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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Close up of mixed race woman's pregnant stomach
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Renee Montagne and Nina Martin, Michael Hobbes, Rebecca Traister, Naima Coster, and Kristen Roupenian.

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Longreads Best of 2017: Food Writing

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

Mayukh Sen
Staff writer, Vice

Can Local Food Help Appalachia Build a Post-Coal Future? (Sarah Jones, The Nation)

Jones has been one of my favorite writers to emerge from the shitstorm that is the Trump presidency, so I was quite happy to see The Nation’s Food Issue publish her look at Appalachian food: the baggage it’s so unjustly carried, where it’s headed, and who’s doing the work to steer it in that direction. She interrogates the language of “trash” that has followed the region’s people and what they eat, and she does so beautifully. Her voice is clear, engaging, and tempered with compassion. The vast majority of food writing is fearfully not much further than center-of-left, which makes Jones’ piece extremely refreshing. It’s a marvelous piece and a reminder that some of the most exciting, relevant food writing will live outside food publications unless they step up their game.

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Living Differently: How the Feminist Utopia Is Something You Have to Be Doing Now

Cover of program for the National American Women's Suffrage Association procession. (Getty Images)

Lynne Segal | Verso | November 2017 | 32 minutes (8,100 words)

The following is an excerpt from Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy, by Lynne Segal (Verso, November 2017). This essay is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

The utopian novel had become one of the most effective means of frightening people off it.

It is sometimes said that the twentieth century began with utopian dreaming and ended with nostalgia, as those alternative futures once envisioned seemed by then almost entirely discredited. However, it was never quite so straightforward. The challenge to envisage how to live differently, in ways that seem better than the present, never entirely disappears.

The most prominent American utopian studies scholar, Lyman Tower Sargent, notes that dystopian scenarios increasingly dominated the speculative literary form as the twentieth century progressed. In the UK, the equally eminent utopian studies scholar Ruth Levitas concurs, pointing out, for instance, that as sociology became institutionalized in the academy, it became ‘consistently hostile’ to any utopian content.

What stands out in speculative fantasies of the future arising towards the end of the twentieth century are their darkly dystopic leanings, whether in books, cinema, comics or elsewhere. The best known would include the mass surveillance depicted in the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin’s satirical novel We (1921).

Set in the future, it describes a scientifically managed totalitarian state, known as One State, governed by logic and reason, where people live in glass buildings, march in step, and are known by their numbers. England’s Aldous Huxley called his dystopic science fiction Brave New World (1932), where again all individuality has been conditioned out in the pursuit of happiness. Bleaker still was George Orwell’s terrifyingly totalitarian 1984 (1945): ‘If you want a picture of the future,’ Orwell wrote in 1984, ‘imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’

These imaginings serve primarily as warnings against futures that are often read, as with Zamyatin and Orwell, as condemnations of Soviet society. The happiness expressed in Huxley’s ‘utopic’ universe depicts a deformed or sinister version of the route where all utopias end up, as totalitarian regimes, in which free will is crushed. As the Marxist political scientist Bertell Ollman later noted: ‘From a means of winning people over to the ideal of socialism, the utopian novel had become one of the most effective means of frightening people off it.’

Post-1945, public intellectuals for the most part broadcast the view that democracy and utopic thinking were opposed, the latter declared both impossible and dangerous. The influential émigré and British philosopher of science Karl Popper argued in his classic essay ‘Utopia and Violence’ (1947) that while ‘Utopia’ may look desirable, all too desirable, it was in practice a ‘dangerous and pernicious’ idea, one that is ‘self‐defeating’ and ‘leads to violence’. There is no way of deciding rationally between competing utopian ideals, he suggested, since we cannot (contra Marxism) scientifically predict the future, which means our statements are not open to falsification and hence fail his test for any sort of reliability.

Indeed, accusations of ‘totalitarian’ thinking were the chief weapon of the Cold War, used by Western propaganda to see off any talk of communism. In the USA it was employed to undermine any left or labour movement affiliations, as through the fear and financial ruin inflicted upon hundreds of Americans hauled before Senator McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s – over half of them Jewish Americans. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2017: Sports Writing

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

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Mary Pilon
Contributor to The New Yorker, Esquire, and Vice. Previously on staff at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Author of The Monopolists and The Kevin Show (March 2018)

Is This the NFL’s First Female Player? (Lars Anderson, B/R Mag)

I’m a sucker for high school sports stories, but Anderson’s examination of Becca Longo isn’t just a showcase of a plucky talent, it also challenges long-held assumptions about the league’s recruitment pipeline. Longo is the first woman to earn a football scholarship to a Division I or Division II school, and Anderson offers a fascinating window into the training and psyche required to become be an ace-level kicker. In lesser hands, the story could have been mawkish or puffy, but Anderson’s prose is sharp, layered, and will likely be reread when we see Longo in the Super Bowl one day.

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Longreads Best of 2017: All of Our No. 1 Story Picks

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2017. Here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Former New York Daily News gossip columnist A. J. Benza standing next to a poster of an illustrated woman in a bikini
A. J. Benza, a former New York Daily News gossip columnist, was part of a network of journalists Weinstein used over the years to burnish his reputation. (David Crotty / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus, Jim Rutenberg, and Steve Eder; Eliana Dockterman, Stephanie Zarachek, and Haley Sweetland Edwards; John Woodrow Cox; Nadim Roberts; and Phil Klay.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Luke O’Brien, Jen Gann, Tom Lamont, Norimitsu Onishi, and Sam Knight.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A Syrian man walks through a devastated street following an air strike. (Photo credit: Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images)
A Syrian man walks through a devastated street following an air strike. (Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Anand Gopal and Azmat Khan, Claire Dederer, Dale Maharidge, Leslie Jamison, and Nina Coomes.

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The Real Refugees of Casablanca

(Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Meredith Hindley | Longreads |November 2017 | 2,280 words

On Thanksgiving Day, 1942, an audience stuffed full of holiday cooking settled into the plush seats at the Hollywood Theatre on New York’s Fifty-First Street to watch the premiere of Casablanca, a new film from Warner Brothers. During the summer, the studio had finished shooting the movie, which featured noir favorite Humphrey Bogart and up-and-coming Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, and made plans to release it in early 1943. With few Americans knowing Casablanca was a city in French Morocco — let alone how to find it on a map — the studio banked on audiences’ love of wartime intrigue, along with the star power of Bogart and castmates Claude Rains and Paul Henreid, to sell the film.

But on November 8, reports began to trickle in that the Americans and British had launched Operation TORCH with the goal of seizing Algeria and French Morocco from Vichy France. The assault was a new phase in the war against Nazi Germany, one designed to help the Soviets, who fought a bloody battle against the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Over the next few days, headlines and radio reports buzzed about the fighting in and around Casablanca, as the U.S. Navy battled the French fleet and 33,000 American soldiers stormed Moroccan beaches under the command of Major General George S. Patton, Jr.

Warner Brothers could hardly believe its luck — it had a movie in the can about a city that had just become the site of a major Allied victory. The studio couldn’t buy that kind of publicity. Rather than premiering the film in 1943, Warner Brothers hastily arranged a screening in New York on November 26, 1942, two weeks after the French surrendered Casablanca to the Americans.

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Lost in Backcountry Corsica

(Sebastian Gollnow/AP Images)

David Ralph | The Dublin Review | Summer 2017 | 16 minutes (4,425 words)

I could tell you about the view from the plane as it descended towards Calvi; I could describe the granite formations along the coast and the sparkling sea; I could supply various details about how Geoffrey, Jean-Thomas and I passed our first few days in Corsica; but really this story begins with the Mountain Man.

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