Tag Archives: aeon

The Way We Walk: A Reading List

Autumn is my favorite time to walk around my city. The swirling skies, the cool weather, the breeze, the crunchy leaves—it’s dynamic, and, best of all, I don’t sweat as much.

In Wanderlust: A History of WalkingRebecca Solnit writes, “Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”

I love this quote. Despite the fear I feel sometimes as a woman walking alone, walking places gives me a sense of control. I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. I can take a new, weird route or linger by the Canadian geese in a recently renovated lake. In the following essays, Antonia Malachik discusses the cultural implications of our aversion to walking; Garnette Cadogan relates how his walks are coded by his skin color, depending on where in the world he is; Adee Braun praises the New York eat-and-walk—and that’s not all. You can read these on the move. Just don’t trip, okay?

1. “The End of Walking.” (Antonia Malachik, Aeon, August 2015)

We’ve featured Antonia Malachik’s article on Longreads before, but it fits this week’s theme too perfectly to ignore:

“In many parts of the US, pedestrianism is seen as a dubiously counter-culture activity. Gated communities are only the most recent incarnation of the narrow-eyed suspicion with which we view unleashed strangers venturing outside on foot, much less anywhere near our homes. A friend of mine told me recently that a few years ago, when she lived in Mississippi, she was stopped by police constantly simply because she preferred to walk to work. Twice they insisted on driving her home, ‘so I could prove I wasn’t homeless or a prostitute. Because who else would be out walking?’”

2. “A Walking Tour of the Places Where I Hit Rock Bottom.” (Michelle Tea, BuzzFeed News Reader, October 2016)

Author and activist Michelle Tea takes us to four of her old haunts: a clown-themed strip club, a bar, her old apartment, and an on-ramp.

3. “Walking While Black.” (Garnette Cadogan, LitHub, July 2016)

In an essay that remains sadly, horrifically relevant, Garnette Cadogan describes his risk-tainted wanders through Kingston, Jamaica; New York City; and New Orleans:

“Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join…Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance.”

4. “Mastering the Art of the New York Eat-and-Walk.” (Adee Braun, Narratively, September 2014)

My friends and I paused on a classic Manhattan street corner so we could purchase hot dogs on our ill-fated attempt to catch our bus back to Maryland. Certain denizens of the Mid-Atlantic are familiar with the Day Trip to New York City: You wake up earlier than is reasonable in order to board a stale, at-capacity charter bus full of crabby Marylanders (or wherever), and a few restless hours later, you’re deposited somewhere outside Times Square or Chinatown or the Javits Center. Then, you see a show (anecdotally, the most common reason for these jaunts), or go to the Strand bookstore (guilty), or something else. After we saw our show of choice (cliche, I know, but it was a one-weekend remount), we partook in that hallowed New York tradition: the eat-and-walk.

At Narratively, Adee Braun has written a love letter to the eat-and-walk, a lesser-known American export and beloved regional pastime.

5. “Ghosts and Empties.” (Lauren Groff, The New Yorker, July 2015)

Lauren Groff’s command of language will entrance you in this short story about an on-edge mom who takes evening walks in her North Florida neighborhood.

God the Gorilla

silverback gorilla

Not everyone buys into a sky-god with a long white beard, a serious and all-knowing mien, capable of rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad. But it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that God, as worshipped in most of the world, is remarkably humanoid, widely perceived as a great, big, scary, wilful, yet nourishing and protective guy… in short, a silverback gorilla writ large.

-Evolutionary biologist David Barash, writing in Aeon, finds a model for most monotheistic conceptions of god where we might not think to look: in the “harem-keeping alpha male” leaders of gorilla families.

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Our Temporary Homes: A Reading List About Hotels

One of my favorite childhood memories is going to Kentucky to visit my grandmother’s hometown. We stayed in the same hotel during every trip: the Best Western. My mom loved it for its consistency and affordability. I loved the popcorn machine in the lobby and the indoor swimming pool.

Hotels are weird, with their anonymous, uniform rooms; where you have to give your name at the desk in order to sleep there. As writer Aaron Gilbreath finds out in “Three Feet by Six Feet by Three Feet,” hotels are, paradoxically, monuments to isolation and to community. Suzanne Joinson feels the weight of being everywhere and nowhere at once in “Hotel Melancholia.” These essays and the others stories in this list will take you all over the world, to the hotels we call our temporary homes. Read more…

Into the World of Mushrooms: A Reading List

Is it weird I’ve been planning a mushroom-themed reading list for a long time? Probably. But mushrooms are intriguing. What other substance on earth is sustenance, poison, psychedelic drug, medicine and delicacy? There are approximately 1.5 million kinds of mushrooms (I Googled it). They survive via underground communication networks called mycelium. The biggest recorded mycelium is over 2,000 acres across, in Oregon. In the following five pieces, you’ll meet foragers, hikers, researchers, anthropologists, drug dealers and puppies. You’ll have a newfound appreciation for the men and women who devote themselves to studying these weird, wild fungi. Read more…

Why Greenlanders Don’t Have Epitaphs on Their Gravestones

Nothing is set in stone, except of course your epitaph. In a recent essay for Aeon, Tom Pitock mused on the difficulty of writing his own father’s epitaph, and why we etch words on tombstones to remember people we loved. But not every culture uses epitaphs, as Pitock learned in Greenland:

It took real effort to find the cemetery in Lower Burma, but in Greenland, the world’s largest island, it was impossible to miss it. The capital city, Nuuk, has just 17,000 people, with a mere 39,000 more concentrated in settlements across the rest of the of the country. New graves are decorated with ebullient arrangements of artificial flowers, which, when they wither, are not replaced. ‘We do not visit graves,’ said Salik Hard, whom I met while travelling there. ‘Once a person is gone, we go on to the future.’

And because of that, Greenlanders don’t use epitaphs, not even names.

They are officially Evangelical Lutherans but retain many of the beliefs of their Inuit heritage, including that every person consists of a body, a spirit, and a name. When the body perishes, the spirit and the name travel together in search of a new body.

‘If you put a name on the stone,’ Salik explained, ‘it will never leave the grave. It will be trapped. Obviously.’

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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 courtesy of Matthew Teague

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.

* * *

Read more…

Five Stories About the Way We Sleep

Photo: epSos. de

I am one of those people who needs as much sleep as possible; I can easily sleep for 12 hours; I nap frequently; I rely on lattes and Coke Zero to keep up morale. This week, I thought about sleep a lot. Here are five pieces on different facets of sleep: a short story about sleepwalking, a dispatch from Gaza, a person who can’t help but sleep when he’s stressed, and more.

1. “Broken Sleep.” (Karen Emslie, Aeon, November 2014)

Sometimes I wake up at 5 a.m., awake and ready to get up, but I inevitably scroll through Twitter until I fall asleep again. I always attributed this to a beneficial lull in REM sleep, but this article gave me pause—perhaps it’s symptomatic of “segmented sleep.” Historically, people slept in two chunks of four to five hours, separated by one to three hours of wakefulness. There are many health benefits to segmented sleep, as the author explains, but in our 9-to-5 industrialized society, this kind of sleep schedule doesn’t jibe. Read more…

Interview: ‘Poor Teeth’ Writer Sarah Smarsh on Class and Journalism

Julia Wick | Longreads | November 7, 2014 | 11 minutes (2,674 words)


“I am bone of the bone of them that live in trailer homes.” That’s the first line of Sarah Smarsh’s essay “Poor Teeth,” which appeared on Aeon earlier this month. Like much of Smarsh’s work, “Poor Teeth” is a story about inequity in America. It is also a story about teeth, hers and her grandmother’s and also the millions of Americans who lack dental coverage.

Smarsh has written for Harper’s, Guernica and The Morning News, among other outlets. Her perspective is very much shaped by her personal experiences: She grew up in a family where most didn’t graduate from high school, and she later chaired the faculty-staff Diversity Initiative as a professor at Washburn University in Topeka. I spoke with her about her own path to journalism and how the media cover issues of class.  Read more…

What Would Happen If We Lived on Mars

Cabin fever might set in quickly on Mars, and it might be contagious. Quarters would be tight. Governments would be fragile. Reinforcements would be seven months away. Colonies might descend into civil war, anarchy or even cannibalism, given the potential for scarcity. US colonies from Roanoke to Jamestown suffered similar social breakdowns, in environments that were Edenic by comparison. Some individuals might be able to endure these conditions for decades, or longer, but Musk told me he would need a million people to form a sustainable, genetically diverse civilisation.

‘Even at a million, you’re really assuming an incredible amount of productivity per person, because you would need to recreate the entire industrial base on Mars,’ he said. ‘You would need to mine and refine all of these different materials, in a much more difficult environment than Earth. There would be no trees growing. There would be no oxygen or nitrogen that are just there. No oil.’

I asked Musk how quickly a Mars colony could grow to a million people. ‘Excluding organic growth, if you could take 100 people at a time, you would need 10,000 trips to get to a million people,’ he said. ‘But you would also need a lot of cargo to support those people. In fact, your cargo to person ratio is going to be quite high. It would probably be 10 cargo trips for every human trip, so more like 100,000 trips. And we’re talking 100,000 trips of a giant spaceship.’

Ross Andersen, in an Aeon magazine interview with Elon Musk, on the future of colonizing Mars.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons