“Barry Hannah is America’s greatest living writer” is something I started saying when I first read Hannah’s work in the late 1990s. I’m sad I had to stop saying it on March 1 of this year, when Barry passed away. … “HANNAH: The alcohol had the code and mystery about it as a writer’s drug, but I’m glad that’s been debunked. But the trouble with the drinking, much as I hate to admit it, is it helped the work. The first two drinks were always wonderfully liberating. You think better. You’re braver, and you’ll say anything. If you could just hang in there with two or three, it’d be beautiful. The trouble was I couldn’t.”
In GQ magazine, Wells Tower talks to Frank Bourassa, one of the most prolific counterfeiters in American history who reproduced more than $200 million in twenty dollar bills. U.S. dollars are printed on rag paper comprised of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, and asking a paper mill to provide you with some is an easy way to get yourself raided by the Secret Service. Bourassa was able to convince a mill in Switzerland to help him:
In correspondence included in court documents that Frank shared with me, Maxwell told his mark that Keystone was looking to print bond certificates on secure rag paper—customized with one or two security measures designed to, um, foil counterfeiters. Frank says that after Artoz accepted the basics of his bond-brokerage story, he tweaked and refined his order over many months, nudging one felonious tidbit after another onto the papermaker’s plate. He got them to add linen to the recipe. He asked them to mix in chemicals to thwart security pens and black-light tests. He persuaded them to sew in a security strip reading, in near microscopic print, usa twenty. (“I told them it was, you know, for a $20 bond.”)
Artoz, he says, also agreed to imprint his paper with a watermark, an image etched into a cylindrical printing drum and pressed into the paper while the pulp is still wet. To get the equipment Artoz would need to do this, Frank paid $15,000, routed under a surrogate’s name through a Swiss bank account, to a company in Düren, Germany, that manufactured a drum etched with the likenesses of Andrew Jackson’s face. How did he manage that, exactly? “It was easy,” said Frank. “To you, he’s Andrew Jackson. To some guy in Germany, who the fuck is it? Some guy’s face. He doesn’t know.”
By Josh Roiland
Longreads | December 2017 | 32 minutes (8,200 words)
At a hip Manhattan book launch for John Jeremiah Sullivan’s 2011 essay collection Pulphead, David Rees, the event’s emcee, asked the two-time National Magazine Award winner, “So John…are you the next David Foster Wallace?” The exchange is startling for its absurdity, and Sullivan shakes his head in disbelief before finally answering, “No, that’s—I’m embarrassed by that.” But the comparison has attached itself to Sullivan and a host of other young literary journalists whom critics have noted bear resemblance to Wallace in style, subject matter, and voice.
When Leslie Jamison published The Empathy Exams, her 2014 collection of essays and journalism, a Slate review said “her writing often recalls the work of David Foster Wallace.” Similarly, when Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life appeared a year earlier, a review in the L.A. Review of Books proclaimed: “If Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace had a love child, I thought, Michelle Orange would be it.”
Wallace was, himself, a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, winning once, in 2001; yet he compulsively identified himself as “not a journalist” both in his interactions with sources and reflexively as a character in his own stories. Nonetheless, he casts a long shadow in the world of literary journalism—a genre of nonfiction writing that adheres to all the reportorial and truth-telling covenants of traditional journalism, while employing rhetorical and storytelling techniques more commonly associated with fiction. To give better shape to that penumbra of influence, I spoke with Sullivan, Jamison, and Orange, along with Maria Bustillos, Jeff Sharlet, Joel Lovell, and Colin Harrison about Wallace’s impact on today’s narrative nonfiction writers. They spoke about comparisons to Wallace, what they love (and hate) about his work, what it was like to edit him, their favorite stories, posthumous controversies, and his influence and legacy.
Joel Lovell only worked with Wallace on one brief essay. Despite that singular experience, Lovell’s editorial time at Harper’s and elsewhere in the 1990s and 2000s put him in great position to witness Wallace’s rising status in the world of magazine journalism. He was unequivocal when I asked him which nonfiction writer today most reminds him of Wallace.
Joel Lovell: The clear descendant is John Jeremiah Sullivan, of course. For all sorts of reasons (the ability to move authoritatively between high and low culture and diction; the freakishly perceptive humor on the page) but mostly just because there’s no one else writing narrative nonfiction or essays right now whose brain is so flexible and powerful, and whose brainpower is so evident, sentence by sentence, in the way that Wallace’s was. No one who’s read so widely and deeply and can therefore “read” American culture (literature, television, music) so incisively. No one who can make language come alive in quite the same way. He’s an undeniable linguistic genius, like Dave, who happens to enjoy exercising that genius through magazine journalism. Read more…
Like all people who hate Burning Man, I enjoy nothing more than reading articles about Burning Man. In February, Felix Gillette chronicled the semi-clad class warfare at last year’s Burning Man for Bloomberg Businessweek. Despite being a festival based on radical self-reliance, Black Rock City is seemingly overrun with tech billionaires setting up their own exclusive festivals-within-a-festival; ultra-luxe camps that are fully built and staffed by paid “sherpas.” In his piece, Gillette described plans for an over-the-top camp hosted by Jim Tananbaum, a former member of Burning Man’s governing board:
In the spring [Tananbaum] and his team sent out a detailed invitation, enticing potential guests with an early vision of the camp, named Caravancicle. Anyone concerned about living in a hot, unforgiving wilderness could rest assured. There would be no roughing it at Caravancicle. Accommodations would consist of a series of cubical tents with carbon fiber skeletons. Each cube would have 9-foot ceilings, comfortable bedding, and air conditioning. The surrounding camp, enclosed by high walls, would be safe and private. Amenities would include a central lounge housed in a geodesic dome, private showers and toilets, solar panels, wireless Internet, and a 24-hour bar. Guests could count on a “full-service” staff, who would among other things help create “handcrafted, artisanal popsicles” to offer passers-by. To help blend in with the Burning Man regulars, who tend to parade around the commons in wild, racy outfits (if anything at all), the camp would include an entire shipping container full of costumes.
1. “The Old Man at Burning Man” (GQ, Feb. 2013)
Wells Tower’s legendary 2013 GQ account of attending the aforementioned festival with his father.
2. “Why the Rich Love Burning Man” (Jacobin, Aug. 2015)
An essay by Keith A. Spencer about why business leaders, particularly in Silicon Valley, are so enamored with Burning Man:
This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in sports writing.
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Freelance writer based in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
It’s been a bad year for football: Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, the lingering Jameis Winston saga. And a bad year for football means a big year for think pieces about violence and football—I couldn’t tell you how many of those I read this year. But one of them stood out. In “Together We Make Football,” Louisa Thomas reflects on the uncomfortable relationship between the NFL, masculinity, violence, and women. She takes her time, building a case slowly and methodically, before driving home her point: that violence is inherent to, and integral to, the NFL. That although the vast majority of football players don’t beat their wives, there may be no way to separate the bad violence—the off-field violence—from the on-field violence that we love. Here’s Thomas: Read more…
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Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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Wells Tower talks to Frank Bourassa, the “most prolific counterfeiter in American history” who reproduced more than $200 million in nearly flawless fake twenty dollar bills.