to a dying profession, Dorothy Wickenden looks at the history of Boston Light: tragic deaths, minimal pay, unbearable loneliness, and madness. It’s a ride. There’s also stuff on the mechanics of lighthouse lenses, if you’re into that sort of thing, but for me, it was Wickenden’s honest descriptions of lightkeeper life, with only the “moan of the foghorn and the ceaseless crashing of the waves” for company, that drew me in. A piece of history worth remembering. —CW
Kevin Koenig | GQ Magazine | November 7, 2023 | 6,248 words
I spent this past weekend in the college town where I grew up. This college town also happens to be where legendary basketball coach Bob Knight cemented his complicated legacy. (Yes, I was at the game where he threw the chair.) Through three national championships and more wins than any college coach at the time, he loomed over the place like a god—a temperamental, wrathful god, but a god all the same. After Knight died last week, a deluge of remembrances followed. To a one, they celebrated the man’s accomplishments and acknowledged his flaws. Yet none of them came close to capturing him the way Kevin Koenig’s 2015 profile in Angler’s Journal did. Three days with Knight fishing in the Bahamas. Three days of witnessing his locker-room joviality giving way to a tempest. Three days of conversation and combat, drama and détente. It’s a portrait that feels complete, and a portrait I never thought I’d read. I missed it the first time around; thankfully, GQ reprinted it this week, with a foreword from Koenig unpacking the aftermath of his warts-and-all approach. If you love sports, it’s a can’t-miss. Even if you don’t, it’s still mandatory reading. Rarely these days do profiles steep you in a sense of place, but Koenig’s bucks that trend. You’ll feel the spray in your face, the sun on your arms—and in the many moments where Koenig’s questions encounter Knight’s volatility, the burn of shame on your neck. —PR
Our most-read editor’s pick this week:
Luc Rinaldi | Toronto Life | October 31, 2023 | 6,588 words
A detailed investigation into the ease of buying a “suicide kit” online and the forums that peddle them. Luc Rinaldi focuses on the case study of Kenneth Law—who built his business during the pandemic—and the people who have used his kits to die. A difficult read, but one that sheds light on a dark part of the web that needs awareness. —CW