In the familiar eschatology of addiction memoirs—David Carr’s “The Night of the Gun,” say, or Bill Clegg’s “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man”—an ambitious protagonist is bested by the wearying force of substances, only to later conquer his dependency and return, relatively unscathed, to the more wholesome business of achievement and success. But both “You’ll Never Eat Lunch” and “How to Murder Your Life” are remarkably honest in foregrounding the invidious parallelism of their subjects’ multifarious drives. It turns out that, for some addicts, drug use doesn’t just subvert ambition—it also mimics it. For Phillips, the deal-making stops, but the same desires that fuelled her career trajectory continue to animate her addiction. “Smoking freebase has pretty much been my job for the past year,” she writes of a particularly extreme period. And even after she quits cocaine, she begins exercising compulsively so as not to become a “fat tub of goo.” “Had she figured out a new and exciting addiction?” she wonders after injuring herself working out, describing the pain in a swollen ankle as “little jolts all along the way . . . painumb, painumb, painumb,” beating rhythmically like so many ticks on a never-ending workday clock.
That’s me in the photo. June, 2011: my first time interning at a daily newspaper and the first time I read Joan Didion. She blew my mind, of course. Eventually, I started sharing my favorite longform pieces on my personal blog, which led to a variety of opportunities, including my gig here at Longreads. If you’re new around these parts, like I was just a few years ago, the stories below will give you an idea of the strength and skill that goes into creating engaging literary journalism.
Each of the four stories below has been featured on Longreads before, minus the annotations, of course. The interviews with the authors are just as fascinating as the essays they’ve written. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Adrian Chen, and Brian Kevin discuss their research methods, their writing style, and how they choose which details to include and which to let go. There are literally dozens of other Annotation Tuesday stories I could’ve featured — it was hard to pick just three! — so be sure to take a look for yourself on the Nieman Storyboard website.
Part of successful longform storytelling is a seamless blend of the macro and micro. In recounting her journey to Yellow Springs, Ohio — where comic Dave Chappelle lives, where he grew up, in part — Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah does just that. She never interviews Chappelle himself; she interviews several of the people surrounding him, including his mother, scholar Yvonne Seon, and Neal Brannan, co-creator of “Chappelle’s Show.” Ghansah and Elon Green share a fascinating back-and-forth about the impossibility of objectivity, the n-word, and comedy as a weapon.
Tech reporter Adrian Chen — formerly of Gawker, now The New Yorker — wrote a marvelous profile of Megan Phelps-Roper, who was once a devoted member of the Westboro Baptist Church. When Phelps-Roper took over the church’s social media accounts, her life changed. In between hate speech and emojis, she engaged with people of different backgrounds and worldviews. Chen explains that it took a long time for Megan to feel comfortable opening up to him and sharing her story publicly. But when she did open up to Chen, she gave him access to her emails, her journals, even her private messages on the Words With Friends app. They spoke for hours, and the result is a nuanced portrait that demonstrates the nonlinear nature of healing.
I remember reading this piece when it was first published in 2011. I was interning at a daily newspaper and learning about feature writing and reporting for the first time. Michael Kruse and the Tampa Bay Times (previously the St. Petersburg Times) came highly recommended to me, and this story, “A Brevard Woman Disappeared, but Never Left Home” — is a contemporary classic. Journalist and professor Paige Williams dissects the story on an educational basis; Kruse answers her questions and adds commentary.
During my senior year of undergrad, I embarked on an independent study of longform journalism — reading hundreds of essays, interviewing Ben Montgomery, and analyzing what makes different stories tick. Ready to embark on an independent study of your own? There’s no better place to start than this syllabus — I wish it had been around when I was in school. Roiland, presently an assistant professor with the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, goes into glorious detail about each of his reading selections.
In the New Yorker, Kathryn Schultz writes about two forms of loss: grief and the misplacement of everyday objects. Regarding the latter, it appears we have a tendency to lose items on a daily basis, and spend half a year over the course of our lifetimes searching for them:
Passwords, passports, umbrellas, scarves, earrings, earbuds, musical instruments, W-2s, that letter you meant to answer, the permission slip for your daughter’s field trip, the can of paint you scrupulously set aside three years ago for the touch-up job you knew you’d someday need: the range of things we lose and the readiness with which we do so are staggering. Data from one insurance-company survey suggest that the average person misplaces up to nine objects a day, which means that, by the time we turn sixty, we will have lost up to two hundred thousand things. (These figures seem preposterous until you reflect on all those times you holler up the stairs to ask your partner if she’s seen your jacket, or on how often you search the couch cushions for the pen you were just using, or on that daily almost-out-the-door flurry when you can’t find your kid’s lunchbox or your car keys.) Granted, you’ll get many of those items back, but you’ll never get back the time you wasted looking for them. In the course of your life, you’ll spend roughly six solid months looking for missing objects; here in the United States, that translates to, collectively, some fifty-four million hours spent searching a day. And there’s the associated loss of money: in the U.S. in 2011, thirty billion dollars on misplaced cell phones alone.
Happy Halloween! It’s the season of costume parties, trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving, and scary stories. The spookiness doesn’t have to end with the weekend—indulge in classic creepypasta, scary podcasts, and Ms. (Shirley) Jackson on your lunch break.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been in a reading funk. I start a book; I put it down; repeat. Instead of novels, I’ve turned to Reddit (for virtually the first time in my life), reading creepypasta and other weird stories into the wee hours. Bonus round: Every year, Jezebel collects terrifying stories from their readers—usually of the paranormal-it-happened-to-me variety–and this year’s is up! I think “Armoire” is the scariest. Read more…
I found my favorite notebook—a red Moleskine, narrow-ruled, hardback—at the Harvard Book Store while on vacation. I liked its bold color. Someone had bent the front cover, giving it a well-worn look and earning me a 10% discount from the kind bookseller. I felt relief. My anxious handwriting and endless to-do lists would not be the first things to mar my new notebook. Someone had already done me that courtesy. Now there was nothing to fret about; I could write in peace.
Distraction-free, tried-and-true: the notebook remains, even in the tech-saturated realm of Silicon Valley.
The notion that non-digital goods and ideas have become more valuable would seem to cut against the narrative of disruption-worshipping techno-utopianism coming out of Silicon Valley and other startup hubs, but, in fact, it simply shows that technological evolution isn’t linear. We may eagerly adopt new solutions, but, in the long run, these endure only if they truly provide us with a better experience—if they can compete with digital technology on a cold, rational level.
When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.
In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk”ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost”during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth. Read more…
In the past two weeks, Cleveland, Ohio hosted the Republican National Convention and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania hosted the Democratic National Convention. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton earned the nominations from their respective parties; they will face off in November. Not everyone is thrilled with this outcome. Ted Cruz urged delegates to vote with their conscience and didn’t endorse Trump, and Bernie Sanders supporters walked out of the DNC or protested outside the convention. I’m equally intrigued and exhausted by the political realm right now, so I’m relying on the thoughtful analyses and on-the ground reporting by talented writers.
The dangerous choices of the postergirl for the Family Trump, who, you know, probably isn’t actually a Republican. If you haven’t read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story about Melania Trump, read that, too. Read more…
The bookstore where I work has a motto: “Get to know your world.” We’re a small shop, but visitors often marvel at the size of our travel section. Spend a few too many minutes near these shelves, and you’re researching flights to Iceland or the best time of year to hike the Appalachian trail (maybe that’s just me). Lately, I’ve noticed an increase in books about Nordic life—like The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, to this past week’s release, The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen. Why are we Americans so drawn to the Scandinavian Peninsula and beyond? Why do some Republicans speak of Sweden with disdain or horror, whereas left-leaning folks go starry-eyed? Does the recent influx of refugees to these countries mark the beginning of institutionalized xenophobia? Read more…
“If anything happens to me tomorrow, I just want you to know that I love you.”
My partner pushed his headphones aside. He says, “I love you too. I don’t think anything will happen. You shouldn’t be worried.”
It’s Friday as I’m writing. Tomorrow, Saturday, is Frederick Pride. This Maryland city (my city, I live here) expects around 5,000 people to attend Pride festivities, which include an ecumenical church service, a walk to commemorate victims of AIDS, and a day-long festival with food, activities for kids, drag queens performing, and local merchants offering discounts to anyone sporting a rainbow wristband. The weather will be perfect. Frederick Pride is one of my favorite days of the year. But I’m also a little scared. Last week, we held a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Pulse. I kept waiting for a bullet to enter the back of my skull. I hope I will be distracted enough tomorrow by my volunteer duties and my new flower crown to forget to worry about dying. I hope the kids who attend the local LGBTQ youth group and their families and the people attending Pride for the first time and my dad and my partner and my queer mentors and my coworkers will not feel afraid, either. I plan my outfit, my potential tattoos, my deadlines for the next month. I tell myself, gently, Everything is going to be okay.
When you read this on Sunday, you will read about the queer and trans people in the American prison system. You will learn about their relationships, their mistreatment and some of their needs. You will read about the exclusive language of sex education and healthcare, particularly menstruation. You’ll read the stories of contemporary playwrights, musicians, political commentators and others as they reminisce about their first gay clubs. You’ll see that queer communal spaces can be inefficacious, yet remain so, so important.
There is much to do. But we are alive. We get to do the work. Read more…
The show’s signature gag, from the first season, was a minute-long montage of startup founders pledging to “make the world a better place through Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols,” or to “make the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between endpoints.” This scene was set at TechCrunch Disrupt, a real event where founders take turns pitching their ideas, “American Idol”-style, to an auditorium full of investors. Before writing the episode, Judge and Berg spent a weekend at TechCrunch Disrupt, in San Francisco. “That’s the first thing you notice,” Judge said. “It’s capitalism shrouded in the fake hippie rhetoric of ‘We’re making the world a better place,’ because it’s uncool to just say ‘Hey, we’re crushing it and making money.’” After the scene aired, viewers complained about the lack of diversity in the audience. Berg recalled, “A friend of mine who works in tech called me and said, ‘Why aren’t there any women? That’s bullshit!’ I said to her, ‘It is bullshit! Unfortunately, we shot that audience footage at the actual TechCrunch Disrupt.’”