Longreads Best of 2014: Business Writing


We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in business writing.

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Max Chafkin
Writer focusing on business and technology.

Schooled (Dale Russakoff, New Yorker)

This piece explores the failed attempt by Mark Zuckerberg and Corey Booker, among others, to fix Newark’s schools—and in doing so makes clear just how hard education reform is. Most shockingly, it exposes the huge sums of money spent by the city and its supporters on education consultants who managed to extract huge fees without, apparently, doing a whole lot. It’s pretty hard to make a dense story about education reform read well, but Russakoff amazingly manages it, while managing to be fair and incisive. Read more…

I Kissed Christianity Goodbye: Four Stories About Leaving Religion

Photo: Don O'Brien

Deconversion isn’t easy. There’s backlash from family—confusion, anger, shame. It’s something I think about during the holiday season, especially. Christmastime can feel like an inundation of traditions left behind. In the world I grew up in, there were Advent Sundays and Christmas Eve services (five, actually) and cantatas and caroling. It was beautiful, and I still cherish many of those traditions. Deconversion is different for everyone. It’s a slow coming-of-age, or an existential crisis, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or none of those things. Today, I want to honor the stories of women who left religion (the Christian faith, in particular), and these are four thoughtful, poetic meditations.

1. “Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian.” (Jessica Misener, BuzzFeed, May 2014)

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As Bulls Are Bred Meaner, the Riders Start Younger

Photo by pruittallen
Photo by pruittallen

It wasn’t long before breeders found that they didn’t really need riders to make money… The top bull could earn a quarter of a million dollars at a single event, and as the purses grew so did the sport’s attention to genetics. Ranchers once content to breed any bull that leaped around now turned to outcrossing and in vitro fertilization to select specific behaviors: the dropkick, the side spin, the twisting belly roll. The result was a succession of ever more powerful, more athletic, more murderous bulls. The only question was who could ride them.

The change has been especially hard on young riders. Their learning curve gets steeper every year, and there are fewer and fewer ordinary animals for them to practice on. “These kids that are eleven, twelve, thirteen years old—they’re getting on bulls that we never saw until we were pros.”

Is there a limit to how dangerous a bull can or should be? “I hope not,” he said. “Because I intend on making one that’s a whole lot ranker than we’ve had before.” He smirked. “You know the bad thing? We can’t breed cowboys. If you could figure out how to get a set of women and three or four sires that had all that heart and the other ingredients that it takes, then you could match the sires and the dams up like we do the bulls. Then maybe we’d have a great bull rider.” In the meantime, there’s only one alternative: start them young.

-Bull riding has never been a safe sport, but today, getting hurt is a matter of when, not if. Burkhard Bilger delves into what keeps kids getting back on the bull at The New Yorker.

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Longreads Best of 2014: Essay Writing


We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in essay writing.

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Meaghan O’Connell
Freelance writer, “Birth Story” author, motherhood columnist at The Cut, who believes her best work is at The Billfold.

The Empathy Exams (Leslie Jamison, The Believer)

I did not know who Leslie Jamison was before I read her essay “Empathy Exams” late one night at the pie shop that I use as an office when the library is closed. I was hungry, and it was dark out, and I was very pregnant and needed to get home. But I stayed in that uncomfortable chair and read it the whole way through, bursting with excitement. I G-chatted friends in all caps asking them if they’d read it. I Googled her, saw she had a book coming out, and floated home feeling like, “Yes, let’s do this. Let’s write some fucking personal essays, people!” I think Jamison, especially here, convinced or re-convinced a lot of people of the possibilities and the value of writing in the first person. Of course I think it’s horse shit that it takes a white lady with a veneer of intellectualism to make it okay, but I’ll take it where I can get it. Jamison, for her part, rises to the occasion. She certainly reminded me to hang onto the art of the thing, all the while going deeper, letting the problem of whatever you’re trying to do take up its own space. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2014: Science Stories


We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in science writing.

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Virginia Hughes
Science reporter and soon-to-be science editor at BuzzFeed.

The Itch Nobody Can Scratch (Will Storr, Matter)

I’ve thought about this story (an excerpt from Storr’s book, The Unpersuadables) many, many times since reading it. It’s superficially about Morgellons, a disease in which people think that they’re infected with bugs or fibers. But it’s really about the nature of disease and diagnosis, evidence and belief. It’s creepy, fascinating, and profound. The best part about it is the way Storr describes these patients and their delusions. It would be easy to make them seem stupid or crazy or worse. But Storr’s writing creates empathy and understanding. The not-insignificant downside of this piece: it makes you feel itchy. Read more…

The Rotten and the Sublime: A Reading List on Fermentation

Photo:  Ferment after four days , Jim Champion/Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Fermented products occupy a strange spot in contemporary food culture, being at once some of the most enduring staples of our diets — and some of the most faddish. From the fizzy kick of kimchi to avant-garde culinary experimentation in Copenhagen, here are five stories about our fascination with (and, sure, addiction to) deliciously rotten food.

1. “Why Bakers Love Their Mothers.” (Dana Goodyear, Food & Wine, November 2013)

Some of the oldest sourdough starters, dubbed mothers — “the bubbling, breathing slick of wild yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria that feed on flour and water” — date from the 19th century and are passed, like a heirloom, from one generation to the next. In this piece, Goodyear lingers on the moving emotional connections bakers develop with the bacteria in their kitchens.

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Longreads Best of 2014: Crime Reporting


We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in crime reporting.

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Ashley Powers
Freelance journalist in Miami and a former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

By Noon They’d Both Be In Heaven (Hanna Rosin, New York Magazine)

Kelli Stapleton is a Michigan mom who admitted to a particularly heinous crime: trying to kill her 14-year-old autistic daughter, Issy, via carbon monoxide poisoning. In a lesser journalist’s hands, she could have ended up a caricature, but Rosin tells her story solely in shades of gray. One minute your heart breaks for Kelli, and the next you fume at her apparent selfishness. Kelli spent years on an exhausting form of therapy for her daughter in hopes of coaxing out “the Isabelle that was in there.” Instead, Issy grew into a sometimes-violent teenager who repeatedly knocked Kelli unconscious. Kelli blogged about her struggles, ostensibly to raise awareness, but her look-at-me tone convinced her husband’s family she was more interested in fame than mothering. I’ve read the story several times, and I still don’t know what to make of Kelli. But I can’t stop thinking about her. Read more…