Mallory Ortberg on the Goofballs of the Western Canon


I went to the kind of college that really does say, “Here is the Western canon, read it.” Which is definitely not the only thing you want to do with your English major, you definitely want to reach beyond that, but it was pretty traditional in that sense. So I read the Western canon and have a lot of thoughts about it, apparently.

It was just stuff that I felt really familiar with. I grew up in a house where there was a lot of reading. My parents were both pastors, so there was a lot of Little Women, and European and white North American classics. I love, love, love and have read a lot of other stuff, but the Western canon felt kind of like something I knew intimately. And it was full of so much silliness that it was often — like, I love the Western canon — but it’s sort of silly and it’s full of assholes. Generally people either say either, “Let’s not talk about this because we talk about it too much,” or, “Let’s talk about it very seriously and take it very seriously and Hemingway was very serious and he’s very important.” But these people are goofballs.

-Mallory Ortberg, co-founder of The Toast and author of Texts from Jane Eyre, in an interview with Flavorwire.

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Immersive Reporting from the Bakken Oil Fields: A Reading List


Oil production in the Bakken region of North Dakota has topped 1 million barrels a day. The seven-year boom has flooded the area with new residents seeking their fortunes, and many journalists have also joined the labor force, sending dispatches from the new Wild West. Longreads recently interviewed reporter Maya Rao about her time in North Dakota, where she spent a month working as a cashier before writing a piece for The Atlantic. Below is her piece, along with four other examples of immersive reporting from the region.

“Searching for the Good Life in the Bakken Oil Fields.” (Maya Rao, The Atlantic, September 2014)

Rao’s dispatch from behind the counter of a local truck stop looks at the swelling labor market, and the question of just how many of the new arrivals are actually “winning.”

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Interview: Maya Rao on Spending a Month Working as a Cashier in the Bakken


Western North Dakota—at the epicenter of the Bakken oil rush—has become a new Wild West of sorts, where fortunes are made, sought and lost with alarming speed. Thousands have been drawn to the Bakken over the last seven years, including Maya Rao, a talented reporter who has cut her teeth at dailies and currently covers regional issues at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She first ventured there to write a short piece for The Awl last year about the overwhelming experience of “being a woman in a place where women could be in demand as much as the oil.” After her first visit to the region Rao felt there were larger stories still untold, and she returned this past summer, spending a month working as a cashier at a truck stop just south of Alexander. Her efforts culminated in “Searching for the Good Life in the Bakken Oil Fields,” an immersive 6,000-word piece published by The Atlantic last month. Rao spoke with us about her gutsy decision to pick up and spend a month in the Bakken, her experience as a female reporter in a decidedly male-centric environment and carving out space for longer form enterprise reporting at daily papers. Read more…

The Decline of Student Activism: Our College Pick


Social media allows us to be passive activists, liking and hash tagging our way to political ideologies or social justice. On college campuses, Twitter campaigns flourish while forums and sit-ins languish. Writing for the Harvard Political Review last month, Gram Slattery reported on the intersection of old activism and new media via Divest Harvard, a student group that wants the university to stop investing in fossil fuels. Divest Harvard had significant media coverage, but few members. Slattery, a wary observer, spent months with the group wondering how they could possibly achieve their goals given the “small-ball, meetings-on-meetings cycle that wastes many modern activist causes on campus.” By the time Divest members try to blockade a building in the pouring rain you’re cheering not only their cause, but their willingness to go outside and stand up for their beliefs in the most analog of ways.

A Semester With Divest

Gram Slattery | Harvard Political Review | September 2, 2014 | 20 minutes (4,935 words)

How a Prolific Counterfeiter Tricked a Swiss Paper Mill Into Helping Him

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In GQ magazine, Wells Tower talks to Frank Bourassa, one of the most prolific counterfeiters in American history who reproduced more than $200 million in twenty dollar bills. U.S. dollars are printed on rag paper comprised of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, and asking a paper mill to provide you with some is an easy way to get yourself raided by the Secret Service. Bourassa was able to convince a mill in Switzerland to help him:

In correspondence included in court documents that Frank shared with me, Maxwell told his mark that Keystone was looking to print bond certificates on secure rag paper—customized with one or two security measures designed to, um, foil counterfeiters. Frank says that after Artoz accepted the basics of his bond-brokerage story, he tweaked and refined his order over many months, nudging one felonious tidbit after another onto the papermaker’s plate. He got them to add linen to the recipe. He asked them to mix in chemicals to thwart security pens and black-light tests. He persuaded them to sew in a security strip reading, in near microscopic print, usa twenty. (“I told them it was, you know, for a $20 bond.”)

Artoz, he says, also agreed to imprint his paper with a watermark, an image etched into a cylindrical printing drum and pressed into the paper while the pulp is still wet. To get the equipment Artoz would need to do this, Frank paid $15,000, routed under a surrogate’s name through a Swiss bank account, to a company in Düren, Germany, that manufactured a drum etched with the likenesses of Andrew Jackson’s face. How did he manage that, exactly? “It was easy,” said Frank. “To you, he’s Andrew Jackson. To some guy in Germany, who the fuck is it? Some guy’s face. He doesn’t know.”

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Reading List: Longreads and This Land Press at Housing Works


Coming this Wednesday, Oct. 29, in New York, Longreads and present a special night of storytelling at Housing Works with Oklahoma’s This Land Press. The event will be hosted by This Land editor Michael Mason, with Longreads founder Mark Armstrong. (You can also RSVP on Facebook.)

To get you ready for the big night, we’re thrilled to share a reading list of stories and books from the event’s featured storytellers.

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Rilla Askew

Askew is an Oklahoma-born writer and author of the novel Fire in Beulah, set against the backdrop of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

“Near McAlester” (This Land Press, August 2014)

On the complicated history of the place closest to her heart.

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