The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [19]

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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. The End of the Rodeo for the World’s Greatest Cowboy | Mike Riggs | The Awl | June 9, 2011 | 21 minutes (5,298 words)

The story of a former rodeo star, Charlie Driver, convicted of second-degree murder in 1971 and now living in Florida and caring for his ailing wife:

“Massive bulls with their hind legs high up in the air, Driver pitching forward, his right hand high above his head; a grinning Driver accepting a cardboard check; a group of well-dressed gauchos standing beside Driver, the Madison Square Garden sign behind them.

“There is a secret history not shown on the walls of Driver’s cowboy shack. Delaney’s death and the collapse of Driver’s rodeo career are parts of it, but not all of it. I ask about the pictures that are not on the walls. The family that has been erased from the photo album.

“Driver rolls the stubbed out cigarillo between his fingers, brushes ash off his chest. ‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘things just fall apart, and we are never the same.'”

More Riggs: A Q&A with a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman (The Awl, 2010)

2. Press X for Beer Bottle: On L.A. Noire
| Tom Bissell | Grantland | June 8, 2011 | 24 minutes (6,052 words)

Epic review of the new Chinatown-meets-Grand Theft Auto video game—with deeper questions about what our own expectations should be for interactive storytelling:

“Video games can do a lot of things other storytelling mediums cannot. Their penance, however, is to have to deal with things foreign to other storytelling mediums, one of which is a uniquely damaging form of audience disruption. Just about every storytelling game employs various masking systems that attempt to anticipate internally disruptive player behavior. Say you have an in-game friend — what happens if you try to shoot him or her? Does the bullet fire and blood fly and nothing happens? Or does the bullet fire and blood fly and does the friend say, in so many words, ‘Hey, what gives?’ Or does the friend actually die and cause a restart? Or does the gun maybe lower when you pull the trigger? As everyone who plays video games knows, masking systems can be greatly amusing to test and prod, and the first thing I did in L.A. Noire was drive my car directly into some pedestrians and plow through a few streetlights, after which I insisted on driving my partner and me to our first crime scene in a dump truck.”

More Bissell: “Video Games: The Addiction” (Guardian, 2010)

Books by Bissell (Amazon)

3. Trading Stories: Notes from a Literary Apprenticeship
| Jhumpa Lahiri | The New Yorker | June 13, 2011 | 15 minutes (3,967 words)

The best-selling author reflects on early family memories, the experiences that shaped her love of writing and the struggles with her own identity that affected her work:

“For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?”

More Lahiri: “Gogol” (The New Yorker, 2003)

Books by Lahiri (Amazon)

4. Paw Paw & Lady Love
| Dan P. Lee | New York Magazine | June 6, 2011 | 32 minutes (8,036 words)

A tabloid story, retold with empathy. How Anna Nicole Smith met her future husband (86-year-old J. Howard Marshall), became a star and endured tragedies—including the death of her 20-year-old son—before her own death in 2007:

“It began—all of it, really—when an old, sad man decided to give his life one last go.

“J. Howard Marshall II was sitting in the backseat of his Mercedes sedan one afternoon in Houston in October 1991. He was 86 years old and in the throes of a terrible mourning. He was, his staff worried, suicidal.

“Dan Manning, Marshall’s friend and personal driver, was particularly concerned.

“‘J. Howard,’ Manning said, looking up at him in the rearview mirror, ‘I’ve been thinking.’

“There was a pause. ‘Go ahead.’

“‘I’ve been thinking maybe it might be time for a new young lady.’

“J. Howard looked at Manning in the mirror. He said, ‘You might be right.'”

More Lee: “Body Snatchers” (Philadelphia Magazine, 2008)

5. Finding Angus: A True Story of Love, War, and Family
| David Dobbs | The Atavist / The Atlantic | June 9, 2011 | 9 minutes (2,232 words)

Excerpt from Dobbs’s new Atavist Kindle Single, in which he searches his mother’s lost love—a mysterious man named Angus who died during World War II:

“I started searching genealogy sites for anyone in Iowa named Zahrt. Every time I found someone, I sent an email saying I was seeking information about a Captain Norman E. Zahrt, who was a close friend of my mother—sometimes I phrased it as ‘a dear friend of my mother’—who according to a letter she received was either killed or went missing in action toward the end of the war. I sent about a dozen of these emails and got a few replies, all negative. After a couple weeks, I opened my email one morning and found a new response:

“‘David, What a surprise to get an email from you. Yes, my father is Norman Zahrt. My mother is Luella. Norman and Luella had two children: David born Sep 37 and Christy born Jan 40. I have attached a file which I presume you can open. It is Norman’s graduating medical school class. Please let me know whether or not you can identify Norman. I don’t have words to describe the mixed emotions that come to me when I revisit this issue. I’ve come to learn that in the process of growing up one accumulates scars. And that the challenge is learning to own your scars, and live them.’

“‘You can imagine that this inquiry fills me with questions.’

“I didn’t have to imagine the questions. He listed 19 of them.”

More Dobbs: “Free Science, One Paper at a Time” (Wired, May 2011)

Featured Longreader: Maud Newton @maudnewton

Maud is a writer, editor, critic, and blogger living in Brooklyn

“A Disney trip with kids meets lots of furtive weed smoking in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Rough Guide to Disney World. ‘It was a double hallucination,’ he says. ‘You were hallucinating inside of Walter Disney’s hallucination. That’s what he wanted.’ Already an official #longreads pick, I know: but it’s so, so good and only gets better as it goes.

“I’ve also been revisiting Eudora Welty’s fiction in preparation for a Granta-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt event I’m doing tonight. ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ and ‘Petrified Man’ are two of her most beloved stories, and with good reason: they’re funny and relentless and so accurately and minutely observed. Returning to them, I realized what an influence she must have had on Dorothy Allison (whose Bastard Out of Carolina, a #longlongread, I also recommend). Then I confirmed it. ‘I was seduced by Eudora Welty,’ Allison wrote in 2005, though ‘I had every reason to distrust her, as I had distrusted Faulkner—both of them products of the middle-class South I disdained.’

“To round out this unexpectedly southern round-up, for anyone who missed it last week, I recommend my friend Anna Holmes’ essay on the female Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights movement. One, a factory worker and mother of two traveling after a miscarriage, refused to give up her seat to a white couple and kicked a deputy in the groin when he tried to make her.”

You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey! | John Jeremiah Sullivan | New York Times | June 8, 2011 | 27 minutes (6,878 words)


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We have about a $200,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, this week so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

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