Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)
1. My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant | Jose Antonio Vargas | New York Times | June 22, 2011 | 18 minutes (4,604 words)
A confession that raises more questions about our immigration policies and reveals how family and friends helped keep his secret hidden. Jose Antonio Vargas compares his status as an undocumented immigrant to another confession he made in 1999:
“Later that school year, my history class watched a documentary on Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco city official who was assassinated. This was 1999, just six months after Matthew Shepard’s body was found tied to a fence in Wyoming. During the discussion, I raised my hand and said something like: ‘I’m sorry Harvey Milk got killed for being gay. . . . I’ve been meaning to say this. . . . I’m gay.’
“I hadn’t planned on coming out that morning, though I had known that I was gay for several years. With that announcement, I became the only openly gay student at school, and it caused turmoil with my grandparents. Lolo kicked me out of the house for a few weeks. Though we eventually reconciled, I had disappointed him on two fronts. First, as a Catholic, he considered homosexuality a sin and was embarrassed about having ‘ang apo na bakla’ (‘a grandson who is gay’). Even worse, I was making matters more difficult for myself, he said. I needed to marry an American woman in order to gain a green card.
“Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden.”
Also from Vargas: “Mark Zuckerberg: The Face of Facebook” (The New Yorker, Sept. 2010)
2. Pastoral Romance | Brent Cunningham | Lapham’s Quarterly | June 16, 2011 | 14 minutes (3,614 words)
The old days on the farm were not anything to get nostalgic about. Cunningham says the locavore movement forgets that most Americans abandoned agrarian life for good reasons:
“By the 1920s and ’30s, the gap between city and farm diets had begun to collapse, as processed foods became high-status items in rural areas. Poor Appalachian farmers began to prefer canned hams to country hams; farm women who could afford store-bought canned vegetables and other processed food embraced this new convenience without a second thought that they were abandoning a purer, nobler way of life.
“There’s a reason that less than 2 percent of people in this country are engaged in farming today, and it isn’t simply that they’ve been driven off the land by Cargill and ADM. Just like Betty Jo Patton, many of them wanted things to be easier. This revolution at the table—the one that produced the food culture that today’s revolutionaries are trying to counter—was considered a tremendous leap forward. It was modern. It gave people time for things other than keeping the family fed.”
See also: “The Beer Archaeologist” (new Smithsonian Magazine)
3. The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace | Felix Gillette | Businessweek | June 22, 2011 | 16 minutes (4,119 words)
What happens when you go from hottest thing on the Internet to ghost town. With its top execs gone, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. neglecting it, Myspace eventually laid off 30 percent of its US staff:
“Morale among those who remained plummeted. Employees were accustomed to working long hours in a relaxed environment at Myspace. On a top floor of the Beverly Hills campus there was a cafeteria where workers were given a generous per diem—enough to eat several meals a day without ever leaving the building. In 2009, News Corp. suddenly raised the prices and cut the per diem, causing an uproar, according to Jason Raich, a social media manager at the time.
“To dispel the gloom, Myspace employees bought a slushy machine and instituted Friday happy hours. One day the actor Pauly Shore was wandering through the Myspace offices and was cajoled by Raich into posing with the slushy machine. Pretty soon the photo of ‘The Weasel’ bending down to suck some red brew out of the machine’s spigot was ricocheting around the offices and getting posted all over Myspace. It felt for a moment like old times.”
“When HR caught wind of the photo, however, happy hour was snuffed out, and the staff was forced to sell the slushy machine on EBay. It was the final, unglamorous end to a once rollicking era.”
More from Gillette: “Demand Media’s Planet of the Algorithms” (Jan. 2011)
4. My First Time, Twice | Ariel Levy | Guernica Magazine | June 15, 2011 | 8 minutes (2,111 words)
The New Yorker writer on her teenage quest to lose her virginity, the bragging rights that came with it—and a decision about whether her first time really counted:
“He agreed to have sex with me and, to the best of my knowledge at the time, he made good on our deal. The experience was so underwhelming, so strikingly devoid of the blissful, painful, or intensely emotional sensations I’d been promised, I wondered what was wrong with everyone for imbuing intercourse with so much import. But I was thrilled to be done with it. I was fifteen years old and I had lost my virginity, ahead of everyone else’s schedule, if not my own. Or so I thought.
“For the following year I told anyone who asked that I was not a virgin. I’d had sex, I’d done drugs, my parents were getting a divorce—I was not popular, but you couldn’t say I was prissy.”
More from Guernica: “Murder Music” (Ilan Greenberg, Dec. 2010)
5. A Dirty Business | George Packer | The New Yorker | June 27, 2011 | 43 minutes (10,851 words)
Definitive account of the Galleon insider-trading trial and the dealings of hedge fund co-founder Raj Rajaratnam, who was convicted on 14 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy:
“Rajaratnam’s view of human nature was not so different from that of Willie Stark, in ‘All the King’s Men’: ‘Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud.’ If there are examples of people whom Rajaratnam unsuccessfully tried to corrupt, they have not surfaced in the voluminous public record on Galleon. Once, his brash younger brother, Rengan, put out a feeler for inside information to a friend from Stanford’s business school who had become Kumar’s protégé at McKinsey. Rengan gleefully relayed to his brother that the young associate was ‘a little dirty.’ When Rajaratnam shared this assessment with Kumar, Kumar asked him to lay off the associate, not wanting his protégé to be sucked into Galleon’s corruption. Later, Rajaratnam laughed with his brother over the episode. ‘I just wanted to show how your friend is—’
“‘Scumbag!’ Rengan said. ‘Everybody is a scumbag!'”
More from Packer: “The Empty Chamber: Just How Broken Is the Senate?” (Aug. 2010)
Featured Longreader: David Shapiro
David, 22, writes a blog at www.pitchforkreviewsreviews.com
“In an addendum to the 10th anniversary edition of her seminal screed against corporate rule and branding, Naomi Klein channels her last decade’s cumulative frustrated sighs, anguished phone calls, and morose electronic communication into an astonishingly cohesive and moving statement about how fucked we are, and how much more fucked we’ve become recently, because of the collusion between American corporations and the American government. Honestly I can’t even communicate how angry and despondent this piece makes me feel, so the only other thing I’ll say about it is that I was awed by how gracefully Klein hops from island to island in the archipelago of international misery as induced by American corporations: the aging failed wars, the newborn failed wars, the collapsed economy, the soul-shatteringly disappointing Presidency, the extinguished senses of hope and possibility and opportunity for people my age and for people however old you are too. Fuck the world, read this shit.”
How Corporate Branding Has Taken Over America | Naomi Klein | Guardian | January 16, 2010 | 19 minutes (4,750 words)