Search Results for: Harper's

How Police Failed to Stop Former NFL Star Darren Sharper’s Cross-Country Rape Spree

Longreads Pick

An investigation into how authorities’ failure to communicate with each other and properly assess victims and rape kits led Sharper to continue assaulting women.

Source: ProPublica
Published: Apr 8, 2015
Length: 38 minutes (9,586 words)

Best of 2021: Reported Essays

A graphic that says "Longreads Best of 2021: Reported Essays" with a typewriter in the right-side background.
All "Best of 2021" images by Kjell Reigstad.

Staff curation is at the core of our work. All year long, we highlight the top longform stories on the web in our weekly Longreads Top 5, so our end-of-year series is always a busy yet delightful time to revisit and celebrate the pieces that resonated with us the most.

On Tuesday, we shared our favorite personal essays of the year; today, we continue with our picks for the best reported essays, featuring stories about love and loss in the age of AI, death and the environment, the George Floyd rebellion and a time of racial reckoning, and ecological disaster. Enjoy — and thanks so much for reading this year.

The Jessica Simulation, Jason Fagone, San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2021

Back in 2013, I watched a haunting episode of the Charlie Brooker series Black Mirror called “Be Right Back,” in which a computer chat program uses a deceased person’s digital footprint to imitate them, allowing their loved ones to communicate with them after they die. Eight years on, and, terrifyingly, this is no longer science fiction — as Jason Fagone masterfully reports in this essay, introducing us to the bot version of the late Jessica Pereira. When she tragically died at just 23, Jessica left behind her fiance Joshua, who, struggling to manage his grief, eventually sought comfort in an artificial intelligence system that did “something they weren’t designed to do: conduct chat-like conversations with humans.” Fagone cleverly interweaves Joshua’s real transcripts with the Jessica bot into the story, as he details their love, her death, and Joshua’s eight years of grief. While I found this essay disturbing — it provides a glimpse into a future that I find uncomfortable — it is still fascinating. Fagone’s storytelling method also demonstrated something powerful: I got far closer to knowing the real Jessica through his reporting of the memories of her friends and family, rather than from the Jessica bot. As Jessica’s mother says, “I know it’s not her.” —Carolyn Wells Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Last Days Inside Trailer 83

Hannah Dreier | The Washington Post | October 17, 2021 | 4,400 words

Hannah Dreier spent a month on the ground reporting this story about a California couple on the verge of being kicked out of FEMA housing, their refuge in the wake of 2018’s devastating Camp Fire. With the clarity and compassion that are the hallmarks of her work, Dreier bears witness to what it means to suffer on the front lines of climate change, to grapple with a thinning social safety net, and — after all that — to stare down homelessness. She portrays the couple’s frustration and anger, as well as their love and resilience. But why, Dreier asks, is this happening at all? Doesn’t the government owe the displaced more, and better, than this? It’s a pressing question: More Americans will be soon displaced by fires, floods, and extreme weather. This is a quiet, intimate story, and seemingly small in scope, but don’t let it fool you — it offers a terrifying glimpse into the future. —SD

2. The Enumerator

Jeremy Miller | Harper’s Magazine | October 19, 2021 | 5,535 words

Out of financial necessity during the pandemic, reporter Jeremy Miller becomes a census enumerator in Richmond, California, for $25 an hour. In August 2020, after five months of lockdown and with little training, he sets out as a “fully deputized agent of the federal government” to follow up on those who have not completed their census forms. This piece is fascinating for Miller’s insight into trying to communicate with members of a community living in lockdown. His attempts are often futile, scary, and yet unexpectedly endearing. How many people live in the United States? With a broken census process that’s a hot target for political manipulation, no one will ever really know for sure. Some, wary of their immigration status, evade or avoid participation, understandably suspicious of government interest. —KS

3. A Very Big Little Country

Katherine LaGrave | AFAR | October 13, 2021 | 3,766 words

Ever heard of Westarctica? Neither had I. Comprising 620,000 square miles of Antarctica, since 2001 it has been “ruled” by His Royal Highness Travis I, Grand Duke. This is a micronation — a political entity whose members claim they belong to an independent state. What they lack in legal recognition they make up for in enthusiasm. Members bestow elaborate titles upon themselves and engage in heated discussions about how to govern. Westarctica is not alone: There are nearly 100 active micronations around the world. While physical landmasses have been claimed, these micronations largely exist online. Westarctica started as “a basic Yahoo website with a god-awful teal-blue background, project name, and email address.” There is a fun fantasy vibe: Westarctica’s legal tender is ice marks, “with banknotes featuring McHenry, penguins, and the Westarctican coat of arms.” However, micronations also have serious statements to make. Obsidia is a feminist-only nation with a two-pound rock as its territory and is “intent on using awareness to increase visibility for ‘femme / feminist / LGBTQ people and explore concepts for an ideal governance.’” Since 2018 Westarctica has also developed an important mission in becoming a nonprofit focused on fighting climate change. So take a dive into LaGrave’s fascinating article — and literally discover a whole other world. —CW

4. Eat, Prey, Love: A Day with the Squirrel Hawkers of East Texas

Wes Ferguson | Texas Monthly | October 15, 2021 | 2,033 words

Birds fascinate me. When I saw Wes Ferguson’s piece at Texas Monthly, I took a tern for it immediately and I have no egrets. Much more than a delightfully nerdy history of falconry and an overview of the sport in Texas, Ferguson lets us shadow falconer Charlie Alvis as he hunts with Calypso, his three-year-old red-tailed hawk. Alvis, who has a clear and deep respect for Calypso and birds in general, took up falconry in part as a way to cope with the death of his young son. Forging a deep bond with the bird has given structure and purpose to Alvis’ life. A general warning, gentle reader: This story contains violence. Hawking is hunting, after all. “Every squirrel she kills is gradually fed back to her.” —KS

5. How a McDonald’s Knockoff Became the Immigrant Dream

Omar Mouallem | Vice | October 15, 2021 | 4,044 words

I’ve always been fascinated by restaurant chains. It’s less the food than the minutiae: iconography; decor; how far a branch or franchise owner can stray from the standards and practices of corporate decree. (For years, a McDonald’s in Brooklyn kept a neon sign in its window that said MICKI DEES. It’s gone now, but I still think about it all the time.) Omar Mouallem’s piece on Burger Baron, a chain only in the loosest sense of the word based in the Canadian province of Alberta, is a doozy. “To begin with, the logo—a colourful fat knight with double-Bs in his shield—often appears on signs as a crudely drawn copy of the original,” writes Mouallem, who made a documentary about the chain that aired on Canadian television this year. “The mascot sometimes looks emaciated or downright mutilated, if he appears on the sign at all. The restaurants themselves range from drive-thru burger shacks to sprawling steakhouses.” But even if you come for the spectacle, you’ll stay for the surprisingly touching story of how Burger Baron became a lighthouse for the Lebanese immigrant community in and around Edmonton. Does it mean I ever want to try the mushroom burger? Reader, it does not. But I can still love this story. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

(Photo of Kurt Cobain by Michel Linssen/Redferns via Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Michael Azerrad, Matthew Shen Goodman, Lisa Wells, Daniel Wells, and Mary Kay McBrayer.

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1. My Time with Kurt Cobain 

Michael Azerrad | The New Yorker| September 22, 2021| (7,102 words)

Music journalist Michael Azerrad’s piece about his friendship with Kurt Cobain is honest and lucid. Azerrad recounts a number of moments with the late Nirvana singer, starting with the first time they met in 1992, when he visits the small Los Angeles apartment Cobain shared with Courtney Love to interview him for Rolling Stone. As a journalist, Azerrad gains Cobain’s trust, and eventually goes on to write a book about the band, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, which was published in September 1993, the same month their third and final album, In Utero, was released. Azerrad remembers encounters over the next few years — an epic show at the Reading Festival, a business dinner with executives (“the grownups,” as Cobain referred to them), tense moments between band members while on tour, flashes of Cobain’s heroin addiction. My favorite bits, though, are Azerrad’s quiet, beautiful descriptions of Cobain away from the spotlight: the intimate hours the two spent in a Seattle hotel room as Cobain read Azerrad’s manuscript, and the time they wandered around an eerily empty downtown Dallas with daughter Frances, who was just 15 months old at the time. —Cheri Lucas Rowlands

2. It’s Triller Night, Marv!

Matthew Shen Goodman | n+1| September 18, 2021 | (4,386 words)

Look, just because I had zero interest in watching a card of fights between retired ex-champions on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 while Donald Trump and his namesake son commentated doesn’t mean I have zero interest in reading a gimlet-eyed, absolutely bonkers polemic about it. And that’s exactly what Matthew Shen Goodman delivers in his slightly drunken, extremely lurid critical essay, which also marks his first inclusion as a Longreads Pick. The horrors on display are many, whether Snoop Dogg “performing” with the late Marvin Gaye (the essay’s headline details Snoop’s literal answer to Marvin’s titular question during a rendition of “What’s Goin’ On”) or onetime mixed martial-arts great Tito Ortiz’s plodding defeat to other onetime MMA great Anderson Silva (“veterans of one sport playing at another, their takedowns and elbows and kicks and joint breaks pared down to only punches, four-ounce semi-articulated gloves replaced with the bulbous curve of twelve-ounce boxing mitts”). The piece is half exhausted sigh, half feverish deconstruction, and entirely memorable. Punching down may be easier than the alternative, but sometimes it’s just what you need. —Peter Rubin

3. To Be a Field of Poppies

Lisa Wells | Harper’s Magazine | September 20, 2021 | (6,064 words)

This is a story about a company that is pioneering natural organic reduction (NOR), or the composting of dead bodies. Readers get all the dirt—sorry, sorry—on the science and business behind the venture, but writer Lisa Wells offers so much more than that. Her piece is a meditation on intention and guilt; grief and fear; life and loss. Perhaps above all, it is about our species’ fraught relationship with the natural world. I will be thinking about it for a long time. —Seyward Darby

4. The Secrets of The World’s Greatest Freediver

Daniel Riley| GQ | September 21, 2021 | (7,369 words)

Daniel Riley clearly relished reporting on the freediving competition Vertical Blue — a chance to be around 42 divers who feel they are doing something “sublime.” This event at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas is a mecca for all serious divers, but Riley focuses on Alexey Molchanov, who, as the world’s best freediver, is tremendously skilled at staying present in a dive, with nothing “beyond the body, the breathing, the intense focus of the next meter,” until he reaches a depth where there is no light, no sound, just sensory oblivion. Riley pulls you into the water with Molchanov, to such a degree that I went from feeling the serenity of the stillness to intense claustrophobia, as we go down and down — a rather impressive gamut of emotions to feel while in fact sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea. Riley’s respect for Molchanov is evident throughout the piece — he is, after all, a man who has dedicated his life to a sport that killed his mother, and has the potential to kill him too. —Carolyn Wells

5. Dollhouse of Horrors

Mary Kay McBrayer | Oxford American | August 31, 2021 | (4,784 words)

Come for an introduction to the uncanny work of miniature construction and collecting, stay for a rumination about what it means to cope with chaos and cruelty. “I cannot control any of the horrors that happen at me,” Mary Kay McBrayer writes. “But in my dollhouse, I own everything. I make the horrors happen. I am the one.” This is a piece for fans of Hereditary and Shirley Jackson, and for anyone struggling to make sense of our world gone mad. —SD

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Alexander Chee, Matt Gallagher, Delphine Minoui, Lauren Markham, and Jamie Figueroa.

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1. Anti-Asian Violence Must Be a Bigger Part of America’s Racial Discourse

Alexander Chee | GEN Magazine | March 15, 2021 | 12 minutes (3,194 words)

“White people still drive the narrative about Asian Americans. We have yet to have control over our own stories.”

2. In ‘Cherry,’ the Bank Robber Is the Victim. What About the Teller He Held Up?

Matt Gallagher | The Intercept | March 13, 2021 | 26 minutes (6,700 words)

“Erasure doesn’t have to be an act. It can be a process too.”

3. Hunting For Books in the Ruins: How Syria’s Rebel Librarians Found Hope

Delphine Minoui | The Guardian | March 16, 2021 | 17 minutes (4,310 words)

“Most of them had already lost everything – their homes, their friends, their parents. Amid the chaos, they clung to books as if to life, hoping for a better tomorrow, for a better political system.”

4. The Crow Whisperer

Lauren Markham | Harper’s Magazine | March 15, 2021 | 19 minutes (4,800 words)

“What happens when we talk to animals?”

5. The Stories I Haven’t Been Told

Jamie Figueroa | Emergence Magazine| March 11, 2021 | 22 minutes (5,690 words)

“Jamie Figueroa brings her pen to the blank pages of her family’s history, navigating generational trauma and lost ancestral stories in order to reveal and reclaim her cultural and familial inheritance.”

How Does the Story End?

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At Harper’s Magazine, author Ann Patchett relates working with Tom Hanks, through which she meets and befriends his assistant, Sooki. After a series of emails, Sooki comes to live with Ann and her husband Karl in the early stages of the pandemic while receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a beautiful essay, about the different shapes that friendship can take, and the limitations of truly knowing another human being, despite our best intentions.

When I’m putting together a novel, I leave all the doors and windows open so the characters can come in and just as easily leave. I don’t take notes. Once I start writing things down, I feel like I’m nailing the story in place. When I rely on my faulty memory, the pieces are free to move. The main character I was certain of starts to drift, and someone I’d barely noticed moves in to fill the space. The road forks and forks again. It becomes a path into the woods. It becomes the woods. I find a stream and follow it, the stream dries up, and I’m left to look for moss on the sides of trees.

Putting together a novel is essentially putting together the lives of strangers I’m coming to know. In some ways it’s not unlike putting together my own life. I think I know what I’m doing when in truth I have no idea. I just keep moving forward. By the time the book is written, there is little evidence of the initial spark or a long-ago conversation in California Pizza Kitchen.

This story—which begins and begins—starts again here. Of course we would exercise together; it was good for both of us. Kundalini is nothing if not an exercise in breath, and as it turned out, breath was what Sooki was craving. More breath. Almost from the moment we finished that first practice, she identified it as part of her recovery, the thing she needed to stay alive.

I had never found a way of asking what having cancer had been like for her, or what it meant to so vigorously refuse the hand you were dealt. With every passing day I seemed less able to say, Do you want to talk about this? Am I the person you’re talking to, or are you talking to someone else downstairs late at night? I was starting to understand that what she needed might have been color rather than conversation, breath rather than words.

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And Then We Grew Up

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Sarah Menkedick | Longreads | May 2020 | 11 minutes (3,116 words)

“I envy you,” my cousin told me once, as we were sitting on the front porch of a log cabin in the Ohio woods, eating peach pie. “You have a word.” That word was WRITER. My cousin, who’d bounced around jobs in her twenties and thirties, envied the way my word so neatly answered the questions of career and identity, the way it brought me into focus. I may not have had any money. I may not have had any idea if the project I was working on would ever actually be seen by someone other than myself, but I had a word.

Every once in a while, I go through a spell of applying for jobs. Teaching jobs. Tech jobs. Utterly random jobs. I google “how to write a cover letter.” I fantasize with both fascination and horror about showing up at an office and chatting about The Handmaid’s Tale over tepid coffee in a communal space. Then inevitably I imagine that moment when a stranger asks me what I do and I can no longer supply my word as an answer. It is incredibly disarming, even just in my interior dreamscape, not to have that word. It has been an anchor for my personal sense of validation, my identity, my way of relating to the world for so long. What would it mean to give it up? To hand over all my art monster ambitions and renounce the often cruel bargain of personal stability for creative nobility?

Read more…

Escaping Coronavirus Lockdown Through a Stranger’s Solitary Walks on YouTube

From Sakura in snow - walking in snowy Saitama / Rambalac / YouTube, Photo illustration by Longreads

Aaron Gilbreath | Longreads | April 2020 | 25 minutes (6,184 words)


As one of the millions of people currently trapped inside their homes thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, wondering if the virus will still get them, I need an escape, not only from the trying monotony of indoor life in cramped quarters parenting a toddler who seems increasingly aware that something is wrong, but from the anxiety as well.

I worry constantly: about my 2-year old daughter; about my wife; my health; my job; my aged parents; the effect that broken social bonds will have on children’s development. I also worry about what medical professionals like my wife call “the surge.” We Americans hunker indoors waiting for the virus to decimate our communities like it has Italy’s, and for the bodies to fill graves that few people would want to dig. The tension of anticipation gnaws at you, leaving a pit in your stomach that no amount of gardening or strong cocktails can fill.

There is no actual escape from reality. What I crave is a brief psychological break at the end of these long days, which spring keeps making longer and longer. Sleep is the only real break; yet sleep is something anxiety is allowing me less and less of. So at night, after my wife Rebekah and I bathe and put Vivian to bed at 7:30, we want some quiet time. Sometimes I skate the vacant streets for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music on headphones the way I did as a teen. Then Rebekah and I slouch on our living room couch doing work, replying to emails, and reading news. If there’s time left, we watch TV in our basement.

Wi-Fi provides the homebound masses instant COVID information. Zoom allows us to work remotely. Now a popular, hypnotic Japanese YouTube series provides me the chance for international travel and a reliable psychological escape during this time of limited mobility. In each episode, an unidentified man films the streets as he walks through Japanese cities for hours at a time. He calls himself Rambalac. He calls his episodes videowalks. He uses a high-definition handheld camera mounted on a stabilizer, and captures ambient noise with his Audio-Technica AT9946CM microphone. Filmed both day and night, his walking series started in Tokyo in 2017 but expanded to other cities, the suburbs, and countryside. His videowalks have very literal titles like “Walking in rainy Mizuho city by Clannad trail” and “Walking without reason in rainy Omuta, Kyushu.” His videos state: “Not a vlog, no intrusive faces or talking, pure Japan only.”

I know very little about photography or cinematography, but I could identify some of the effective elements of his technique. He employs no fancy camera work. No splicing, no zooming in and out, no disorienting panning or wobbling. He keeps the camera still and mostly aimed ahead. Sometimes he pivots to capture a broader scene or something he finds interesting, like a sign or river or view. There’s no music, no commentary, no narration, only his location’s ordinary noise. This is why his videos are so absorbing: He turns his viewers into his eyes, letting them see what they’d see if they were walking with him. It’s virtual reality tourism, lacking only touch and smell.

Read more…