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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Craig Whitlock, Keren Blankfield, Ash Sanders, C.J. Hauser, and Brian Kevin.

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The Poetry We Need and the Chitchat We Don’t

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In this week’s episode of the Longreads Podcast, The Rumpus Editor-in-Chief Marisa Siegel joins Essays Editor Sari BottonHead of Audience Catherine Cusick, and Contributing Editor Aaron Gilbreath to share what they’ve all been reading and working on. They discuss poetry, looking beyond humans to understand human behavior, how our bodies other us and bring out our humanity, and the music we write to.

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5:06This is small talk purgatory’: what Tinder taught me about love.” (CJ Hauser, December 7, 2019, The Guardian)

12:56Spines of the Finwomen.” (Lidia Yuknavitch, October 31, 2019, The Rumpus)

20:50 Aaron’s Music Corner, in which he unironically recommends writing to Chill Out Piano Night Jazz, while Sari does not recommend writing to the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic

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Produced by Longreads and Charts & Leisure.

Longreads Best of 2019: Arts and Culture

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in arts and culture.

Jessica Lynne
Jessica Lynne is a writer and art critic. She is co-editor of ARTS.BLACK, an online journal of art criticism from Black perspectives.

For Magicians Who Die On Stage (jayy dodd., Gay Magazine)

Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World (Magdalena Edwards, Los Angeles Review of Books)

As 2019 comes to a close, I would like to offer up two essays, disparate in conceit, but both worth the return.

First, there is jay dodd’s “For Magicians Who Die on Stage” published by GAY Mag. It is a beautiful meditation on the body, pain and fear, the specters of habit that might loom over our presence in the world, and the material reality of/for Black Trans Women. Using magic as structural metaphor, dodd moves us through her relationship to sobriety and the desires of self-imaging. Here is a line that stays with me: “I don’t believe I am attempting an illusion just by being alive and hurting and outside. Part of being able to be anywhere is crafting a self that feels desirable to me.” In truth though, it might be better to say that every line of this essay has stayed with me. dodd’s sentences are seared with undeniable beauty and clarity.

Secondly, I remain struck by Magdalena Edwards’ essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World,” in which Edwards recounts her experience working with the writer, editor, and Clarice Lispector translator Moser. Edwards, also a Lispector translator, vulnerably details the terms of a book translation project that, begun in deep admiration of Moser, leads to a reckoning with the ethics (or lack thereof) that guide Moser’s engagement with the work of one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Most importantly, in mining the politics of translation, Edwards centers a necessary question that remains critical for my own relationship to lineages of writing and research: “Who gets thanked for their devotion?” Edwards asks. “Who gets credit for their work?”

Jillian Steinhauer
Jillian Steinhauer is a journalist and editor whose writing appears in the New York TimesThe New RepublicThe NationThe Art Newspaper, and other publications. She’s a recipient of a 2019 Arts Writers grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital.

The Tear Gas Biennial (Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett, Artforum)

Psycho Analysis (Andrea Long Chu, Bookforum)

Within the world of writing, criticism gets short shrift. Sure, maybe I’m just saying that because I’m a critic, but I do believe it’s true, both financially and in terms of how our society assigns value. Despite the ongoing journalism layoffs and consolidation bloodbath, a lot of great arts and culture writing was published this year. I don’t know if these two pieces were the best — I find myself utterly unable to make such judgments — but both are excellent examples of criticism at its best. And both have stuck with me.

The first is technically an opinion piece, but it does the work of criticism by helping readers better see and understand something in the culture — in this case, the debate over how artists in the 2019 Whitney Biennial should respond to protests against the Whitney Museum’s vice chairman Warren Kanders. The situation was pretty specific and probably lost on you if you don’t participate in the contemporary art world, but that doesn’t matter. In “The Tear Gas Biennial,” Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett break down the entanglement of art and politics with incredible clarity and moral force.

The same can be said of “Psycho Analysis,” Andrea Long Chu’s review of Bret Easton Ellis’s new book White. For better or worse, takedowns — let alone good ones — are hard to find these days. This piece reminds me why they’re so delicious when done right. Chu refuses to take Ellis’s bait and get angry. Instead, with equal parts rigor and wit, she entertainingly eviscerates his “deeply needless book.”

Soraya Roberts
Soraya Roberts is a culture columnist at Longreads.

The Artist Who Gave Up Her Daughter (Sasha Bonét, Topic)

Few of the multitude of articles I read each year stick, and the ones that do tend to hail from magazines like The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian. It makes sense: Those are places that not only have the resources to nurture the best writers, but also to carve their work into its greatest form. Which is why I didn’t want to pick anything from those places. I realize that Topic magazine isn’t the biggest underdog of all, but it’s a start. And I had never heard of Sasha Bonét before I read The Artist Who Gave Up Her Daughter. But that’s a story that I remember. It’s a story I sent people. Even just seeing the short description in my Twitter feed — the black artist Camille Billops abandoned her 4-year-old child in the ’60s to pursue her art — I knew it was for me. I, as I’m sure a lot of women artists do, have a particular affinity for stories about women who choose their art first, when they are always expected to do the opposite.

Bonét traces how Billops becomes self actualized as an artist by shedding her past — what she had been taught about black womanhood and its attendant motherhood — including her own daughter. If she hadn’t given up her daughter, the artist says, “I would have died, and if I would have died, she would have died.” In contrast, the piece offers up Billops’ partner, a white man who not only contradicted societal norms of the time, but also provided her the emotional support for her art that she couldn’t provide her own child. Bonét illustrates how Billops, following the initial rejection of her own family, adopts a community of artists as her chosen relatives.

“Her memory collided with the new world she had carefully and meticulously molded,” she writes. The eventual fraught rapprochement of mother and daughter, itself becomes a confluence of emotion and creation. Bonét doesn’t shy away from Billops’ fundamental paradox, which is that she could only nurture that which she chose to create: “Christa had said that meeting her birth mother and her biological family saved her life, but some may argue that it led to her demise.” A devastating but beautiful piece of art about a devastating but beautiful artist.

Danielle A. Jackson
Danielle A. Jackson is a contributing editor at Longreads.

Forgotten: The Things We Lost in Kanye’s Gospel Year (Ashon Crawley, NPR Music)

For Black Women, Love Is a Dangerous Thing—“Bitter” Showed Me How to Do It Anyway (Tari Ngangura, Catapult)

Like most people I know, I read a lot of articles and books and listened to a lot of music in 2019, for learning, for practice, for work. When it got to be too much, when work overwhelmed, or the world did, by way of the news or simply duty, I spent a fair amount of time reconnecting to pleasure. I needed to re-learn how to experience the art I love for the sake of sensation, for how it vibrated in my body, rearranged my cells, made me change. I never want to be too busy or too much in despair to remember that my work should be infused with pleasure, too, that what I place on the page, how I think and engage in the world must be infused with heart and feeling. These two pieces immediately struck me and stayed, guiding me through my attempts at staying connected.

First, Ashon Crawley’s examination of Kanye West’s Sunday services and their culmination, the very popular Jesus is King album, is a moving meditation on remembering, or rather, how, in the deluge of so much sensory input and so much hype, we forget precedents, echoes, entire people and eras. We lose the substance, Crawley insists, when we lose the memory. And so, we are so easily deluded, so easily bought. Crawley threads together stories of Zora Neale Hurston, who told us a century ago about the political underpinnings of Black American religious ritual, the author Hans Christian Andersen, and William Seymour, the founder of the American Pentecostal movement, to help us think through the sad, hollow spirit-lessness of Kanye’s endeavor into gospel. More importantly, Crawley proposes that failing to remember costs us in imagination and progress. In his words, “Gospel performance at its inception was the announcement of the practice of different worlds, the fact that alternatives are available, the sounding out of the here and now breaking with the normative and violent world. Sounds of otherwise possibility.”

Tari Ngangura’s Catapult piece “For Black Women, Love is a Dangerous Thing —“Bitter” Showed Me How to Do It Anyway” is a story and analysis of bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello’s album Bitter, but also of Ngangura’s first encounter with it, and how the album allowed her to verbalize and move through the feelings and aftermath of an early romantic relationship. I love Ngangura’s insistence on hope through disappointment, her gentle pleas with herself to stay open. I love that a piece of art can help us do that.

Monica Castillo
Monica Castillo is a New York City-based film critic and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News,, Remezcla, The Wrap, Hyperallergic and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, while many critics and moviegoers were scratching their heads over the outpouring of love for the uncomfortable interracial buddy movie from Peter Farrelly, Green Book, Wesley Morris made sense of the ordeal by examining the way certain feel-good movies about race like Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy tend to win awards over more challenging and honest works like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. The year Lee’s electric film broke out, it wasn’t even up for the Best Picture category at the Oscars. Instead, the award would eventually go to the much more saccharine movie in which Morgan Freeman played a happy-go-lucky driver hired for a racist client played by Jessica Tandy. Through his piece “Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies” and a few episodes of his podcast with Jenna Wortham, “Still Processing,” Morris explores the various shortcomings of the form and why its persistence does more harm than good. For starters, these types of movies always prioritize the character arc of the white character who’s maybe a little bit racist but not explicitly so, and over the course of the film, they learn the error of their ways. Unfortunately, that journey comes at the expense of the Black character who must endure the white character’s racist nonsense as they play second fiddle to the white protagonist’s story. Morris finds a through-line in Driving Miss Daisy and to other movies before and after it like Green Book that offers an easy out for white audiences because they’re not as bad as the worst racist villains in the movie. It was the incisive reading I needed — and still need to some extent, as there are still people who want to relitigate my opinion — to back up my own misgivings on the movie. Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture that night (and picked up a few extra awards as well), so Morris’ piece will likely continue to resonate for many more awards seasons to come.

Krista Stevens
Krista Stevens is a senior editor at Longreads.

Trigger (Michael Hall Texas Monthly)

More than anything, I love music and and I love writing that transcends time. For me, music is fifty percent art and fifty percent magic. During this most trying of years it’s been a salve I turn to (or perhaps tune in to?) every day to find solace as the planet collapses and the news cycle brings to mind Yeats’ center that cannot hold. Of all the pieces I’ve read this year as part of my curation work for Longreads, there’s one that particularly resonated with me as a keen student of guitar and bass. Back in the January 21st edition of Texas Monthly in 2013, Michael Hall wrote a lengthy ode to Trigger, Willy Nelsen’s faithful musical sidekick.

Wille’s been playing that same Martin N-20 classical for 50 years. In it, Hall chronicles Nelsen’s career through the battle scars literally etched into Trigger’s worn neck and battered body as well as the careful tending and regular repair the guitar has undergone in the span of five decades.

Reading the piece, my own small instrument family suddenly meant even more to me and it made me happier about the countless hours I’ve spent studying music. For is there anything more worthwhile than to make a bit of magic?

Longreads Best of 2019: Science and Nature

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in science and nature.

Deborah Blum
Deborah Blum is the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and publisher of Undark magazine.

‘We Have Fire Everywhere’ (Jon Mooallem, The New York Times Magazine)

Our Secret Delta (Tony Bartelme and Glenn Smith, The Post and Courier)

One of the most interesting trends in climate change reporting is the way writers now quietly and deftly weave its effects into the background of natural disaster stories, from the rapid intensification of hurricanes in the Atlantic to the increasingly explosive wildfires in the west. I’d like to pay tribute to two outstanding examples of this in the past year.

One is environmental writer Jon Mooallem’s stunning narrative portrait of last year’s devastating Camp Fire in northern California, which killed at least 85 people, burned through nearly 240 square miles, and destroyed almost 20,000 buildings including almost all of the small, wooded town of Paradise. Mooallem’s story “We Have Fire Everywhere” is a vivid, terrifying, edge-of-your seat reconstruction of desperate attempts to escape a literal inferno. It moves so beautifully and is so well-paced that you almost don’t realize that he’s also slipping in a lot of very smart fire science, exploring the ways in which climate change is making wildfires exponentially more dangerous. Describing one harrowing moment in a line of burning cars, he writes, “Fisher wasn’t just trapped in a car; she was trapped in the 21st century.”

The other is “Our Secret Delta,” a haunting exploration of South Carolina’s threatened Santee River delta, published this September in the Charleston paper, The Post and Courier. It’s a real pleasure in these days when we worry so much about the fate of local journalism to see this paper shine in so many important ways. This project, led by Tony Bartelme and Glenn Smith, is visually gorgeous and told with the grace of an old-time Southern story, allowing the delta, its history and culture, its fragile waters, to gradually unspool like the winding path of a river itself. The writers create a memorable portrait of an old and essential ecosystem under new threats. Perhaps the most ominous threat is the rise of coastal waters as they reshape the state, yet another reminder that climate change stalks our present as well as our future.

Elizabeth Rush
Elizabeth Rush is the author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore and instructor of creative nonfiction at Brown University.

Climate Signs (Emily Raboteau, The New York Review of Books)

When Emily Raboteau’s son becomes obsessed with extreme weather events after a family outing to the “Nature’s Fury” exhibition at the natural history museum in New York, she wonders how much she should shield her five-year-old from conversations around climate change. It is a query she carries with her as she embarks on a city-wide pilgrimage to visit each installation of a public art project called “Climate Signals” wherein the artist hijacks highway traffic signs, rewriting their commonplace warnings with uncanny proclamations of new hazards ahead. In Saint Nicolas Park in Harlem, the sign reads: CLIMATE CHANGE AT WORK. At Hudson River Yards, the yellow lettering spells out an even more dire threat: CLIMATE DENIAL KILLS. In this expertly rendered essay –– gracefully weaving between the personal and critical, the scientific and political –– Raboteau attempts to make sense of what it means to raise a child in a world that is coming apart. It is a question many have but that is all too often addressed in reductive, late capitalist logic in which our human hearts are not taken into consideration.

Emily Raboteau
Emily Raboteau is a professor of creative writing at the City College of New York, and the author of several nontraditional longform essays, including a year-long Twitter thread on climate change, @emilyraboteau.

After the Storm (Mary Annaïse Heglar, Guernica)

Mary Annaïse Heglar’s “After the Storm” stood out to me as a knockout personal essay on climate this year. Heglar is building a body of important work marrying climate awareness with social, environmental, and racial justice. In this piece, which ran in Guernica in October, she frames her harrowing experience of Hurricane Katrina, along with her family in the Mississippi River region, as the lens through which she now sees the climate movement as an activist and director of publications at the National Resources Defense Council. She weaves together the overtly racist news coverage of that storm, the fact that it made landfall the day after the 50th anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder, and the inequitable suffering of New Orleans’ Black population to illuminate the layers of historical injustice magnified by the climate crisis, “covered in the fingerprints of slavery and Jim Crow and colonialism and genocide and patriarchy. It’s what happens when large swaths of people are not only systematically ‘left out,’ but forced to be their own gravediggers and pallbearers.” This should be required reading for those interested in how equity and equality are pivotal to successful climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Mary Annaïse Heglar
Mary Annaïse Heglar is a climate justice writer and communications professional based in New York City.

The End Times Are Here, and I Am at Target (Hayes Brown, The Outline)

Perhaps the most perplexing paradox of climate change is its ability to be both overwhelmingly terrifying and mind-numbingly ordinary. Especially in the past few years, as denial has become less of a viable option and even delusion has slipped from our fingers, the climate crisis with its alarming headlines and horror stories has become… normal. The steady drumbeat to the banality of our lives. Hayes Brown manages to capture that drumbeat in this masterful essay, isolating its sound out of the symphony with surgical precision. As he runs regular errands in a regular Target on a regular, if unusually hot, summer day in Brooklyn, the climate crisis reverberates in the back of his mind, filtering into every choice of every item, if he allows himself to think of it. As someone who exists as a bonafide “climate person,” I love the fresh eye that Hayes brings to the subject. He gives voice to the haunting bewilderment, the guilt of surrender, and the uncertainty that lies within the cracks of the certainty. His essay reminds us of the dullness of our collective heartbreak as we stare into our manmade abyss.

Mikael Awake
Mikael Awake‘s work has appeared in GQ, Bookforum, ArtNews, The Common, and most recently McSweeney’s 58: 2040 A.D. He teaches at Lafayette College.

Indigenous Knowledge Has Been Warning Us About Climate Change for Centuries (Malcolm Harris, Pacific Standard)

This piece by Malcolm Harris has stuck with me for a few reasons. It came out in Pacific Standard, which was an important outlet for environmental writing before it was shut down this past August. (How the crisis in media has interacted with the climate crisis is a subject for another day.) The essay is an elegant synthesis of entomology, economics, and colonial history that places indigenous knowledge at the foundation of the climate conversation — not as ornament, but as central anti-capitalist critique, as timeless technology. Such a piece could inspire the allotment of more time and money — in academic, political, media, and cultural spaces — for deeper dives into indigenous environmentalism and systems of knowledge. It made me dream of a 1619 Project-style series devoted to un-suppressing those narratives, and made me think about Standing Rock and Mauna Kea and how the violent suppression of indigenous activism works hand-on-musket with the suppression of indigenous thought. Harris is a sharp and funny writer, which is why this story seemed something of a departure in approach and tone, and I appreciated it. I wasn’t familiar with the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who posits the crucial idea that what we call climate change is not a new challenge, but one as old as the New World, “part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.” The piece resonated with my feeling that imagination is a function of collective human memory, or as Harris says, paraphrasing sociologist Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani, “[t]hose who study what has been suppressed can see the future.”

Longreads Best of 2019: Crime Reporting

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in crime reporting.

Pamela Colloff
ProPublica senior reporter and New York Times Magazine staff writer.

Show of Force (Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker)

Every Rachel Aviv story is a marvel, and “Show of Force” — which looks at the intersection of domestic violence and law enforcement — is no exception. In language that is both spare and foreboding, Aviv builds detail upon detail as she sketches the contours of a troubled new marriage in Spalding County, Georgia. She notes that Jessica and Matthew Boynton, the protagonists of her story, left their wedding reception “after less than an hour” and that “Matthew wore a titanium wedding ring with a blue stripe, to signify that he was in law enforcement.” As these small but revelatory details accumulate, so, too, does a growing sense of dread. Aviv illuminates the real human cost behind the chilling statistics that suggest law enforcement officers are more likely to abuse their spouses, making it clear that Jessica, despite being in grave harm, has nowhere to turn. By the time I reached the story’s denouement, my heart was in my throat.

Susan Chira
Editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project. Chira worked for The New York Times for nearly 40 years as a reporter and editor, and shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of sexual harassment.

The King of Dreams (Christie Thompson, The Marshall Project)

This grippingly-written and deeply-reported story exposed the scams of a Texas con artist who made millions promising prisoners’ families their most cherished dream: bringing their children home. Thompson, a staff reporter for The Marshall Project, describes how this conman falsely promised them he could obtain reduced sentences and led them on to exhaust their life savings, in many cases. It’s a window into the desperation and vulnerability of the millions of Americans who love someone who is incarcerated.

Taken: How police departments make millions by seizing property (Anna Lee, Nathaniel Cary, and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News)

One of the great truisms about criminal justice is that it’s local. At a time when local journalism is increasingly endangered — along with the prospect of accountability for local wrongs — here’s an example of a compellingly reported and written investigation by the intrepid staff of this Greenville, S.C., newspaper. They examined statewide civil asset forfeitures over three years and found that not only did the state seize more than $17 million in property, but also that black men were disproportionately the targets.

Aura Bogado
Investigative immigration reporter at Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting

Bound by Statute (Ko Bragg and Melissa Lewis, Reveal)

When reporter Ko Bragg spotted a story about a 13-year-old who was being tried as an adult in Mississippi, she wondered if there were others like him. Her investigation, meticulously examined with data reporter Melissa Lewis, uncovered that nearly 5,000 children were charged as adults in the state in the last 25 years. They found that racial discrepancies abound: three in every four of the children are black; sentences for black minors tried as adults average twice as long as sentences for white minors charged as adults; and even when white kids are handed longer sentences, they’re released much sooner than black kids.

Bragg’s elegant writing follows the devastating story of a child named Isaiah who spent nine months in pretrial detention — sometimes in solitary confinement, other times with adults — before being dragged into court shackled at the waist and ankles. Photographer Imani Khayyam captures intimate moments between a son and mother who illustrate the toll that the state’s laws have taken on their family. But perhaps most compelling is the way the work seemlessly reaches into history to find the origins of this inequity in chattle slavery. The writing explains how the practice of robbing black children of their childhood was upheld through Reconstruction, then made a feature of white mob violence, and finally codified into law — the same law that prosecutors and judges say bind them to perpetuate the inequity today.

Josie Duffy Rice
President of The Appeal, a news publication that publishes original journalism about the criminal justice system. Co-host of the podcast Justice in America.

False Witness (Pamela Colloff, ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine)

Pam Colloff’s story on jailhouse informants is one of the best stories I’ve read this year. It’s a topic that sounds like it could get technical — Pam’s reporting drew on thousands of pages of public records, covering half a century of criminal cases in Texas and Florida — but in true Pam fashion, this piece is completely and totally fascinating. It’s also enraging. The main character is a real piece of work, manipulative and charming and unrepentant. The ways in which he’s charmed women, cops, and juries, destroying peoples lives in the process, must be read to be believed. Incredible reporting, remarkable storytelling. I remain in awe.

Sign up to get email updates from Pamela Colloff about her investigation into jailhouse informants and how she reported the story.

Sarah Weinman
Author of The Real Lolita and editor of crime anthologies, including the forthcoming Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsessions

The Minnesota Murderess (Christine Seifert, The Atavist)

Seifert’s historical yarn starts out as a true crime tale but looks more broadly at the ways in which media has always incited panic about women exercising any form of independence in their lives.

He Cyberstalked Teen Girls For Years — Then They Fought Back (Stephanie Clifford, WIRED)

Stephanie Clifford’s story of repeated and sustained harassment of high school girls in a small New Hampshire town is infuriating and enraging and impossible to stop reading.

Catherine Cusick
Longreads Head of Audience and host of The Longreads Podcast

How judicial conflicts of interest are denying poor Texans their right to an effective lawyer / How the Unchecked Power of Judges Is Hurting Poor Texans (Neena Satija, Texas Tribune and Texas Monthly)

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states are required, under the Sixth Amendment, to provide an attorney to defendants in criminal cases who are unable to afford their own counsel. How states should pay for this defense, crucially, is left up to the states. For Texas Monthly and the Texas Tribune, Neena Satija exposes the undeniable structural flaws that prohibit funding indigent defense properly in Texas. Satija has done readers an incredible service by recreating the bewilderment of encountering these judicial paywalls from both sides of the bench, bringing much needed humanity to straightening out so many convoluted conflicts of interest.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2019 year-end collection.

Longreads Best of 2019: Essays

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in essays.

Jennifer Baker

Publishing professional, contributing editor to Electric Literature, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, editor of Everyday People: The Color of Life—A Short Story Anthology.

Lesson Plan: This Is Not a Drill (Jasminne Mendez, Queen Mob’s Tea House)

On Facebook author Jasminne Mendez said “Lesson Plan” came out of “an attempt at capturing what I’ve felt and what I can only imagine feeling.” Art at its best, at its height, at its most vivid brings us into an experience so deeply one cannot help but feel the effects of the work in our marrow. “Lesson Plan” captures something unique and raw through structure, precision, poetics, and accuracy of what an initially conventional turned unconventional school day looks like when it comes to a new “normal”: active shooters/drills. How can we keep kids safe? Is that even possible anymore? What pressures are educators under? What and who gets lost when these events occur? When will this kind of terror end? The refrain of “this is not a drill” pulsates throughout. Remember… remember… remember. The bare honesty of “Lesson Plan” exemplifies the kind of writing that inspires you to experiment with how to encapsulate and explore our reality, as distressing as it may be.

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Longreads Best of 2019: All of Our No. 1 Story Picks

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2019. Here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

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Reporting Crime or Turning to Crime

(Photo by Jon Akira YAMAMOTO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

In this week’s episode of the Longreads Podcast, Head of Audience Catherine Cusick and Head of Fact-Checking Matt Giles discuss recent crime reporting in The Ringer by Kate Knibbs, as well as a collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine by Pamela Colloff on a con artist whose testimony helped send four men to Florida’s death row.

Subscribe and listen now everywhere you get your podcasts.

2:40He’s a Liar, a Con Artist and a Snitch. His Testimony Could Soon Send a Man to His Death.” (Pamela Colloff, December 4, 2019, ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine)

2:56 “Worked at Vice Then Went to Jail”: How a Bunch of Canadian Hipsters Wound Up Smuggling Cocaine (and Getting Caught)” (Kate Knibbs, December 2, 2019, The Ringer)

29:00 Sign up to get email updates from Pamela Colloff about her investigation into jailhouse informants and how she reported the story.

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Produced by Longreads and Charts & Leisure.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Pamela Colloff, Jordan Smith, James Ross Gardner, Michelle Dowd, and Jaya Saxena.

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In Praise of Del Amitri’s Album Waking Hours

Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns

Alex Green | The 33 1/3 B-Sides | Bloomsbury Academic | September 2019 | 10 minutes (2,044 words)


At Passover dinner in April 1990, our Seder came to the pivotal symbolic moment where we poured a cup of wine and opened the door for the Prophet Elijah. As if on cue, in walked a guy wearing ripped jeans and a black mask, holding a shotgun. It wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured him. I’d always thought skinny, long hair, a beard, maybe a robe…

“Sorry to barge in like this,” the guy said, “but we’re going to be taking some shit.” Then he whistled out the door and in walked an identical masked intruder with an equally menacing shotgun. The two of them tied my family up and then proceeded to ransack the house right in front of us, pulling out drawers, throwing around dishes, and kicking over plants as they searched for anything of value.

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