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The Teachings of Don Carlos

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Mike Sager Scary Monsters and Super Freaks | Thunder’s Mouth Press | December, 2003 | 85 minutes (21,125 words)

 

Journalist Mike Sager originally wrote this article in 1999 as a long project for Rolling Stone. When the magazine killed the story for lack of page space ─ not an uncommon practice in magazine publishing ─ Sager published it in his first collection Scary Monsters and Super Freaks. “In a world of subjective editors,” Sager wrote via email, “it’s a good lesson for all freelance writers, one that continues to give me strength as I enter the 40th year of my journey along this beloved but difficult career path.” Our thanks to Mike Sager and Thunder’s Mouth Press for allowing us to reprint the story here, which comes recommended by Longreads contributor Aaron Gilbreath.

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Garlic, Grilled Chicken and Murder in Los Angeles

Photo by Clinton Steeds, Flickr

In the April 2008 issue of Los Angeles magazine reporter Mark Arax wrote about Los Angeles’ beloved Zankou Chicken chain, and how one owner tore the founding family apart by murdering two of its members and killing himself. The story is a compelling mix of family dynamics, fast food and the complex American dream. It was republished in Arax’s book West of the West, and in The Best American Crime Reporting 2009. Here’s an excerpt:

This wasn’t Beirut. Mardiros put in long hours. He tweaked the menu; his mother tinkered with the spices. It took a full year to find a groove. The first crowd of regulars brought in a second crowd, and a buzz began to grow among the network of foodies. How did they make the chicken so tender and juicy? The answer was a simple rub of salt and not trusting the rotisserie to do all the work but raising and lowering the heat and shifting each bird as it cooked. What made the garlic paste so fluffy and white and piercing? This was a secret the family intended to keep. Some customers swore it was potatoes, others mayonnaise. At least one fanatic stuck his container in the freezer and examined each part as it congealed. He pronounced the secret ingredient a special kind of olive oil. None guessed right. The ingredients were simple and fresh, Mardiros pledged, no shortcuts. The magic was in his mother’s right hand.

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5280 Magazine's Geoff Van Dyke: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Geoff Van Dyke is deputy editor of 5280 Magazine in Denver. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, and Men’s Journal.

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• “The Food at our Feet,” by Jane Kramer, The New Yorker

Kramer can almost make you smell and taste the stuff she’s picking: mint, asparagus, fennel, mushrooms. Plus, maybe my favorite lead sentence of the year: “I spent the summer foraging, like an early hominid with clothes.”

• “The Kill Team,” by Mark Boal, Rolling Stone

The disturbing investigation into an Army unit in Afghanistan that was killing civilians for sport.

• “Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts,” by Jonathan Franzen, New York Times

I kind of didn’t want to like this piece, but Franzen’s assessment of “consumer technology products,” and our fraught relationships with them, feels right on.

• “The Day that Damned the Dodgers,” by Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

As a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, it was heartbreaking to read this chronicle of how the Giants’ greatest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have gone from one of the most respected organizations in sports to one of the most dysfunctional.

“What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn?” by Edward Jay Epstein, The New York Review of Books

A fascinating investigation that suggests Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set up, perhaps even by people associated with French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

BONUS

Pretty much anything by Charles P. Pierce at Grantland, but especially his piece on the beginning of the end of NCAA sports and his unflinching essay on Jerry Sandusky and Penn State.

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Writer Maria Bustillos: My Top Longreads of 2011

Maria Bustillos is a journalist who writes frequently for The Awl.

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The power of Allison Benedikt’s “Life After Zionist Summer Camp” (The Awl) derives from the purity of its point of view, which is that of one person’s lived experience, minutely and honestly detailed. Benedikt swings gracefully between humor and searing candor in this account of her growing ambivalence toward the religious, political and cultural institutions she’d grown up taking for granted. It’s a high-wire act of great elegance and sensitivity that will stay with me for a long time to come.

In “The Fire This Time” (Los Angeles Review of Books) Reza Aslan likewise makes a compelling case in opposition to conventional wisdom. I thought it by far the best of the 9/11 pieces that came out on the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.

“American Marvel” (GQ), Edith Zimmerman’s profile of Chris Evans, the star of Captain America, upends everything one is accustomed to think about “movie stars” and celebrity, plus she blasts many assumptions about popular writing—and about reporters describing the world we inhabit—to absolute smithereens. Flesh-and-blood people suddenly appear on the screen where one had been expecting a cartoon. Steven Mikulan’s “Dr. Drew Feels Your Pain” (Los Angeles Magazine), by contrast, conjures a nuanced portrait out of the media fun-house mirror the old-fashioned way, via the painstaking layering up of detail through long and patient, keen observation. It has a similar payoff to the Zimmerman piece, in that you’re seeing a real world spring by magic out of the Potemkin one.

Spencer Soper’s Morning Call exposé of the sweatshop conditions at Amazon’s Allentown, Pa., warehouse came just as the Occupy movement was beginning to take hold. The disparity between the friendly face that Amazon crafts for public view and the abject brutality with which they treated their employees in Allentown demonstrated perfectly and at just the right time the terrible cost of profit-obsessed corporatism (and bargain-obsessed consumerism).

At Inside Higher Education, Steve Kolowich interviews Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a professor of media studies at Pomona College, regarding the coming digital revolution in academic research and publishing. Sounds a little dry, maybe, but check it out. Fitzpatrick and her forward-thinking colleagues have identified, and are carefully nurturing, the phoenix egg from which a new and improved academy is already beginning to hatch.

Bonus:

Fiction: George Saunders, Tenth of December (The New Yorker): best fiction of any length I read all year.

Humor: David Roth, Brief Interviews with Hideous Football Players (The Awl), a comic tour de force that fans of David Foster Wallace will particularly enjoy.

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See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: U.S. Army

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

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A Nation Struggles to Find Common Ground

I can do nothing more than share this with you and pray that saner minds will prevail. This is beyond right and wrong; it’s about the principles we hold dear in this democracy. Recently a “friend” — whose face I’ve obscured to protect his privacy and right to free speech, however vile — posted this on Facebook: Read more…

Longreads Best of 2015: Here Are All of Our No. 1 Story Picks from This Year

Best-Of-2015-Number1Stories

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2015. To get you ready, 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 free weekly email every Friday. Read more…