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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Mary Ann Mobley of Mississippi is crowned Miss America 1959 in Atlantic City. (Slim Aarons / Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Lyz Lenz, Molly Young, Hannah Dreier, Maddie Stone, and Richard Cooke.

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Love and look forward to the weekly Top 5? We’ve been hand-picking the week’s best reading for over 10 years and we need your help to continue to curate the best of the web and to publish new original investigative journalism, essays, and commentary.

Please chip in with a one-time or — even better — a monthly or annual contribution. We’re grateful for your support!

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1. The End of Miss America

Lyz Lenz | Jezebel | February 20, 2020 | 15 minutes (3,814 words)

If only the actual Miss America were as gorgeous and erudite as this essay about the decrepitude of a stagnant pageant in a changing world.

2. Garbage Language: Why Do Corporations Speak the Way They Do?

Molly Young | New York magazine | February 20, 2020 | 16 minutes (4,188 words)

Let’s drop a pin in this and take it off-line so we can futureproof the intiative with these key learnings and co-create innovative win-wins that require an omni-channel push but no critical ask. Actually, let’s not.

3. Trust and Consequences

Hannah Dreier | The Washington Post | February 20, 2020 | 22 minutes (5,600 words)

The government required him to see a therapist. He thought his words would be confidential. Now, the traumatized migrant may be deported.

4. The High-Stakes Fight Over Bolivia’s Lithium

Maddie Stone | Protocol | February 16, 2020 | 9 minutes (2,296 words)

“Bolivia has the largest known resources of lithium. Can it build an industry to supply the world’s growing demand?”

5. Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet

Richard Cooke | Wired | February 17, 2020 | 17 minutes (4,445 words)

What happens when you give thousands of pedants a place online to let loose the full force of their passions? Something flawed, but beautiful.

Postcard from the (Literal) Edge

Getty / Park Row Books

Erin Khar | Longreads | February 2020 | excerpted from Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me, Park Row Books | 9 minutes (2,436 words)

 

Valentine’s Day 2001

Her mother just looks at her for a long minute, then removes a jade pendant from around her neck and hands it to her daughter. “June, since your baby time, I wear this next to my heart. Now you wear next to yours. It will help you know: I see you. I see you.”

—The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

My mom and I both read The Joy Luck Club when I was seventeen and saw the movie together a few years later. The stories reveal the intricate relationships between mothers and daughters. There was one scene that resonated with us both — one of the mothers finally tells her daughter, “I see you.” Through unspoken words, we understood how this reflected our relationship, or more accurately the hope we had for our relationship. Like the mother in the book, my mother had a jade pendant. It had belonged to her mother. But she didn’t give it to me. Now it was in the pawn shop. She didn’t know it was missing.

What my mom did give me for my twenty-first birthday was a white gold Tiffany ID bracelet that was engraved. It read, I see you. She welled up with tears when she gave it to me and hugged me tighter than she had in years. I loved it but could never bring myself to wear it. I knew she couldn’t see me.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 30:M-209 is a light-weight portable pin-and-lug cipher machine, developed at the beginning of World War II by Boris Hagelin. Crypto AG, a predecessor of Crypto International, was a Swiss company that emerged from World War II with complex and secure code-breaking machines. The firm made hundreds of millions of dollars, selling equipment to nearly 130 countries. What none of those customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with German intelligence. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Greg Miller, Melissa del Bosque, Katherine Rosman, Laura Marsh, and Alexander Huls.

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Love and look forward to the weekly Top 5? We’ve been hand-picking the week’s best reading for over 10 years and we need your help to continue to curate the best of the web and to publish new original investigative journalism, essays, and commentary.

Please chip in with a one-time or — even better — a monthly or annual contribution. We’re grateful for your support!

Contribute

* * *

1. ‘The intelligence coup of the century’

Greg Miller | The Washington Post | February 11, 2020 | 35 minutes (8,928 words)

The CIA, in a secret partnership with West Germany, used Crypto AG to sell encryption services to gullible governments and then promptly read all their clandestine communications.

2. A Group of Agents Rose Through the Ranks to Lead the Border Patrol. They’re Leaving It in Crisis.

Melissa del Bosque | Pro Publica | February 10, 2020 | 24 minutes (6,204 words)

How several agents from a small outpost in Arizona, including recently retired chief Carla Provost, climbed to the top of the Border Patrol, then one by one retired, leaving corruption, misconduct and a toxic culture in their wake.

3. The Chaos at Condé Nast

Katherine Rosman | The New York Times | February 12, 2020 | 12 minutes (3,135 words)

Responding to Details editor Dan Peres’s new recovery memoir, Katherine Rosman casts a jaundiced eye upon the lax culture and unquestioned expense accounts at Condé Nast Publications that allowed Peres (and several of his colleagues, who also have tell-alls in the works) to get away with gross acts of self-indulgence and mistreatment of their employees.

4. Infinite Jerk

Laura Marsh | The New Republic | February 12, 2020 | 15 minutes (3,859 words)

Within “the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexism in the publishing industry,” jerks are praised and women are erased. 

5. Family Business

Alexander Huls | Truly*Adventurous | January 28, 2020 | 31 minutes (7,773 words)

What do you do when all you ever really wanted was to be loved by your dad and all he wants is to use you to perpetrate crime? Vincent Moretti got wrapped up in his overbearing father’s penchant for organizing inside-job armoured car heists. When Archie Moretti refused to share the take fairly, Vincent decided he had had enough of the patriarchy.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A boat along the Chicago river passes under the Clark Street bridge. (Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from David Enrich, Megan Stielstra, Natalie Weiner, Mark Leviton and Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Amanda Fortini.

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Love and look forward to the weekly Top 5? We’ve been hand-picking the week’s best reading for over 10 years and we need your help to continue to curate the best of the web and to publish new original investigative journalism, essays, and commentary.

Please chip in with a one-time or — even better — a monthly or annual contribution. We’re grateful for your support!

Contribute

* * *

1. The Money Behind Trump’s Money

David Enrich | The New York Times Magazine | February 4, 2020 | 27 minutes (6,900 words)

The inside story of the president and Deutsche Bank, his lender of last resort.

2. We Make Homes

Megan Stielstra | Gay Magazine | February 6, 2020 | 9 minutes (2,291 words)

The world is stuff and nonsense at best and a violent mess at worst, but we still find homes, and connections, and communities.

3. The Girl in the Huddle

Natalie Weiner | SB Nation | February 4, 2020 | 22 minutes (5,518 words)

For a decade, Elinor Kaine Penna was the ultimate football insider, bringing the ins and outs of the nascent pro game to its fans. For SB Nation, Natalie Weiner interviews Penna—now decades removed from the press box — and highlights her ascendancy in the 1960s as an NFL reporter and whose newsletter, Lineback, became the sole imprimatur of a truly knowledgeable football fan.

4. We Will Be Seen

Mark Leviton, Tressie McMillan Cottom | The Sun Magazine | February 1, 2020 | 29 minutes (7,308 words)

Have you read Tressie McMillan Cottom’s book “Thick” yet? If not, that’s a mistake, but a mistake you can begin to rectify by reading this excellent, wide-ranging interview to understand just how sharp a thinker she is.

5. The People of Las Vegas

Amanda Fortini | The Believer | January 31, 2020 | 20 minutes (5,200 words)

Amanda Fortini suggests that Las Vegas is deep and interesting, and a pretty decent place to live, if you care to meet people and look closely, beyond the glittering lure of unbridled debauchery on the Vegas strip.

The Ancient Waterways of Phoenix, Arizona

The Central Arizona Project canal in Phoenix. AP Photo/Matt York

Bruce Berger | A Desert Harvest | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | March 2019 | 25 minutes (4,980 words)

 

As Mars was once thought to be, Phoenix is crisscrossed by canals. Except for what remains of its desert setting, canals may be Phoenix’s most distinguishing feature. Varying little, pooling a personality, they make soft incisions through what surrounds them. As you jockey through traffic dizzied by small businesses and their signs, numbed by miles of ranch homes and convenience stores, your eyes will flicker coolly down what seems an open tunnel of water. Receding parallels of packed desert sand, twenty feet wide, clean of vegetation, frame an even, sky-reflecting flow. Glimpses of joggers and cyclists along the banks indicate that there is still human life without combustion. For all their sterility, the canals command moving water and thus retain more mystery than anything else in the valley. Because they so prominently display what makes a desert city possible, it would seem that to get to the bottom of the canals would be to get to the bottom of Phoenix.

Part of the canals’ mystique is that some of their routes predate Phoenix by nearly two millennia. Beginning around A.D. 200, Hohokam Indians, using handheld digging tools, moved tons of earth and engineered the largest pre-Columbian irrigation system in the Western Hemisphere. Some 250 miles of canals fanned like tufts of hair from the Salt River, irrigating several thousand acres of corn, squash, beans, pumpkins and cotton. Having reached a population of twenty thousand, the Hohokam abandoned the Salt River Valley around 1400, possibly because they had depleted the soil.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo by Meiko Takechi Arquillos. CC-BY

This week, we’re sharing stories from Wendy C. Ortiz, Mary South, Jeremiah Moss, Nora Caplan-Bricker, and Samanth Subramanian.

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

* * *

Love and look forward to the weekly Top 5? We’ve been hand-picking the week’s best reading for over 10 years and we need your help to continue to curate the best of the web and to publish new original investigative journalism, essays, and commentary.

Please chip in with a one-time or — even better — a monthly or annual contribution. We’re grateful for your support!

Contribute

* * *

1. Adventures in Publishing Outside the Gates

Wendy C. Ortiz | Gay Magazine | January 29, 2020 | 14 minutes (3,521 words)

When Latinx author Wendy C. Ortiz shopped her memoir, Excavation, about the inappropriate sexual relationship her eighth grade English teacher initiated with her, mainstream publishers wouldn’t give her the time of day. She published it with tiny Future Tense Books, and the book gained a strong following. Among her readers was white author Kate Elizabeth Russell, whose forthcoming novel, My Dark Vanessa — for which she received a seven-figure deal and a blurb from Stephen King —  is remarkably similar. In this essay, Ortiz takes the white-dominated publishing industry to task for its longstanding discrimination against, and erasure of, writers of color.

2. Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy

Mary South | The White Review | January 17, 2020 | 16 minutes (4,228 words)

A lifetime of exploring and repairing the human brain doesn’t bring the neurosurgeon in this darkly funny, compelling short story any closer to understanding the human mind.

3. Open House

Jeremiah Moss | n + 1 | January 17, 2020 | 26 minutes (6,663 words)

As his neighbors pass from health problems and old age, relinquishing formerly rent-controlled apartments to monied young people, writer Jeremiah Moss remembers and mourns the simple intimacies that passed among the colorful tenants of his East Village apartment building.

4. Vivian Gornick Doesn’t Get the Hype

Nora Caplan-Bricker | The Cut | January 24, 2020 | 11 minutes (2,838 words)

Nora Caplan-Bricker speaks with the incisive author about how her views on feminism and politics have evolved over her 84 years, and of her ongoing “quest for ‘expressiveness’ — a word that, in her work, connotes both inner clarity and the ability to translate that insight outward.”

5. Question Time: My Life as a Quiz Obsessive

Samanth Subramanian | The Guardian | January 28, 2020 | 24 minutes (6,084 words)

From India and Ireland to the U.S., quiz tournaments are enduringly popular even — if not especially — as information has become more accessible than ever.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Michael Barajas, Evan Ratliff, Andrew Mckirdy, Raffi Khatchadourian, and Agnes Callard.

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

* * *

Love and look forward to the weekly Top 5? We’ve been hand-picking the week’s best reading for over 10 years and we need your help to continue to curate the best of the web and to publish new original investigative journalism, essays, and commentary.

Please chip in with a one-time or — even better — a monthly or annual contribution. We’re grateful for your support!

Contribute

* * *

1. The Prison Inside Prison

Michael Barajas | Texas Observer | January 21, 2020 | 25 minutes (6,335 words)

Decades with no personal contact, no way back into the general prison population, cut off from the possibility of parole — solitary confinement is an ongoing experiment in cruelty on human subjects.

2. The Mysterious Lawyer X

Evan Ratliff | The California Sunday Magazine | January 16, 2020 | 48 minutes (12,100 words)

Nicola Gobbo defended Melbourne’s most notorious criminals at the height of a gangland war. They didn’t know she had a secret.

3. Throwaway Society: Rejecting a Life Consumed by Plastic

Andrew McMirdy | The Japan Times | January 10, 2020 | 9 minutes (2,465 words)

Japan is the second-biggest producer of plastic waste per capita, after the US. One journalist tries to spend a week without using single-use plastic and discovers how dependent Japan’s food system has become on disposable plastic.

4. N.K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

Raffi Khatchadourian | The New Yorker | January 20, 2020 | 26 minutes (6,746 words)

In Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile, N.K. Jemisin recounts the racism she witnessed as a child in Alabama in the ’80s, as well as racism — editorial and otherwise — that she has lived through in her career.

5. Who Wants to Play the Status Game?

Agnes Callard | The Point | January 16, 2020 | 6 minutes (1,549 words)

Hi, nice to meet you, are we playing the Importance Game or the Leveling Game? With a skilled player, it’s hard to tell one from the other.

In Pocahontas County, Deep Divisions and a Gruesome Discovery

iStock / Getty Images Plus, Hatchette Books

Emma Copley Eisenberg | Longreads | excerpt from The Third Rainbow Girl | January 2020 | 14 minutes (3,877 words)

It starts with a road, a two-lane blacktop called West Virginia Route 219 that spines its way through Pocahontas County and serves, depending on the stretch, as main street and back street, freeway and byway, sidewalk and catwalk.

It is June 25, 1980, just after the summer solstice, and a young man named Tim is driving home for the night. He had driven to Lewisburg, the big town almost an hour away, and is coming back now, with fresh laundry and groceries.
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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Emily Bazelon, Alex Ronan, Justine Harman, Emily Harnett, and Sam Leith.

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10 Outstanding Short Stories to Read in 2020

Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat (Photo by Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images)

The #longreads hashtag on Twitter is filled with great story recommendations from people around the world. Pravesh Bhardwaj is a longtime contributor — throughout the year he posts his favorite short stories, and then in January we’re lucky enough to get a list of his favorites to enjoy in the year ahead.

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For many years now, I’ve been posting short stories on Twitter. It’s a habit now: Before sitting down to write — my Hindi language ten-part Audible Original Thriller Factory is up and running, written and directed under series director and presenter Anurag Kashyap’s stewardship with narrators including Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tabu — I look around for a story, read it, then share it. I end up reading almost every day, irrespective of whether I am able to write something or not.

Starting with Kristen Roupenian’s The Good Guy, to Etgar Keret’s Pineapple Crush, I posted 297 stories in 2019. Here are ten that I enjoyed the most: Read more…