For four years now, the Longreads community has celebrated the best storytelling on the web. Thanks for all of your contributions, and special thanks to Longreads Members for supporting this service. We couldn’t keep going without your funding, so join us today.
This year we featured not only the best stories from the web, but also great chapters from new and classic books. Here’s a complete guide to every book chapter we featured this year, both for free and for Longreads Members: Read more…
Athletes and sports writers usually come from two completely different professional worlds and as a result there is often an emotional wall between the two of them. At times, on the page, it can almost read as if two are speaking vastly different languages.
The British journalist John Cagney Nash solved this problem by somehow landing himself in the same jail in Montana as Ryan Leaf, the one-time future of the NFL and now its biggest draft bust. Over the course of a few months the two became friends and Leaf was able to open up with his fellow inmate in a way we rarely get to read about.
For years since Leaf’s retirement he’s been seen as little more than a pathetic example for all that can go wrong with the draft. Thanks to Nash’s deft touch we’re able see him as human, and at times Leaf’s honesty is downright heartbreaking.
My story, The Match Maker, was online at ESPN.com only a few hours on Aug. 25 when I heard from a California man who shrugged at the possibility that tennis champ and American hustler Bobby Riggs had thrown the famous September 1973 Battle of the Sexes match. The man’s name is Russell Boyd, and he claimed Bobby Riggs had talked openly and repeatedly with him, back in June 1973, about his intention to lose his upcoming match against Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome. “I didn’t realize at the time that it was such a serious matter of him playing Billie Jean King,” Boyd, 56, told me, “and that he was actually expected to make an effort to win.” Read more…
In the month since I happened upon Jimmy Breslin’s story about the 1969 New York City mayor’s race, I’ve probably reread it a dozen times; I’ve recommended it to college kids, writers of mine, fellow editors, and when Marshall Sella and I were working on our own story about Anthony Weiner’s tragicomic run, I thought about it every single damn day. My love of it is almost hard to explain, but: It’s an adventure. It starts in a leisurely and apathetic place, ends with a startling announcement, and in between twists and turns through gossip, memoir, poetry, politics, polemic. It’s beautiful; it’s funny; it’s angry; it’s self-lacerating; it looks at the city from 10,000 feet and then zooms in at the ice in a glass. Nowadays, most magazine features hit you with a nut graph somewhere near the bottom of the first section or the top of the second, and then spend 4,000 words fulfilling your exact expectations. But Breslin surprises, again and again. You don’t even know what the story is really about until you’ve read the last line.
This essay is incendiary and incisive and just didn’t get the play it deserved: maybe because it was in the (excellent) Baffler, maybe because Faludi so handily eviscerated “Lean In” feminism, or maybe Facebook itself was pulling strings behind the curtain and hiding every time someone shared the piece. Feminism has never not been fraught with tensions, but Faludi illuminates, with devastating clarity, the classism and ignorance of “leaning in.”
Roads & Kingdoms makes me feel bad about myself in the best possible way.
Ostensibly a travel and food site, Roads & Kingdoms is more like a revolver of adventure—each story a bullet that enlightens and inspires, educates and informs. Through them, I’ve learned things like the code of bootleggers in Karachi, eavesdropped on a meeting of the world’s most politically-powerful chefs, and mastered the untranslatable concept of “lagom,” for which I don’t have the words.
I can’t think of another publisher that so consistently makes me want to quit my job to travel, explore, discover or really any verb that gets me out into the real world and a million miles away from a computer and the complacency of modern life. Simply put, Roads & Kingdoms is dangerous reading, especially in times like these.
So if you’re new to Roads & Kingdoms, tread carefully: you may find yourself buying a one-way ticket to another continent before you realize what hit you.
I often deal with interview subjects who tell variations of the truth. People don’t usually out-and-out lie, although that happens from time to time. But memory is a flimsy thing. Even a clear-eyed subject gets details wrong: The sequence of events is off, a sweater was blue and not green, that sort of thing. And then there are those people whose emotions or perspectives have put a filter on their recollections, skewing it this way or that.
The teenage twins Georgia and Patterson Inman, heirs to the Duke fortune, were like an exponential version of that latter category. Their memories had been so warped by trauma that they actually couldn’t separate fact from fiction. I’d never encountered anything like it: Two people with shared memories of events which, to them, felt authentic—and much of which did check out as true—but some of which was implausible, and a few which turned out to be false. It was as though their minds were designed less for record-keeping, and more for coping with their tremendous pain—flexible tools which were bending in all directions in an effort to make sense of their pasts.
When I realized the way the twins were interweaving fact and fiction, with no clue they were doing so, I panicked. Double-sourcing wasn’t going to be enough to report this story; I needed to rethink my reporting methods, as well as the way I approached the writing, relying heavily on documents and secondary sources, and opting to include bits of questionable material as evidence of the kids’ shaky states of mind. After the article was published, the twins were worried I’d portrayed them as “liars,” which couldn’t have been farther from my intention. I know they had told me nothing but the truth, as best they could.
“The way it worked was that they joined the Army because they were starry-eyed or heartbroken or maybe just out of work, and then they were assigned to be in the infantry rather than to something with better odds, like finance or public affairs, and then by chance they were assigned to an infantry division that was about to rotate into the war, and then they were randomly assigned to a combat brigade that included two infantry battalions, one of which was going to a bad place and the other of which was going to a worse place, and then they were assigned to the battalion going to the worse place, and then they were assigned to the company in that battalion which went to the worst place of all.”
-From David Finkel’s “The Return,” in The New Yorker (subscription required). Not sure how such an Esquire-y sentence made it into The New Yorker, but I’m glad it did. The sheer weight of the sentence and its many clauses suggests the soldiers’ psychological burden. That sentence carries the cruelty of fate.