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. A Brevard Woman Disappeared, but Never Left Home | Michale Kruse | St. Petersburg Times | July 22, 2011 | 10 minutes (2,735 words)
Retracing the difficult final years of Kathryn Norris, a woman who died in her Florida home but would not be found for another 16 months:
“She did go outside and leave the townhouse, occasionally, to go to the doctor, to go pick up pills, to go get takeout from Olive Garden or Outback, to go to Walmart to buy things she didn’t need, like eight of the same dresses, mostly so she could take them back later. She worked some in her garden during the day, planting trees of lemons, limes and tangelos. She once walked across the street and gave a neighbor a banana tree. Late at night, she dragged her garbage can to the end of her driveway, wearing her housecoat, and neighbors heard her call for her cats. She set up cinder blocks in front of her yard that said NO PARKING. She put boards on her windows for hurricanes and left them there for months.
“Inside, as a year became five and as five became 10, she saved coupons and recipes, birthday cards and Christmas cards. She lived on dwindling savings and her small pension and $526 a month of Social Security disability pay. She had credit card bills and owed doctors money and had trouble paying them back. She made contributions to the Christian Broadcasting Network. She joined AARP. She started sleeping on the couch.”
2. Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee | Bill Pennington | New York Times | July 23, 2011 | 14 minutes (3,520 words)
A former Japanese baseball all-star is deemed a $46 million mistake by the New York Yankees. He sticks around anyway:
“The Yankees made it pretty clear Igawa would never pitch again in the Bronx, but they were determined that he pitch somewhere for his $4-million-a-year salary. They tried to return him to Japan, too. Igawa refused to go, standing fast to his childhood dream of pitching in the American big leagues.
“And so, the stalemate—remarkable, if almost entirely un-remarked upon—continues.
“The Yankees let him gobble up innings before small crowds in distant outposts as a cavalcade of younger prospects push past him on their way to Yankee Stadium. Igawa never complains, and in a tribute to either willpower or lower level longevity, he has set farm system pitching records. And with just a few months left on his contract, he still dreams of the major leagues, if no longer as a Yankee.”
Inside the “Portlandification” of Brooklyn, from the perspective of a writer who’s lived in both cities:
“I lived in Portland for two years after college. It’s a delightful place with plenty of drunken, druggy Bohemianism. But, dear Brooklyn, you do not want to go there.
“This cautionary tale begins in December 2008, when your unemployed college graduate reporter wrote a post on Couchsurfing.com looking for a place to stay. ‘I’d love to show you around (currently underemployed) so weekdays are just fine for me,’ replied Laura, a filmmaker who became my first friend in town. She lives with three or four roommates in a vast former church in Southeast Portland, across from New Seasons, Portland’s pricier answer to the pricey-enough Whole Foods. ‘I can teach you how to properly wipe your tush with just one square of toilet paper,’ she promised on her Couchsurfing profile.”
4. Hack Work | Anthony Lane | The New Yorker | Aug. 1, 2011 | 24 minutes (6,041 words)
An exploration of the U.K. tabloid culture, leading up the News of the World hacking scandal:
“For a small nation, Britain has an awful lot of national newspapers. Six days of the week, you can choose among five tabloids, some of them known, for reasons of design rather than of ideology, as ‘red-tops’ (the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Star, and the Daily Mail), and five broadsheets—the Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times, and the Daily Telegraph. …
“This barrage of print has one overriding effect: in Britain, you cannot hear yourself think. You never really notice this until you leave the country, whereupon the white noise suddenly stops. The noisiest paper, without doubt, was the News of the World, which resounded with three continuous notes. The first and most defensible was sport; last year, the paper laid bare a match-fixing racket in Pakistani cricket—a bigger and more lucrative deal than it sounds. Then, there were television performers, who furnished an astounding proportion of the paper’s stories. (When historians come to measure the age of Murdoch, that symbiosis between media will loom large.) Last and most cacophonous, there was the assumption, or the ardent hope, that somebody, somewhere, was having sex with somebody he should not be having sex with. Viewed from outside, what this fixation suggested was a giggling braggart, fidgeting in the school playground, and pointing at girls with whom he would never stand a chance.
“The resulting product was the best-selling newspaper in the country; make of that what you will. Murdoch certainly did.”
5. Online Commenting: The Age of Rage | Tim Adams | Guardian | July 24, 2011 | 15 minutes (3,808 words)
Why does anonymous online commenting bring out the worst in humankind? Psychologists call it “deindividuation,” and it’s been affecting our communities since the beginning:
“Deindividuation is what happens when we get behind the wheel of a car and feel moved to scream abuse at the woman in front who is slow in turning right. It is what motivates a responsible father in a football crowd to yell crude sexual hatred at the opposition or the referee. And it’s why under the cover of an alias or an avatar on a website or a blog—surrounded by virtual strangers—conventionally restrained individuals might be moved to suggest a comedian should suffer all manner of violent torture because they don’t like his jokes, or his face. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for wilful deindividuation. They almost require it. The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt.”
Featured Longreader: Logan Sachon | @lsach
Logan is a writer from Virginia.
“I am a person who loves a good (or bad) advice column, and Dear Sugar on The Rumpus is the very best of the genre. She writes anonymously, but recently told The Awl (in a #longreads interview that you also should check out) that she plans to come out, and I can’t wait to read every word she’s ever written. I love each of her columns, but I keep finding myself returning to a column from a year ago, “How You Get Unstuck”. It makes my breath catch every time. In her typical loving, compassionate style, Sugar responds to a letter from a woman who is devastated after a late-term miscarriage. She addresses the letter writer’s grief head-on (“This is how you get unstuck, Stuck. You reach”) and then goes further with a story of reaching from her own life. Sugar has profound respect for her readers, her letter writers, the people in her life. If you’re moved by this column (and you will be), you should start at the beginning with “Starting Fresh”, and then keep on reading.”
How You Get Unstuck | Dear Sugar | The Rumpus | July 15, 2010 | 16 minutes (3,915 words)