Good Reads: Life and the giants we face

This post is part of a series recommending longform, narrative nonfiction (as well as other worthwhile writings).

No two people live identical lives. No two people face all of the same hardships and challenges. Every life has its own giants.

Each story recommended below is about an individual (or individuals) who face or avoid their giants in unique and powerful ways.

The Doctor by James Verini, The Atavist

A Catholic doctor in Southern Sudan is the only surgeon for thousands of miles. Every day, he rises for mass and then works for hours upon hours, treating patients whose bodies have been torn apart, limbs blown off. The doctor could leave, he could go anywhere else to treat patients, but he stays. This piece answers the question of why.

Inheritance, Frontline

If you’ve heard of the Frontline documentary series, My Brother’s Bomber, you’re probably familiar with the story line of this multi-media piece. This piece uses audio recordings, music, video, photography, and the written word to tell Ken Dornstein’s story of wrestling with the loss of his older brother in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing of December 1988.

The Truth About New York’s Legendary Mole People by Anthony Taille,

Don’t be distracted by the somewhat clickbait-y title. This piece is a work of literary reported art, rich with detail and fact. All about the hidden population that have made New York’s underground their home, this piece takes the reader into the world beneath, introducing the young mother who’s trying to get her feet under her so she can get her own place and get her daughter back, the woman in her 50s whose underground lair is piled with bags full of recyclables — her livelihood — the father who, when his child comes to visit, rents an apartment for the week so he won’t look like a bum.

What have you read lately that moved or inspired you?

Good Reads: Risks people take for fishing poles, philosophies, and friendship

This post is part of a series recommending narrative, longform journalism and nonfiction pieces.

Is it worth it?

It could be anything. A dive into alligator-infested waters, a move away from everything you know, a climb up a stretch of rock others have labelled unclimbable. Is it worth the risk?

Sometimes, we step up to the forks in life’s road and decide to do what terrifies us, because our decisions shouldn’t be driven by fear. Right? But why do we fear things in the first place? Couldn’t there be a seed of truth buried deep in that overwhelming sense of fright?

These recommended reads all have an aspect of risk. Decide for yourself whether the decisions were worth it.

Unclimbable by Eva Holland, SB Nation

Eva Holland’s knee was in bad shape when she went to the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a trip she’d been anticipating for quite some time. Three Colorado College graduates had just received a grant for a similar trip, also the Unclimbables, when their good friend died in an avalanche. To go or not go? And if they go, how hard should they push?

The Friend by Matthew Teague, Esquire

When Matthew Teague’s wife was dying of cancer, a mutual close friend of he and his wife decided to move in and help. This piece is a heartfelt account of Teague seeing the friend give up nearly everything to meet the needs of him and his wife.

My Dad Tried to Kill Me with an Alligator by Harrison Scott Key, Outside

Lighter and more humorous than the previous two, this piece examines fatherhood through the lens of Harrison’s terrified childhood and, toward the end, his own fathering experience. A fast-paced read that will make you laugh. Unless you’ve decided not to.

And for a fairly accurate (and hilarious) portrayal of the consensus on truth in nonfiction:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Truth in Nonfiction But Were Afraid to Ask: A Bad Advice Cartoon Essay by Dave Gessner

No description needed. Just go read it. Seriously.

Good Reads: Read this after watching Wall-E and you’ll think twice about buying the next iPhone

This post is part of a series recommending narrative, longform journalism and nonfiction pieces. Philosophers of story spend a lot of energy trying to nail down the purpose of storytelling. We know that people connect through stories, we know that stories mean more than statistics, we know that those who read a lot of stories tend to be more empathetic and gracious, but why do we tell stories in the first place? Is it just because they’re fun to tell, because we like stringing words together, because we’re trying to make sense of life? Yes, yes, and yes, but there’s more. Stories are meditations. On life, the workings of this world, the problems of humanity. They are attempts to glimpse the big picture, to see what perhaps God sees when He looks down on creation. They are collections of events and thoughts and feelings, and they seek to deepen our thoughts and feelings toward events. That last part — deepen our thoughts and feelings toward events — is what this first piece accomplished for me.

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust by Tim Maughan, BBC

The title says a lot. I read this piece a day or so after watching Wall-E and the combination of disgust toward earth’s ruin due to pollution in the film and the sinking feeling from this piece has me seriously considering going off the grid, forget the Internet and writing for a living. The “lake” is in Inner Mongolia (as opposed to Outer Mongolia) and is the byproduct of processes related to manufacturing the modern world’s most cherished possessions: speedily outdated cell phones.

None Dare Call It a Conspiracy by Scott Anderson, originally for GQ, republished by Longform

If you want a taste of post-Soviet Russian intrigue that affects Russians’ lives today, read this piece and gain another angle from which to consider Putin. A story like this takes serious nerve to report, not to mention write and publish where the whole world can see it. If you’re into politics, curious about how Putin rose to power, or want to know about terrorism unrelated to the Middle East, read this and marvel at how little we hear or know of Russia.

Lincoln Like Me by Megan Fernandez, Indianapolis Monthly

A little Hoosier flavor to whet your palate. The author, a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln, shares her journey to find out why her side of the family doesn’t brag about their relation the way others do. In the spirit of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, explore the genetic side of the Lincoln story. More fun than deeply perplexing.

And as a throwback to winter and the Iditarod about a month ago, a piece from 2013:

Out in the Great Alone by Brian Phillips, ESPN

Not as much about the great sled dog race as it is about the author’s experience in aircrafts following the mushers’ route, this piece stands as an entertaining piece of nonfiction with humorous observations of humanity.

Good Reads: Missing hikers, recovering communities, and war dogs

This is the fourth in a new series of weekly posts recommending well-written narrative nonfiction/longform articles.

Did North Korea Kidnap an American Hiker? by Chris Vogel, Outside

In 2004, David Sneddon, 24, was capping off a summer studying in China by hiking western China near the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The Mandarin-speaking American was excited to return to the States and finish his college studies, according to emails he’d sent his family, but he never got to his brother’s place in Seoul. Ten years later, he still hasn’t been found, and most evidence points to a kidnapping by North Korea.

Sandy’s Ghost Towns Asbury Park Press Special Report

A collection of stories profiling various New Jersey towns that Hurricane Sandy hit hard in 2012. Each piece gives a taste of local flavor (like Giesela Smith’s crumb cake) and shares the stories and perspectives of residents, what they’ve been through and what they anticipate for the summer.

The Dogs of War by Michael Paterniti, National Geographic

Unsung heroes who are flung in danger’s way unknowingly, war dogs are adopted and trained by the U.S. military for three purposes: patrol, detecting, or tracking. In this piece, Paterniti follows Marine Corporal Jose Armenta and his dog Zenit, as they searched ground in Afghanistan for IEDs, improvised explosive devices, in 2011. The bond between man and dog.

What have you been reading?