“To suffer from gender dysphoria (G.D.), as Michelle Kosilek does, is to exist in a real state for which our only frame of reference may be science fiction. You inhabit a body that other people may regard as perfectly normal, even attractive. But it is not yours. That fact has always been utterly and unmistakably clear to you, just as the fact that she has put on someone else’s coat by accident is clear to a third-grader. This body has hair where it shouldn’t, or doesn’t where it should. Its hands and feet are not the right sizes, its hips and buttocks and neck are not the right shapes. Its odors are nauseating. To describe the anguish a G.D. patient suffers, psychiatrists will allude to Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: For Michelle Kosilek, the gulf between human being and insect is precisely as wide as that between woman and man.”
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Jason Zengerle | Might magazine | 1997 | 19 minutes (4,685 words)
Photo by Jimmy Hahn
Thanks to our Longreads Members’ support, we tracked down a vintage story from Dave Eggers’s Might Magazine. It’s from Jason Zengerle, a staff writer for Politico Magazine and former contributing editor for New York magazine and GQ who’s been featured on Longreads often in the past.
"This was the first story I wrote that could qualify as a long read—and it certainly wasn’t by choice. I’d just graduated from college and was doing an internship at The American Prospect, but I spent most of my time daydreaming about being an intern at The New Republic, which hadn’t seen fit to hire me. Hoping to change their mind, I’d routinely pitch TNR freelance stories, and one day I got the idea to write a takedown of Michael Moore: I sent in at a tightly-argued, perfect-for-TNR 1,000 words; TNR sent back its customary 20-word rejection. That would have been the end of it, but I showed the piece to my friend Todd Pruzan, who offered to show it to his friend Dave Eggers, who was then editing a little magazine called Might.
"It turned out that Eggers didn’t share my dim opinion of Moore, but he did see the potential for a fun stunt. He said Might would be willing to take my 1,000 words arguing that Moore was a hack, if I’d be willing to embed them in a much longer shaggy-dog story of trying to track down and meet with Moore himself. By now, of course, the idea of pulling a Roger & Me on Michael Moore is pretty played-out, but at the time, I don’t think anyone had thought of it yet. And so on MLK Day weekend of 1997, I took a Peter Pan bus from Boston to New York, rented a gorilla suit for my unemployed actor friend Morgan Phillips, and set off on our little adventure.
"The rest is history. By the end of that year, Might was out of business. Eggers was writing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and on his way to becoming the voice of a generation. And I was an intern at TNR.”
“It isn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just ‘It’.”
Julia Wick is a native Angeleno who writes about literature, Los Angeles, and cities. She is currently finishing an Urban Planning degree at USC.
1. “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Clara Bow, ‘It’ Girl,” by Anne Helen Petersen (The Hairpin, May 2011)
Clara Bow was the original It girl, so much so that her 1927 film, titled—what else?—“It,” more or less defined the phenomenon. This piece, from Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood series, offers a perfectly juicy take on Ms. Bow.
Stewart goes beyond the usual Edie clichés and delves into Sedgwick family lore, as well as Edie’s post-Factory return to Santa Barbara.
McInerney’s piece—a semi-seminal take on uber-It girl Chloe Sevigny in the early days of her downtown reign—captures a weird freeze-frame in time: Sevigny pre-Kids fame, and downtown New York in its last gasps of grittiness.
4. “Welcome to the Dollhouse: New York’s Power-Girl Publicists,” by Vanessa Grigoriadis (New York magazine, December 1998)
“Perky, pretty, and remarkably plugged-in, a pack of young publicists have become the darlings of New York’s demimonde. But be careful—they bite.” Detail-packed, with deliciously good dialogue and a healthy dollop of fun, this is classic Grigoriadis.
5. “Ksenia Sobchak: The Jane Fonda of Russia’s Dissident Movement,” by Sarah A. Topol (Vice Magazine)
Ksenia Sobchak is the Russian Paris Hilton, if Paris Hilton all of a sudden took an interest in revolutionary politics.
Cory Kennedy was just a regular high school hipster until party photographer Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter snapped her picture at an LA club. And then—practically overnight and before her parents had a chance to figure out what was going on—she was everywhere, a club kid, model, and message board fashion icon, with her very own column in Nylon. This is the making of an internet It Girl.
Julia Wick is a native Angeleno who writes about literature, Los Angeles, and cities. She is currently finishing an Urban Planning degree at USC.
“If I knew where poems came from, I’d go there.” —Michael Longley
Below are some of my favorite #longreads that fall under the umbrella of “the lives of the poets.” Each is paired with a favorite poem by the poet in question. Quite a few of these stories are personal, not just about the poet, but about the authors of the pieces themselves. Which is unsurprising, especially because, as Billy Collins put it in a 2001 Globe and Mail piece: “You don’t read poetry to find out about the poet, you read poetry to find out about yourself.”
David Berman is perhaps best known for his work with the indie-rock band Silver Jews, but his poetry is a thing to behold, as accessible as it is awesome (in the true sense of the word). Beller’s piece, a “tribute to the free-associating genius of the Silver Jews,” delves not just into the beauty of Berman’s free-association, but also his Judaism, his place in the New York literary scene of the 1990’s, and his public pain.
The details of poet Frank Stanford’s life are as labyrinth-like as his most famous work, an epic poem titled, “The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You.” His life was in many ways a series of contradictions: his childhood was divided between the privilege of an upper-crust Memphis family and summers deep in the Mississippi Delta; he was a backwoods outsider who maintained correspondence with poets ranging from Thomas Lux to Allen Ginsberg; and posthumously, he is both little-known and a cult figure in American letters. In seeking to unravel the man behind the myth, Ehrenreich heads deep into the lost roads of Arkansas: the result is a haunting and vivid portrait of both Stanford’ life and his own quest.
Dana Goodyear’s profile of Gary Snyder provides a rich rendering of the Beat poet, Buddhist, and California mountain man.
It is likely that if you have made it this far down the list you already know a fair amount about Sylvia Plath, but what makes this piece interesting is Elizabeth Hardwick’s take on her, and her lovely, clear-eyed prose. Hardwick, who co-founded the New York Review of Books, was herself no stranger to the lives of poets, having spent 23 years married to Robert Lowell. It is also—maybe—of interest that the same girls who fall mercilessly hard for Plath at 16 and 21 and often discover Hardwick with a similar fervor a few years down the road (myself included).
Widely considered one of the most important 20th century American poets, Lowell’s biographer called him “the poet-historian of our time.” Parker’s piece examines a much more personal history, that of Lowell’s relationship with her father, painter Frank Parker.
For this week’s Member Pick, we’re excited to share “The Prophet,” the much-talked-about new story from Luke Dittrich and Esquire magazine investigating the claims made by Dr. Eben Alexander in the best-selling book Proof of Heaven, about Alexander’s own near-death experience.
Dittrich, a contributing editor at Esquire since 2008, has been featured on Longreads many times in the past and his work has appeared in anthologies including The Best American Crime Writing, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing, and his article about a group of strangers who sheltered together during a devastating tornado won the 2012 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. He is currently writing a book for Random House about his neurosurgeon grandfather’s most famous patient, Henry Molaison, an amnesiac from whom medical science learned most of what it knows about how memory works.
Illustration by Kjell Reigstad
Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s this week’s pick:
For readers, summer travel offers a chance to discover a new bookstore or read a magazine you’ve never encountered before. This week’s College Longreads selection takes us to City Newsstand in Chicago, a magazine store that carries many titles you’ve heard of (The Economist) and several thousand you haven’t (RubberStampMadness). Nolan Feeney, a recent graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School, used City Newsstand as a backdrop for a bigger story about changes in the business of magazines. Feeney wrote this story for class last fall, and NewCity Lit, a digital supplement to the Chicago magazine, picked it up in the spring. Today, Feeney covers pop culture and Internet culture for Forbes.com.
Nolan Feeney | NewCity Lit | March 2013 | 12 minutes (2,995 words)
Professors and students: Share your favorite stories by tagging them with #college #longreads on Twitter, or email links to email@example.com.
Last week, the below YouTube video resurfaced on Twitter to remind me about everything I loved, and still love, about Mr. Rogers. It’s a clip from the 1997 Daytime Emmys, where Fred McFeely Rogers accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award:
In just three minutes, he reduced Linda Dano to tears and reminded us how conscientious we can strive to be when it comes to recognizing the important people in our lives and telling them how much they mean to us.
The clip brought me back to one of my all-time favorite stories: Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile or Mr. Rogers:
"Once upon a time, a man named Fred Rogers decided that he wanted to live in heaven. Heaven is the place where good people go when they die, but this man, Fred Rogers, didn’t want to go to heaven; he wanted to live in heaven, here, now, in this world, and so one day, when he was talking about all the people he had loved in this life, he looked at me and said, ‘The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us—I’ve just met you, but I’m investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can’t help it.’"
…and it then sent me on a Mr. Rogers YouTube-watching binge. Here are two great films from the early days of his career:
Our recent Longreads Member Pick by National Magazine Award winner Andrew Corsello from GQ is now free for everyone. Special thanks to our Longreads Members for helping bring these stories to you—if you’re not a member, join us here.
"My Body Stopped Speaking to Me," is a personal story about Corsello’s near-death experience, first published in GQ in 1995.
"I was circling the drain in the spring of 1995—convalescent, out of money, literally within days of quitting the business—when David Kamp, a friend from college who’d become a senior editor at GQ, called to ask if I’d be interested in a staff-writing job. ‘You know I’m damaged goods, right?’ I asked. He didn’t, but made things happen anyway. The day I arrived at GQ, David introduced me to the mag’s longtime editor, Art Cooper, an old-school manly man’s man who’d have insisted on christening my arrival with a hard drink or three (even though it was 11:00 a.m.) had David not preempted it. ‘Now, Art,’ David explained as Art took my hand, ‘you can’t take it personally when Andrew declines the drink you’re going to offer him—he’s been told by doctors he can never drink again.’ Art asked why. Over the next 15 minutes, I told him the bizarre story of my near-death from liver failure six months before. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘That’s your first piece for the mag!’ At which point I reflexively wondered, ‘But what’s the angle?’ And, answering myself, said, ‘How about, “If I were in an HMO, I’d be dead”’? Before I could finish my next sentence, Cooper said, ‘Nah, just write the story.’ But what about, you know, the health care angle… ‘Huh?’ Cooper said. ‘Forget that. Just…write the story, like you just told it.’ But what about… We went back and forth several more times, with me burping up inane buzz-crap like ‘nut graf’ and ‘policy relevance’ and Cooper saying ‘Write the story.’ Finally, half laughing, half pissed, he growled, 'Just write the fucking story.' So I left his office, sat at my new desk, created a new file, sat staring at the screen for several minutes and then realized: The story was already written, and written as well as it ever could be (at least by me), in my journal. Creating this piece, which Kamp edited, was almost entirely a matter of splicing journal entries together.
“Even now it amazes and annoys me: that until the moment Art Cooper told me to write the fucking story, it had never even occurred to me to use in my published work the voice in which I had been speaking to myself for years. That is, it hadn’t occurred to me to publish work…in my own voice. How stupid is that? All this is to say that this story, or rather the editorial injunction that birthed it, taught me that a vivid writing voice is less a matter of talent—far less—than license. Dave Kamp’s headline for this piece plays at multiple levels.”
My Body Stopped Speaking to Me
Andrew Corsello | GQ | November 1995 | 26 minutes (6,489 words)
It is 5:30 in the morning on the first of June, 1985—my eighteenth birthday. I’ve just graduated high school and am now at a rich boy’s home, pacing about a guest room in my boxers. Though I’ve spent the past seven nights abusing myself—too much junk food and beer, too little sleep—my body has shown Promethean resilience, reporting for duty every morning at dawn: the marvel of a teen metabolism. Indeed, two weeks prior, three other boys and I ran a baton over the distances of 400 and 1,600 meters faster than any boys in our New England league ever had. My physique brings me a bliss that usually finds expression in trash talk and high fives; other times, it forms inwardly, as a sense of virtue.
I pass the other guest rooms, descend the curved staircase to the foyer and open the front door. A heavy fog has dropped through the treetops and settled on the lawn. As I stand there eyeing the ancient plane trees, the sculpted hedges, the gurgling Cupid fountain, a message comes quietly from within: Run.
It begins as a trot, my feet pattering softly on the driveways, then falling silent on the long lawns in between. Soon the homes become estates—great, open expanses—and I lengthen the strides, gaining height as I move up onto my toes. The arms close in, thinning me to the wind; the hands straighten into blades to cut the air. For a moment, my body quakes with strain, then, as if breaking the skin of a bubble, passes through. I’m all glide, buoyed on a cushion of air. I leap onto a stone wall, my foot ripping its beard of moss, and land in a fresh-mowed field. A man in a robe is watching. I see through his eyes: a half-naked kid running for his life, his chest hairless and lightly muscled—you can still see his ribs—hair blown back, mouth open, body aimed at some far-off point. I picture my legs whipping the low-lying tendrils of fog into upward spirals that quickly dissolve.
Later, lying in a hospital bed waiting to die, I will conjure this flexing of my youth. Yet the fog, the field, the man, won’t seem as vivid as things happening beneath the skin. I will recall the roar of lungs, heart and rushing blood, amplified in my head the way it is underwater in a swimming pool. That is my body speaking to me: One of the superstitions I’ve retained from childhood is that objects—including parts of the body—are imbued with spirit, and that I should treat them as I treat people and animals. At 18, I am a person who actually talks to his body, who after crossing a finish line, seeks a quiet place to congratulate and thank his legs. It’s my childhood desire to beat death—to make my body a blood brother so that it can never, will never, turn on me.
My body has a voice, and as I fly over the field, it whispers to me. This is as strong, this is as swift, as you will ever be.