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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

12/2/1967-Miami, FL- Candace Mossler and her nephew, Melvin Lane Powers, smile as they show off an engagement ring given her by Powers. The couple announced their plans to be married 12/2. They were acquitted of murdering Candace's multi-millionaire husband Jacques Mossler. (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Notorious Mrs. Mossler

Skip Hollandsworth | Texas Monthly | November 17, 2021 | 12,033 words

Candace Mossler, mother of six, was a Houston socialite who lived in a mansion with a steam-heated pool. She loved to throw lavish parties. Charm and philanthropy were the super powers Mossler used to divert attention from rumours of a double life that included sex work, running her own escort service, and a clandestine affair with Mel Powers, her then 22-year-old nephew. The affair was heinous enough, but did Mossler conspire to commit murder — more than once? For this surreal whodunnit — complete with a salacious sideshow trial — Skip Hollandsworth pored over pages of old news clips, court records, and interviewed aging people in Mossler’s orbit to attempt to find out. “Rarely had circumstances converged to produce such a sensational story, one that, as the Houston Chronicle put it, was teeming with ‘love, heat, greed, savage passion, intrigue, incest and perversion.’” —KS

2. Marilyn Manson: The Monster Hiding in Plain Sight

Kory Grow and Jason Newman | Rolling Stone | November 14, 2021 | 9,777 words

This is a piece about Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson, a pseudonym chosen to combine the names of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. In naming himself “after a serial killer and a woman who had a very tragic life,” Warner gave us a big clue into his psyche — but it was only this year that women began naming him as an abuser, unflinchingly documented here by Kory Grow and Jason Newman. For decades, the media “has amplified and glamorized his voice — including Rolling Stone, which put him on the cover in 1997 with the headline ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’” But at some point, Warner “got caught in a state of arrested development and embraced ‘Marilyn Manson’ as a lifestyle.” This is a detailed account of the depravity of that life, and an honest appraisal of Warner’s character. —CW

3. Inside Jane Campion’s Cinema of Tenderness and Brutality

Jordan Kisner | The New York Times Magazine | November 16, 2021 | 4,900 words

When I saw Jane Campion’s last movie, I cried so fiercely and for so long that, by the time my now-husband guided me out of the theater, the lights had been on for a solid 10 minutes and teenaged employees in red vests had finished sweeping popcorn from the aisles. In her profile of Campion, Jordan Kisner captures what made me feel those Big Feelings: The director’s singular ability to portray cruelty and warmth, dark and light in equal measure, not with choreographed action, but with the sheer, simple force of human presence. Kisner’s story is an intimate conversation with a once-in-a-generation artist and a close, careful reading of her oeuvre. I enjoyed it so much I could cry. —SD

4. To Catch a Turtle Thief

Clare Fieseler | The Walrus | November 12, 2021 | 3,490 words

In 2014, 11 baby diamondback terrapin turtles were found inside a FedEx package at the Calgary International Airport. This discovery eventually led authorities to Dave Sommers, a poacher who had trafficked thousands of hatchlings within the U.S. and abroad, to places like Canada, Mexico, and China where the prized turtle can sell for much more. ($24,000 for one with a fancy shell pattern, in fact!) This wild, cinematic story, with excellent reporting from Clare Fieseler, is a fascinating dive inside an international wildlife smuggling operation, and a look at how one New Jersey man’s “weird obsession” turned dark. —CLR

5. The Bored Apes take Manhattan

Jessica Klein | Input | November 16, 2021 | 3,444 words

Some subculture pieces bring you inside a community you never knew existed. Others offer a glimpse into a community you’ve heard of but had little sense of the nuances contained therein. And still others leave you with a sense of having attended a convention of emperors thrilled with their new clothes. That’s the vibe of Jessica Klein’s ridealong through Apefest, a gathering of people whose defining characteristic is owning a verifiable jpeg of a cartoon simian. (If you’ve been wondering what the hell an NFT is, please consult the previous sentence.) With each subsequent bearded white thirtysomething millionaire-on-paper you meet, your sense only intensifies that you’re witnessing the newest iteration of Beanie Babies — just one that boasts fans like Jimmy Fallon, and features Neil Strauss writing a memoir of a make-believe ape named Jenkins. Klein knows what she’s got here, and assiduously avoids the impulse to snark, instead letting dudes named Digging4Doge do the talking. Thankfully, they’re more than willing to do so. Enjoy your glimpse now, before the apes get so bored they depreciate precipitously and these crypto bros have to find a new reason to fist-bump. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A rhesus macaque monkey sits on the edge of the swamp along the Silver River in Ocala, Florida. (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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

1. “Judge, Lawyer, Help, Case Dismissed”

George Chidi | The Intercept | October 31, 2021 | 8,064 words

This is a story of political indifference and a system woefully unequipped to truly help unhoused people with mental illness. It is also the story of Harmony, a woman living on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia in her own filth, in a state that ranks 51st in the U.S. for investment in mental health spending. “Harmony is unique,” writes George Chidi, “And yet there are at least 100 Harmonys on the streets of Atlanta. The county knows each of them by name. There’s a list.” Harmony does not want to be in hospital or incarcerated; she does want her story told. As Chidi grapples with Harmony’s living conditions, he unravels who might be able to help and who should be held accountable. And while various entities and government departments play “hot potato” with her life and liberty, Harmony’s wishes go mostly ignored. She would very much like to be left alone. “And yet despite millions in resources, much of which the state cannot figure out how to spend, Harmony remained unhoused at the foot of the iconic Coca-Cola sign above the Walgreens at Five Points — in the heart of Atlanta — as she has on and off for years, in a state of abject human degradation, with all of this misery taking place less than 100 yards from the very steps of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities headquarters.” —KS

2. The Gradual Extinction of Softness

Chantha Nguon and Kim Green | Hippocampus Magazine | November 8, 2021 | 3,946 words

Kim Green and Chantha Nguon have been working together to write Nguon’s memoir; they’ve talked and cooked together over the past several years. This co-written collaboration in Hippocampus Magazine is a stunning, lyrical essay about Nguon’s experiences as a child in Battambang before fleeing to Vietnam, surviving the Cambodian genocide, and remembering her mother, Mae. The Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot murdered 2 million Cambodians, erasing nearly one-fourth of the population, leaving nothing but death and a devastated country with “no idea of tomorrow.” Through evocative writing, Nguon carries her family’s history forward, “borne on the smoke” from the charcoal fire of her mother’s open-air kitchen. Her memories are aromatic and vivid; she remembers flavors of happiness like Mae’s pâté de foie, and the wind in her wide-open mouth as she zoomed around Phnom Penh with her older brother on his Vespa. The recipes weaved into the piece are unexpected and poignant, as you can sample from these ingredients and steps: “Take a well-fed nine-year-old with a big family and a fancy French-Catholic-school education. Fold in 2 revolutions, 2 civil wars, and 1 wholesale extermination,” she writes. “Slowly subtract small luxuries, life savings, and family members until all are gone.” It’s one of the most moving essays I’ve read this year, and a piece I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. —CLR

3. How two BBC Journalists Risked their Jobs to Reveal the Truth About Jimmy Savile

Poppy Sebag-Montefiore | The Guardian | November 2, 2021 | 6,380 word

This is a detailed examination of what happened behind the scenes during a BBC Newsnight investigation into abuse committed by Jimmy Savile. It was a difficult topic to investigate — Savile had recently died and had been a beloved BBC celebrity — but rumors about Savile being a sexual predator were rife, and two journalists were determined to find the truth. The author of this piece, Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, was a friend of one of the journalists — the late Liz MacKean. Sebag-Montefiore’s affection is apparent as she documents MacKean fighting for her piece, desperate to have the voices of the women who spoke to her heard. It was a battle MacKean ultimately lost, when Newsnight editor Peter Rippon killed the story. In the end, MacKean and producer Meirion Jones, “gave all their research on Savile to the BBC’s rival, the commercial channel ITV,” and the Savile story broke. A 2012 inquiry into the BBC’s conduct over the Newsnight investigation found Rippon’s decision “seriously flawed.” In refusing to drop this story, MacKean and Jones “helped to change the culture about the way past sexual abuse is talked about, and survivors listened to.” When Sebag-Montefiore searched for an account of what they had done she couldn’t find one: “So here it is.” —CW

4. Where Is the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay?

Stephanie Hayes | The Tampa Bay Times | November 9 | 4,500 words

My favorite genre of viral story is Animals on the Run. The zebras in Maryland, the red panda in Washington, D.C., the llamas in Arizona — in my time, I’ve loved them all. So yes, I am the target audience for this feature about a creature who went on the lam: Cornelius the rhesus macaque, who outwitted would-be captors in Florida for years (years!). But Stephanie Hayes tells a Where Are They Now story for everyone, not just the animal-obsessed like me. It’s tragi-comic, expertly written, and thoroughly engrossing. What shines most is the respect — no, the awe — that Hayes has for her elusive subject. Cornelius, it turns out, is a mystery in more ways than one. And maybe that’s how it should be. —SD

5. Award-Winning Writer Mayukh Sen Shines A Light On Food’s Hidden Figures

Brianne Garrett | Sweet July | October 26, 2021 | 1,674 words

Mayukh Sen talks about his path to food writing in this interview about his new book Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America. Sen set out to look beyond white culinary luminaries like James Beard and Julia Child to highlight lesser-known people of color and how they’ve influenced American food. There’s plenty to appreciate in this interview; how Sen describes the way his book project evolved over time from its original intent into something larger and more nuanced and how a critical part of his focus was on honoring his subjects’ hands-on work in addition to their culinary ideas. “I wanted to tell the stories of these immigrants and really honor their labor with as much care as possible. I do hope that readers understand that for America to become this glorious, so-called melting pot of diverse cuisine, there’s a lot of struggle involved. You can see a lot of that struggle in the stories of each of these women.” —KS

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Surfing in Texas. (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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

1. Homegrown and Homeless in Oakland*

Kevin Fagan, Sarah Ravani, Lauren Hepler, J.K. Dineen | San Francisco Chronicle | November 3, 2021 | 4,639 words

There’s not a major city in the state of California that hasn’t found itself grappling with a decade-long explosion of homelessness, and not a discussion that doesn’t devolve into blaming decades-older canards like deinstitutionalization and drug abuse. But as this exhaustively and empathically reported piece shows, it’s never as simple as a talking point. For the sixth in the Chronicle’s annual Homeless Project series, the paper crosses the Bay to profile four unhoused people in Oakland — all of whom grew up in the city, and all of whom owned their own home at one time. In their stories of loss and perseverance, accompanied by photography and data visualizations that are breathtaking for all the wrong reasons, we find ever-present reminders that there is no one cause for this epidemic. The only universal, it seems, is the tragedy and struggle that ensues when this country fails its own citizens. —PR

*Requires a subscription

2. Selling Certainty

Eric Boodman | STAT | October 20, 2021 | 7,300 words

Imagine being in such intense pain that it hurts to put on clothes. When a physician finally provides a diagnosis, it feels like a guess. Then along comes a blood test that promises a definitive answer and access to a clinical trial that could change everything. Who wouldn’t seize the opportunity? This is what happened to fibromyalgia patients who took the FM/a Test, produced by a company called EpicGenetics. Problem being, as Eric Boodman explains, the manufacturer was “using an aborted trial to sell an unproven test to people who were desperate.” Boodman’s feature is a Russian doll of scientific mysteries: Why doesn’t the FDA vet all home medical tests? How do companies get away with false advertising? What is fibromyalgia? And there are some genuinely eyebrow-raising tidbits along the way. Case in point, a health executive “who went back into retirement to focus on writing novels to rescue the reputation of the historical Dracula.” —SD

3. A Death Full of Life

Gabrielle Anctil | Beside | September 27, 2021 | 2,200 words

Reading Gabrielle Anctil’s piece for Beside I was struck by how unusual it was. While people talk about death, the issue of what we do with our physical remains still feels like something we speak about in hushed tones, the mere thought of lifeless bodies conducive to nervous looks and anxious gestures. I was therefore impressed with the understated and matter-of-fact way Anctil tackles a fascinating subject: How our approach to our earthly remains has evolved along with our religions and beliefs. Cremation did not become popular until the ’80s, but now we often “see urns resting upon mantelpieces, if departed loved ones’ ashes haven’t simply been scattered in a meaningful place. The cemetery has lost its nobility.” Anctil also addresses an issue I had not yet considered: The environmental impact of what we do with the dead. I was amazed to learn that funerals use enough wood “to build 4.5 million houses,” while embalmed Americans are “buried with 19.5 million litres of embalming fluids.” Even a single cremation uses “two full SUV gas tanks of fuel, to say nothing of the carcinogenic particles that are released into the atmosphere.” Despite this harsh reality, quiet beauty still reverberates through this essay, as Anctil acknowledges our need for “a site where we can feel the pain of separation and continue to nurture our relationship with those who have passed on.” —CW

4. Cresting the Wave

Joe Hagan | Texas Highways | October 28, 2021 | 3,307 words

“[E]very attempt to catch a wave felt deeply personal, a test of will against the world, the desire to surf as powerful as the desire for identity itself.” There are so many gorgeous lines in Joe Hagan’s recent essay in Texas Highways. He reminisces about learning to surf and growing up on the shores of Padre Island in Texas. Beautifully recalling these memories, Hagan writes of personal reinvention, and of the search for identity. In this process, he discovers deeper layers within his rich and complicated family history and faces an earth-shattering truth about his birth. Amid all of this is the anchor of place — the Gulf Coast, Bob Hall Pier, the waves themselves — and the memory and truth it can hold. I’m inspired by this story — it moves me to write. —CLR

5. Finding Joy in the Unknown: an Interview with Dara McAnulty

Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee | Emergence Magazine | October 26, 2021 | 5,722 words

At Emergence Magazine, Dara McAnulty talks about his book Diary of a Young Naturalist, his love for the natural world, and what he’s learned from writing and publishing a book as a teen. Reading Diary helped me appreciate McAnulty’s deep commitment to the environment. In nature McAnulty finds joy and delight, feelings often tempered by the despair of human ambivalence toward our planet. What’s most inspiring about this interview is McAnulty’s renewed faith in the artist’s power to persuade others to help preserve Earth for future generations. “The entire battle of the book for me…is this inner struggle in me about whether or not art or writing or music is worth it. Can it make a difference? Can it change people’s minds? Can it change the world? I think at the end of the book, I realized that yeah, it can. It’s done it before. It changes people’s minds. It shows people the way that the world could be, in spite of the way that it is now. And only by seeing that future can we work towards it. That’s the artist’s job: to show the way that the world can be.” Longreads ran an excerpt of Diary of a Young Naturalist earlier this year. It’s worth your time. —KS

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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

1. Has Witch City Lost Its Way?

Kathryn Miles | Boston Magazine | October 22, 2021 | 3,758 words

Modern-day witchcraft is big business, and Salem, Massachusetts, is its epicenter. Witch-themed boutiques along Essex Street sell everything a 21st-century witch needs, from tarot card decks and spell kits to $300 custom wands. Stores like these cater not only to self-identifying witches and warlocks, but also Halloween tourists making their pilgrimage to the city each October and people claiming ancestral ties to Colonial settlers (or those accused as heretics in the 1692 trials). Kathryn Miles captures a festive, bustling local scene, but are shop owners simply commodifying a spiritual practice? And is there a better way for Salem to address and educate people about its ugly past? Miles’ own ancestral history is marked with a dark moment in 1660 — one that has left generations of her family to make sense of their legacy. She examines present-day Salem from this perspective, and asks: “Is a witch-based tourism economy the best way to honor the legacy of executed individuals who weren’t even witches in the first place?” With Halloween just days away, this Boston magazine story is a fitting read, and offers a glimpse into Salem’s lively community — as well as the past that it grapples with. —CLR

2. Aftermath

Briohny Doyle | The Griffith Review | October 24, 2021 | 3,500 words

“Aftermath” begins and ends with scenes set on water — an oyster farm on a lake, a rental house on a bay. These fluid bookends are apt for an essay that ruminates on the illusion of before and after that we all lean on to cope with uncertainty. Whether we’re responding to COVID-19, climate change, or personal grief — all of which come to bear in Briohny Doyle’s gorgeous essay — humans tend to yearn for the way things were or the way they might be, for an idealized past or dreamed-of future, for “fixed points” and “the simplicity of distance.” Doyle challenges readers, and herself, to instead bear witness to accrual and to care for ourselves in the context of the ongoing. “Fragile life,” Doyle writes. “All we have to work with. At least as precious as it is unimportant.” We must protect ourselves, she continues, from becoming “food for bad ideas.” I couldn’t help but think of a line in King Lear: “Ripeness is all.” When you’re reminded of Shakespeare, you know you’re reading something special. —SD

3. Shadow City, Invisible City: Walking Through an Ever-Changing Kabul

Taran Khan | LitHub | October 21, 2021 | 2,667 words

Taran Khan writes of friends and acquaintances betrayed by the donor agencies and NGOs who ghosted longtime Afghan employees pleading for help to flee Taliban rule after the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in August. Many Afghans now fear the Taliban’s retribution for collaborating with the agencies who left them behind, texts and email pleas unanswered. “My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” declared President Biden on television. Those the U.S. government and NGOs abandoned in their hasty retreat now face new and more insidious dangers. Khan writes: “My grandmother, who had grown up in northern India in a home marked by rigid gender segregation, told me how she used to listen to the poets who frequented the male quarters of her house through cracks in the wall. In the days after the Taliban’s takeover, I listened to Kabul through cracks in the silence that descended on the city. In the voices of friends I could reach on the phone, and behind their fear and their laughter, their assurances and their hesitating requests, I heard the streets and the soundtrack of the city’s everyday life, away from the transient media glare.” —KS

4. Under The Influence

Stephen J. Lyons | The Sun Magazine | October 1, 2021 | 1,672 words

A certain swath of people can relate to being a child left in a vehicle while dad drinks beer in the dim, smoky interior of a local pub. (This didn’t happen to me, though my best friend said she taught herself dozens of yo-yo tricks during those long afternoons.) At The Sun Magazine, Stephen J. Lyons recounts waiting for his beloved blue-collar, stogie-smoking grandpa to emerge from the bar. Lyons witnesses his usually quiet grandpa change after a few pub stops. As the truck speeds over ridges and around curves in rural Iowa, grudges and grievances bubble to the surface, sucked out the window of the rusty pick-up truck as his grandpa spits and mutters about wrongs and injustices. The love and loyalty Lyons feels for his grandpa reminded me of my own childhood, times when my dad was not ok to drive but did so anyway after late nights at relatives’ places across town, times when adult hubris (I’m fine!) and the need to blow off steam from another week at a dirty, unsatisfying job outweighed better judgement. This piece reminds me that we all fail one another from time to time, knowingly and unknowingly. And that perhaps because of that failure, we need love and grace all the more. —KS

5. Sci-Fi Icon Neal Stephenson Finally Takes on Global Warming

Adam Rogers | Wired | October 26, 2021 | 4,348 words

Neal Stephenson isn’t the sort of writer you profile. He’s the sort of writer you think about profiling, sure, but he’s not going to invite you into his life or discuss the vagaries of craft or unburden himself of his deep-seated fears. What he’s going to do, instead, is write. That’s what he’s done since 1984 — big ol’ books that tend to huddle together under the “science fiction” umbrella but are as urgent as they are speculative. His latest, Terminal Shock, might be the most urgent yet, attempting to envision what would happen if people actually tried a theoretical process called solar geoengineering to cool off the planet. So if you’re going to profile Neal Stephenson, you’re going to need to figure out his whys and his hows, not his whos and his whats. Good thing, then, that the person doing the profiling happens to be one of the few journalists around as well-versed in genre fiction as they are in climate change. Rogers, an accomplished science journalist, aims his entire arsenal at making this a piece about the science of imagination — about how not to give up on the (admittedly bleak) future, how to turn real science into real hope, and what it means for someone as lauded and prolific as Stephenson to continue pushing us to team up and just figure this damn thing out already. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Red-tailed hawk about to land. (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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

1. The Last Days Inside Trailer 83

Hannah Dreier | The Washington Post | October 17, 2021 | 4,400 words

Hannah Dreier spent a month on the ground reporting this story about a California couple on the verge of being kicked out of FEMA housing, their refuge in the wake of 2018’s devastating Camp Fire. With the clarity and compassion that are the hallmarks of her work, Dreier bears witness to what it means to suffer on the front lines of climate change, to grapple with a thinning social safety net, and — after all that — to stare down homelessness. She portrays the couple’s frustration and anger, as well as their love and resilience. But why, Dreier asks, is this happening at all? Doesn’t the government owe the displaced more, and better, than this? It’s a pressing question: More Americans will be soon displaced by fires, floods, and extreme weather. This is a quiet, intimate story, and seemingly small in scope, but don’t let it fool you — it offers a terrifying glimpse into the future. —SD

2. The Enumerator

Jeremy Miller | Harper’s Magazine | October 19, 2021 | 5,535 words

Out of financial necessity during the pandemic, reporter Jeremy Miller becomes a census enumerator in Richmond, California, for $25 an hour. In August 2020, after five months of lockdown and with little training, he sets out as a “fully deputized agent of the federal government” to follow up on those who have not completed their census forms. This piece is fascinating for Miller’s insight into trying to communicate with members of a community living in lockdown. His attempts are often futile, scary, and yet unexpectedly endearing. How many people live in the United States? With a broken census process that’s a hot target for political manipulation, no one will ever really know for sure. Some, wary of their immigration status, evade or avoid participation, understandably suspicious of government interest. —KS

3. A Very Big Little Country

Katherine LaGrave | AFAR | October 13, 2021 | 3,766 words

Ever heard of Westarctica? Neither had I. Comprising 620,000 square miles of Antarctica, since 2001 it has been “ruled” by His Royal Highness Travis I, Grand Duke. This is a micronation — a political entity whose members claim they belong to an independent state. What they lack in legal recognition they make up for in enthusiasm. Members bestow elaborate titles upon themselves and engage in heated discussions about how to govern. Westarctica is not alone: There are nearly 100 active micronations around the world. While physical landmasses have been claimed, these micronations largely exist online. Westarctica started as “a basic Yahoo website with a god-awful teal-blue background, project name, and email address.” There is a fun fantasy vibe: Westarctica’s legal tender is ice marks, “with banknotes featuring McHenry, penguins, and the Westarctican coat of arms.” However, micronations also have serious statements to make. Obsidia is a feminist-only nation with a two-pound rock as its territory and is “intent on using awareness to increase visibility for ‘femme / feminist / LGBTQ people and explore concepts for an ideal governance.’” Since 2018 Westarctica has also developed an important mission in becoming a nonprofit focused on fighting climate change. So take a dive into LaGrave’s fascinating article — and literally discover a whole other world. —CW

4. Eat, Prey, Love: A Day with the Squirrel Hawkers of East Texas

Wes Ferguson | Texas Monthly | October 15, 2021 | 2,033 words

Birds fascinate me. When I saw Wes Ferguson’s piece at Texas Monthly, I took a tern for it immediately and I have no egrets. Much more than a delightfully nerdy history of falconry and an overview of the sport in Texas, Ferguson lets us shadow falconer Charlie Alvis as he hunts with Calypso, his three-year-old red-tailed hawk. Alvis, who has a clear and deep respect for Calypso and birds in general, took up falconry in part as a way to cope with the death of his young son. Forging a deep bond with the bird has given structure and purpose to Alvis’ life. A general warning, gentle reader: This story contains violence. Hawking is hunting, after all. “Every squirrel she kills is gradually fed back to her.” —KS

5. How a McDonald’s Knockoff Became the Immigrant Dream

Omar Mouallem | Vice | October 15, 2021 | 4,044 words

I’ve always been fascinated by restaurant chains. It’s less the food than the minutiae: iconography; decor; how far a branch or franchise owner can stray from the standards and practices of corporate decree. (For years, a McDonald’s in Brooklyn kept a neon sign in its window that said MICKI DEES. It’s gone now, but I still think about it all the time.) Omar Mouallem’s piece on Burger Baron, a chain only in the loosest sense of the word based in the Canadian province of Alberta, is a doozy. “To begin with, the logo—a colourful fat knight with double-Bs in his shield—often appears on signs as a crudely drawn copy of the original,” writes Mouallem, who made a documentary about the chain that aired on Canadian television this year. “The mascot sometimes looks emaciated or downright mutilated, if he appears on the sign at all. The restaurants themselves range from drive-thru burger shacks to sprawling steakhouses.” But even if you come for the spectacle, you’ll stay for the surprisingly touching story of how Burger Baron became a lighthouse for the Lebanese immigrant community in and around Edmonton. Does it mean I ever want to try the mushroom burger? Reader, it does not. But I can still love this story. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Ronald McDonald Balloon in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City, New York (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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

1. A Peer-Reviewed Portrait of Suffering

Daniel Engber | The Atlantic | October 6, 2021 | 7,200 words

The best science stories are human stories, ones that show the impact of lab experiments, clinical investigations, and complicated data on people’s lives. Daniel Engber’s poignant profile of the Sulzer family falls squarely in this camp. When three-year-old Liviana suffered a traumatic brain injury in the Sulzers’ backyard, her mother and father — a bioengineer who specializes in regenerative medicine and a professor of rehabilitative robotics, respectively — were forced to bring their work home. They mustered their expertise to help Livie, but quickly met the limits of the technology they’d spent their careers developing and championing. How, then, could they heal her, and themselves? The answers are surprising. I was moved by Engber’s portrayal of scientific minds challenged to reconsider the lens through which they analyze the world; of a family navigating protracted trauma; and of the love, patience, and curiosity that keep the Sulzers’ hope alive. —SD

2. The Great Beyond

Sara Reinis | Real Life | October 7, 2021 | 2,299 words

I’ve been contemplating how social media has changed the way we grieve for a while now, ever since my best friend died 10 years ago. I’d experienced mourning in a new, distributed way: collectively and on screen, as his friends across the U.S. and his relatives from Nairobi I’d never met all gathered on his Facebook profile over weeks, months, years. Some people left quick comments, as if they passed by a cemetery to leave flowers; others lingered, typing as if they were communicating with him in real time. How was social media changing the way we experience loss? For Sara Reinis, it’s also been a decade since a loved one — her brother — passed away. In her recent essay for Real Life, she stirs up many questions for me again, plus new ones. What does it mean when we interact with the Facebook and Instagram profiles of deceased loved ones and celebrities as pilgrimage sites — digital shrines and tombstones we (re)visit, deliberately or not, across an algorithm-powered internet? And what about someone like me, who has since deleted Facebook and Instagram? Am I missing out on novel, ever-evolving ways to mourn? (Should I be intermingling with the avatars of the dead?) After all, as Reinis writes, “the dead will outnumber the living” on Facebook by 2100. She asks thoughtful questions, and I’m now thinking about the idea she poses that the Western approach to grief — a mostly private and “ceremoniously finite” event like a funeral — may evolve into something very public, social, and continuous. And the biggest question she asks looms over me: Can we even trust tech giants with our digital remains? —CLR

3. My Father, The Hitman

James Dolan | D Magazine | October 11, 2021 | 5,021 words

Sometimes all it takes is a single sentence to draw you fully and completely into a story and James Dolan does just that with the opening to “My Father, the Hitman.” “My dad had gotten out of prison, and, for the first time in years, we were sitting down to dinner. It turned out to be the last time I ever saw him alive.” This fantastic portrait is filthy with detail, the kind that makes you want to slow down and savor every word. —KS

4. Tongue Stuck

Irina Dumitrescu | The Rumpus | October 12, 2021 | 2,662 words

Irina Dumitrescu considers the beauty of her Romanian heritage and her decision to teach the language to her son Maxi, so that he can more deeply understand and appreciate his extended family. “I wanted him to know his grandparents in Romanian. I wanted him to know how funny and smart they are, to sense that spirit that is so often lost in a second language.” This is more than just a beautiful essay on identity. Dumitrescu looks critically at her Romanian skills but her words become poetry to me as a reader — despite not knowing the language — when she uses them with such deep intimacy: “I spoke to him in the way that felt most natural, and that meant the language I’d heard when I was small. This was the language in which I was cuddled and pampered, caressed, and sometimes scolded. I suddenly understood how wonderful Romanian is for talking to children. How many darling diminutives I had ready for each part of his body. He had tiny fingers, degețele; a wee belly, burtic; a sweet little nose, năsuc; and dear little feet, picioruțe. Romanian has a treasure of endings to make each noun Lilliputian: -uțuri, -eluri, -ioruri. English seemed then a bulky, hulking way to speak, and for the first time I could not believe that there were people who used the same heavy word for the coarse fist of a grown man and the delicate hand of a newborn.” —KS

5. The Death of Ronald McDonald

Amelia Tait | Vice | October 4, 2021 | 1,600 words

Within the first 15 minutes of a family road trip, I would start the chant: “Can we stop at McDonald’s?” Every British motorway service station seemed to have one, and they were always adorned with Ronald McDonald — Ronald climbing frames, Ronald slides, or just plain old Ronald statues. So it was with great interest that I read Amelia Tait’s fun piece about the demise of this iconic clown in British advertising. (He clings on in the United States with a few in-person appearances according to his U.S.-based Instagram account.) Despite a last-ditch effort, with “a new look, swapping his jumpsuit for a red blazer and a bowtie” he quietly slipped out of the U.K. in 2014 and, as Tait finds out, everyone seems to be rather cagey as to why, cryptically claiming they “are not allowed to talk” as if Ronald is part of the underground clown mafia. Despite these obstacles, Tait jumps wholeheartedly into this mystery and discovers that Ronald’s decline is due to a combination of the ethics of advertising fast food to children, and the realization that a clown with a red wig is just plain creepy. I really enjoyed Tait’s enthusiasm and humor as she explores why Ronald McDonald, along with his sidekick the Hamburglar, are out of a job. —CW

Nine Longreads Stories Recognized Across This Year’s ‘Best American’ and ‘Year’s Best’ Series

Cover art by HMH Books and Triumph Books

Our team is thrilled to announce four anthology inclusions and five notable mentions across the 2021 Best American and Year’s Best series. Congratulations to the following Longreads contributors — and to all the writers featured in these editions — for their exceptional, memorable work.

The Best American Essays 2021

Notable mentions:

On Solitude (and Isolation and Loneliness [and Brackets])” by Sarah Fay

Sarah Fay reflects on four years spent in solitude (and isolation [and loneliness]), viewing it through the lens of punctuation. An adapted version of Sarah’s essay will be included in her forthcoming memoir, Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses.

How to Learn Everything: The MasterClass Diaries” by Irina Dumitrescu

Irina Dumitrescu, an essayist and professor of medieval English literature, binged for six months on online courses led by celebrities like RuPaul, Anna Wintour, and Gordon Ramsay. Her piece on MasterClass is a delightful take on discovery, the power of celebrity, and learning new things.

Through a Glass, Tearfully” by Maureen Stanton

This heartfelt and illuminating essay by Maureen Stanton recounts her history of crying in inappropriate moments while also considering tears from gender-based and political perspectives. Read it and weep.

(Who Gets to) Just Up and Move” by Nicole Walker

In a poignant personal piece on climate change and the erasure of the Ute and Shoshone Tribes from Utah’s Salt Lake Valley, Nicole Walker beautifully contemplates the nature of migration. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

US Ricardo Pepi celebrates after scoring a goal during their Qatar 2022 FIFA Word Cup Concacaf qualifier match against Honduras at Olimpico Metropolitano stadium, in San Pedro Sula, on September 8, 2021. - (Photo by Orlando SIERRA / AFP) (Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. White Riot

Laura Nahmias | New York Magazine | October 5, 2021 | 4,250 words

Did you know that in 1992, thousands of New York City cops rioted outside their own City Hall, shouting racist chants about the metropolis’ first-ever Black mayor, David Dinkins? Neither did I. This article refers to the riot as “forgotten” for good reason. But why did it slip from public memory? You could ask the same question about any number of events that have shaped the history of race and power in the United States, and find the same answers Laura Nahmias does in this fascinating story: entrenched power structures that bitterly resist change; a media apparatus that’s often complicit in maintaining the status quo; and a widespread inability among white Americans to view white violence as a real threat. “Somehow, police only identified 87 of the estimated 10,000 officers and their supporters who participated. Just 42 faced disciplinary charges. And only two officers were suspended,” Nahmias writes. In short, it’s easy to understand why today, “only some of what ailed the NYPD 30 years ago has been mended.” It’s also easy to understand why the same can be said about America. —SD

2. Weighing Big Tech’s Promise to Black America

Victor Luckerson | Wired | October 5, 2021 | 6,014 words

From the headline alone, you might expect a standard postmortem analyzing the various promises giant tech companies made to Black Americans last year. What you’ll find instead is a look into the hopeful, Herculean mission of Black-owned banks, as told through Mississippi-based Hope Credit Union. For more than a quarter-century, through hurricanes, pandemics, and recessions, Hope has been a lifeline for Black entrepreneurs and families alike. Yet, when Netflix last year pledged to invest 2% of its cash holdings in Black-owned institutions, its $10 million deposit in Hope represented the largest infusion of capital the institution had ever seen. The question: is it enough? As Luckerson points out, we’ve been here before, only to see corporate proclamations crumble into nothing. This is a story of numbers and finance, yes, but it’s also a story of unmet need — of underserved communities, of unvetted promises, of unimaginable resources that could so easily address an unjustifiable pattern of disparity. Credit to Luckerson for making it, above all, a human story. —PR

3. ‘Iran Was Our Hogwarts’: My Childhood Between Tehran and Essex

Arianne Shahvisi | The Guardian | September 23, 2021 | 4,310 words

I loved this piece by Arianne Shahvisi. Even though I have never been to Iran, as she describes her childhood holidays visiting her Iranian family, nostalgic images popped into my head like grainy photographs from a family album. Her writing is that expressive. I could picture her uncle’s villa in the dusty countryside beyond Tehran and feel the heat as a young Shahvisi stretched “against the rough, baking stucco of the back wall of the villa, the sun refracting through the droplets on my squinted lashes.” She views these family holidays through a lens of magic and light. They are, after all, an escape from growing up in dull, rainy England — a country painted in a monochrone that vividly contrasts with Iran. And there is another element to this piece: Harry Potter. To Shahvisi, Iran is Hogwarts, an escape from her normal world filled with “Dursleys,” who don’t understand her Iranian heritage and “to whom difference was always deficiency.” This metaphor could have been jarring, but it is threaded gracefully and adds to your understanding of what it was like to grow up in a world full of muggles, and only occasionally get to visit the place where you feel special. —CW

4. The Unstoppable Dreams of Ricardo Pepi

Roberto José Andrade Franco | ESPN | October 6, 2021 | 4,800 words

Ricardo Pepi is a promising young Mexican American soccer player who made his debut last month on the U.S. men’s national team, scoring a key goal in their match against Honduras. This ESPN story by Roberto José Andrade Franco is more than just a profile of a rising athlete from a poor, mostly Mexican town in El Paso County, Texas; Franco weaves a heartfelt and beautiful piece on belonging, identity, and the sacrifices and struggles of an immigrant family. He also explores the complex emotions felt by those, him included, who call the El Paso-Juárez borderland their home: “It sometimes feels like the most beautiful place in the world. Other times, it feels like living in the middle of the desert was always going to end with an escape. That same rugged beauty can inspire the wildest of dreams: a young boy playing soccer in Europe’s biggest leagues, a former construction worker writing this. But it’s also the type of place that can suffocate you.” —CLR

5. Ordinary People

Apoorva Tadepalli | Guernica Magazine | October 5, 2021 | 2,536 words

At Guernica, Apoorva Tadepalli contemplates the beauty of ordinary experiences in her response to Lauren Elkin’s book, “No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus.” (Elkin used her phone’s Notes app “to record observations and encounters from her daily commute on the 91 and 92 buses” to “observe the world through the screen of my phone, rather than to use my phone to distract myself from the world.”) Elkin’s book is a response to the questions posed by Georges Perec’s book “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris,” in which he asks, “How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious?” Tadepalli’s thoughtful essay reminds me of the small pleasures that quiet observation can bring when we come to a moment in time with our full attention. —KS

The Mysterious Case of Mr. X

Ben Jones for The Atavist Magazine

Laura Todd Carns| The Atavist Magazine | September 2021 | 7 minutes (1,935 words)

This is an excerpt from The Atavist‘s issue no. 119, “Searching for Mr. X,” written by Laura Todd Carns and illustrated by Ben Jones.

 

On a summer day in 1931, a man was found wandering South State Street in Jackson, Mississippi. He appeared to be lost. He was white, with gray hair and a thin, angular face. His clothes were worn and rumpled, but on his feet were a pair of tan Borden low-quarter dress shoes, the kind that sold for more than ten dollars at S. P. McRae’s department store on West Capitol Street. He had shell-rimmed eyeglasses and a belt buckle with the letter L on it. In his pocket was a cheap watch and a single penny.

The Atavist, our sister publication, publishes one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a member.

When police questioned him, the man seemed dazed. He was unable to supply his name, his address, or an explanation for why he was in Jackson. He was arrested for vagrancy. After a few days, he was placed in the custody of Dr. C. D. Mitchell, superintendent of the Mississippi State Hospital. Upon his arrival at the facility, the man, who was estimated to be about sixty, was entered into the patient ledger as “Mr. X.”

Who was he? Where had he come from? How did he wind up alone on a street in the Deep South, at the beginning of the Great Depression, without his memory? Months passed, then years. Mr. X remained at the hospital, and the mystery of his identity lingered. For reasons no one could discern, his past was beyond his reach.

Formerly known as the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, in 1931 the hospital was a warren of overcrowded barracks so decrepit that patients kept getting injured by pieces of plaster that fell from crumbling ceilings. Worse yet, the hospital was a firetrap—its buildings were full of mattresses, linens, and other combustible material. One blaze after another destroyed parts of the facility, necessitating reconstruction.

In 1935, four years after Mr. X’s arrival, the institution moved to a brand-new campus about 15 miles outside Jackson. It was built on the site of a former penal farm and dubbed Whitfield, in honor of the governor—Henry L. Whitfield—who approved the construction. Over the course of several days, patients in Jackson were loaded onto buses in groups. They traveled along Highway 80 before turning onto a long gravel drive lined with young trees and freshly planted flower beds. Some 70 redbrick buildings with white columns were nestled on Whitfield’s green lawns and connected by paved walking paths. A visitor, taking in the manmade lake and the wide porches on the buildings, might have thought the place a summer camp or a university.

Over the previous century, patients in mental hospitals were often written off as subhuman and kept in barbaric conditions; by the 1940s, mental health care began shifting toward new treatment models, some with real potential to help people (psychiatric pharmacology), and some that could only do harm (lobotomy). Mr. X’s time in state care fell between these two eras, at an institution flush with the spirit in which it was built. Whitfield’s superintendent, Dr. Mitchell, designed the campus in line with the latest scientific understanding of psychiatry. The physical environs were intended to be peaceful and pleasing to the eye. Patients attended weekly dances and movie nights. On Sundays, patients and staff alike worshipped in the campus chapel. Orchards, fields, and a dairy farm provided Whitfield’s food. Able-bodied patients sewed overalls in the occupational therapy workshop; others milked cows or repaired fences. Mitchell believed in giving residents the opportunity to contribute to their community, because the dignity of honest work could be a salve to a troubled spirit. It also helped stretch the institution’s meager budget.

For some patients weathering a temporary crisis, the restful environment was all the treatment they needed, and they left after a short stay. For those suffering from more severe or chronic disorders, the hospital offered comfort and stability. The focus of treatment was on easing symptoms and providing structures that kept patients safe.

By all accounts, Mr. X thrived at Whitfield. He worked in the hospital’s greenhouse, tending to plants and flowers, and he revealed a surprising store of botanical knowledge. In his downtime he played cards with other patients and with staff. He had a knack for complicated games like bridge.

Knowing the names of things is semantic knowledge; knowing how to do things is procedural knowledge. These parts of Mr. X’s mental functioning were intact. What was missing were his autobiographical memories. And without them, who was he? A skilled bridge player who couldn’t remember how or when he’d learned the game; a gardener with no recollection of who’d taught him the names of flowers or which varieties grew in his mother’s yard.

Mr. X spent hours in the hospital’s library, reading every newspaper and magazine he could get his hands on. He told his doctors that he was looking for something that might jog his memory, something that felt familiar. Nothing ever did. He spoke with a genteel Southern accent, which suggested that he’d had some education in his life, or at least had grown up among educated people. Those people—his people—could tell Mr. X who he was. But no one came to Whitfield to claim him.

 

We’re not the only ones who carry our memories. The people around us, who share in our experiences, have their own version of events saved away. And when we tell a story to a loved one, we’re giving them a piece of our lives. We scatter memories like seeds, letting them take root in the people who care enough to listen.

One day in the late 1990s, I sat cross-legged on the cool tile floor of my grandmother’s sunroom in Florida, listening. I had a cheap spiral notebook in my lap where I scribbled down the scraps of memory she shared. My grandmother had always been reticent to talk about her upbringing in Mississippi, but as she spoke, her initial hesitance burned away like a fog dissolving in sunshine.

As she described her childhood, she dwelled for a while on a woman named Ligon Smith Forbes, her aunt on her mother’s side. Ligon—pronounced with a short i and a hard g—died well before I was born, but as my grandmother spoke, a lively, unconventional woman took shape in my mind. “She was a feminist divorcée suffragette journalist alcoholic lesbian rabble-rouser,” my grandmother said, tapping a manicured finger against her ultra-slim cigarette. “You would have loved her!”

Ligon was a tall, striking woman, and by the time she was in her fifties, her lined face had a rosy glow—the complexion of a heavy drinker. She was married briefly, retaining nothing from the union but the title “Mrs.” and a new last name. Ligon worked all her life, and she held a wide variety of jobs. She tried teaching, then managed a stationery and newspaper shop. She dabbled in real estate and in the insurance business. She got into journalism and road-tripped with Eleanor Roosevelt to report on conditions in the rural South for the Emergency Relief Administration. She also started the first advertising agency in Mississippi. Her cofounder was her longtime “companion,” a woman named Earlene White.

“When I was turning 13, Mama let me take the train to visit Aunt Ligon in the city, to celebrate my birthday,” my grandmother told me, her eyes shining at the glamour of it all. The year was 1931, and the city was Jackson—for a girl from a small, dusty town, the state capital was the height of sophistication. She stayed with Ligon and Earlene in their suite at the Robert E. Lee Hotel.

“Of course, they were lovers,” my grandmother said in a casual aside, “but we didn’t talk about things like that back then.”

Her mother—my great-grandmother, Ligon’s sister—had given her five dollars to buy a dress. “Five dollars was a lot of money,” my grandmother said solemnly, as if she could still feel the weight of it in her patent-leather purse. “Ligon took me shopping, and well….” My grandmother shrugged. “Instead of a dress, I came home with my first pair of high heels.” She grinned with the mischief of a rebellious teenager.

“She worked for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans for a while,” my grandmother said of Ligon, narrowing her eyes in concentration. “Wrote for a bunch of newspapers. Sometimes she sent me cuttings, but I don’t think I saved them. Maybe you could look”—at this my grandmother gestured vaguely toward the sky, indicating technology and its mysteries—“find out something about her work.”

I tried, but searching through old newspapers on library microfiche was a formidable task, and the earliest databases for genealogy research, such as Ancestry.com, were just coming online. The notebook where I’d scribbled my grandmother’s memories soon slid to the bottom of a box. It sat there, unopened, and moved as I did, to new homes, half a dozen times over the years.

When I discovered the notebook again, my grandmother had been dead for a decade. But there were her words on the page, transcribed in my ballpoint-scrawled hand. Outlandish stories of feuds with her older brothers, of the small-town telephone operator who eavesdropped on everyone’s conversations, of the house her lumberman father built, hand-picking every board. And memories of her beloved Aunt Ligon.

I took the fragments my grandmother had given me—the Robert E. Lee Hotel, the Times-Picayune, Earlene—and fed them into search engines. There she was: Ligon Smith Forbes. I discovered facts about my aunt’s life that my grandmother hadn’t shared, perhaps hadn’t even known. Ligon filed a patent in 1920. She worked with Near East Relief, famously the first charity to let donors “adopt” a child by supporting them financially from afar. And at the time of the 1940 census, her residence was listed as the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield.

At first I thought Ligon had been a patient. Perhaps she was being treated for alcoholism. But no—I soon learned that Whitfield was another career shift. Ligon was hired in July 1938 as the institution’s public relations director. Previously, administrators or the occasional contractor had handled publicity. But someone convinced the hospital that it could use a dedicated staff member to liaise with the press. In all likelihood that someone was Ligon herself. Creating jobs out of whole cloth was one of her specialties.

Ligon moved into the female staff dorm at Whitfield. Her commute to work was a stroll down landscaped paths, first to the dining hall for breakfast at communal tables, then to the cupola-topped administration building. She had a Rolodex full of contacts at regional newspapers and magazines. She had experience writing copy she knew papers would run. Now all she had to do was scour the hospital for story ideas.

Ligon reached out to the Commercial Appeal, a newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, that had wide circulation in the South. It was always seeking content for its weekly photo supplement, referred to in the newspaper business as rotogravure. Ligon suggested that the paper do a two-page spread on the state-of-the-art mental hospital where she’d recently started working. She said she would travel to Memphis herself and hand-deliver the photographs. The newspaper, presumably eager for an easy way to fill a couple of pages, agreed.

On the day she would board the train for Memphis, Ligon came across a patient file that roused her journalistic instincts. As topics went, it was far meatier than images of Whitfield, however lovely the campus was. It was the sort of thing the public was hungry for. The stuff of radio melodrama and matinee movies. The kind of story a writer stumbles upon only a handful of times, if ever.

She had discovered Mr. X.

Read the full story at The Atavist

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

The Spokane, Washington skyline. (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. They Went to Bible College to Deepen Their Faith. Then They Were Assaulted—and Blamed for It.

Becca Andrews | Mother Jones | September 30, 2021 | 8,500 words

“But you drank the alcohol, right?” he asked. “What did you do to deserve to be hit?” That’s what Dean Timothy Arens of Moody Bible Institute asked student Anna Heyward when she described abuse, including rape, perpetrated by her boyfriend, who was also a student. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Becca Andrews’ investigation into the impact of “purity culture” on MBI’s response to reports of sexual abuse and harassment on campus is deep and far-reaching. It’s enough to make your blood boil. Andrews exposes a robust culture of blaming victims and side-stepping accountability, all in the name of God. She describes the weakening of Title IX protections at religious institutions under Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, which makes future Anna Heywards more vulnerable to judgment, humiliation, or worse at MBI, Liberty University, and other evangelical colleges. “All the women I spoke to who were survivors of sexual violence at Moody say they experienced … difficulty in finding the language to express what had happened, because it was impossible to see beyond the constraints imposed by Moody’s specific interpretation of Christianity,” Andrews writes. “It can be hard to recognize harassment when it is at the hands of a brother or a sister in Christ.” —SD

2. Reporter’s Diary: Finding Forgiveness in Burundi’s Mass Graves

Désiré Nimubona | The New Humanitarian | September 14, 2021 | 3,921

I live in Canada, and Thursday September 30th marked our first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new statutory holiday introduced to reflect on Canada’s history of abuse against Indigenous people — made particularly poignant by the recent discoveries of mass grave sites at former residential schools. Sadly, Canada’s troubled history is far from unique and this piece is about a small and often overlooked African country called Burundi — a place only just starting to peer down dark roads with its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Désiré Nimubona, a new writer to Longreads, spent 2020 following this Commission as they explored atrocities which started in the 19th century, when Burundi was first colonized by a European power, to 2008. It’s not comfortable reading. Nimubona literally watches mass graves being uncovered, with search teams holding up “belts, shoes, clothes, and other items pulled from the ground in the hope that residents would recognize who they belonged to.” In 1972, somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 Hutus were killed in Burundi. Nimubona was born six years after this bloodshed, but his life was shaped by it, displayed in the matter-of-fact way he tells us that in 1996, Tutsi soldiers made him and some friends lie in front of an armored truck: his friends were crushed to death. Still, amazingly, Nimubona does not seek pity in this essay, nor retribution. Rather, he finds hope in seeing Hutus and Tutsis uniting to inform the Commission. Where possible truth and reconciliation is, after all, about healing. —CW

3. I Had a Chance to Travel Anywhere. Why Did I Pick Spokane?

Jon Mooallem | The New York Times Magazine | September 21, 2021 | 5,138 words

I’ve never been to (or have any interest in visiting) Spokane, Washington. I’m not into minor-league baseball, either. So I read Seattle writer Jon Mooallem’s essay with no expectations, yet was surprised to come out the other side with a slight ache in my heart. On his first real trip after 17 months inside a pandemic bubble with his wife and two young daughters, Mooallem visits and experiences Spokane — a place he’d been genuinely curious about for years — at a baseball game of the city’s minor-league team, the Spokane Indians. With the Delta variant causing a surge in cases in the city, the idea of sitting in an open-air stadium seemed like “a manageable, belated step into the mid-pandemic lifestyle that people were calling post-pandemic life.” Mooallem’s piece explores the unique history of the team, and its special partnership with the Spokane Tribe of Indians (“we are not their mascot,” says the Spokane Tribal Business Council’s chairwoman). But, even more, it’s an unexpectedly lovely meditation on reentering the world: an anxious parent navigating life with an unvaccinated child; dealing with everyday stressors like wildfire smoke, COVID spikes, and survivor’s guilt; and pushing through pandemic lockdown inertia — which I’m personally trying to overcome. —CLR

4. Crash

Jesse Lee Kercheval | New England Review | June 21, 2021 | 1,925 words

This essay from Jesse Lee Kercheval at New England Review is a piece of writing that does not allow you to look away. Imagine you’re a child, eating deliciously salty, forbidden French fries after a swim at the beach on an idyllic summer day. Suddenly, you’re witnessing a horrific split-second car accident when someone fails to stop at a stop sign. Decades later, as Kercheval recounts this experience, she is unable to recall the most horrifying visual details from the scene, yet she cannot escape the sound. “I remember this. I can close my eyes and feel that metal on metal in my body,” Kercheval writes. The words she chose are simple, but their power teleported me to a car accident I was in in my late teens. The crunch of metal on metal is something I’ll never forget. This piece reminds me that writing has the power to connect us all across time and culture when it comes to what the body remembers from extraordinary experiences. —KS

5. An Interview With Chuck Palahniuk

Kathryn Borel | The Believer | September 27, 2021 | 5,659 words

I may not be a Chuck Palahniuk superfan, but I am 100% a smart-conversation-with-smart-people superfan, so this Believer Q&A had me from moment one. The last few years have been tough on the Choke novelist (and newly minted Substack writer), as they have been on so many of us; in addition to the usual psychic burdens, he went bankrupt after losing millions to an embezzling accountant. But prompted by knowing, empathic questions from Borel, he delves into his own regrets and coping mechanisms — both pre- and post-sobriety — and adds to our ever-accreting sense of a writer who’s as protective as he is prolific. “You know, I will stand on my head and whistle Dixie and do all these crazy things,” he says at once point, “because to me, being a genuine writer means that you’re able to shed all human dignity in a moment. People depend on you to express something that they can’t express. But I don’t want to betray people I love.” The first rule of a great interview is you share that great interview. —PR