Help pick next week's reads by tweeting suggestions with the hashtag #SundayLR.
The goal of The Sunday Long Read newsletter is simple: To put the past week’s best journalism in your hands every Sunday morning—or, as a friend said, “to screw up my Sundays with far too much great stuff to read.” Obviously, compiling these lists is a wildly subjective exercise. How do I choose what’s “best?” If I finish a long-read article and immediately want to recommend it to a friend, you’ll find it linked here. These stories brought me pleasure, made me laugh and think and, most of all, told me something I didn’t know. No “hot takes” here.
After 24 years at The Miami Herald and The New York Times, I now write long-form sports stories for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. Naturally, these lists will tilt a bit toward sports (one week I chose 7 out of 10 pieces about sports). But you’ll find every kind of story here. And each week, I’ll choose my favorite read. The standard for that choice will be based as much on raw emotion as anything: If I desperately wished I had written it, you’ll find it at the top the list.
Why another curated long read list? Well, I started this on a whim in early 2014, tweeting out my favorite stories each Sunday. I was motivated by finding a more orderly way to meet my compulsion to share. One of my favorite things about my Twitter is it’s a generous platform that helps you discover great writing and great writers. If you follow the right crowd, Twitter becomes a kind of Pandora or Spotify for great journalism, and The Sunday Long Read began as a way to try to give back as much as I take. I was surprised and touched by how many people responded favorably. Before long, many of those same people urged me to start a newsletter like this one, to make it easier on them (hopefully) and (perhaps) on me.
This project is co-curated by Jacob Feldman of Sports Illustrated, whose enthusiasm and expertise were vital to getting this project launched.
During the week, on Twitter, Jacob and I hope you’ll use the #SundayLR hashtag for a piece you’d like us to consider for that Sunday’s list. You can also email your nominations, questions and suggestions for how this list can improve to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re kicking off 2016 with two phenomenal stories about larger-than-life attorneys. The first is about Rob Bilott, a corporate defense lawyer who stumbled into a mammoth environmental case that upended his career and his life. Bilott took on DuPont’s decades-long campaign of chemical pollution, in a town where no one—the politicians, the press, the people—had the nerve or the motive to challenge the corporate giant. Before long, Bilott became DuPont’s worst nightmare. A monumental David vs. Goliath legal thriller by Nathaniel Rich.
The second is an irresistible portrait of legendary plaintiffs’ lawyer Joe Jamail. At 89, he is Texas’ most famous attorney, one of its most colorful (OK, that’s redundant) and easily the wealthiest. Spraying a fusillade of four-letter invective, he enjoys carving up his opponents, verbally and financially (in that order), and then relishes the butt-kicking while sipping his scotch. A fun and funny profile by John Spong.
Texas Monthly did not pay us, we promise. This story actually came out at the end of last year, but we were on vacation, and even if some of you did make time for this one over the holidays, we felt it was good enough to recommend re-reading.
The story arc is straightforward: an overlooked accountant (at a bakery of all places) decides he wants to live the high life, embezzlement laws be damned. But Katy Vine elevates the tale to our top spot with peerless writing. Corsicana, Texas becomes a character here—one of several Vine brings into conversation and conflict while perfectly walking the line that separates the true-crime and character-study genres. In all, Sandy Jenkins' descent into criminality is described in a way that is beyond cinematic. It is literary.
At the age of 16, Taurus Buchanan found himself in a street fight among kids. He threw one deadly punch, which got him sent to prison for life. Will the Supreme Court extend a second chance to Buchanan and hundreds others like him? (This story had an immediate impact: Buchanan will get a clemency hearing on Feb. 16).
“Non-sports news,” tweeted Kyle Porter, a golf writer for CBS Sports, the other day. “Our daughter died right before Christmas. I wrote about it here.” That punch to the gut didn’t quite prepare me for this heartbreaking and moving essay of grief and personal tragedy.
“I knew as little about Albania as I knew about brain surgery,” writes Karl Ove Knaussgaard, who observes brain surgeries while the patients are awake. A gripping story made even better by Knaussgaard’s seemingly effortless writing. (The Times warns, “Images in this article may be disturbing to some viewers.”)
Alex Fogelson is the chairman of Hollywood’s newest studio, STX Entertainment, who “believes that 75 percent of a movie’s success is due to its marketing and its marketability.” This is the usual outstanding work we expect from Tad Friend.
When “Grey’s Anatomy” writer Elisabeth R. Finch ran into "Dr. Perfect," who failed to diagnose her bone cancer, she contained her anger and made an appointment to see him. “The more he speaks,” Finch writes, “the more I fight the urge to lunge across the room and pummel his perfect face.”
If your New Year’s challenge is, like mine, “Get Lean in ’16,” you’ll want to read this lovely story by my ESPN colleague Bill Barnwell, who lost 125 pounds in one year with the help of will power and spread sheets. Medium also hosted a great essay from Fran Hoepfner, On Being Ugly, a heartfelt, wonderful piece that will make you smile even while you are wincing at her pain.
A fabulous look at how a kid from Sweden became YouTube’s biggest star. This story actually came out in mid-December, but we were too busy putting together our Best of 2015 Listzilla and then taking a brief vacation to feature it. Still, it's worth reading. This young man's talent might surprise you.
When Adam Ciralsky asked a doctor to assess the type of liar "super-surgeon" Paolo Macchiarini was, the MD responded, “(Bernie) Madoff was an ordinary con man with a Ponzi scheme. He never claimed to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve. He didn’t suggest he was part of a secret international society of bankers. This guy is really good.” So is this story.
Mutilated in the course of a botched hospital circumcision, John undergoes years and years of sex reassignment surgery and is brought up as a girl named Joan. Colapinto's epic feature addresses the question of how innate and how plastic gender really is, captures medical hubris at its most wild, and teaches a lesson about how courage works. For the troubling coda to John's struggle, see this Los Angeles Times piece. (Colapinto later expanded his article in a book, As Nature Made Him.)
Just months before Rob Bilott made partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, he received a call on his direct line from a cattle farmer. The farmer, Wilbur Tennant of Parkersburg, W.Va., said that his cows were dying left and right. He believed that the DuPont chemical company, which until recently operated a site in Parkersburg that is more than 35 times the size of the Pentagon, was responsible. Tennant had tried to seek help locally, he said, but DuPont just about owned the entire town. He had been spurned not only by Parkersburg’s lawyers but also by its politicians, journalists, doctors and veterinarians. The farmer was angry and spoke in a heavy Appalachian accent. Bilott struggled to make sense of everything he was saying. He might have hung up had Tennant not blurted out the name of Bilott’s grandmother, Alma Holland White.