Longreads https://longreads.com/ Longreads : The best longform stories on the web Wed, 17 Jan 2024 22:38:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://longreads.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/longreads-logo-sm-rgb-150x150.png Longreads https://longreads.com/ 32 32 211646052 An American Girlhood in the Ozempic Era https://longreads.com/2024/01/17/an-american-girlhood-in-the-ozempic-era/ Wed, 17 Jan 2024 22:26:30 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=203096 Things are changing fast in the field of obesity, and a new generation of children are facing treatment choices that their parents never had. But are more options always better? It’s a question Lisa Miller takes great pains to explore whilst tracing one family’s decisions over several years. A considered, informative piece on a drug that has had its fair share of headlines.

But if Maggie was sheltered from the onslaught beyond her small town, her mother was not. Erika has also struggled with her weight her entire life and feels the experience defined her; she has done everything she can to reassure Maggie that she is beautiful as she is and to protect her from the casual cruelty of people she encounters. But she also knew from the time her daughter was young that there was something different about her. In a small, dark part of herself, Erika feared that, because of her parenting or her habits or her own history with food, she was the one at fault. Even now, after all the interventions — the doctors, the fighting with insurance companies, the overhaul of the family fridge — this worry has not left her. It has only evolved, because Erika knows her neighbors and people in the world beyond have things to say not just about Maggie’s body but about the treatments she has chosen for it, too.

You Will Miss the Pizza Delivery Driver https://longreads.com/2024/01/17/you-will-miss-the-pizza-delivery-driver/ Wed, 17 Jan 2024 20:37:32 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=203093 If you’ve ever ordered dinner through one of the megaliths dominating the restaurant-delivery world, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed. Michael Graff puts on his tomato-sauce-colored glasses to remember his teenage days as a Domino’s driver, and to wonder what we’ve lost in the mass shift toward convenience. An unexpected dose of nostalgia that’s perfect for a dreary winter week.

This was the summer of 1998, and I needed work to fund a couple of new habits I’d picked up during my freshman year: dating, Bruce Springsteen CDs, Busch Light. The Domino’s gods had recently dropped a franchise alongside the main four-lane road that cut through the small community of Bryans Road in rural southern Maryland, where I grew up, lifting our culinary scene to new heights. The Domino’s was attached to a drive-through liquor store, which was next to a parking lot where a family sold steamed crabs out of the back of a truck. Also in the area was a Burger King, a McDonald’s, a Subway, and a Chinese restaurant.

But although customers had to drive to all of the others, Domino’s drove to the customers. Even in our strange attire, we delivery drivers were like kings who wore the jewel of a Domino’s sign on our crowns. Once, a police officer noticed me going 25 miles over the speed limit. He whipped around, but rather than ticket me, he pulled up beside me and wagged his finger, as if to say, Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The Juror Who Found Herself Guilty https://longreads.com/2024/01/17/the-juror-who-found-herself-guilty/ Wed, 17 Jan 2024 19:12:15 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=203089 Grievous police and legal negligence, a wrongful conviction, and a remorseful juror. These are the three building blocks Michael Hall uses to tell the moving story of how Carlos Jaile went from living the American dream as a successful salesman to life plus 20 years behind bars.

In 2017 Estella was throwing out some old papers when she came upon that 27-year-old envelope. Inside was the certificate. She called out to Johnny: “This is what I got for putting an innocent person in jail for life.” 

She was 75 now. For a generation she had suppressed the shame, the guilt. She had gone through a lot in that time. She’d become more engaged in the world around her. She had seen her children and grandchildren become active citizens. Most important, she’d become more assertive. “I found that you have more power if you talk,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong if you say what you think.” 

She knew how hard it was to take a stand. She knew how hard it was to do the right thing. And now she was going to do it. 

Coming of Age at the Dawn of the Social Internet https://longreads.com/2024/01/17/coming-of-age-at-the-dawn-of-the-social-internet/ Wed, 17 Jan 2024 16:46:27 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=203042 In an excerpt from his new book, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture, Kyle Chayka recalls growing up on the early social internet, describing with his first brush with the online world as a teenager through AOL Instant Messenger, and the formative experience of expressing himself online via LiveJournal, an early publishing platform. It was an escape, and an exciting time that sparked creativity and possibility. Chayka then takes us on a tour of the first social networks he joined, from MySpace to Facebook, up to the very different web that we navigate today—one of monopolies and algorithms and ads that reinforces existing power structures.

I didn’t understand yet in middle school, but in the years that followed I began to think of my online presence as a shadow self. Those aware of it could see it, and I could see theirs—the reflection of their avatars and icons and away messages, the tone of their instant-message chats or L.J. posts. But, for other people who were not so online, it was still invisible, insignificant. I’ve been thinking a lot about this early version of my online self lately as I’ve been writing about latter-day digital culture and taking stock of just how much the landscape has changed.

Joni Mitchell’s Best Album Is Turning Fifty. It’s Not Blue https://longreads.com/2024/01/16/joni-mitchells-best-album-is-turning-fifty-its-not-blue/ Tue, 16 Jan 2024 21:18:52 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=203032 Joanie Mitchell’s sixth album, Court and Spark, just turned 50. For the Walrus, KC Hoard shares their deep affinity for Mitchell’s music and its place in their life. For Hoard, Court and Spark marked Mitchell’s musical reinvention, where she distanced herself from her coffeehouse chanteuse image and the accessible, less complicated arrangements of her earlier work.

If you dropped a needle on Joni Mitchell’s brand-new LP in January of 1974, you might have expected yet another hour of her signature elegies. On her two previous records, 1971’s Blue and 1972’s For the Roses, Mitchell excavated arresting songs from deep within her psyche. They are complex but accessible, often pairing Mitchell’s lithe voice with her own accompaniment on sombre piano or supple dulcimer. They are melancholy and sparse. And they aren’t very fun.

Court and Spark starts in a familiar Jonian fashion: mournful piano chords, poetic lyrics, Mitchell’s skyscraper voice. “Love came to my door with a sleeping roll and a madman’s soul,” she coos. “He thought for sure I’d seen him dancing in a river in the dark, looking for a woman to court and spark.” But when she unfurls the title of the album, something unexpected appears: a stuttering hi-hat. A beat in a Joni Mitchell song. And with that rhythm, the Joni of the past was gone. Joni the Confessional Poet, Joni the Selfish and Sad, Joni the Lonely Painter was no more.

The Work of the Witness https://longreads.com/2024/01/16/the-work-of-the-witness/ Tue, 16 Jan 2024 17:19:06 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=202998 It has been three months since Israel began its devastating campaign of violence against Palestinians. The world has watched, day in and day out, as Israel has killed, displaced, and traumatized an entire people. In this essay, Palestinian writer Sarah Aziza considers what the act of bearing witness to unrelenting atrocity means:

As long as Palestinians are alive to record and share their suffering, the duty and dilemma of witness will remain. As we look, we must be aware that our outpouring of emotion has its limits, and its own dynamics of power. Grief and anger are appropriate, but we must take care not to veer into solipsism, erasing the primary pain by supplanting it with our own. As the Mojave poet Natalie Diaz has observed, empathy is “seeing or hearing about something that’s happened to someone and . . . imagin[ing] how I would feel if it happened to me. It has nothing to do with them.” Or, put more succinctly by Solmaz Sharif—“Empathy means / laying yourself down / in someone else’s chalk lines / and snapping a photo.”

Rather, we—those outside of Palestine, watching events through a screen—ought to think of ourselves in relation to the legacy of the shaheed. Our work as witnesses is to be marked; we should not leave it unscathed. We must make an effort to stay with what we see, allowing ourselves to be cut. This wound is essential. Into this wound, imagination may pour—not to invade the other’s subjectivity, but to awaken awe at the depth, privacy, and singularity of each life. There, we might glimpse, if sidelong, how much of Gaza’s suffering we will never know. This is where real witness must begin: in mystery.

Perhaps the fundamental work of witness is the act of faith—an ethical and imaginative leap beyond what we can see. It is a sober reverence of, and a commitment to fight for, the always-unknowable other. This commitment does not require constant stoking by grisly, tragic reports. Rather than a feeling, witness is a position. It insists on embodiment, on sacrifice, mourning and resisting what is seen. The world after genocide must not, cannot, be the same. The witness is the one who holds the line of reality, identifying and refusing the lie of normalcy. Broken by what we see, we become rupture incarnate.

To Own the Future, Read Shakespeare https://longreads.com/2024/01/16/to-own-the-future-read-shakespeare/ Tue, 16 Jan 2024 17:13:48 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=202999 This essay by writer and programmer Paul Ford is much shorter than a typical longread, yet very thoughtful. I’ve always enjoyed Ford’s writing, and here he argues that interdisciplinary life and learning, even and especially in this time of artificial intelligence, is worth pursuing.

When stuff gets out of hand, we don’t open disciplinary borders. We craft new disciplines: digital humanities, human geography, and yes, computer science (note that “science” glued to the end, to differentiate it from mere “engineering”). In time, these great new territories get their own boundaries, their own defenders. The interdisciplinarian is essentially an exile. Someone who respects no borders enjoys no citizenship.

All you have to do is look at a tree—any tree will do—to see how badly our disciplines serve us. Evolutionary theory, botany, geography, physics, hydrology, countless poems, paintings, essays, and stories—all trying to make sense of the tree. We need them all, the whole fragile, interdependent ecosystem. No one has got it right yet.

We Got the Beat https://longreads.com/2024/01/16/beauty-and-the-beat-book-excerpt-lisa-whittington-hill/ Tue, 16 Jan 2024 10:00:00 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=202818 How the Go-Go's emerged from the L.A. punk scene in the late '70s to become the first and only female band to have a number one album in Beauty and the Beat.]]>

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Lisa Whittington-Hill | Longreads | January 16, 2024 | 16 minutes (2,000 words)

We’re delighted to publish an excerpt from Lisa Whittington-Hill’s new book, The Go-Go’s: Beauty and the Beat. Here, we’re featuring chapter 3, “From Punk to Pop.” For more of Lisa’s incisive cultural commentary, check out “The Women Who Built Grunge” and “Live Through This: Courtney Love at 55.”

The Go-Go’s signed to Miles Copeland’s label I.R.S. on April 1, 1981. It’s fitting that the band would sign their record deal on April Fool’s Day since for many record execs the idea of women playing music was nothing more than a joke. After signing their deal, the Go-Go’s headed to New York City to record their debut album. Copeland hired Richard Gottehrer to produce the album. Gottehrer was a songwriter and producer who had success with songs like “Hang on Sloopy,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves. Gottehrer also started Sire Records with Seymour Stein and the label had helped launch the careers of bands like Blondie and the Ramones, which appealed to the Go-Go’s and their punk roots. Gottehrer had even produced Blondie’s 1976 self-titled debut album.

Gottehrer wanted to polish the band’s sound, slow down their songs so you could hear the lyrics, and make their music more accessible to a pop audience. “I told them they had to slow down, put the songs into a groove. The songs deserved to be treated with respect,”1

Gottehrer told Billboard in 2016. He had a small budget of $35,000 for the recording and ended up going over budget by $7,500, which he paid for out of his own pocket (not to worry, he later made it back in royalties). The Go-Go’s didn’t want to record a new version of “We Got the Beat” for the album. They argued they already had the Stiff Records version and people seemed to like it, but Gottehrer felt Beauty and the Beat needed a new recording of the song and finally convinced them. The album also included the hit single “Our Lips Are Sealed” for which Wiedlin wrote the lyrics and music. The song’s lyrics were based on lines from a love letter sent to Wiedlin by Terry Hall from the Specials, as Wiedlin and Hall had been romantically involved, while the Specials and the Go-Go’s were touring with Madness in the UK. Hall’s band Fun Boy Three would also end up recording a version of the song.

While Gottehrer tried to slow down the band’s songs, what he couldn’t slow down was the Go-Go’s partying. The girls made the most of their time in NYC, taking advantage of the city’s nightlife and everything it had to offer. “This was when I learned that girls can be as disruptive and dirty as boys. Who knew? It might have been drinking, it might’ve been going out, looking for booty—I’m not sure if they were into their drug phase yet. But that energy and personality came across on the record,”2 Gottehrer told Billboard. When the Go-Go’s heard Beauty and the Beat for the first time they cried, but they weren’t exactly tears of joy. They thought they were making a punk record and expected the record to sound like the band did live. Their punk sound had been given a pop polish by Gottehrer. “A couple of us were concerned about how our peers in L.A. perceived us. With the small amount of success we’d had, people said we sold out, we weren’t punk after all, blah, blah, blah. Hearing the album made us feel like they were right—we sounded like we sold out,”3 Carlisle told Billboard in 2016. The Go-Go’s were not the only ones who were upset upon hearing the album. Copeland thought Gottehrer had ruined the band by delivering a pop album. Like the band, Copeland was under the misconception that Gottehrer was delivering a punk album. Later, when the album went to the number one spot all was forgiven. Suddenly, Gottehrer was being heralded as a genius and the best producer ever by both the band and Copeland.

When it came time to shoot the cover for Beauty and the Beat, photographer George DuBose got the job, accidentally. DuBose wanted to shoot the band for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine but was told the Go-Go’s didn’t have time because they needed a cover for their new album. He ended up photographing the cover. The band wanted a timeless feel to the Beauty and the Beat cover. They also wanted a cover concept that would save them the trouble of having to decide what to wear; the cover featuring the girls in white bath towels and face masks achieved both these goals. They tried several things on their faces but ended up with Noxzema because it was the only thing that didn’t crack immediately. The back of the album featured individual shots of the band members in the tub, shot in the bathroom of Wiedlin and Caffey’s room at the Wellington, the hotel they were staying at while recording Beauty and the Beat. The cover received criticism from journalists like New York Rocker’s Don Snowden who wrongly assumed record execs, and not the Go-Go’s, had developed the concept. “It’s a long way from the motley crew pictured on the Stiff single but if the Go-Go’s want to come across as new wave cutie-pie heart-throbs, that’s their business . . . But c’mon, the images—pouring bubbly in bubblebath, chocolates and trashy novels, hand on the telephone, the phallic rose—strike me as some 40-year old marketing exec’s fantasy,”4 Snowden wrote of the images on the album’s back cover.

The album cover was the first time I saw what the Go-Go’s looked like. I could finally put faces to my new heroes. In the days before social media, videos, and the internet, it was a lot harder to learn about your new favorite band. MTV would soon change that, but it wouldn’t launch until a month after Beauty and the Beat was released. Years after I first discovered the Go-Go’s, I was packing some records to move and noticed the similarities between the Beauty and the Beat cover and the cover of Cut, the debut album from the Slits. The Slits were naked except for loincloths and covered in mud, not Noxzema, but there was still the idea that both bands wanted to rebel against stereotypical, hypersexualized notions of what women should look like on an album cover. They were both powerful images that the bands chose themselves, which subverted the idea of how women should market their music. There was also the idea that the women wanted to conceal themselves, whether with face masks or mud, to keep a part hidden, especially from a music industry that wanted women to reveal themselves, and all of themselves, if they wanted to sell records.

As soon as the album was done, the Go-Go’s hit the road. The tours and the venues kept getting bigger. The band went from being the house band at the Whisky and playing small clubs to opening for the Police for their Ghost in the Machine tour in less than a year. Miles Copeland also happened to be the manager of the Police. His brother, Stewart Copeland, was the drummer for the band. Not only would the Go-Go’s end up on tour with the Police, but some extra money left over from the budget for a music video by the Police—$6,000 to be exact—paid for the Go-Go’s first video, “Our Lips Are Sealed.” The Go-Go’s didn’t understand the importance of video at the time; but when MTV launched in August 1981, they saw the difference it made. The girls goofed around in the video, driving around Los Angeles in a convertible, and splashing in a fountain. They hoped to get arrested for playing in the fountain, which they thought would make an exciting end to the video. The police didn’t care, but the video would be played nonstop on MTV.

The album cover was the first time I saw what the Go-Go’s looked like. I could finally put faces to my new heroes. In the days before social media, videos, and the internet, it was a lot harder to learn about your new favorite band.

While the band was opening for the Police and playing sold-out stadiums, Beauty and the Beat went to number one on the Billboard album charts and would stay there for six weeks. Beauty and the Beat had passed Ghost in the Machine by tourmates the Police, which was at number six. Sting brought the girls a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Finally, the police were paying attention to the band, just not the ones they had hoped when they frolicked in that fountain in the “Our Lips Are Sealed” video. “We Got the Beat” went to number two and “Our Lips Are Sealed” to number twenty. The Go-Go’s were everywhere, and Beauty and the Beat would go on to sell more than two million copies, making it one of the few debut albums to top the charts and putting the band on the same level as the Beatles and Elvis. Beauty and the Beat made the Go-Go’s the first, and to date only, female band to have a number one album, who not only wrote their own songs but also played their own instruments. The album was not only a success, but “also a harbinger of what rock would become, and a bridge between punk, the movement whose rebelliousness had quashed the excesses of classic rock, and the genre-fusing music of the 1980s,”5 said Hilary Hughes in her introduction to NPR’s oral history of Beauty and the Beat.

On November 14, 1981, the Go-Go’s appeared on Saturday Night Live with host Bernadette Peters and Billy Joel. Having to wait around the studio all day to play, the Go-Go’s passed the time with alcohol and cocaine. By the time they took the stage, they were so drunk they could barely play. A clip of the performance is available online and worth the watch. The girls could not only hold their liquor on live TV, but the performance helped them sell a lot of records. All this attention helped to move the band’s fan base beyond just college radio listeners and new-wave clubgoers. The band’s fan base was now younger, especially attracting teen and pre-teen girls, who worshipped the band and didn’t know what punk was, let alone about the band’s punk roots. When the Go-Go’s started they dreamed of spitting on Valley Girls, but those girls would soon be part of the band’s fan base and the band would be part of a film that featured those girls they wanted to spit at. “We Got the Beat” would end up being the opening theme to the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a film that would popularize Valley Girls, mall culture, and Southern California teenage adolescence in the 1980s. The film launched Amy Heckerling’s career, as well as the teen comedies of the 1980s from Sixteen Candles to The Breakfast Club.

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A 1981 Village Voice poll put Beauty and the Beat in the number ten spot. Revisiting the album for an October 2019 review, Pitchfork gave it an 8.3. “Though it was a far cry from The Canterbury, Beauty and the Beat is about what’s underneath the surface of pop music. Rather than relishing the California sunshine, the Go-Go’s evoke their Los Angeles, a glittery, gritty place where punks rule the streets after dark.”6 Reviewing Beauty and the Beat in November 1981 for Musician magazine, Toby Goldstein said, “Beauty and the Beat is the album those of you who were embarrassed by pop music can use to say that pop’s okay.”7 Wiedlin agreed with Goldstein’s assessment. “One of my great quotes that I ever said, if I can quote myself, was I once compared The Go-Go’s to Twinkies. I said, ‘Everybody loves Twinkies, but they’re ashamed to admit it,’”8 she told Songfacts in 2007.

“I remember thinking if we sell 100,000 copies, that would be amazing. We had no idea it would do what it did. I look back even now and say wow. We went from zero to one hundred in about two years. And what happened with the album—its success—was beyond any of our expectations,”9 said Carlisle. And while I don’t like reducing the Go-Go’s to sugary, sweet baked goods, that’s a lot of Twinkies.

  1.  Rob Tannenbaum, “The Go-Go’s Recall the Debauched Days of Their Hit ‘We Got the Beat’ 35 Years Later,” Billboard, May 20, 2016.
  2. Tannenbaum, “The Go-Go’s.”
  3. Tannenbaum, “The Go-Go’s.”
  4. Don Snowden, “The Go-Gos Go!!,” New York Rocker (1980). The Go-Go’s. Rock’s Backpages. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  5. Hilary Hughes, “How The Go-Go’s Perfected Pop-Punk,” NPR, August 5, 2020.
  6. Quinn Moreland, “Beauty and the Beat: The Go-Go’s,” Pitchfork, October 20, 2019.
  7. Toby Goldstein, “The Go-Go’s: Beauty and the Beat (IRS),” Musician (1981). The Go-Go’s. Rock’s Backpages. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  8. Carl Wiser, “Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s,” Songfacts (2007). The Go-Go’s, Jane Wiedlin. Rock’s Backpages. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  9. Audrey Golden, “The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat: A 40th Anniversary Celebration,” Louder than War, July 8, 2021.

© Lisa Whittington-Hill, 2024. From The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat by Lisa Whittington-Hill published by Bloomsbury Academic on September 7, 2023.

The Whale Who Went AWOL https://longreads.com/2024/01/15/the-whale-who-went-awol/ Tue, 16 Jan 2024 01:35:20 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=202961 A beluga whale in Norway is getting a lot of people in a flap—whether they just want to photograph him, or save him. Escaped from the Russian navy (making him sound like an espionage star) he has been delighting people off the coast of Hammerfest. But what will his future hold? What does the future hold for any whale who has spent its life in captivity? In answering these questions, Ferris Jabr does not shy away from discussing the tragic world of captive whales and dolphins, some of the last animals to be forced to perform and live in “a barren box.”

The military conscription of a beluga whale might sound like a conceit plucked from less-than-convincing spy fiction, but it is actually a well-documented practice. Since the 1960s, Russia and the United States have trained dolphins, seals and other marine mammals to assist their naval forces by tagging enemy divers, detecting mines and recovering items from the seafloor. Satellite photos of Russian naval bases near Murmansk, not far from the spot where Norwegian fishermen first found Hvaldimir, reveal the type of sea pens often used to hold belugas. Audun Rikardsen, a professor of marine biology at the Arctic University of Norway, told me that international contacts have since confirmed that Hvaldimir belonged to the navy.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week https://longreads.com/2024/01/12/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-498/ Fri, 12 Jan 2024 10:00:00 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=202436 Two hand-forged Japanese cooking knives on a rough wooden background.Recommending great reads from Zack Stanton, Bryce Upholt, Charlie Warzel, Emily Stoddard, and Laurence Gonzalez.]]> Two hand-forged Japanese cooking knives on a rough wooden background.

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In this week’s edition:

  • Interracial persecution in 1960s Michigan
  • The cruelty bred into the chickens we eat
  • How Photo Shuffle helped one man through loss
  • Navigating life not knowing you’re neurodivergent
  • The deep craft in forging a handmade knife

1. In 1967, a Black Man and a White Woman Bought a Home. American Politics Would Never Be the Same.

Zack Stanton | Politico Magazine | December 22, 2023 | 17,959 words

The starting point for this mammoth feature by Zack Stanton is a little-known incident from the summer of 1967: a white mob tried with all their might to drive Carado and Ruby Bailey, an interracial couple, from the suburban Michigan neighborhood where they’d recently bought a new home. Drawing on interviews, public records, and press accounts, Stanton describes the horrors the Baileys and their daughter endured, including a cross burning, racist graffiti, and harassment by vigilante PTA moms who sound a whole lot like the women trying to ban books and marginalize transgender youth in schools today. But that’s not the whole story, or even half of it. In cinematic detail, Stanton shows how the battle over the Baileys’ home reached all the way to Washington, DC, where it might have shaped federal policy for the better if not for profound conservative backlash that instead helped usher in Republicanism as we know it today. I gobbled up this thick slice of forgotten history and was moved by the turn at the end when Stanton lets his sources directly address Ruby, now 95, a widow, and still living in the home she refused to leave. One source “admires your principle in the face of imminent danger,” Stanton writes. Another “wants people to understand that America isn’t simply a story of bad things that have happened; it’s the story of people trying to make things better.” Then there is the neighbor who watched from her window in ’67 and did nothing—today, she is ashamed. “When I asked what she would say to you if given the chance,” Stanton tells Ruby, “she broke down in sobs, a half-century’s worth of pain tumbling out.” —SD

2. The Unending Quest To Build A Better Chicken

Boyce Upholt | Noema | December 19, 2023 | 3,954 words

Last week I roasted a chicken. I’ve eaten chicken probably three times since then. I’m careful about the chicken I buy and cook and eat, and as a one-time vegetarian I like to think that I do so mindfully, but even as I do I harbor a suspicion that something is irrevocably broken. That phrases like “free range” and “heritage breed” and “regenerative practices” add up to very little. Boyce Upholt’s Noema story did nothing to disabuse me of that suspicion, and I mean that as a compliment. The quest he refers to in the headline isn’t one that’s currently underway; it’s something that happened long ago. And while we certainly need “better” in the way we raise and slaughter animals for consumption—sorry, fellow meat-eaters, but there’s no use for euphemisms here—”better” here is meant in an industrial sense. It means bigger. Much bigger. So much bigger that decades of exhaustive and meticulous cross-breeding have led to a domesticated chicken that is virtually unable to live on its own. PETA videos exposing factory-farming practices are all well and good, but as Upholt writes, the true atrocity lies well upstream: “The cruelty, in other words, is inscribed at the genetic level.” He’s not trying to guilt you about eating meat; he does so himself. (Besides, as he lays out ably, there’s not really a viable solution to the current situation.) Rather, by tracing the arc of the chicken from its initial domestication to its current fate, and by doing so with an engagingly nonjudgmental writing voice, he’s just making sure you know exactly what’s happened. Winner, winner, thought-provoking dinner. —PR

3. A Second Life for My Beloved Dog

Charlie Warzel | The Atlantic | January 5, 2024 | 1,500 words

I am the sort of person who, when watching a disaster film, will anxiously ask: “But, is their dog alright?” So—normally—I avoid any story where the dog might not, in fact, be OK. However, I conquered my fear to tackle Charlie Warzel’s essay about the death of his dog, Peggy (also the name of my dog, for extra potential trauma), and was rewarded with a beautiful, heartwarming piece. As any pet owner knows, the arrival of an animal means clogging your phone with endless photos: The pet sleeping. The pet playing. More sleeping. Charlie Warzel’s iPhone camera roll was no exception, and two-thirds of the way through 2015, it became “infused with a new vitality.” Peggy had arrived. When the time then comes for her to leave, Warzel descriptions of his grief are powerful. To remember Peggy, he tries Photo Shuffle on his phone, a feature that automatically changes the wallpaper to different photos from the camera roll. Setting a parameter to “Pets,” Peggy became his wallpaper star. Photo Shuffle is undiscerning—it may choose an Instagram-worthy shot but is just as likely to pull from the reams of outtakes, offering “chaotic, blurred streaks of fur and tongues.” The dynamic shots. The real ones. As Warzel explains, “Grief is not linear, and neither is Photo Shuffle.” Every day he remembers a different trip with Peggy, or just an “ordinary Wednesday.” In this way, his phone, instead of a constant distraction, becomes a source of reflection and a teacher in grieving. Reading this lovely little essay, I realized that sometimes the dog dies—and that is OK. —CW

4. Flight Risk

Emily Stoddard | The Kenyon Review | January 8, 2024 | 5,463 words

As a child, Emily Stoddard was called gifted, the “most invisible curse you can a put on a child who already feels she does not belong.” For The Kenyon Review, Stoddard reflects on what it was like to navigate life before an ADHD diagnosis in her mid-30s, and how challenging it can be to have conversations, to work, to walk down the street in her shoes. In some of my favorite parts of this piece, her artful and intentional prose mimics the constant chatter of a feverish mind; she also uses third-person perspective to detach from her own self, stepping outside of her body in times when she’s felt it’s all been too much. This is a deeply personal piece about being (and not knowing) you’re neurodivergent—the need to always mask, the feeling that it’s all in your head, the “at-times maddening, at-times inspired” way your interior motor never stops. —CLR

5. A Knife Forged in Fire

Laurence Gonzales | Chicago Magazine | January 9, 2024 | 6,814 words

“What makes a good knife?” In trying to answer what appears to be a simple question, former chef Sam Goldbroch was “swallowed up into the mysteries of metal and fire and force” in becoming a bladesmith in Skokie, Illinois. In this gorgeous profile for Chicago Magazine, writer Laurence Gonzales commissions a knife from Goldbroch and invites us to shadow the master at work. Gonzales does what few writers can; he uses keen observation to recast an industrial space into a place of magical transformations. Read this piece and see the tangerine flame. Hear the forge roar, feel its heat, and revel in the alchemy of your tiny 6,000-word bladesmith apprenticeship. “A cloud of smoke rose to the ceiling, and a searing sound filled the room like a basket of snakes. ‘This is the moment of truth,’ Sam said, holding the tongs and looking away from the smoke. ‘This is when it becomes a knife.’” You’ll enjoy the science and history rendered in detailed scene work, but the most beautiful thing about this story is that it celebrates and exemplifies dedicated craft—in forging handmade knives and in revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary. —KS

Audience Award

Here’s the piece our readers dug the most this week:

‘Badass Detective’: How One California Officer Solved Eight Cold Cases—in His Spare Time

Scott Ostler | San Francisco Chronicle | December 27, 2023 | 3,611 words

Given its subject matter on unsolved murders, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call this a “feel-good” story. But Scott Ostler’s profile on Matt Hutchinson, a curious and determined Bay Area detective with a knack for solving decades-long cold cases in his free time, is a great read. In the seven years Hutchinson has been part of the robbery-homicide unit at the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, he has solved eight cold cases—six homicides and two sexual assaults. Thinking out of the box, and also using today’s DNA testing and crime-solving tools, “[h]e has solved more cold cases in three years than any single detective in the last 15,” and in the process has helped to bring peace and closure to some of the victims’ surviving family members. Not bad for someone off the clock.  —CLR