One of the rarest religious experiences you can have in America is to join the Plain.
Author’s Note: “Alex” and “Rebecca” are not the real names of two people interviewed. They felt strongly that they should not be identified by name out of respect for their faith’s general belief in the body above the individual.
The road that runs through the main village of Berlin, Ohio, only about 90 minutes south of Cleveland, is called “Amish Country Byway” for its unusual number of non-automotive travelers and it’s true that driving down it, you’ll have to slow down for the horse-drawn buggies that clog up the right lane. But those seeking the “real” Amish experience in downtown Berlin might be disappointed. It’s more Disney than devout: a playground for tourists full of ersatz Amish “schnuck” (Pennsylvania Dutch for “cute”) stores selling woven baskets and postcards of bucolic farm scenes.
You only see the true Holmes County, which is home to the largest population of Amish-Mennonites in the world, when you turn off Route 62 and venture into the rolling green hills interrupted periodically by tiny towns with names like Charm and Big Prairie. You’ll likely lose service on your cell phone just as the manure smell starts to permeate the air. On my visit this past summer, I saw Amish people–groups of children sporting round straw hats, the young women in their distinctive long dresses–spilling out of family barns, where church services are held, in the distance. The Amish don’t have any spiritual attachment to a geographical location, the way Jews have to Jerusalem or Mormons to Salt Lake City; this spot, along with Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is probably the closest they come to an idea of God’s Country. Read more…
How the producer of the Hangover movies became one of the most effective advocates for prison reform in California.
There can be something enjoyable, even revelatory about that feeling of self-protection, which is why we seek out circumstances in which we can feel more acutely the contrast between the outside world and our inner selves. Woolf was fascinated by city life—by the feeling of solitude-on-display that the sidewalk encourages, and by the way that “street haunting,” as she called it, allows you to lose and then find yourself in the rhythm of urban novelty and familiarity. She was drawn to the figure of the hostess: the woman-to-be-looked-at, standing at the top of the stairs, friendly to everyone, who grows only more mysterious with her visibility. (One of the pleasures of throwing a party, Woolf showed, is that it allows you to surprise yourself: surrounded by your friends, the center of attention, you feel your separateness from the social world you have convened.) She showed how parents, friends, lovers, and spouses can become more unknowable over time, not less—there is a core to their personhood that never gives itself up. Even as they put their lives on display, she thought, artists thrive when they maintain a final redoubt of privacy—a wellspring that remains unpolluted by the world outside. “A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter,” Clarissa thinks, at the end of “Mrs. Dalloway.” Of course, it’s the chatter—the party—that helps her know that she has something to lose in the first place.
—Joshua Rothman, writing in the New Yorker about Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy.
This was a big year for longform journalism. Byliner came out with blockbuster stories, like Jon Krakuer’s Three Cups of Deceit. The Atavist put out consistently strong features with solid multimedia. At Outside, our editors and writers contributed excellent investigative online exclusives (“Blood in the Water,” “Crashing Down”). Thanks to Longreads, Longform, Sportsfeat, The Browser, and other longform-loving sites, I found more great stories online then ever before. Every time I read something that made me think, I printed it out and taped it to the wall above my desk. Here are five of the articles published in 2011 that hang over my workspace.
A big look at the American West, told through the story of a small town pharmacist
How do you talk about the effects of concussions in sports in a new way? By profiling an individual’s life in exquisite detail, from start to after the finish. The multimedia is first rate as well. (This one took up the biggest chunk of wall space.)
An argument for going after the things you want.
Frank Shorter was the most famous marathoner of his day, yet few people knew about the disturbing behavior of his father—a supposedly perfect small town doctor.
There were stories about hydrofracking with more statistical analysis and stories that explained the overall process and its effects in more detail, but no story was told better. Here’s how fracking in rural Pennsylvania affected the Haney family.
Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.
In a tiny town just outside Joplin, a landmark adoption case tests the limits of inalienable human rights
Tonight, in a modest brick row house in the sleepy city of Carthage, beyond the Ozark Mountains and the mines of southwest Missouri, past the poultry plants and churches along Interstate 44 and U.S. 71, down the block from the Jasper County courthouse and historic town square, a five-year-old boy is going to bed.
Chances are the boy is unaware of the battery of lawyers debating his future. He’s probably oblivious to the national immigration debates he has stirred, the newspaper headlines he has generated, the two school-district employees whose firings are directly linked to his circumstances. He very likely has no idea that the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C., is in his corner, or that a lone circuit court judge will decide his fate this winter.
A few weeks into the race, Huntsman looks like a protest candidate—less a figure of the current Republican Zeitgeist than a canny challenger to his party’s orthodoxy. But his lack of traction thus far doesn’t feel exactly like failure. Running from behind brings a freedom to speak one’s mind, which can affect the political conversation for the better. Like Eugene McCarthy in 1968, Bruce Babbitt in 1988, and John McCain in 2000, Huntsman seems already to have become a media darling—a thinking person’s candidate whose candor shines a light on the evasions of his rivals, even if it fails to change the outcome of the race. If he performs credibly, Huntsman stands to emerge better known, with his national reputation enhanced, and—should Obama be reelected—well positioned to run in 2016.
He focused on his studies, but as the years passed, he grew to 6-feet-nothing and then 6-foot-something. The sport of basketball had always been in the equation, but now that he was pushing 7 feet, now that he towered over most everyone in Barcelona, he would have a decision to make soon. He tried balancing both basketball and medicine at first — and, the truth is, he wasn’t the better for it. By day, he was an 18-year-old, first-year med student at the University of Barcelona; by night, he was a pivot man on the FC Barcelona club team.