Author Archives

Founder of Longreads and Editor at Automattic

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

Jonathan Mooney
Jonathan Mooney

CW: This post and podcast includes discussions of suicide.


Jonathan Mooney was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD, and he learned to read at age 12. “When I was in third grade, I couldn’t sit still, so I spent a lot of each day chilling out with the janitor in the hallway. I struggled with reading, especially reading out loud, so I often hid in the bathroom,” he recently wrote in The New York Times.

He briefly dropped out of school, and considered suicide. The system was failing him, just like so many other kids with learning differences.

Mooney eventually returned to school. With support from his family and a few teacher mentors, he went on to college and pursued an English literature degree, attending Loyola Marymount and then Brown University, authoring three books, and becoming a speaker and advocate for changing a system that leaves so many children behind.

Mooney’s new book, Normal Sucks, is part memoir, part letter to his children, part call to action against ableism and the cult of normal. On this week’s Longreads Podcast, I spoke to him about how society can better serve and celebrate its many differences. Read more…

The Podcast That Explains Why We’re All Wrong 

You're Wrong About Podcast

Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes are journalists who specialize in re-examining the stories, people, and ideas that we were sure we already knew about. Their podcast, “You’re Wrong About…” deconstructs events and scandals of the past to reveal a truth that’s more complicated than what we remembered—or even the complete opposite. On this week’s Longreads Podcast, I spoke with them about why our brains (and the media) are so easily misled. 

Marshall wrote the definitive story of Tonya Harding for The Believer and is currently working on a book about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Hobbes is a reporter for HuffPost who breaks down the nuance around issues such as homelessness and obesity. They tackle those same subjects for the podcast, including many other events we thought we remembered correctly—Amy Fisher, Anna Nicole Smith, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the “Ebonics” debate. In many cases, tabloid news coverage gave us a distorted perspective on heroes and villains in a scandal, and Marshall and Hobbes shatter the idea that such labels even exist. Read more…

How a 16-Year-Old Boy Was Locked Away Without a Mental Evaluation

What Are We Going to Do About Tyler

In 2012, a 16-year-old boy named Tyler Haire was locked up in a Mississippi jail cell after committing a violent crime against his father’s girlfriend. Tyler ended up spending years behind bars while waiting for a psychiatric examination, despite having a history of issues dating back to early childhood. Sarah Smith‘s ProPublica story, “What Are We Going to Do About Tyler?” was a recent No. 1 pick here on Longreads. It offers a sobering look at America’s failures when it comes to treating mental illness. Read more…

Dear Chief Justice John Roberts: Our Country Has Not Changed

Rescue workers aiding victims of the car attack in Charlottesville.
Rescue workers aiding victims of the car attack in Charlottesville. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Trump’s embrace of racist extremism is not just troubling for our country in the present moment, it’s even scarier when you consider the politicos who see it as a winning campaign strategy for 2018 and beyond. Picture all the baby Trumps mimicking their grotesque idol, and weep for our republic.

To understand this extremism, and to fight it, we must return to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The killing in Charlottesville, the violent outbursts by emboldened white supremacists, and Trump’s utter failure to condemn domestic terrorism, offers yet another chance to reflect on how we got here. We can start with recent Supreme Court history, when it struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which allowed nine, mostly Southern states, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “our country has changed,” and he argued that many of the “extraordinary measures” in the Voting Rights Act were no longer justified.

Yet here we are in 2017: camouflaged racists with semiautomatic weapons marched through Charlottesville, and one of them plowed his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

On Sunday, a discussion began on Twitter as to whether Roberts (and Justice Anthony Kennedy) would like to revisit their decision.

Ari Berman’s outstanding 2015 book Give Us the Ballot offers a deep history of voter suppression in the United States, and it makes clear that we must fight the rights for all Americans to vote if we are to ever take the country back from a President and a party that winks at the white supremacy.

Republicans may “privately wince” at Trump’s moral failure, but their actions to disenfranchise voters lit the torches in Charlottesville. They fostered an environment where the white vote matters more, and convinced those voters they are under attack from people who don’t look like them. In his book, Berman explains that Obama’s 2008 election led to a spate of new, restrictive state voting laws:

In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states, with twenty-seven new laws taking effect in nineteen states, nearly all of them controlled by Republicans. The right to vote had become deeply politicized. The country hadn’t seen anything like it since the end of Reconstruction, when every southern state placed severe limits on the franchise.

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of new barriers to the ballot box were not a coincidence. “The proposal of restrictive voter-access legislation has been substantially more likely to occur where African-Americans are concentrated and both minorities and low-income individuals have begun turning out at the polls more frequently,” reported a study from the University of Massachusetts–Boston.

“As minorities grow in the political process, it’s in the interest of one of the parties to tamp down voter turnout,” said Mel Watt. “It’s the same system that other people went through when there were poll taxes and literacy tests. This is just another iteration of that.”

Before 2010, only Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri had passed strict voter ID laws. Nine states controlled by Republicans adopted them following the 2010 election: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The accelerated push for voter ID laws didn’t emerge from nowhere. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, the tart-tongued first director of the Heritage Foundation, convened a gathering of fifteen thousand evangelical Christians for Ronald Reagan. Acolytes described Weyrich as “the Lenin of social conservatism.” He said in his speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Get the book

Choire Sicha’s New Role: Editor of The New York Times Styles Section

Choire Sicha
Photo via YouTube

Choire Sicha is a very special human being. Just look at these Twitter mentions congratulating him on his new role as editor of The New York Times Styles section. It’s a trip through the past 20 years of New York media featuring an all-star cast of writers, many of whom he helped shepherd to fame (or at least a steady job).

Choire makes people feel good about themselves and their work, and this of course is what makes an editor truly great. Like any other nobody with a blog, I have my own Choire story: I started Longreads shortly after he and Alex Balk started The Awl, and he was supportive and encouraging from the start. (He also condemned me for not having Renata Adler anywhere on the site yet.) Great editors will save you from future embarrassment.  Read more…

Meet ‘The Mooch,’ Your New White House Communications Director

(Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci is the new White House Communications Director, and like many Trump hires before him, he arrives with a televised history of trashing his new boss. From ThinkProgress:

“I don’t like the way he talks about women, I don’t like the way he talks about our friend Megyn Kelly, and you know what, the politicians don’t want to go at Trump because he’s got a big mouth and because [they’re] afraid he’s going to light them up on Fox News and all these other places,” he said. “But I’m not a politician. Bring it. You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald.”

This was in 2015, a year before the money manager began supporting Trump’s bid for president. But like all Trump hires, there’s almost nothing Scaramucci has said in the past his new boss will hold against him. As White House Communications Director, this is a helpful indicator of how reliable their future statements will be, too.

Read more…

California’s Housing Crisis Is About Jobs, Not Houses

Frederic J. Brown /AFP/Getty Images

The median home price in California has reached $500,000 — more than double the cost nationally — and a new brand of housing crisis is here. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to afford a home in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any surrounding suburbs. As today’s New York Times reports, this means people like Heather Lile, a nurse making $180,000 a year, live in distant Central Valley towns like Manteca and commute two hours to get to work. “I make really good money and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t afford to live close to my job,” she tells the reporter. Read more…

‘Many Immigrant Stories and Refugee Stories Need to Be Understood as War Stories’

Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photo by Rex Features via AP Images

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for his novel The Sympathizer, about a communist double agent during the Vietnam War who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon.

Nguyen, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of 2017’s collection The Refugees, was born in Ban Me Thuot and came to the United States as refugee in 1975, moving with his family to San Jose. In a 2016 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Nguyen spoke of the importance of the connection between refugee and immigrant stories and war stories: Read more…

Please Watch This Video Showing the Unfathomable Cruelty of U.S. Immigration Policy

I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process. Read more…

Garrett Graff Joins Longreads to Cover Border Patrol and Government Policy

Arizona border
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents gather along the International border near Naco, Ariz. Photo: AP Images

We’re excited to announce that journalist Garrett M. Graff is joining Longreads as a contributing writer covering border security and immigration, federal law enforcement, and the mechanics of how government works. Read more…