Category Archives: Reading List

Longreads Best of 2017: Investigative Reporting

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

Rachel Morris
Executive editor, HuffPost Highline

Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades (Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, The New York Times)

From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories (Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker)

For Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to expose Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator was a feat in itself, one that reporters had been attempting for years. But the culture-bending force of these stories was their dissection of how sexual harassment works, psychologically and operationally. Ronan Farrow’s raw, complex account of the experiences of women like Annabella Sciorra and Asia Argento, among many others, created a deeper, truer understanding of why women don’t come forward after an assault, or why some women may even maintain a relationship with their abuser in an effort to recover some sense of agency. That these women were willing to tell their stories in such intimate, unsparing detail is a testament to their courage — more than that, to their generosity — and Farrow’s exceptional care and sensitivity in gaining their trust.   Read more…

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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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.

If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday. Read more…

Unreal Estate: A Reading List About Our Shifting Vision of Home

Does anyone still remember Unhappy Hipsters, a Tumblr blog born in 2010, just months after the Great Recession officially ended? The concept was simple and irresistible. Each post contained a photo of a domestic interior from a Dwell-like magazine (or, just as often, from Dwell itself), and the photo had to include a person: a teenager lounging with a book on a nordic-looking wooden bed, a couple having a silent breakfast in a vast, concrete-floor kitchen. A caption accompanied each image, projecting a mix of smugness and existential angst onto the people occupying these impossibly streamlined spaces (“So focused on erecting a structure that would be impervious to atmospheric whims, he’d forgotten the obvious: an exit,” read a caption below an image of a man standing on a balcony of a glass-and-steel stilt house).

There’s nothing new about wanting to catch a glimpse of other people’s (nicer-than-yours) houses; what Unhappy Hipsters deftly added was an extra layer of vindictiveness to an otherwise common, aspirational voyeurism. Revisiting some of these old posts today, they feel at once naive and prophetic. In the intervening years, owning a house and designing one’s own space haven’t lost their allure as class markers and so-called #lifegoals. But they’ve also acquired a tinge of bitterness: you either can’t afford it (millennials, meet avocado toast!), can’t do it right (unlike everyone on Pinterest, Instagram, et al.), or risk trying too hard (at which point: surprise! You’re the Unhappy Hipster — in 2017, when both “unhappiness” and “hipsterism” have lost just about all meaning).

The way we organize and reshape our living quarters has always reflected, in some way, desires, hopes, and anxieties that transcended individuals. It was true when married couples started sharing the same bedroom and outhouses began to disappear in favor of indoor plumbing; it’s true today when we buy a vintage lamp or encounter a luxury bathroom almost the size of the bedroom it adjoins. Where does the current unease around the spaces we inhabit come from? What is unique about our attitude toward a supposedly universal concept like “home”? Here are four recent reads that try to address these questions.

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Ahead by a Century: A Gord Downie Reading List

Gord Downie performs at WE Day in Toronto in 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

I remember the day in 1987 when my then-boyfriend popped their first EP, “The Tragically Hip” into the cassette player of his dad’s Chrysler Cordoba. When “Last American Exit” came on, I loved it instantly. It’s been on my playlists for 30 years. I’ve seen the Hip at community colleges, hockey rinks, bars, summer festivals, and arenas. I’m part of a swath of Canadians for which the Hip’s music meant good times and Canadian pride; our stories, truths, and landscape writ large in songs with incisive lyrics and driving beats.

Among my favorite Hip songs, “50 Mission Cap” honors Bill Barilko, whose last goal won the 1951 Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That spring, Barilko went missing on a fishing trip and the Leafs failed to win a cup until 1962, the year Barilko’s remains were discovered. Then of course, there’s “Ahead By A Century,” in which Gord asks us to embrace the moment, reminding us that “there’s no dress rehearsal, this is our life.” Part poet, part visionary, part activist, Gord Downie was a dervish on stage, growling those lyrics into the minds of audiences for three decades.

On October 17th, Downie passed away after battling glioblastoma for two years. In his moving tribute, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Downie is that he chose to spend the last two years of his life accelerating his contribution to social justice, working toward a better life for others, toward a better Canada. He used his profile and his songwriting to foster reconciliation between Canada and First Nations people by raising awareness of the atrocities and generational effects of residential schools. For his work, the Assembly of First Nations honored Downie with an eagle feather and a Lakota spirit name — Wicapi Omani — which means, “Man who walks among the stars.”

Here are five pieces about a man who used story and song to share his Canada and, through personal example, inspired and challenged us to be better as a nation.

1. “For Gord: 27 Short Essays About The Tragically Hip, Plus One Poem” (TheBelleJar, BuzzFeed, June 2016)

In this round-up, 28 fans share their earliest memories of The Tragically Hip and how Gord Downie and his lyrics became the soundtrack to important moments in their lives.

2. “Yer Favourites” (Eric Koreen, Hazlitt, August 2016)

After initial die-hard fandom, Eric Koreen gets turned off the Hip for a decade after getting fed up with a small, boorish, white male contingent of the group’s fan base, interested only in hearing the hits in concert — certainly not opening bands with thoughtful, though lesser-known songs. Koreen eventually reconciles the Hip’s dichotomous hold on Canada, in that they “combine the intellectual side of Canadians — that we’re thoughtful, smart people — with that humble, meat-and-potatoes side, too.” Koreen suggests his change of heart came as a direct result of Gord Downie, who he characterizes as someone who could “be frustrated by your country but not disown it; that you can be an intellectual and an everyman at the same time.”

3. “How I Learned to Love the Tragically Hip and Still Be Punk” (Damian Abraham, Vice, August 2016)

Damian Abraham, vocalist for Canadian hardcore punk band Fucked Up, recounts how he turned from lifelong Hip hater to friend of Gord Downie.

I met Gord properly for the first time in the summer of 2010 backstage at a Tegan and Sara/City and Colour concert. Gord was to join Dallas Green onstage to perform the song they did together on the latter’s Bring Me Your Love record, and I had brought my family with me to watch the show. My son was toddling his way around the backstage with us in tow when tumbled out in front of Gord. After helping him up and making sure he was OK, he picked up Holden’s flung and filthy soother and rushed over the sink to wash it. As he handed back the washed pacifier, I told him that he didn’t need to worry about doing that.

“Of course I did,” he responded.

Youthful exuberance can lead to rashness. In my rush to embrace punk and reject all that didn’t fit with my new world view, I ended up throwing out a lot of culture that I was thankfully able to rediscover later. Of all these bands, there are none I am more grateful to have awoken to the greatness of than the Tragically Hip.

4. “On the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and a Shared Legacy” (Michael Barclay, Macleans, August 2016)

Jim Cuddy, of the legendary Canadian band Blue Rodeo, shares stories of times his band and the Hip crossed paths in their early years touring Canada.

We were supposed to be on right before the Hip, but the Eagles inserted some guy whose father owns the Knicks. It was a blues band, and he was terrible. But he had to go on then because it was his plane that the Eagles were flying on.

Then the Hip came on and they were on fire. Gord was in a big white outfit, totally drenched. At the side of the stage is Irving Azoff [longtime Eagles manager and former CEO of Ticketmaster and Live Nation] standing there with the Eagles, and he’s looking at Gord telling him to shorten the set, making gestures. It’s making me furious, because I know the Eagles only want to shorten the set so they can get on a plane and fly out, which they can’t do after midnight or something. So Gord’s doing his thing and continues on. Then the Eagles come on and do a miserable set, just sucking the joy out of the whole island. Afterwards I was sitting with Gord backstage and asked, “Didn’t that bug you?” He said, “Pfft, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be playing and have Irving Azoff telling me to shorten my set.”

5. “Gord Downie opens up about battling cancer, says it’s ‘creating something'” (Peter Mansbridge, CBC News, October 2016)

In his first interview after his cancer diagnosis, Gord Downie talks with Peter Mansbridge about living with cancer.

When you see people now, you want to hug and a kiss. Why is that important to you now?

I do. Yeah. That was happening before, though, all this, strangely. My life was changing and I felt that everyone that hung in there with me, all these years, were still there — they didn’t write me off or anything like that. And they could have. So yes, hug and kiss. And my dad, Edgar, definitely kissed on the lips. And me and my brothers taught a lot of men how to do it.

Multi-Level Marketing’s Feminine Mystique: A Reading List

Women attend a Tupperware party, 1955. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The commodification of female friendship began in the living room, often with a small party or a conversation between neighbors. Then the goods came out: cosmetics, vitamins, jewelry. The multi-level marketing scheme was a suburban phenomenon, a way for homemakers to earn some money among friends. In the 1960s and 70s, Mary Kay, the pink-hued cosmetics company, dominated the market; in the 1980s, it was the Pampered Chef, with its kitchen tools and cookbooks; in the 2010s it’s LuLaRoe, a clothing company with coveted patterned leggings that are sold primarily through social media.

Today, multi-level marketing is booming online, with entire transactions taking place in the comments sections of Facebook posts, and aspiring entrepreneurs dispensing tips on YouTube about unloading their inventory. The products may vary, but the tactics don’t. Products are displayed, promises made. And whether a woman calls herself a consultant, a retailer, a partner, or distributor, there’s always a thinly veiled sense of desperation beneath the pitch.

Women who participate in MLM companies make a hefty up-front investment. To profit, they’ll need to recruit others to invest, and once drawn in it can be difficult to get out. Take a look at any website for an MLM company, and you’ll see sparkling promises of wealth for women. They don’t just sell products; they sell fantasies of empowerment, control, and financial freedom. Thanks to the stories below, it’s easy to understand how and why these companies target women, and what happens when they do.

1. “How a Single Mom Created a Plastic Food-Storage Empire” (Jen Doll, Mental Floss, June 2017)

It’s easy to associate Tupperware with beehive hairdos and grimy leftovers, but the company—pushed to success by social networker Brownie Wise—set the stage for today’s MLM culture. Doll tells the story of how Wise grew the company from a food storage novelty to an unstoppable national phenomenon. Why did hosting home parties as a Tupperware consultant appeal to so many women? For many, it meant a chance to work again, after the loss of employment after World War II.

Most of Wise’s Tupperware recruits fit neatly into the stereotypical role of a proper housewife. But, in reality, they surreptitiously represented a new kind of female empowerment. During World War II, many women had no choice but to enter the workforce. At its end, many of them had no choice but to leave it. Suddenly, selling Tupperware at parties allowed women to straddle both worlds. They were employed, yet they didn’t appear to challenge their husbands’ authority or the status quo. This pioneering entrepreneurial model allowed them to inhabit a workforce outside of the one the hustling salesman inhabited, and, in many cases, to do even better than he did. And that power relied specifically on a network of female friends and neighbors.

The parties weren’t just a way for women to keep occupied—it was a way they could contribute to their family’s bottom line. Most women who worked outside the home had low-paying jobs in fields like light manufacturing, retail, clerical work, and health and education. The money—committed dealers could bring in $100 or more per week—was a revelation. The opportunity for success was so great that the husbands of some Tupperware ladies left their own jobs to work with their wives.

2. “The Pink Pyramid Scheme” (Virginia Sole-Smith, Harper’s, August 2012)

For decades, Mary Kay has sold a two-sided promise to women: You can buy cosmetics for youth, but for actual power, you should sell them. When Sole-Smith became a consultant for the cosmetic brand, then nearly fifty years in business, she witnessed the revival-style tactics used consultants to recruit women. She also saw a flip side of the brand for women who found both friendship and financial peril in their new roles.

Lynne resigned from her directorship soon after, but she stayed on as a consultant. She had over $15,000 in credit card debt and a basement full of unsold products inching closer to their expiration dates. It took three more years to fully extract herself, paint over the pink wall, and get rid of the products. In 2011, her husband filed for divorce, citing as one of the reasons their “different attitudes towards money.” “He meant the whole Mary Kay thing,” Lynne said. “We just never got past it.” But it wasn’t for lack of trying. When her husband first began to talk about leaving, Lynne cleared every last Mary Kay product out of the house, selling much of it at a loss and throwing the rest in the trash. “I didn’t want him to see so much as a bottle of lotion and be reminded,” she said. “I didn’t want to be reminded either.”

But she hasn’t left Mary Kay behind entirely. The consultant who debuted with only two guests at Lynne’s party remains one of her best friends and is her son’s godmother. Lynne’s new career in real estate allows her to apply her sales knowledge, and the commission checks are at least bigger.

“Oh gosh, we were all so happy,” Lynne said as we looked at a picture of women in sequined cocktail dresses and layers of Mary Kay makeup smiling into the camera, their arms slung around one another. “I guess I didn’t know who I would be without Mary Kay to define me.”

3. “How Essential Oils Became the Cure for Our Age of Anxiety,” (Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, October 2017)

When Monroe embroiled herself in the wild world of MLMs that sell essential oils, she found that it meant more than money for its sellers. Part of the appeal of grassroots-style selling came from consultants’ belief in their products. And when it comes to essential oils, it could feel like a matter of life or death.

Lara distributed a handout that listed various ailments and their oil treatments: eucalyptus for bronchitis, lavender for third-degree burns, cypress for mononucleosis, rosemary for respiratory syncytial virus. Diffusion “kills microorganisms in the air which helps stop the spread of sickness,” the pamphlet read. Oils “repair our bodies at a cellular level so when you are not sure which oils to use, don’t be afraid to use several oils and the body will gain a myriad of benefits.” Lara told the people in the room that doTerra had oils that were “very antiviral” and could knock out bronchitis in twenty-four hours. She shared essential-oil success stories—her migraines gone, her friend’s rheumatoid arthritis reversing, a colleague’s mother’s cancer in remission. A blond woman at the back of the room raised her hand. “Cancer?” she said, sounding both skeptical and hopeful. She explained that her sister-in-law had recently been treated for breast cancer, and was taking a pill to prevent its recurrence, but the side effects were terrible. The blond woman was hoping for a more natural solution.

“There is an oil for that,” Lara said cautiously. “There is some research. It is an option. It would not have those side effects.”

4. “The Truth Behind Rodan + Fields (And Its Takeover of Your Facebook Feed),” (Lauren Lipton, Allure, September 2015)

Women can become involved in MLMs for both friendship and financial gain. But what happens when everyone you know is involved in a sales scheme? After all, there are only so many showcases and special sales a person can attend, and for some, it might feel like an entire friend group has morphed into eager saleswomen. As Lipton learned, not everyone is thrilled about those endless invitations and events.

There’s a fine line between inspiring and annoying, and not all Rodan + Fields consultants tread it well. In fact, if you sell Rodan + Fields and think your friends might be dodging you, they probably are. “This is the suburban scourge,” says Rachael Pavlik, a Houston mother and the blogger behind rachriot.com, who says she goes out of her way to avoid anyone trying to sell her anything. “At first I would buy all of their stuff because I was kind of guilted into it….What is that? That’s not friendship.”

Pavlik is more outspoken than most. Most women we spoke to can’t bring themselves to hurt their friends’ feelings, so they roll their eyes privately, secretly blocking Rodan + Fields consultants who clutter their Facebook feeds and deftly fending off clumsy come-ons. One East Coast mother says she’s been approached multiple times by everyone from the woman who does her brows to childhood acquaintances she hasn’t seen for decades. Last year, an old high-school friend asked her to lunch — for reasons that soon became all too clear: “It wasn’t long into the conversation before I realized that this was a thinly veiled attempt to make me join her team,” she says. “She’s not trying to be friends with me; she’s trying to build her empire.”

5. “Multilevel-Marketing Companies Like LuLaRoe Are Forcing People Into Debt and Psychological Crisis” (Alden Wicker, Quartz, August 2017)

Wicker’s deep dive into the business practices of retailer LuLaRoe finds women grappling with everything from disappointment to financial disaster. On its website, LuLaRoe hypes not a company, but a movement—one that offers retailers a happy ending complete with balance, flexibility, and personal fulfillment. However, Wicker finds that the ending can happen quite differently for most consultants.

When consultants wake up to the fact they’ve been hoodwinked, many don’t warn their friends to stay away. That’s because if you speak out against any of LuLaRoe’s rules or mishaps, the community could publicly shame and harass you for being negative. “I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian,” one retailer wrote to someone trying to sound the alarm. “Where is the Jesus in you? I have to block you due to your constant-gross-delusional-uneducated opinions of LLR.” If you reveal you are struggling to make sales, you might be told to stop playing the victim, that you’re not putting in enough effort, to be more enthusiastic, and, of course, to buy more inventory.

“Success as a retailer results only from successful sales efforts, which require hard work, dedication, diligence, leadership, and perseverance,” says a LuLaRoe spokesperson. “Success will depend upon how effectively these qualities are exercised. As with any business, results will vary. In addition to the factors above, retailer success is influenced by the individual capacity, business experience, expertise, and motivation of the retailer.”

In other words, it’s not the system that’s broken — you’re just not trying hard enough.

Wives, Queens, and Other Comedy Heroes: A Reading List

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”

Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.

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The Mastery and Magic of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Toni Morrison dancing at a disco party in New York City in 1974. "She wasn’t born Toni Morrison. She had to become that person," writes Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in her 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story on the author. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)

Cashawn Thompson created the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic on Twitter in 2013 to draw attention to the accomplishments and resilience of black women in the public eye like Michelle Obama. With T-shirts, tote bags, videos, and news headlines, #BlackGirlMagic soon went viral. Like “(To Be) Young, Gifted, and Black,” a song written by Nina Simone, and “Black Lives Matter,” the affirmation “Black Girls Are Magic” creates positive associations with blackness and reconstitutes its possibilities. “Say it loud!” James Brown sang in his 1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In other words, let us not cower — let us like ourselves.

Affirmations like #BlackGirlMagic are important corrective tools, especially now, with a president in office who weaponizes language to stir up policies that are hurtful for communities of color. Still, I worry that a focus on black women’s extraordinariness obscures the unfairness of what we overcome. I wonder if, along with a litany of archetypes that have lingered in the public imagination, #BlackGirlMagic fortifies an idea that black women can endure anything, that we don’t need protecting.

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The Unknowable Diana, 20 Years On: A Reading List

(Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)

There are two events that can define a separation of generations: Where were you when Princess Diana got married? Where were you when she died?

I was a tiny toddler sitting on my young mom’s lap for the first, an awkward 17-year-old for the second. San Diego’s Starlight Musical Theatre was in the middle of a production of Singin’ in the Rain and my job was to get costumes onto cast members before they hurtled out onstage.

Somehow I learned she was dead during the performance, in the time before widespread cell phones or internet. News spread fast, through the usual backstage channels, in whispers and passed notes. The busy dressing rooms were oddly quiet. People danced off stage and started crying in the wings. Downstairs, near the costume shop, they used the pay phone to find out details from friends.

The world seemed stunned, half silent. But why? Why did we spend the next few days glued to the television and the radio? Why did we leave flowers and sing songs and feel personally affected by a woman few knew and even fewer ever understood? Who was this bashful princess, anyway? This reading list contains a few answers—but 20 years after her death, the enigmatic Diana is harder to grasp than ever.

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