Our latest “what we’re reading” draws on the stalwart print newspapers and magazines that have carried the banner of long-form narrative for so long. From a 5-part investigation of a shipwreck to a story of an athlete’s final months, these narratives show that traditional storytelling lives on.


Laura Hillenbrand releases new book while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome,” by Monica Hesse from The Washington Post (via Gangrey.com). The author of “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” talks about her life, her work and the physical ailment that traps her at home.

“I have to detach myself completely from aspirations,” Hillenbrand says, discussing how she has learned to cope with her illness. “I hardly ever listen to music anymore because it arouses all of this yearning in me.” She numbs herself to the things she cannot have.

Journalists have liked pointing out the irony of Hillenbrand’s work: A woman for whom walking around the block constitutes a marathon writes about the finest specimens of physical endurance.

The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” by Amy Ellis Nutt from New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. Storytelling meets investigative reporting as Nutt recreates events leading up to a fatal wreck and tries to figure out how it happened. Graphics bells and whistles from Andre Malok.

Riotous waves pummel José Arias. In the frantic scramble to abandon ship, he zipped his survival suit only to his throat and now the freezing Atlantic is seeping in, stealing his body’s heat.

The cold hammers him, a fist inside his head.

Seesawing across the ocean, he cannot tell east from west, up from down. At the top of a wave the night sky spins open, then slides away. Buckets of stars spill into the sea.

Walking Away from Grief,” by Thomas Curwen from the Los Angeles Times. Nature writer Gary Ferguson returns to face the wilderness that killed his wife.

They started out, and two loons broke the surface of the lake beside them. Jane laid her paddle on her lap and turned her face to the sky.

“Thank you, universe,” she shouted.

The river was calm and dark, reflecting the morning sky. Its banks bristled with fallen trees; one jutted into the water, and Gary steered around it. As they neared the shore, the current picked up speed, and they weren’t able to land.

“Let’s straighten up,” Gary said, thinking they could pull out ahead.

But more fallen trees blocked the shore. They tried to slow down; the river was too high and too fast. Then it turned, and the rapids opened before them, a flood of water dropping down a craggy chute, 75 feet wide, half a mile long.

Students nurture dreams of being farmers in urban Miami-Dade,” by Robert Samuels from The Miami Herald. “Green Acres” isn’t the only place where the city meets the country.

Back in November, friend Carmenta Jacques – whose ambition is to become a top groomer – selected a lamb from a shipment brought to the school. As the lambs pranced through a grassy patch, Carmenta clasped a clipboard and examined each one. About a dozen students were doing the same. “I don’t want to tell my strategy to the competition,” Carmenta said. “But you really want a nice butt.”


Secret Liaisons in the Middle East,” by Michael Luongo from the Utne Reader (via The Browser). An author on a book tour charts gay culture in several Middle Eastern cities.

What I was about to show him were simple things, but illegal to possess in his country. They were Israeli shekels. Khaled was animated as I pulled out the 20-shekel bill, printed on plastic paper, a see-through Star of David on one side. A few coins clanked against the polished wood surface of the table. He held them in his hand, remarking on the material. “Israel is a place I have always wanted to go to” was his thoughtful response, an expression of longing coming over his face. But we were in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, which has been at war with its southern neighbor off and on for decades. He would never be allowed to go there. Even if he found a way, he could face arrest there or on his return home.

The Courage of Jill Costello,” by Chris Ballard from Sports Illustrated (via @jfdulac).

A goofball? Sure, but a dedicated one. As a sophomore Jill went to the DMV and took the test for a Class B license so she could drive the team van, and then she rose at 5:30 a.m. six days a week to pick up rowers for practice. And while most coxes avoid workouts – after all, their only physical requirement is to make weight (110 pounds for women) – Jill joined the team for cardio sessions and training runs. “She’s as good an athlete as I’ve ever had as a coxswain,” says O’Neill.

That’s why no one thought twice about her stomach pain, including Jill. It came as a shock, then, when Linda (Smitty) Smith, the team trainer, told her that Friday after nationals, “Got some bad news, Jill. Turns out your lab tests are out of whack. Your white blood cell count is pretty high. You need to get to an ER, and you need to do it tonight. It’s probably nothing serious, but better safe than sorry.”

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