In between those end-of-summer barbecues and final visits to the beach, make time for some good storytelling this Labor Day holiday. Here are Storyboard’s three weekend picks:
Writing for GQ in “The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit,” Michael Finkel kindles a relationship of sorts with Christopher Knight, the so-called “North Pond Hermit,” who was captured last year by state troopers in Maine after committing hundreds of burglaries while he lived alone in the woods for 27 years. Knight turns out to be a somewhat unconventional hermit — he slept on a box spring and mattress and largely subsisted on stolen junk food — as well as a prickly interview subject. Finkel uses the frustration and vagaries of his reporting process to strong effect in the piece, as this excerpt highlights:
At the very end of each of our visits, I’d always asked him the same question. An essential question: Why did he disappear?
He never had a satisfying answer. “I don’t have a reason.” “I can’t explain why.” “Give me more time to think about it.” “It’s a mystery to me, too.” Then he became annoyed: “Why? That question bores me.”
But during our final visit, he was more reflective. Isn’t everybody, he said, seeking the same thing in life? Aren’t we all looking for contentment? He was never happy in his youth—not in high school, not with a job, not being around other people. Then he discovered his camp in the woods. “I found a place where I was content,” he said. His own perfect spot. The only place in the world he felt at peace.
That was all he had to tell me. He’d grown weary of my visits. Please, he begged, leave me alone; we are not friends. I don’t want to be your friend, he said, I don’t want to be anyone’s friend. “I’m not going to miss you at all,” he added.
(Finkel possesses a curious tale of his own, which apparently includes being portrayed by Jonah Hill in an upcoming film.)
This week, the Online News Association announced finalists for its annual journalism awards. It’s a long list, with almost as many contenders as an Iowa presidential caucus, but among them is a fascinating endeavor called Hollow Documentary (hat tip to Poynter’s Al Tompkins for including it in his list of nine under-the-radar projects.) It’s an interactive documentary by Elaine McMillion about life in McDowell County, a struggling rural area in West Virginia. The site only works on a desktop and can be a little balky but once you delve in, you can lose yourself meandering through a trail of images, sounds and stories as if you were wandering the mountain hollow itself.
The restraint in Brent McDonald and Alexandra Garcia’s video reports for The New York Times on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., is what creates much of their emotional power. Music is minimal and the easy hyperbole of cable news segments absent. Instead, the pieces build tension and strength with sharp interviews and tight narratives, as well as the visual punch of shots that may linger on the strained face of a young man being held back from a confrontation or the roadway washed of blood from the body of Michael Brown, whose shooting by police earlier this month ignited the protests. (McDonald and Garcia were both part of the Nieman Fellows class of 2013, McDonald as an affiliate and Garcia as a fellow.)
What’s on your weekend reading list? Email Storyboard at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us.