The National Book Awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” There are four categories: fiction, nonfiction, “young people’s literature,” and poetry. Several of this year’s nominees have been featured on Longreads before (see: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Noelle Stevenson), and this reading list features the five nonfiction nominees. The winner will be announced on November 18, 2015.
1. The Radical: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
“The Hard Truths of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, July 2015)
“Letter to My Son,” in The Atlantic, adapted from Between the World and Me
You must struggle to truly remember this past. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children.
A collection of stories from Thursday night’s awards, including The New Yorker, Time and National Geographic.
The American Society of Magazine Editors handed out its 2014 National Magazine Awards Thursday night, with Fast Company, New York magazine, Inc., Poetry magazine and Modern Farmer all taking home trophies. Boston Magazine’s stirring cover image (above) following the Boston Marathon bombings was named ASME’s Cover of the Year.
Below is a reading list featuring some of the stories honored Thursday night. Read more…
At National Geographic, Nadia Drake has been writing about NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reaching Pluto this week, and she’s also written about our history with the former planet, which was discovered by 24-year-old Clyde Tombaugh on February 18, 1930:
Tombaugh spent about a year searching for the missing world, using an instrument called a blink comparator. The noisy machine let viewers flip back and forth between long exposures of the sky, often containing hundreds of thousands of stars, taken several days apart. Anything that traveled a significant distance during that time—a planet or an asteroid, for example—would appear to move as the images flipped.
On that late afternoon—it was February 18—Tombaugh was manning the comparator and squinting at thousands of stars, evaluating each one by eye. Suddenly, in photos taken six days apart in January, he spied a small speck of light that didn’t stay put. In one image, it was to the left of two bright stars. In the next, it had jumped a few millimeters to the right of those stars. Tombaugh flipped back and forth between the images and watched the spot leaping in and out of its original position. He grabbed a ruler and measured the precise difference in the spot’s position. Then he found another photo of the sky, taken earlier in January, and searched for the same spot. Finally, he used a hand-magnifier to confirm the potential planet’s presence in one more set of photos, taken by a different camera. After 45 minutes, Tombaugh was convinced.
The latest clue as to why our modern diet may be making us sick comes from Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, who argues that the biggest revolution in the human diet came not when we started to eat meat but when we learned to cook. Our human ancestors who began cooking sometime between 1.8 million and 400,000 years ago probably had more children who thrived, Wrangham says. Pounding and heating food “predigests” it, so our guts spend less energy breaking it down, absorb more than if the food were raw, and thus extract more fuel for our brains. “Cooking produces soft, energy-rich foods,” says Wrangham. Today we can’t survive on raw, unprocessed food alone, he says. We have evolved to depend upon cooked food.
To test his ideas, Wrangham and his students fed raw and cooked food to rats and mice. When I visited Wrangham’s lab at Harvard, his then graduate student, Rachel Carmody, opened the door of a small refrigerator to show me plastic bags filled with meat and sweet potatoes, some raw and some cooked. Mice raised on cooked foods gained 15 to 40 percent more weight than mice raised only on raw food.
If Wrangham is right, cooking not only gave early humans the energy they needed to build bigger brains but also helped them get more calories from food so that they could gain weight. In the modern context the flip side of his hypothesis is that we may be victims of our own success. We have gotten so good at processing foods that for the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they burn in a day. “Rough breads have given way to Twinkies, apples to apple juice,” he writes. “We need to become more aware of the calorie-raising consequences of a highly processed diet.”
— Ann Gibbons in National Geographic on how our diets have evolved and whether returning to a “Stone Age diet” would help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in under-recognized stories.
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Michael J. Mooney
Dallas-based freelance writer, co-director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
You Are Not Going to Die Out Here: A Woman’s Terrifying Night in the Chesapeake (John Woodrow Cox, The Washington Post)
I saw this story posted and shared a few times when it first ran, but in the middle of an insane election cycle, it didn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. This is the tale of Lauren Connor, a woman who fell off a boat and disappeared amid the crashing waves of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s about the search to find her, by both authorities and her boyfriend, and about a woman whose life had prepared her perfectly for the kinds of challenges that would overwhelm most of us. This is a deadline narrative, but it’s crafted so well—weaving in background and character development at just the right moments, giving readers so many reasons to care—that you couldn’t stop reading if you wanted to.
A science reporter from Oakland, California, who teaches at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and is the author of We Have the Technology, a book about biohacking.
A clear-eyed, thought-provoking retelling of Michelle-Lael Norsworthy’s long legal battle in hope of becoming the first American to receive sex-reassignment surgery while in prison. Her lawyers argued that the surgery was medically necessary and withholding it violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But, they argued, rather than grant the surgery and set a legal precedent, the Department of Corrections instead ordered her parole. The piece is a nuanced take on what it’s like to transition in prison—at least 400 California inmates were taking hormone replacement therapy when the article was published in May—where trans women are vulnerable to sexual assault and survivors are placed in a kind of solitary confinement, stuck in limbo in a prison system where it’s unsafe for them to live with men, but they are generally not allowed to live with women. And it asks a bigger question: What kind of medical care must the state cover?
Investigative Reporter, New America Future of War Fellow.
At first, it may seem like a simple essay about cultural appropriation, but this opus on the nameplate necklace is so much more than that. It is a beautiful ode to black and brown fashion. It is a moving history of how unique names became a form of political resistance to white supremacy. And it is the biting reality check Carrie Bradshaw so desperately needed. Read more…
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in science writing.
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A freelance writer in Brooklyn.
The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort of) Rattled the Scientific Community (Jon Mooallem, The New York Times Magazine)
Whenever one of Mooallem’s stories come out, I pretty much drop what I’m working on, kick back on my couch, and read it with a big, stupid grin. This delightful piece about a self-professed “idler” who discovers a new type of cloud is the perfect match between writer and subject matter. I guarantee that the moment you start reading, you, too, will float away from whatever it is you probably should be doing.
I was blown away by this investigation into a global super court that allows businesses to strip countries of their ability to enforce environmental regulations. “Known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, this legal system is written into a vast network of treaties that set the rules for international trade and investment,” Hamby writes. “Of all the ways in which ISDS is used, the most deeply hidden are the threats, uttered in private meetings or ominous letters, that invoke those courts.” This is the second part of Hamby’s series on the ISDS, and it focuses on an Australian company that was able to strip-mine inside a protected forest in Indonesia. Even though the company was complicit in the beating and, in one case, killing of protestors, the government was too cowed by the court to revoke the company’s permit. Read more…
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in sports writing.
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NBA/features writer at Bleacher Report.
Whereas another writer might’ve taken this story’s central question—how (and why) Koreans have elevated bat flips in baseball to an art form that deserves celebration—and answered it with condescension or (at best) superficiality, Kimes goes above and beyond, taking readers on a swirling journey across South Korea, through stadium dugouts and Seoul’s inner-city neighborhoods, to produce a compelling narrative that is part sports, part travelogue, and as illuminating a culture piece as you’ve read all year. Between Kimes’ words (which are a masterclass in scene-setting) and the wondrous illustrations of Mickey Duzyj (who was along for the reporting), this was a story I kept seeing in my head all year long.
Bill Kennedy was living his childhood dream of being an NBA referee when his world was upended last December: A star player yelled two anti-gay slurs at him during a televised game. Kennedy’s open secret—that he was, in fact, gay—was now quite public and on its way to becoming a national story.
With empathy and a deft touch, Arnovitz details what happened that night, what preceded it, and (perhaps most importantly) what followed in the months ahead, as Kennedy’s coming out became a national story and sent the veteran referee on a personal journey that was decades in the making. (The kicker, which takes place at New York’s LGBT Pride March, is stirring and sensational.) When this new season tipped off, Kennedy became the first openly gay player or referee to appear in an NBA game. What Arnovitz so brilliantly conveys is the scope of all that had to happen for that moment to finally become real. Read more…
National Geographic correspondent Bryan Christy and photographer Brent Stirton investigate the rhino trade and two key players who want to end the South African and international bans on trading and selling rhino horn.