Tag Archives: nonfiction

Ireland’s Forgotten Women

They spent decades behind high-grey-convent-walls, against their will, working away, packaging board games, without a complaint in the world to anyone: because they were brainwashed into believing they had committed a mortal sin, and were paying back their penance to Jesus.

The Good Shepherd Sisters have continually tried to erase these “forgotten women” from our collective consciousness; and want to relegate them to the dustbin of Irish history.

In the wake of the centenary celebrations of 1916, Ireland, more than ever, is striving to come to terms with the ghosts of its own history.

In doing so, there is a hope that coming generations might experience, what President Michael D Higgins recently referred to — in his keynote speech about the rising, in the Mansion House in Dublin — as “freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and insecurity and freedom from fear.”

In Little Atoms, JP O’ Malley digs deep to tell the story of the Irish nuns who a multi-million dollar corporation exploited to help produce its toys, and to honor their lives and their suffering.

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The Case Against Christmas

Long after winter has ended, hating on Christmas remains popular sport, as much a holiday tradition as eggnog and overspending. In the New Republic in December, 1990, James S. Henry published an essay outlining his yuletide complaints and what he sees as Christmas’ flaws. The magazine republished Henry’s piece online for Christmas this year, so I thought I’d share it here, too. The stats might be dated and popular toys no longer the same, but the case Henry builds is as evergreen as a spruce. Each New Year I hope we live in a world with less hate and more understanding. But complaints? I have a few. Happy Holidays.

Christmas destroys the environment and innocent animals and birds. These have perhaps not been traditional concerns for economists. But when one takes account of all the Christmas trees, letters, packages, increased newspaper advertising, wrapping paper, and catalogs and cards, as well as all the animals slaughtered for feast and fur, this holiday is nothing less than a catastrophe for the entire ecosystem. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 33 million Christmas trees are consumed each year. Growing them imposes an artificially short rotation period on millions of acres of forest land, and the piles of needles they shed shorten the life of most household rugs and pets. All the trees and paper have to be disposed of, which places a heavy burden on landfill sites and recycling facilities, especially in the Northeast.

This year, according to the Humane Society, at least 4 million foxes and minks will be butchered just to provide our Christmas furs. To stock our tables, the Department of Agriculture tells me, we’ll also slaughter 22 million turkeys, 2 million pigs, and 2 million to 3 million cattle, plus a disproportionate fraction of the 6 billion chickens that the United States consumes each year. To anyone who has ever been to a turkey farm, Christmas and Thanksgiving take on a new and somewhat less cheerful meaning. Every single day during the run-up to these holidays, thousands of bewildered, debeaked, growth-hormone-saturated birds are hung upside down on assembly-line racks and given electric shocks. Then their throats are slit and they are dropped into boiling water.

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Longreads Best of 2016: Arts & Culture Writing

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in arts and culture writing.

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Tobias Carroll
Freelance writer, managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and author of the books Reel and Transitory.

Michael Jackson: Dangerous (Jeff Weiss, Pitchfork)

Earlier this year, Pitchfork began publishing Sunday reviews that explore albums released in the time before said site debuted. This, in turn, has led to a whole lot of smart writers weighing in on the classics, the cult classics, the interesting failures, and the historically significant. Jeff Weiss’s epic take on “Jackson’s final classic album and the best full-length of the New Jack Swing era” is the sort of narrative music writing that’s catnip for me, the kind of work that sends me deeply into my own memories, and leaves me rethinking my own take on the album in question. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2016: Crime Reporting

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in crime reporting.

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Jessica Lussenhop
Senior staff writer for BBC News.

Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered (Michelle Dean, BuzzFeed News)

This heart-breaking case of one of—if not the—longest case of Munchausen by proxy is beautifully reported and written with precision by Michelle Dean. The death of Dee Dee Blancharde, as orchestrated by her adult daughter Gypsy, was horrifying and shocking, but Dean paints a detailed portrait that really allows the characters and their inner lives to emerge from the sheer horror of the crimes. Dean reveals that there was so much more to this story than what came out in breaking news reports—this piece was fascinating, troubling and at the end of the day, impossible to forget. Read more…

The Spectacle of Crime: On Detectives, Mysteries, and Dead Girls

When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Childrenthe 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…

The Case for More Female Cops

Sarah Smarsh | Longreads | July 2016 | 20 minutes (4,886 words)

 

Betty was in the bathroom dyeing her platinum hair black while the kids played with her teenage sister down the hall. Betty had recently left Bob. He’d beaten her, which was officially a crime, but there wasn’t any use in calling the cops. A hometown boy and typesetter for the Limon Leader, Bob knew everybody in their small Colorado burg on the plains, from the police station to the butcher. Betty, my future grandma, was a 23-year-old outsider from Wichita—a social challenge likely not helped by her unapologetic wearing of miniskirts in 1968.

Two years prior, Betty had blown into Limon, 90 miles west of the Kansas border, with her four-year-old daughter, Jeannie, and a pair of go-go boots. Her mom, Dorothy, and little sisters, Polly and Pud (as in “puddin’”) were along, too. Betty and Dorothy both had just washed their hands of Kansas men. Back in Wichita, Dorothy’s third husband, Joe, had strangled her. Betty’s jealous first husband, my biological grandfather, routinely beat her up and, Betty suspected, had paid someone to throw gasoline on her male friend’s face and set it on fire. So Betty and Dorothy piled the kids in a jalopy and headed west, destination unknown, to start over.

“Why Limon?” I asked her once.

“It was where our car broke down,” Betty said with a shrug.

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and Dorothy took jobs working in diners along the highway that cut through town. Betty waited tables, her mom cooked specials. Before too long, Betty hooked up with a customer named Bob. Then she got pregnant. She drove past the chapel the first time and left him at the aisle, but on the second try they got married. She gave birth to a son, Bo. Then Bob hit her and snapped his belt at Jeannie one too many times. After just a couple years of marriage, she moved out and filed for divorce.

Now Betty had a 6-year-old daughter with a dangerous Kansas man, a 2-year-old son with a dangerous Colorado man, and a divorce decree pending at the courthouse. Custody of their child, Bob had assured her, would go to him. He’d make sure the judge knew what kind of woman she was.

She had the dye worked into her hair when the phone rang. A voice warned that Bob was on his way over, and he was mad. There wasn’t time for Betty to rinse her hair. She wrapped a towel around her head. Dark dye dripped down her neck as she and Pud put the kids in the car. They rolled through town until the road turned into a highway.

Then, sirens and flashing red lights. Read more…

Iggy Pop’s Brand of Experience

Iconic punk progenitor Iggy Pop is touring through the US this spring, and I caught his show in Portland, Oregon last month. As a huge Iggy fan, this tour was no small deal to me. Iggy delivered. Despite new physical limitations, he gave everything his body could give, and the set list of new and old tunes like “Some Weird Sin” and “Repo Man” was a fan’s dream. Ticket prices were not.

Three months earlier, Iggy revealed that he’d recorded a new album in secret with musician Josh Homme. Stephen Colbert featured a debut live performance. The New York Times ran a story. It was savvy marketing. Named Post Pop Depression, the album has generated lots of excitement because it’s Iggy’s first since 2013, and because Iggy, as Homme said, “is the last one of the one-of-a-kinds.” The album even peaked at number one on the Billboard charts ─ Iggy’s first number-one album. But with concert tickets ranging from $50 to $125 (and as high as $400 on the secondary market), people were grumbling.

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Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation

I’ve been drinking more beer in the last three months than I have in the last fifteen years. Meaning, I’ve been drinking beer at all. I gave it up because it made me sluggish, but I’ve fallen back in love with beer’s flavor. Is this an unhealthy development?

In his 2014 Pacific Standard article “The Truth We Won’t Admit: Drinking Is Healthy,” Stanton Peele not only argues that moderate alcohol consumption protects you from cardiovascular disease and helps you live longer, he treats abstinence itself as an undeniable risk factor in heart disease and shortened life spans. “Well-informed Americans,” he says, “think that abstinence is better for them.” The reason: “…Americans’ addiction-phobia, which causes them to interpret any daily drinking as addictive.” A psychologist and addiction specialist by trade, he cites studies that show the positive effects moderate and even “excessive” drinking have on health and longevity. Peele traces this deep-seated cultural issue back to the temperance movement on through modern health care, where the U.S. public health establishment’s standard treatment of alcohol’s cardiovascular benefits is a resounding, systematic silence.

I read this the other night while pouring myself a pint. Maybe I should explore my motives for resuming drinking in case I’m unconsciously reaching for some delicious way to manage the increasing stress in my life. But in terms of volume consumed, there’s no issue. When I drink, I drink one beer. Too much alcohol disrupts my sleep, so I keep it between three and five beers a week. Most people laugh. Five a week? How about five a night! 

According to the Mayo Clinic, my weekly three-to-five fall within the moderate range, which the CDC lists as up to two drinks a day for a man, one for a women, with a drink defined as 12 ounces of beer and 5 ounces of wine. “When it comes to drinking alcohol,” the Mayo says, “the key is doing so only in moderation.” Peele encourages moderate consumption, as does Aaron E. Carroll’s recent The New York Times piece “Drink to Your Health (in Moderation), the Science Says,” which offers stats about how people who don’t drink have a higher death rate than those who drink moderately.

With so many articles giving conflicting information about the pros and cons of contentious foods ─ coffee is good for you, coffee is bad for you; dark chocolate helps your heart, too much fat harms it ─ it’s hard to figure out moderation. 

Moderation lies the core of American dietary thinking. “Everything in moderation,” goes the old line, meaning don’t binge, and don’t abstain, but do take it easy on the bad stuff. Between the two poles of asceticism and indulgence, moderation is about never giving up or fully giving in. It’s a reasonable approach: walk the rational temperate middle road to health. Moderation works well for those of us who want to limit something for physical or ethical reasons, like meat, dairy or dessert, but not abandon it entirely. Life without chocolate is no life at all, but you don’t want to suffer from too much of a good thing, despite what Mae West said. Another example, I’m a weekday vegetarian. I abstain from animal flesh Monday through Friday, and I indulge on Saturday and Sunday. The reason: I object to factory farming on ethical grounds, but I can’t afford to buy only small farm, humanely raised meat. But by abstaining five out of seven days I balance my values with my financial inability to fully live by them, and also accommodate my taste for certain foods, since I do love pork. The result: moderate intake of animal fats and cholesterol; more regular intake of vegetables, legumes and fruits; greatly reduced participation in an unethical farming system; and only moderate guilt about not being able to skirt that system entirely. This approach loosely fits within the Aristotelian idea of the golden mean, and maybe in Confucius’s Doctrine of the Mean.

If I wonder whether I should worry about my sudden return to beer, Peele says it’s because this sort of worried thinking is part of our distinctly American problem. As a nation, we’re ambivalent about alcohol. We see it as poison that’s healthy to avoid, yet we drink it at games and parties and dinner. So we binge, sober up, and wrestle with our urges and guilt, when more of us should be sipping responsibly like so many Europeans. Peele acknowledges that it’s moderate consumption which science has found to have the most health benefits. But in order to reap those benefits, Americans need to get over the idea that daily moderate drinking ─ meaning, a drink or two at night ─ is somehow unhealthy, or a sign of a mounting problem, and the health community needs to stop telling the public that seven drinks a week for women is healthy, but ten is excessive. Peele distinguishes himself from the standard “everything in moderation” ideology in favor of Oscar Wilde’s quip about “Everything in moderation, including moderation because, he says, “the evidence that abstinence from alcohol is a cause of heart disease and early death is irrefutable.” Alcohol’s “benefits are greatest if you drink moderately. But even drinking more than is ‘perfectly’ recommended, without displaying clinical symptoms of problem drinking or alcohol dependence (and these are not subtle), is generally better for you than drinking nothing.”

He isn’t talking about just drinking a few beers. He’s saying drink to live. I love it when science tells me what I want to hear.

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Additional Reading:

“Drink to Your Health (in Moderation), the Science Says” (Aaron E. Carroll, The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2015)
“The Truth We Won’t Admit: Drinking Is Healthy” (Stanton Peele, Pacific Standard, Aug. 12, 2014)

One Man’s Quest For His Vinyl and His Past

Eric Spitznagel | Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past | Plume | April 2016 | 8 minutes (2,029 words)

Motivated by a potent mix of seller’s regret and old-dude nostalgia, a journalist sets off in search of the vinyl of his youth. And not just copies of albums he loved—Eric Spitznagel wants the exact records he owned and sold. It’s a premise that musician Jeff Tweedy describes as “not… entirely insane” in his preface to the book.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Old Records Never Die. You decide.  Read more…

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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