One of the things about stories is that for them to be interesting, something usually goes wrong. As a result, a large number of the articles, profiles and essays we feature cover unfortunate events, whether recent or recalled from the distant past. This week is no exception, but we can promise that each story is worth a look, and that no one was harmed in the assembly of this post.

Terra Infirma: The rise and fall of quicksand,” by Daniel Engber from Slate (via Arts & Letters Daily). Engber shows how the delicate art of the surprise can make a story.

The fourth-graders were unanimous: Quicksand doesn’t scare them, not one bit. If you’re a 9- or 10-year-old at the P.S. 29 elementary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., you’ve got more pressing concerns: Dragons. Monsters. Big waves at the beach that might separate a girl from her mother. Thirty years ago, quicksand might have sprung up at recess, in pools of discolored asphalt or the dusty corners of the sandbox – step in the wrong place, and you’d die. But not anymore, a boy named Zayd tells me. “I think people used to be afraid of it,” he says. His classmates nod. “It was before we were born,” explains Owen. “Maybe it will come back one day.”

Hit-and-run victim was quiet and dependable,” by Andrew Meacham from the St. Petersburg Times (via @gangrey). A worthwhile story written to counteract deliberate cruelty.

Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn’t stop. Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48. Police have not located the hit-and-run driver. Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith’s death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.

Being Glenn Beck,” by Mark Leibovich from The New York Times (via @longreads). When Leibovich says “you,” he really means him, but he’s so smooth, you buy it.

Beck has a square, boyish face, an alternately plagued and twinkle-eyed demeanor that conjures (when Beck is wearing glasses) the comedian Drew Carey. He is 6-foot-2, which is slightly jarring when you first meet him, because he is all head and doughiness on television; I never thought of Beck as big or small, just as someone who was suddenly ubiquitous and who talked a lot and said some really astonishing things, to a point where it made you wonder – constantly – whether he was being serious.

How To Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina in Granta. Part of an occasional series; see also “How to Write about Pakistan.”

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar,’ ‘Masai,’ ‘Zulu,’ ‘Zambezi,’ ‘Congo,’ ‘Nile,’ ‘Big,’ ‘Sky,’ ‘Shadow,’ ‘Drum,’ ‘Sun,’ or ‘Bygone.’ Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas,’ ‘Timeless,’ ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal.’ Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Vertigo,” by Chris Jones from Esquire (via @gangrey). Jones’ latest is in part a mash note to Penelope Cruz, as he gets a sense of what it feels like to be newlywed Javier Bardem – which goes to show that Jones could probably write out your address book and make it interesting.

Night is day and day is night, and Javier Bardem is sitting here, at a strangely pitched angle, occasionally slipping into a scary voice and inquiring about the central place that Clarke’s nucleus occupies in his existence. I might as well be on the moon playing cards with a giraffe.

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