Revisiting 3 Important Pieces Of Longform Journalism From 2015
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
2015 will be over - done in just a few days. And like many of you, we've been taking stock of the year the things that caught our attention, the things we may have missed. File under that last category well-written articles that we never got around to reading. Max Linsky is the co-founder of Longform, a site that curates long-form journalism, essays and fiction. And he's here now to highlight three stories from 2015 worth revisiting. Hey there, Max.
MAX LINSKY: Hey, Audie Cornish.
CORNISH: So we're going to start with the piece that you say you basically, like, could not turn away from - international true crime, which is very popular on Longform.
CORNISH: Tell us about this story.
LINSKY: It's called "The Talented Mr. Khater." It appeared in Texas Monthly. Audie, do you read Texas Monthly?
CORNISH: I have read it before.
CORNISH: But I haven't read it recently (laughter).
LINSKY: You need to step up your Texas Monthly game.
CORNISH: Oh, man.
LINSKY: They call it the national magazine of Texas, and it has this incredible history of true-crime yarns. There are some all-time sort of true-crime legends who write for the magazine - Pam Colloff, Skip Hollandsworth. But this story, "The Talented Mr. Khater," was written by a young editor at the magazine named Francesca Mari. And it's about - well, it's about a lot of things, but it starts with an attack in Chile.
A young woman who had gone there after graduating from the University of Texas is attacked by a housemate. She's living somewhere between a hostel and, like, a group home. She was attacked by her housemate, and all of her friends couldn't process it. It was totally bizarre. It was like this guy who had always been, like, a little weird, a little creepy did this horrible, horrible thing.
CORNISH: And one thing about this roommate, we should mention, like, he's very handsome and, like, charming, athletic and...
CORNISH: Right. It's a play on "The Talented Mr. Ripley" - that story, right?
LINSKY: It is, yeah. And he is as creepy as "The Talented Mr. Ripley" except it's real life.
LINSKY: And what happens, basically, is this attack happens, and they start to realize that he's been doing this and conning people for money for years under a couple of different identities. I don't want to spoil the story, but what's really incredible about it - most true crime pieces that you read, if they've gotten written, they've gotten written 'cause someone got caught. And that is not how this one ends.
CORNISH: Yikes. OK, the second story you brought is from an Australian publication The Monthly. And it is, like, completely different from the true crime thing. It's an essay by a woman named Helen Garner called "The Insults Of Age." It's very funny. Give us a sense of kind of how this plays out.
LINSKY: Oh, Helen Garner. Helen Garner is the best, and The Monthly is also a fantastic publication. It's a totally independent magazine in Australia that does all kinds of great work. This essay is about Helen Garner deciding that she is fed up with not saying anything when people say stupid things to her about being old. It's going to resonate with anyone who's, say, over the age of 65. But I actually think it's just going to resonate with anybody 'cause what she does is basically the thing that we all wish we could do, which is when someone says something dumb and insulting to us, she doesn't stand for it. And that essay sort of takes you through her snapping. And then you expect her to sort of have some remorse. She's kind of like biting people's heads off and telling them exactly what she thinks, but she has no remorse.
CORNISH: And we should say, it's not just insults; it's, like, condescension, like, people speaking slowly to her, kind of like, ma'am, are you OK, like (laughter)...
LINSKY: Do you know what airline you're flying?
CORNISH: Right, exactly (laughter).
LINSKY: Yeah. Meanwhile, she's, like, a tremendously, tremendously accomplished writer in full control.
CORNISH: And that's in The Monthly from Australia. I do suggest people check it out. It was very funny. Your last reading recommendation is a bit of a turn from, like, the kinds of a few-thousand-word story - right? - that you might...
CORNISH: ...See on long-form. This is kind of a multimedia project.
LINSKY: I'm not even sure this counts as long-form, but I don't care. It's so good, and we're including it on the list. It was on a site called Eater, which had a tremendous year. And the thing that I love about Eater - I don't know if you read a lot of food writing, Audie, but it has a tendency to be a little precious.
CORNISH: Right, right (laughter).
LINSKY: Just a little precious.
CORNISH: Yeah, the term foodie now seems a little insulting sometimes.
LINSKY: Yeah and those foodies - I encourage them, like Helen Garner, to stand up.
LINSKY: But this story is really as much a business story as it is a food story. It's called "One Night in Kachka." And it's about a restaurant in Portland - one of the best restaurants in America, and the folks at Kachka completely open their doors to this whole team from Eater. And they had like three reporters and two videographers and a photographer. And they basically documented from the very beginning of night to the end what happens in a great restaurant. They looked at the kitchen. They interviewed guests. It's a fantastic look at all aspects of running a restaurant.
CORNISH: And we have a little clip of it just to give people a sample.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This is a chef selection of cold zakuski, so it is pulled directly from the left side of your menu. It winds up being 11 dishes with pickles.
CORNISH: Eleven dishes with pickles, and that is a traditional Russian appetizer. I repeat appetizer (laughter).
LINSKY: Sounds delicious. The other thing that's amazing about this story that I really appreciated - you always hear kind of like the restaurant business is a terrible business, but Kachka was completely transparent about their finances. And it turns out that even at, like, one of America's best restaurants, the margins are so thin. Like, there's so much work that goes into running this restaurant, and at the end of the day, they really don't make very much.
CORNISH: You know, each year, there's always, like, a big think piece - right? - that everyone sort of goes back and forth about on the Internet. Did you have something like that this year that you loved?
LINSKY: Well, the story - we just put out best of the year list, and the story that was the - in the No. 1 slot for that was called "The Really Big One." It's a piece in The New Yorker by Kathryn Schultz about - I don't know if you've heard this, Audie, but at any minute, there may be an earthquake so massive that the entire West Coast of America falls off the shelf. Have you heard that?
CORNISH: In movie trailers, but you're (laughter)...
LINSKY: Yeah. Turns out that's totally true.
LINSKY: It can happen any time. And I'm not sure there was much controversy about that story other than just people reading it and going, how are we not talking about this all the time?
CORNISH: I was looking through one of your best-of lists, and I noticed in the list for essays in particular, it had a lot of women writers. And...
LINSKY: Top 10, too.
CORNISH: Yeah, exactly and it sort of surprised me 'cause a lot of times these best of, think piece ranking things, you don't really see a diversity of writers. What's going on at Longform that's different?
LINSKY: Well, I don't think anything is going on differently. I will say that we're very conscious of that. And we make an effort to make the site every day diverse and certainly to make this list diverse. Also, say, like, it's not hard. There were many, many, many fantastic articles written by women this year, and there were tons more that we could've added.
CORNISH: That's Max Linsky. He's cofounder of Longform and host of the podcast of the same name. He was talking to was about three articles from 2015 that are worth revisiting. If you want to read more from this year, Longform's best-of list is now going up. Give it a look. Pick a story. Start reading. Max, thanks so much.
LINSKY: Audie, thank you.
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