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Each week at Longreads we review our stats to find out which editor’s pick—chosen from longform stories published across the web—has been most read by our audience. The winner receives the coveted “Audience Award,” perhaps not the most lucrative prize for trophies or cash, but one that comes with something better: a spot in our weekly Top Five post and newsletter. Over the year, this award has awakened an increasingly competitive spirit amongst our editors, and we now wait with bated breath for the week’s announcement, hoping for the smug feeling that comes with a pick we chose winning.
For this post, we considered ruthlessly running the numbers to see which editor won the most awards of the year. But holiday spirit prevailed, and instead, we are simply giving you the top 10 most-read picks of 2023, which, it turns out, includes choices from all of our editors. Congratulations to the writers and publications for these stories that couldn’t help but grab attention.
If you want to follow our Audience Awards in 2024, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here. (And when you see which editor picked the winner each week, know that they will be gloating.)
—Carolyn, Cheri, Krista, Peter, and Seyward
Monica Potts | The Atlantic | April 6, 2023 | 3,436 words
This excerpt, from the forthcoming The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, captures how heartfelt Monica Pott’s exploration into small-town America is. By focusing on the women she grew up with, a story that is the same across many places becomes personal—and thus deeply resonates.
The first time Vanessa had sex, she asked her boyfriend to stop, and he didn’t. Later, with other boys, Vanessa sometimes felt like she couldn’t say no to their advances, because she’d already lost her virginity. Only many years later did Vanessa recognize some of these incidents as sexual assaults, she told me when I visited her in 2017. She didn’t blame the boys, necessarily; they were just doing what everyone expected them to do, she felt. But her reputation suffered.
Kit Chellel | Bloomberg Businessweek | April 6, 2023 | 6,516 words
In a tale that races along like a James Bond novel, Kit Chellel introduces us to Niko Tosa, the man who had casinos scrambling to change roulette. Was his winning streak down to luck, skill, or a supercomputer? We never find out, but trying to figure it out is still a really fun ride.
That night, March 15, 2004, the thin Croatian seemed to be looking for something. After a few minutes, he settled at a roulette table in the Carmen Room, set apart from the main playing area. He was flanked on either side by his companions: a Serbian businessman with deep bags under his eyes and a bottle-blond Hungarian woman. At the end of the table, the wheel spun silently, spotlighted by a golden chandelier. The trio bought chips and began to play.
Elaina Plott Calabro | The Atlantic | June 12, 2023 | 6,904 words
Lara Logan rose to broadcast stardom as a hungry reporter who capitalized on both her fearlessness and her telegeneity. That was before she drifted into a nest of conspiracy theories that would get her ousted from numerous TV gigs; now, she travels a far-right lecture circuit, fearmongering for profit. But Elaina Plott Calabro’s profile doesn’t relish in the gory spectacle—it’s a dispassionate, empathic look at how someone so talented can lose their way so completely.
Logan’s success at events like this—she now features at many—turns on her ability to shrink the distance between her past and present selves. She needs the people in this auditorium to believe that the woman on the projector screen is the same one who now anticipates their fears of woke indoctrination. She needs them to trust that when she talks about subjects like the “little puppet” Volodymyr Zelensky, or how COVID vaccines are a form of “genocide by government,” or how President Joe Biden’s administration has been “participating in the trafficking of kids,” it is with the precise rigor and dispassion she once displayed on the front lines of America’s wars.
Logan, who is 52, is still, after all, a war correspondent. That is how she sees it. The fighting may not be in Afghanistan or Iraq, and she may not be winning Emmys for her coverage anymore, but in her mind this is her most crucial assignment yet, uncovering this “war against humanity.” And she must be getting close to the real story, because the American media have tried to silence her from all sides.
Tyler J. Kelley | Bloomberg Businessweek | April 28, 2023 | 4,851 words
Dave Chappelle has lived full-time in the tiny, idyllic Ohio town of Yellow Springs for more than 15 years; at this point, it’s as much a part of his personal brand as the everpresent cigarette. But as Tyler J. Kelley reports, Chappelle’s impact on Yellow Springs—including his many real estate purchases and a number of questionably zoned live shows—has become a point of contention among townspeople who fear the end of affordability and find themselves torn between pride and preservation.
Dozens spoke in favor of granting the variance, mostly touting the economic benefit of the shows. Despite her doubts, Parsons voted yes. The measure passed unanimously. “When push came to shove, we caved,” she says. “I felt so dirty afterwards.” She took the weekend to think it over, then quit the board. “If I haven’t got enough guts to stand up for what I believe, I’m not serving the people,” she says. The village has always been “weirdly dysfunctional,” she went on, but “now it’s not a fun dysfunction, and there’s people who are afraid.”
With the variance granted, the shows carried on until the end of the summer. In the village, the T-shirt shop sold more T-shirts, the restaurants sold more dinners, and the record store sold more comedy records. The celebrities arrived, the fans were happy, the jokes were funny. Meanwhile, the tensions of past years continued to bubble beneath the surface like sulfurous spring water
Margaret Talbot | The New Yorker | September 25, 2023 | 14,695 words
In postwar Austria, a psychologist named Maria Nowak-Vogl ran a mysterious psychiatric facility where “difficult” children were sent. With help from a friend and journalist, Margaret Talbot, Evy Mages mines memories of her time at this child-observation station in the mid-seventies, remembering all the abuse that happened there. Nowak-Vogl was a well-respected academic; she was also trained by Nazis and believed in repressive practices and cruel punishments to make children compliant and “socially desirable,” including administering epiphysan, a shot meant to suppress sexual urges. Talbot accompanies Mages to Austria to learn more about Nowak-Vogl and the villa—which operated from the mid-fifties until the late-eighties—as well as her own family history. This story is as horrific and dark as it sounds. Amazingly, though, Mages has come out the other side, now helping other victims connect with each other and making it easier for them to report the abuse they experienced as children.
A news article about the commission’s findings described the villa as a combination of “home, prison, and testing clinic.” The commission had reviewed medical records and reported something shocking: children had been injected with epiphysan, an extract derived from the pineal glands of cattle which veterinarians used to suppress estrus in mares and cows. Nowak-Vogl, a conservative Catholic, had wanted to see if epiphysan would suppress sexual feelings in children, as well as discourage masturbation, thus rendering her charges more “manageable.” Masturbation—among both adolescents and young children, who use it to self-soothe—was a preoccupation of Nowak-Vogl’s. So was bed-wetting. Her staff was instructed to keep charts documenting urination and bowel movements, and to check children’s underwear “with the eyes or the nose.” Schreiber described her as being “on a crusade against masturbation and sexual excitedness.”
Jennifer Senior | The Atlantic | August 7, 2023 | 13,585 words
In her gut-wrenching piece—a masterpiece of thoughtful longform journalism—Jennifer Senior profiles her aunt Adele, a woman eventually diagnosed with Coffin-Siris syndrome 12 after being institutionalized for decades. Senior attempts to understand the trauma Adele and her family suffered after being deprived of one another based on medical advice considered best at the time.
My grandmother told my mother that she instantly knew something was different when Adele was born. Her cry wasn’t like other babies’. She was inconsolable, had to be carried everywhere. Her family doctor said nonsense, Adele was fine. For an entire year, he maintained that she was fine, even though, at the age of 1, she couldn’t hold a bottle and didn’t respond to the stimuli that other toddlers do. I can’t imagine what this casual brush-off must have done to my grandmother, who knew, in some back cavern of her heart, that her daughter was not the same as other children. But it was 1952, the summer that Adele turned 1. What male doctor took a working-class woman without a college education seriously in 1952?
Only when my mother and her family went to the Catskills that same summer did a doctor finally offer a very different diagnosis. My grandmother had gone to see this local fellow not because Adele was sick, but because she was; Adele had merely come along. But whatever ailed my grandmother didn’t capture this man’s attention. Her daughter did. He took one look at her and demanded to know whether my aunt was getting the care she required.
Richard Sima | The Washington Post | June 1, 2023 | 4,122 words
Could autoimmune diseases be at the root of some mental illnesses? Sander Markx, director of precision psychiatry at Columbia University, thinks so. “By all accounts, she was thriving, in overall good health and showing no signs of mental distress beyond the normal teenage growing pains,” they said of April Burrell. This was before she suffered a traumatic experience, became incoherent, and was hospitalized. Twenty years after she became catatonic, Markx discovered that April’s bloodwork showed antibodies were attacking her brain. Miraculously, after several courses of steroids and immunosuppressive drugs, April improved to the point where in 2020, she was deemed mentally competent enough to check herself out of treatment, but not before a joyful reunion with her family.
The medical team set to work counteracting April’s rampaging immune system and started April on an intensive immunotherapy treatment for neuropsychiatric lupus. Every month for six months, April would receive short, but powerful “pulses” of intravenous steroids for five days, plus a single dose of cyclophosphamide, a heavy-duty immunosuppressive drug typically used in chemotherapy and borrowed from the field of oncology. She was also treated with rituximab, a drug initially developed for lymphoma.
The regimen is grueling, requiring a month-long break between each of the six rounds to allow the immune system to recover. But April started showing signs of improvement almost immediately.
8. Death On The Savage Mountain: What Really Happened On K2, And Why 100 Climbers Stepped Over A Dying Man On Their Way To The Summit
Matthew Loh | Insider | August 21, 2023 | 6,472 words
What price would you pay to summit K2, a mountain far more technical and challenging than Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain? Could you literally walk past a dying man in order to get there? This past July 27th, 100 people bypassed Pakistani porter Mohammed Hassan on their way to the summit as he lay dying after a fall. For Insider, Matthew Loh tries to understand.
By the end of the summit window, at least 102 people had conquered K2. All paying climbers would descend the mountain safely, and regroup at base camp.
Mohammad did not.
His death would shake the mountaineering industry in the weeks to come, and eventually make headlines worldwide. The climbers who summited K2 that day were swept into the heart of a bitter debate. Speculation churned as people argued whether a man more than 8,000 meters above sea level could have been saved from the Mountain of Mountains — or whether greed for glory had blinded more than 100 climbers and left Mohammad stranded on the ice.
Kate Linthicum | Los Angeles Times | October 10, 2023 | 2,576 words
The pandemic prompted a lot of people to move to a lot of different places. But as Kate Linthicum reports for LAT, the scale of “Blaxit”—Black Americans’ emigration around the world—could make it one of the largest such patterns since the 1920s. But while Europe has long been a home for Black American artists, the current moment stretches from Mexico to Ghana, and encompasses all walks of life. This is what following one’s bliss looks like.
[Nuriddin] acknowledges that she is lucky to have a job that allows her to work remotely, and that a lot of people, including many of those from her parents’ generation, don’t. She’s trying to convince her cousins to find work that will allow them to live outside of the country.
Like many Black expats here, she’s still learning Spanish. She communicates easily with the English-speaking descendants of Jamaicans, but talking to other Costa Ricans is hard. Still, she says she feels a mutual recognition when she locks eyes with Black locals. “There’s almost a little glimmer in the eye when you look at each other,” she said. “There’s like a little nod.”
Amy Silverstein | The New York Times | April 18, 2023 | 1,587 words
Author Amy Silverstein has had a heart transplant—twice. Now she’s dying of cancer. Those facts are related, as she explains in this essay. The procedure that saved her is now killing her.
I gave my all to sustaining my donor hearts despite daunting odds, and the hearts rewarded me with extraordinary years. I have been so lucky.
But now I lower my chin and whisper the words malignant … metastatic … lungs … terminal. It is the end of the road for my heart and me — not because we didn’t achieve and maintain sparkling cardiac health. But because the sorry state of transplant medicine took us down.
Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.