The Top 5 Longreads of the Week December 7, 2012Longreads Member Exclusive: 'Deconstructing Mare Island'

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All through December: Longreads Best of 2012
1. 4:52 on Christmas Morning Dan P. Lee | New York magazine | December 3, 2012 | 31 minutes (7989 words) [Not single-page] One year after a fatal fire in Stamford claims the lives of their children and her parents, a family tries to make sense of what happened:

"He tells me that seeing children can sometimes make him feel better and other times worse. The last photo ever taken of the girls—of the three of them in brightly colored winter coats, lined up with him in front of the Hudson around sunset—was taken right over there. He speaks slowly, sometimes stuttering, not always in complete sentences. He has a diluted British accent, a vestige of his childhood in England. He says he needs caffeine.

"We go to a coffee shop in the neighborhood. He orders a scone, a double cappuccino, and an iced tea. We sit in the sun. In between cigarettes, he chews Nicorette gum. He talks about the girls. He would take them to museums, parks, toy stores, dinner at the local diner, late movies, allowing them to run up in front of the screen to dance as the credits were rolling. He says he was too loose with them. Madonna had called him her fourth child; he says that she was right. He will not say anything else about her. She is struggling and trying to deal in her own way, and he does not want to hurt her."

More Lee: "'I Just Want to Feel Everything': Hiding Out with Fiona Apple, Musical Hermit" (June 2012)
2. Since 1979, Brian Murtagh Has Fought to Keep Convicted Murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in Prison Gene Weingarten | Washington Post | December 6, 2012 | 26 minutes (6,594 words) Another look at the "Fatal Vision" murder case, through the eyes of its prosecutor:

"When Errol Morris’s 'A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald' came out in September, Brian Murtagh sat in the study of the Oakton home he shares with Margaret, his wife of 43 years, and read it cover to cover, all 500-plus pages. He found it credulous, manipulative, a Swiss cheese of strategic omissions. To assert this, he typed out a rebuttal — a legal brief, double-spaced, 14 pages long, with Roman numerals and alphanumerically labeled paragraphs. It is not light reading. Morris, Murtagh writes, 'doesn’t explain how 60 pieces of the pajama top, including the ripped-off pocket bearing a contact stain in Colette’s blood, could be found in the master bedroom, as well as 30 seam threads. ... ' Murtagh didn’t file this odd document anywhere. He didn’t release it to the media. It was mostly for himself.

"Murtagh sounds exactly like a lawyer but carries himself exactly like a butler. You want to call him Jeeves. He’s punctilious, a bit formal, often greeting people with a courtly little bow. He views this whole case with an air of bemused exasperation, puzzled by its refusal to die. He knows his 'brief' would mostly confuse people. Only two people on Earth, he says, are really in a position to understand it — to understand what a flimsy, paltry, bankrupt case for innocence Errol Morris makes."

More Weingarten: "The Peekaboo Paradox" (January 2006)

Books by Weingarten on Amazon
3. A Bishop Behind Bars M.L. Nestel, Jebediah Reed | The Daily | December 3, 2012 | 24 minutes (6,189 words) Sam Mullet, an Amish sect leader from Bergholz, Ohio, was convicted of hate crimes for his role in an odd string of beard-cutting attacks last year, and was accused of sexually preying on women and tormenting men in his community. What led up to the attacks?

"According to Mullet, the violent beard-clipping spree against outsiders began with an incident at a large Amish-run machine sale in Geauga County, Ohio. One of Mullet’s nephews, who lived at Bergholz and was part of the community, was mocked by his own parents — Mullet’s sister and brother-in-law, both defectors from Bergholz — for being, essentially, a beardless sissy.

"'If God was with you, your beard would not have been cut,' the father, Martin Miller, told his son, Allen Miller. 'If God is with me, my beard will not be cut.'

"'You said a mouthful,' Allen said. 'And if that ever happens, you know it’s true.'

"Mullet recalled hearing about the heated exchange when the Miller kids returned home that night. 'We talked about it,' he said.

"Perhaps the father’s boast was too enticing — within a matter of weeks, Allen and several of his siblings and their spouses went to the home of Martin and Barbara Miller and cut his beard and her hair. 'God is not with you! God is not with you!' Allen shouted at his parents after the attack."

More from The Daily: "Pieces of a Man" (Zach Baron, Jan. 2012)
4. 2 Good 2 Be 4Gotten: An Oral History of Freaks and Geeks Robert Lloyd | Vanity Fair | December 6, 2012 | 34 minutes (8,608 words) An oral history of Freaks and Geeks, which earned a huge cult following after its cancellation and launched the careers of actors like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and James Franco:

"PAUL FEIG: We did our infamous two weeks with the writers locking ourselves in a room and telling personal stories. I wrote a list of questions for everybody to answer: 'What was the best thing that happened to you in high school? What was the worst thing that happened to you in high school? Who were you in love with and why?'

"JUDD APATOW: 'What was your worst drug experience? Who was your first girlfriend? What’s the first sexual thing you ever did? What’s the most humiliating thing that ever happened to you during high school?'

"PAUL FEIG: That’s where most of our stories came from. Weirder stuff happens to people in real life than it does on TV. It was a personal show for me and I wanted it to be personal for everybody else.

"GABE SACHS (writer, 'I’m with the Band,' 'The Garage Door'): We thought the questionnaires were a private thing between us and Judd and Paul, so we wrote really honest. And the next day at work we get them all bound together. We’re laughing with everyone but going, 'Oh, man!'"

More Vanity Fair: "The Long Good-Bye" (Scott Sherman, Nov. 30, 2012)
5. Bryan Saunders: Portrait Of The Artist On Crystal Meth Jon Ronson | The Guardian | November 30, 2012 | 11 minutes (2,942 words) A writer visits the home of Bryan Saunders, an artist known for his self-portraits created under the influence of a variety of drugs:

"We turn to the next one. 'Whoa,' I say. This one could not be less Xanax-like. The drawing is spindly and paranoid, and the page is patterned with real-life bullet holes. They pepper Bryan's stomach and neck. I ask Bryan how they got there and he explains that he used a gun borrowed from a friend. He propped up the page from the sketchbook and repeatedly shot it. 'I remember bouncing into the walls like a fly going bong, bong, bong,' he says. The drug that elicited this reaction was called Geodon.

"'Geodon?' I say.

"Bryan Googles it. 'It's for symptoms of schizophrenia,' he reads, 'so it's an anti-psychotic agent, I guess.'

"'Did you get it from somebody with schizophrenia?' I ask.

"'No, I got it from a doctor,' Bryan says. And this is when Bryan tells me the other way he acquires many of his drugs. He sometimes visits psychiatrists, tells them about the art project, and asks them for 'samples of some pain pill or sedative I've never tried. I say, 'Can you write me a prescription for just one so I can do my drawing?' And I take my book with me and show them my art project. And they always give me some crazy, crazy anti-psychotic pill instead.'"

See also: "'Silly, Funny Stories About Really Serious Things': A Chat With Writer Jon Ronson" (Elise Czajkowski, The Awl, November 2012)

Books by Ronson on Amazon
Fiction Pick: Literally Antonya Nelson | The New Yorker | December 3, 2012 | 42 minutes (5,030 words) Two young boys temporarily go missing:

"'You want to play hooky with Isaac?' Richard asked Danny. Isaac smiled shyly from the doorway, his silver front tooth catching the light. Whenever Richard spotted that tooth, he had the same thought: if his wife had still been alive when the tooth was knocked out, she’d have seen to an ivory replacement.

"'This morning, but not this afternoon,' Danny said. 'Can you go this afternoon?' he asked Isaac. 'It’s pizza-party day, remember?'"

More Longreads fiction picks

Books by Nelson on Amazon
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Reine Gammoh @ReineOG
Reine is a travel-obsessed bookworm from Jordan, working in social media and travel.
"My favorite longread of the week is 'Twilight on the Tundra' by Julia Phillips in The Morning News. The story centers on mushers in Russia's tundra, winding 685 long miles to Esso, at the heart of the Kamchatka peninsula. What I enjoyed was that the story focuses on a sport I never explored before. I live in a desert landscape in Amman, Jordan. While I have read much about the vastness of the desert, I had not considered the stark contrast (and yet, the similarity) of the vastness of the tundra and emptiness of snow as opposed to sand. This is a great account of a writer accompanying mushers to learn about the other side of sledding and crossing such harsh terrain."
Twilight on the Tundra Julia Phillips | The Morning News | November 27, 2012 | 26 minutes (6,611 words)
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