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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

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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.

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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. 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

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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

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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…

Whatever Happened to ______ ?

Illustration by Holly Stapleton

Anonymous | Longreads | January 2020 | 20 minutes (4,879 words)

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?/Are you — Nobody — too?”” — Emily Dickinson, 1891

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” — Virginia Woolf, 1929

“No name? Well, the roads are full of nameless girls.” — George RR Martin, Feast of Crows

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Years back, on a summer night in Oregon’s high desert, I was riding in a car with three other people. There were two women asleep in the backseat, leaning in opposite directions. I was in the front on the passenger’s side, and a man was driving. Somebody had put Rod Stewart’s Storyteller: The Complete Anthology, blaring and loud, on the car’s sound system, and though I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan, the heartfelt crooning was as seemingly endless and beautiful as the desert around us. We were wrapped in a velvet night, under a star-filled sky, headlights cutting through the dark. We were writers, carpooling back from a rare weekend retreat. A cool wind found its way in through a narrow slice of open window and whipped the driver’s shaggy hair into a minor frenzy. Over the sound of Rod Stewart’s mandolin, this driver scratched mosquito bites and told me about a woman writer he’d once known. “She was so talented,” he said, in admiration.

I envisioned a passive, classical sculpture of a beautiful woman being physically hoisted onto a pedestal.

“She was an awesome writer. Really, amazing.” Wistfully he added, “She got married. I’ve never seen her writing again.”

End of story.
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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Elizabeth Wurtzel (AP Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Elizabeth Wurtzel, Nick Martin, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, David Wolman, and Jason Turbow.

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Violence Girl

Photo by Martin Sorrondeguy

Alice Bag | Violence Girl | Feral House | September 2011 | 43 minutes (7,823 words)

 

By the autumn of 1977, new bands were popping up all the time. Seemingly every week, someone who had been in the audience the week before was now onstage in their own band. The Masque reopened in mid-October with a gig featuring a band called the Controllers. The Controllers weren’t really a new band, in fact they had been one of the first bands to rehearse and play at the Masque from its inception, but they had never had a proper coming-out show, so I think of their October 15th show as their debut. Their music was tight, fast, and melodic, and some of their songs were almost poppy which was nicely balanced by the imposing figures of Johnny Stingray and Kidd Spike, who sang up front and played with a ferocity curiously incongruous with their lighthearted lyrics. The band would evolve and get even better over the next several months, with the addition of an old friend of mine named Karla Maddog on drums.

When punk came along, it was just the perfect vehicle to express who I was as an individual. It was something completely new and wide open. Just a couple of years later, that would change, and people would have to fit into preconceived notions of what punk rock was or wasn’t, but the early scene had no such limitations, because we were the ones creating and defining it. If you had been at the Masque in 1977, you would have seen very eclectic shows, ranging from the Screamers to Arthur J. and the Goldcups, from Backstage Pass to the Controllers. There was no clearly defined punk sound, no dress code; all you had to do was show up and make your presence known. The movement was one of individuals and individual expression, each of us bringing our heritage and formative experiences with us in an organic and, in my case, unplanned way.

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