Search Results for: Best-of-2013

Longreads Best of 2013 Postscript: 'The Poorest Rich Kids in the World'

Above: Doris Duke

The Poorest Rich Kids in the World

Sabrina Rubin Erdely | Rolling Stone | August 2013 | 38 minutes (9,653 words)

 

Sabrina Rubin Erdely (@sabrinarerdely) is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

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.

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Photo: Duke University Library

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Longreads Best of 2013: The Best Sentence I Read This Year

Aileen Gallagher (@aegallagher) teaches magazine journalism at Syracuse University and is a contributing editor to College @Longreads.

“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.

The Return

David Finkel | The New Yorker | September 2013

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Longreads Best of 2013: The Best Story About Storytelling

In Conversation: Robert Silvers

Mark Danner | New York magazine | April 2013 | 28 minutes (7,063 words)

 

Nicholas Jackson is the digital director at Pacific Standard, and a former digital editor at Outside and The Atlantic.

These year-end lists tend to be like the Academy Awards in that only work released during the last couple of months of the year are remembered well enough to make the cut. That’s a good thing. Sure, I’d like to recall every great quotation I read in 2013, every delightful turn of phrase. But it’s better that I can’t. It means, like movies, that there’s more work I would consider worthy of my time being produced than I could possibly make time for, and plenty that I did make the time for that’s already been displaced in my mind by just the latest of the hundreds of stories I read this year. So, I cheated. I went back through some archives to jog my memory and pulled up this comprehensive interview with Bob Silvers to mark the 50th anniversary of The New York Review of Books. Silvers has had his hands on several big pieces this past year (must-read stories by Zadie Smith and Nathaniel Rich; something about the favelas of Brazil; I vaguely recall an Oliver Sacks essay on, of course, memory), but ask any editor and I bet most would tell you that he’s influenced every piece on these round-ups … and any others you’ve read over the past five decades. This is a story about stories: How we make them, and why.

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Longreads Best of 2013 Postscript: Janet Reitman on Her Rolling Stone Cover Story, 'Jahar's World'

Jahar’s World

Janet Reitman | Rolling Stone | July 2013 | 45 minutes (11,415 words)

Janet Reitman is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone.

I was completely unprepared for the response to “Jahar’s World,” which was published in mid-July as a Rolling Stone cover story. The piece tells the story of accused Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev, a hip-hop loving, hoodie-wearing, pot smoking 20-year-old from Cambridge, Mass., who is accused of committing the worst act of terrorism on US soil since 9/11. As a character, Jahar was hugely compelling: utterly likable, extremely “normal,” the kid who could have been your dorm mate, or your high school crush, or the stoner down the hall—which he was, to many people. He was also, apparently, capable of murder. I was fascinated by this dichotomy, the absolute normalcy and absolute monstrousness within a single human being, and spent several months exploring it. My editors also explored it in the choice of that issue’s cover image: an undoctored self-portrait of a gorgeous young man accused of committing an absolutely abhorrent crime. I think we all hoped the story would be read and talked about, which is what every magazine writer and editor wants.

What happened was this: Within minutes of my piece being published and posted online, Twitter exploded, followed by a deluge of hate mail sent to the magazine and to me, directly, by people who were furious we had given Tsarnaev that kind of attention. I was attacked for not caring about victims—even though I, myself, lived through the 9/11 attack on New York City, where I live and where a high school friend of mine died in one of those towers. I received hundreds of emails attacking not my journalism, but me, as a human being. On Twitter, one person said I deserved to be raped and killed because of this story, and someone else took it upon himself to hunt down and then post my cell phone number, which resulted in a few dozen scary texts and anonymous calls. I received death threats against myself, and even against my dog. One person wrote me several days in a row saying that he hoped that I, and my entire family, would be killed in a terrorist attack.

For the record, I believe that Rolling Stone did not, as we were accused, “glamorize” a terrorist. We did a very serious story about one, and by putting his face on the cover, we challenged our readers to look him in the face. This was not, as many believed, an air-brushed or otherwise touched up photograph. It was the raw selfie. The photo invited the reader to look at this kid, in all of his beauty, frankly, and when they did that, it made a lot of people extremely uncomfortable, and to be honest, I thought that was great. I thought our cover was fantastic and did exactly what great covers are supposed to do, which is to make people think, read, and discuss. But the outrage it caused was so over-the-top, it not only took me completely by surprise, but made me think very hard about what has happened to our country in the twelve years since 9/11.

Because of this story, Rolling Stone was actually banned—boycotted—by chain stores like Wal-Mart, across the country. They did this on “principle.” What principle? That “knowing our enemies” is somehow wrong? That one of the biggest stories of the year does not belong on a magazine cover simply because the subject, a so-called “bad guy,” is also handsome? Or is it that by covering him at all, giving his story some form of meaning, we were being un-American?

Since 2001, American journalism has been consumed with so-called “War on Terror” coverage, and yet, with a few notable exceptions, much of it hasn’t bothered to examine just who these supposed terrorists are. Why is that? Because we don’t really care? Or, because we might discover, as I did, that the terrorists are not what we expect? It really worries me that as a country we have not only “othered” the so-called terrorists, we’ve refused to grant them humanity. And I think what my story, and our cover, proved is that in some cases, these amorphous “bad guys” look and act, and in many cases are, just like the rest of us. That Jahar Tsanaraev was, by every single account, a very average boy who did a very terrible thing, is not something to reject or be afraid of. It’s something to learn from. That is why we write about the terrorists, it’s why these stories matter.

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Longreads Best of 2013 Postscript: Monica Potts on the Homeless Families of 'The Weeklies'

The Weeklies

Monica Potts | The American Prospect | March 2013 | 29 minutes (7,360 words)

Monica Potts is a senior writer for The American Prospect.

I did the reporting for ‘The Weeklies,’ about homeless families living in a suburban hotel outside of Denver, Colorado, a year ago. I lived with in the Ramada Inn alongside the weeklies during December 2012, and five of the families there shaped my story. Two of them are still living in hotels.

In May, the Ramada Inn was upgraded and converted into a Super 8 Motel. It became more expensive. Bonnie, Andy, and their son Drew, the main subjects of the story, moved into an Extended Stay closer to Drew’s school in Denver. Bonnie and Andy have been telling me since last spring that they’re doing renovation work on a rental property owned by a family friend, and that they will move in when it’s done. They don’t have a firm date, however.

After the story was published, I heard from a lot of people who said they saw school buses in their towns picking up school kids in hotel parking lots. Schools nationwide have reported a rise in student homelessness: some states have seen it double. The housing crash and the recession that followed had the odd effect of creating both vacant housing and a homelessness crisis, neither of which is likely to be solved soon.


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Longreads Best of 2013: Best Listicle By Another Name

A Pianist’s A-V

Alfred Brendel | New York Review of Books | July 2013 | 17 minutes (4,233 words)

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Robert Cottrell is editor of The Browser.

The best writers about classical music are professional musicians: think of Jeremy Denk, Stephen Hough, Nico Muhly. (The exception that disproves the rule is Alex Ross.) Charles Rosen, whose contributions were one of the many reasons for reading the New York Review of Books, died this year; Alfred Brendel, another Review contributor from the very highest end of the keyboard, thrives still, though he has given up playing piano publicly. His absence from the stage makes his presence on the page all the more precious: and his “Pianist’s A-V” is evidence of the sensibility, intellect and capacity for delight needed to underpin great interpretative art. His note on Liszt is worth a hundred pages from a lesser hand; he brings Beethoven’s piano concertos to life in a single sentence.

 

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Longreads Best of 2013: Most Urgent Story, Award for Outstanding Reporting

Taken

Sarah Stillman | The New Yorker | August 2013 | 45 minutes (11,405 words)

Raphael Pope-Sussman (@AudacityofPope) is the managing editor of News Genius and a founding co-editor of BKLYNR.

Sarah Stillman’s story describes the use of civil forfeiture, a process by which the state can confiscate individuals’ assets with no due process. I chose this story because it sheds light on a fundamental injustice in our judicial system—one of many ways in which this system has been perverted to deny of basic rights and disenfranchise those who lack substantial financial or social capital. And it’s beautifully told. You can’t ask for more in a long-form story.

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Eva Holland (@evaholland) is a freelance writer and editor based in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

I continue to be amazed by Sarah Stillman’s reporting. In “Taken,” she tackles civil forfeiture, an obscure and seemingly dry legal loophole that has enormous implications for police abuse. The story is thorough and compelling, and left me feeling, suddenly, like a topic I’d never heard of before I sat down to read it was an urgent matter, a serious public concern. That’s journalism at its best.

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Longreads Best of 2013: Best Life Lessons from Lindsay Lohan in a Feature Story

Jason Fagone (@jfagone) is the author of Ingenious, a book about modern-day inventors; his stories this year appeared in Wired, Philadelphia, Grantland, Men’s Journal, and NewYorker.com.

Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie

Stephen Rodrick | The New York Times Magazine | January 2013 | 31 minutes (7,752 words)

Steve is a good friend, but I don’t think anyone will accuse me of stacking the deck for picking his widely praised tale of the making of Lindsay Lohan’s “The Canyons.” It’s the story from this year I remember the best—not just because it’s a textured portrait of Lohan, one that made me feel for her and actually like her, but because there are so many indelible moments. Lohan crying in her room: “It began quietly, almost a whimper, but rose to a guttural howl. It was the sobbing of a child lost in the woods.” Lohan negotiating with a pack of paparazzi to clear room for a film shot at a mall: “Lohan turned to her good side and hiked her floor-length skirt up to show a little leg. ‘O.K., five, four, three, two, one. Now you have to go.'” And of course there’s the moment when director Paul Schrader, “the son of dour Calvinists,” takes off his clothes to make a stubborn, emotional Lohan feel more comfortable taking off hers for a film scene:

Naked, he walked toward Lohan.
“Lins, I want you to be comfortable. C’mon, let’s do this.”
Lohan shrieked.
“Paul!”
[Producer Braxton] Pope heard the scream and ran up from downstairs. He turned a corner, and there was a naked Schrader. Pope let out a “whoa” and slowly backed out of the room.
But then a funny thing happened. Lohan dropped her robe.

As detailed and wackadoo as this story is, there’s also something universal about it. We are all naked Schrader, coaxing and begging our inner Lohans.

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Longreads Best of 2013: The Best Sentence I Read This Year

Catherine Cloutier is an online producer at The Boston Globe’s Boston.com.

“Life, Feinberg says, guarantees misfortune. The wolf is always at the door.”

James Oliphant’s profile of Ken Feinberg in the National Journal transformed the way I view our nation’s response to tragedy. The monetary value of a life lost to violence is rarely equal. In highly publicized events, such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., or the Boston Marathon bombings, private donations flood victims and their families, while victims of inner-city gang violence often do not receive enough compensation to pay for a funeral. Feinberg tries not to ponder this inequity when distributing victim compensation. He looks at the numbers, determines a method of distribution, and gets the checks out quickly. He has a job to do. It’s math, not emotion. For one week and much of the many that followed, my life and job revolved around the coverage of one of these tragedies. Reading this article, particularly lines like the one I featured, gave me perspective on that event in light of other tragedies in our country. Violence and death are constants; what’s not constant is the attention given to them.

How Much Is a Life Worth?)

James Oliphant | National Journal | August 2013 | 18 minutes (4,405 words)

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Longreads Best of 2013: Here Are All 49 of Our No. 1 Story Picks From This Year

Every week, Longreads sends out an email with our Top 5 story picks—so here it is, every single story that was chosen as No. 1 this year. If you like these, you can sign up to receive our free Top 5 email every Friday.

Happy holidays! Read more…