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Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive

One version of my perfect day would consist of nothing but walking from one spicy-noodle stand to another, consuming so much chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns my mouth would no longer feel like it’s connected to my body. At Roads and Kingdoms, Josh Freedman made that dream reality, following Mr. Lamp — Chongqing’s most devoted noodle explorer — around the city, in search of the ultimate bowl of xiaomian.

Lamp steps out to take a call; he returns to tell me it is a reporter for one of China’s national newspapers. The article written about me the day before has been published in the local morning paper, under the headline “American Guy Loves Chongqing Noodles So Much He Flies All the Way to Chongqing to Eat Noodles and Learn About the Ingredients.” Within hours, the article was reposted by the flagship state-run paper, the state newswire, and dozens of aggregators. The article about me writing an article was such a big hit that the national press wanted to redo it for the international edition.

I look around the table, uncomfortable with the attention, thinking about the xiaomian stories that link each person together. Mrs. Lamp and her sister-in-law sit to our right, drinking sugary iced tea and gossiping. Across the simmering hotpot, Ms. Hu and her husband propose a toast to the table. They run a store called Fat Sister’s Noodles, named, they quickly add, after Ms. Hu. They operate the store themselves, with little help, starting before dawn every morning; rarely do they have a free moment to go out and eat with friends. After several rounds of toasting and laughter, Ms. Hu’s cheeks have turned bright red, almost as red as the hotpot broth on the table between us. Brother Lamp sits back, soaking it all in, watching connections borne of noodles grow into friendship and camaraderie. He has started smoking again.

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Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive

Longreads Pick

In Sichuan’s spicy-noodle capital, a local xiaomian aficionado takes a visitor on a quest for the ultimate bowl.

Published: Nov 21, 2016
Length: 12 minutes (3,028 words)

GQ's Sean Fennessey: My Top Longreads of 2011

Sean Fennessey is the editor of GQ.com. (See more stories on his Longreads page.)

I’ll try to follow a few guidelines for the sake of imagined objectivity, so, no friends; no GQ pieces; no pieces published before January 1, 2011; no stories pseudonymously submitted by my mom; no sandwiches. Here we go, with apologies, to, like, everyone.

***

Lawrence Wright, The Apostate (The New Yorker, February 14, 2011)

An obvious choice made less obvious by the passage of time. It has been only nine months since Wright’s startling, white-knuckled journey to the center of Scientology, with outraged and wounded filmmaker Paul Haggis as his Ahab. In Internet time, this story feels very old—check out Tom Cruise’s new movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this Christmas!—but it hasn’t budged an inch. Wright has long been a dogged writer-reporter and interpreter of foreign, pre- and post-Judeo-Christian faiths, but he’s never been so simultaneously zingy and stone-faced. TNY fact-checkers famously sent the Church of Scientology 971 questions for confirmation before this was published, followed by an eight-hour inquiry session with the religion’s spokesman. I have 971 questions for Wright. Question One: How?

Alex French and Howie Kahn, The Greatest Paper That Ever Died (Grantland, June 8, 2011)

An arch and hilarious move by the editors at Grantland to lead their launch week with the story of an ambitious, innovative, and ultimately overextended sports publication. Too cute by half or not, French and Kahn, who have contributed great work like this to GQ, too, talk to damn near every wunderkind, wonk, and graybeard involved in the fast construction and faster crumbling of The National, the first (and last) sports-only newspaper. By turns funny, informative, and oddly thrilling, it presages the too-much media by at least a decade. Also, the characterization of editor-in-chief and sports scribe demigod Frank DeFord as a dashing dandy beyond all, an almost Gatsby-esque sportswriter (?!) is remarkable.

Jessica Pressler, “It’s Too Bad. And I Don’t Mean It’s Too Bad Like ‘Screw ’Em.’” (July 24, 2011)

Access isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things. Refreshing. Enlightening. Embarrassing. Mirth-making. Other gerunds. That much is clear in this loose, funny portrait of one of the most important people in America, drawn small and sorta goofy, but not without empathy by Pressler. Just a damn good and entertaining profile.

Nathan Rabin, Louis C.K. Walks Us Through Louie’s Second Season (The AV Club, September 19, 2011)

Rabin is a pretty brilliant cultural critic and flotsam scavenger, but he’s secondary here to the form, the increasingly utilized Insta-Tell-All. Though shows like Louie or the rabidly championed Community are seen by relatively modest audiences, rarely exceeding a few million or so, the fandom they inspire is maniacal, bordering on unhealthy. In some instances, I hate this. But when it’s something I care about, I make exceptions. This literal step-by-step, shot-by-shot printed audio commentary track for the second season of comedian Louis CK’s FX series plays out in four parts and in a way that both satisfies in a very grim empty-calorie way and devastates with clarity. Louie isn’t exactly better after you’ve heard about every motivation—it’s fine standing alone, on your DVR. But that doesn’t mean you won’t inhale this series in one sitting and then enjoy this.

AJ Daulerio, The Electric Dock Ellis Acid Test: An Attempt To Recreate His Drug-Addled No-Hitter, On Xbox (Deadspin, July 11, 2011)

Stunt journalism, maybe. Multimedia art project gone wrong, sure. Belly-button-deep inside baseball, yeah, definitely. Doesn’t mean this very funny and very unnecessary attempt to get high and get paid for it (while sort of lampooning the whole Plimptonian, we-can-do-it style of participatory journalism along the way) isn’t a genuinely inventive and uniquely audience-conscious piece of web writing.

Five More

Daniel Zalewski, Show the Monster (The New Yorker)

Guillermo del Toro, a perfect profile subject. Bonus points for savvy multimedia accompaniment.

Dan P. Lee, Travis the Menace (New York Magazine)

Brilliantly crafted. Made a monkey outta me.

Mindy Kaling, Flick Chicks (The New Yorker)

Could probably do with less tweeting and more writing of this kind from Kaling.

Bradford Evans, The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase (Splitsider)
Wherein the Chevy Chase is a Colossal Asshole reputation is burnished, buffed, and efficiently honed in a countdown form that neatly conveys the story of a career coulda-been.

William Bowers, Now What? (Pitchfork)
Made me feel better about all my time spent mining the crevasses of insular music writing.

Roger Federer is Brilliant, But Don’t Ever Forget About Serena Williams

Last week, I had the privilege of watching Roger Federer beat his longtime rival Rafael Nadal in a fourth-round match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Federer went on to win the tournament.

Tennis has long been a young person’s game, with the majority of the top players from both the men’s and women’s pro tour being in their 20s. At 35, an age when many tennis players have retired or considered retirement (Pete Sampras, for example, announced his retirement at 32), Roger Federer is finding success again with his latest wins in Indian Wells and at the Australian Open (his first grand slam win in five years). His resurgence has garnered him a GQ cover and a profile by Rosecrans Baldwin in the magazine’s latest issue. Baldwin asked Federer about what it felt like to win his latest grand slam title:

So how did it compare with the others? The 2009 French Open stands out, Federer said, when he clinched the Career Grand Slam and also tied Sampras’s record of 14 Slam titles. Then he beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon a few weeks later—during the same summer that Mirka gave birth to their first children, their twin girls—and the record was his. A magical summer. But still, he said, “this one feels very different.” Less about legend, more about legacy. After a silence, Federer mused, “You have a better perspective when you’re older. You’re more at peace.” A second later, “Sometimes you want it more because you know time isn’t on your side.”

It’s a lovely profile of an athlete reaching the twilight of his career. Unfortunately, GQ undermined the story with a single tweet: Read more…

On Happiness: A Reading List

March 20 is recognized and celebrated around the world as the International Day of Happiness. From a profile of “the happiest man in the world” to a Brit’s account of mindfulness-obsessed Americans, here are seven reads about happiness.

1. “The Happiness Index.” (Gretchen Legler, Orion Magazine, January 2014)

“Can a country that claims in its brand-new constitution that happiness is more important than money survive, let alone thrive, in a global economy that measures everything by the dollar?” Legler considers the tiny, landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan as a model for change for the rest of the world.

2. “The World’s Happiest Man Wishes You Wouldn’t Call Him That.” (Michael Paterniti, GQ, October 2016)

“When you meet a monk on his mountaintop, it’s like taking a drug called Tonsured Tangerine Euphoria or Rainbow Saffron Dreams. When you see the world through his eyes, everything turns lovely colors, and you suddenly find yourself un-encrusted—free of your baggage—suddenly loving everyone and everything. It’s a self-manufactured rave in your head.” Paterniti travels to Nepal to meet Matthieu Ricard—named the “Happiest Man in the World”—to learn the keys of ultimate happiness. Read more…

27 Years and 1,000 Break-Ins: North Pond Hermit — Book Edition

If you enjoyed Michael Finkel’s 2014 GQ story about Christopher Knight — the North Pond Hermit — you’ll be interested in knowing Finkel’s turned that story into a book.

At The Guardian, read an excerpt from The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Finkel’s book on the man who simply walked away from the modern world into the woods of rural Maine in 1986 without any real plan for survival. Living alone for 27 years in a makeshift camp, Knight survived by stealing food, clothes, and provisions from neighboring camps and cabins. Knight committed over 1,000 break-ins during his self-imposed exile — stymying law enforcement and homeowners alike for nearly three decades.

Christopher Knight was only 20 years old when he walked away from society, not to be seen again for more than a quarter of a century. He had been working for less than a year installing home and vehicle alarm systems near Boston, Massachusetts, when abruptly, without giving notice to his boss, he quit his job. He never even returned his tools. He cashed his final pay cheque and left town.

Knight parked the car and tossed the keys on the centre console. He had a tent and a backpack but no compass, no map. Without knowing where he was going, with no particular place in mind, he stepped into the trees and walked away.

The cabins around the ponds in central Maine, Knight noted, had minimal security measures. Windows were often left open, even when the owners were away. The woods offered excellent cover, and with few permanent residents, the area would always be empty during the off-season. A summer camp with a big pantry was nearby. The easiest way to become a hunter-gatherer here was obvious.

And so Knight decided to steal.

To commit a thousand break-ins before getting caught, a world-class streak, requires precision and patience, daring and luck. It also demands a specific understanding of people. “I looked for patterns,” Knight said. “Everyone has patterns.”

He perched at the edge of the woods and meticulously observed the habits of the families with cabins along the ponds. He watched their quiet breakfasts and dinner parties, their visitors and vacancies, the cars moving up and down the road. Nothing Knight saw tempted him to return to his former life. His surveillance was clinical, informational, mathematical. He did not learn anyone’s name. All he sought was to understand migration patterns – when people went shopping, when a cabin was unoccupied. After that, he said, everything in his life became a matter of timing. The ideal time to steal was deep in the night, midweek, preferably when it was overcast, best in the rain.

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A Heart-Shaped Life: Twelve Ways of Looking at Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

“What constitutes a life worthy of being remembered? How do you want to be remembered?” These are the kinds of questions Amy Krouse Rosenthal always asked in her work. When Amy died this week at 51, her obituary described her as a “children’s author, memoirist, and public speaker” who found “an extraordinarily large readership this month with a column in the New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” But Amy was far more than her final, heartbreaking column. Amy Shearn details what Amy did with her brief, inspired time, and how she came to inspire others. Read more…

Weight Loss Does Not Cure Depression: How the World’s Heaviest Man Lost it All

At GQ, Justin Heckert profiles Paul Mason, who ballooned to 980 lbs. eating to forget childhood abuse and horrific loneliness. Mason lost 700 lbs. after bariatric surgery and discovers that, despite the experiences now available to him with newfound mobility, happiness remains elusive; dramatic weight loss does nothing to treat the underlying depression and emotional trauma that caused him to eat to excess in the first place.

His father, Roy, was overweight and contracted diabetes at age 29. “I remember one Sunday mum cooking salad,” Mason said. “Mum had prepared a salad for all of us with some cold meat. We weren’t allowed to sit at the table until dad sat down. He sat down and looked at the plate, and said, ‘What’s this rabbit food?’ She said, ‘I thought we’d have a change.’ He slammed his plate across the table and said, ‘I want my roast. Now go in the kitchen and cook it.’ She just started crying. He would force us to eat the same size plates as he did. He was quite barbaric.”

That’s when he began to indulge in the comforts of food, which briefly lifted his spirits every time he tasted it. “It hit the back of your throat, and you’ve got that endorphin that’s released in your brain and that makes you feel good. I began to be just like a drunk. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself.”

His new life was full of wonder, and yet defined by all his old burdens. He still needed huge amounts of medical care. He didn’t have a car. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t have a social security number. He didn’t have a job. He said that he received $197 a week in pension from the U.K., which is how he afforded his $125 a week rent and the money he spent on groceries from Walmart, where he zipped around on a scooter. When I asked him what he did with himself, how he spent his days, he said “Walmart.” When I asked him how he got around, he said he waited on the bus sometimes, out there on the concrete stoop near the road, and other times he asked either neighbors or worshippers at his local Salvation Army church to take him where he needed to go. When I asked if he had friends, he demurred and then said, “Yeah, a couple.”

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