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Sitdown Sunday: The 24 deadliest longreads from 2016

Two from every month, just for you to enjoy.

THROUGHOUT 2016, WE’VE brought you seen longreads a week, in Sitdown Sunday – but you might not have caught them all.

So sit back with a cuppa and enjoy two of our favourite longreads from each month of last year.

If you want even more to read, you can check out all of the year’s longreads here.

January

Daisy Ridley Wax Figure Unveiling at Madame Tussauds - London Daisy Ridley's new wax figure, as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is revealed at Madame Tussauds in London. Source: EMPICS Entertainment

Girls explain Star Wars to You

Irish writer Sarah Maria Griffin writes about the transformative experience of watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and seeing a character like Rey – a strong woman in a movie that celebrates the diversity of its cast.

(Scannain, approx 16 mins reading time)

It dawned on me extremely slowly that Rey was, in fact, not a love interest, or a B-Plot. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for a gold-bikini scene. Waiting for her to have been written as all feist, no capability. Waiting for her to give up, already having given up on characters like her written by men a long, long time ago.

Bowie and Me

It was a sad month. First Bowie, then Alan Rickman, both gone. Back in 2013, the Guardian interviewed people who were involved with Bowie’s career, and it’s a fascinating look at how he worked with people.

(The Guardian, approx 23 mins reading time)

He’s an emotional, passionate person who put everything into the music. I’ve seen him in the studio burst out crying after finishing a song – Life On Mars springs to mind. After some gigs, he’d say, “The audience were a bit quiet.” I’d say, “David, they’re staring at you with their mouths open.” He had created this fierce storm, but he was the only one in it. He felt as if everyone was feeding off him, like leeches.

February

They adopted her – but did they kill her? 

Rosario Porto and Alfonso Basterra adopted a baby girl, Asunta Fong Yang, from China. She was a gifted child, who spent her weekends attending classes in everything from French to ballet. But then, at the age of 12, she was found dead.

(The Guardian, approx 30 mins reading time)

By the time she turned 12 in September 2012, Asunta might have been expected to be getting fed up with being, to all appearances, a project child – someone who was determinedly being shaped into a prodigy. Once, when her mother was going through a list of after-school activities in front of acquaintances, the girl snapped: “That’s one that I’m doing because you like it!” But mostly Asunta seemed happy. She was talented, disciplined and enjoyed what she did.

She never came home

In 2005, Pamela Colloff wrote about beauty queen Irene Garza, whose body was pulled from an irrigation canal. The suspect? A priest. Earlier this year, the priest was arrested.

(Texas Monthly, approx 42 mins reading time)

One parishioner noticed Irene make the sign of the cross as she entered the sanctuary. Another parishioner saw her kneeling by herself in a pew on the fifth row. A third remembered Irene asking if she might edge in front of her in the long confession line because she was running late. Some recalled her draping a white lace veil over her head, while others said she had stepped out of line, as if turning to go. Yet no one ever saw her leave the church that night. The next morning, Easter Sunday, her car was still parked down the street from Sacred Heart. Irene never came home.

March

shutterstock_220778029 Source: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

Is sex work just another job?

There is an ongoing debate in many countries – including Ireland – about the decriminalisation of sex work. Here, sex workers in the US talk about their work, detailing how they got into the industry, and the debate on the issue is seen from all sides.

(NY Mag, approx 32 mins reading time)

The debate has highlighted a rift among feminists, pitting two deeply held beliefs against each other. One side argues that women should be free economic agents, capable of making choices in their own self-interest, empowered to own their sexuality and use their bodies however they choose. If Chelsea Lane wants to become a sex worker, why shouldn’t she be allowed to do it legally? Those on the other side believe that the Chelsea Lanes of the world are a tiny fraction of sex workers and that many who “choose” this life are not choosing freely or choosing at all.

Isis’s sex slaves

This much-shared story is about how Isis keeps sex slaves – and keeps them from getting pregnant by forcing them to take birth control pills.

(New York Times, approx 15 mins reading time)

In at least one case, a woman was forced to have an abortion in order to make her available for sex, and others were pressured to do so. Some described how they knew they were about to be sold when they were driven to a hospital to give a urine sample to be tested for the hCG hormone, whose presence indicates pregnancy. They awaited their results with apprehension: A positive test would mean they were carrying their abuser’s child; a negative result would allow Islamic State fighters to continue raping them.

April

The day my partner drowned

Decca Aitkenhead writes with strength, grace and honesty about the death of her partner – the father of her two sons – in a drowning accident in Jamaica. After he died, she had even more tough times to deal with.

(The Guardian, approx 23 mins reading time)

Only then did I register the power of the riptide that had swept Jake off his feet. Beneath an apparently benign surface, an undertow had gathered, like a gigantic magnet on the horizon sucking us out to sea. The force of the current took my breath away. But I am a strong swimmer, and sensed no cause for great alarm as we inched our way to safety. On my back, in the soundless calm, all I could see was blue sky. It didn’t even cross my mind to panic.

 Kevin Barry on Cork

Are we allowed to call Kevin Barry a genius yet? The Irish writer has talent in spades, and this essay about Cork is full of incredible lines.

(Granta, approx 24 mins reading time)

At the very least, the last of this is true: the city of Cork is besotted with itself, and it talks of little else. Quite right, too – it’s a gorgeous place, it’s enormous fun, and it has an operatic atmosphere. By operatic, I mean that its passions are fervently held and fervently debated, and there is a native tendency to melodrama: the hand gestures are near-Italianate. I lived in the city from my early twenties until my early thirties – it is in many ways responsible for the creature that I have become, and I hold no rancour against it for this.

May

Campaign 2016 Melania Trump Source: Patrick Semansky

Who is Melania Trump?

Donald Trump got engaged to Slovenian model Melania Knauss back in 2002. You’ve probably seen a lot of photographs of her, but this profile delves deeper into who Melania is.

(The New Yorker, approx 20 mins reading time)

She has been largely absent from the campaign trail, preferring, she says, to stay at home with Barron, her ten-year-old son with Donald. Lately, she has been appearing more frequently, in the hope of appealing to female voters, who view Trump unfavorably by a ratio of more than three to one. She sticks to a repertoire of stock answers: “He is an amazing negotiator,” “We are both very independent.” She has a jewelry line, a skin-care line (the prize ingredient is French sturgeon eggs), and a thing for the phrase “from A to Z” (“I follow from A to Z,” “I’m from A to Z hands on,” “I’m involved from A to Z with every piece I design”).

Hips and Makers

Irish journalist and editor Sinéad Gleeson writes about childhood illness, religion, Lourdes and inhabiting your body.

(Granta, approx 22 mins reading time)

The body is an afterthought. We don’t stop to think of how the heart is beating its steady rhythm; or watch our metatarsals fan out with every step. Unless it’s involved in pleasure or pain, we pay this moving mass of vessel, blood and bone no mind. The lungs inflate, muscles contract and we have no reason to assume it won’t keep on doing what it does. One day, something changes; a corporeal blip. For me, it happened in the months after turning thirteen: the synovial fluid in my left hip began to evaporate like rain.

June

 What Happened to ‘The Most Liberated Woman in America’?

Barbara Williamson and her husband John set up a free-love commune in the 1970s. Sandstone, situated in the Topanga Canyon, California, offered men and women “a radical, nudist, group-sex commune”.  Journalist Alex Mar speaks to Barbara, 78, about her experiences.

(Atlas Obscura, approx 33 minutes reading time)

No low-slung, hip-riding bell bottoms and tie-dyed T-shirts proclaimed your disdain of the establishment. No military or law-enforcement uniforms declared your allegiance. No thousand-dollar Armani suits or five-hundred-dollar calfskin attaché cases advertised your status as a high-powered banker or attorney. When you shed your public persona and stand naked with a group of other naked people, incredible lightness washes over you. All pretense and game-playing are gone.

The Body on the Moor

Why did a man travel 200 miles to die in the Peak District National Park in Manchester, England? There were no wallet, keys or any clues to his identity when his body was discovered. BBC News examined the investigation.

(BBC News, approx 18 mins reading time)

“I told him there’s not enough daylight for him to get there and back today. He just thanked me and asked me again for the directions, which I repeated to him. And he just set off.”

July

Brexit Source: Daniel Leal-Olivas

Europhobia

You’ve probably wondered about the history of euroscepticism in the UK, and how it led to Brexit. Wonder no more, and give this a read.

(The Guardian, approx 22 mins reading time)

As Robert Tombs, the Cambridge historian and author of The English and Their History, recently put it: “The campaign seems hardly about Europe at all, but it’s all about us and the English identity.” Both of the first two British attempts to join the Common Market were vetoed by Charles de Gaulle, and it was he who also said that all his life he had been inspired by “une certaine idée de la France”. Behind our present turmoil lurks a certain idea of Britain, or of England. We are trying to find our identity.

A town named Snowflake

Kathleen Hale goes to Snowflake, a place in the Arizona desert which offers respite to people who are allergic to – basically – modern life. Hale reflects on the people she meets there, and their wary response to her.

(The Guardian, approx 24 mins reading time, words)

For weeks, Mae and I avoided makeup, lotion, perfume, hair products, scented detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets. We used fragrance-free soap and shampoo, as well as a natural deodorant, which, according to the description on the box, was basically a rock picked off the ground with a cap on it. Despite our best efforts, Deb’s sensitive nose picked up our body odors. For her, we reeked like a Bath and Body Works store flooded with vodka – or as she put it, “floral, with chemical solvents. You’re fragrant.”

August

Japan Disaster Reconstruction Dying pine trees, part of the windbreak forest severely damaged by March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, stand near the Arahama beach in Sendai, northeastern Japan Source: AP/Press Association Images

“I have to keep looking”

In what is surely one of the saddest stories you’ll read all year, this explores the impact of the 2011 tsunami in Japan on families who are still searching for their loved ones. We meet the man who became a diver so he could find his wife, and a mum who sends a lunch into the ocean every day for her daughter.

(New York Times Magazine, approx 32 mins reading time)

On weekends, Hiromi prepared special lunchboxes for Emi that she would deliver into the sea on Sunday. They were packed with Emi’s favorite meals, things like pork soup, Salisbury steak, deep-fried shrimp, all in special boxes that decomposed. She tossed the boxes off boat ramps, piers or rock ledges or set them gently adrift on the water. Always someplace hidden, where no one would see her. She had done this for five years.

The super-recognisers

New Scotland Yard has a small room that’s home to the super-recognisers – people who all “have a preternatural ability to recognise human faces”.

(New Yorker, approx 37 mins reading time)

When the transit police brought the groper case to the super-recognizers, Eliot Porritt, a detective sergeant in the unit, took up the investigation. Porritt, who is thirty-six, is rumpled and cerebral, with a mop of curly black hair. As a boy, he loved watching movies with his father, and found that he could identify actors who had been in other films they’d seen, even in tiny parts. As a police officer—first as a beat cop in Islington, and then working plainclothes on a robbery squad—he discovered that while walking the streets he could spot faces and know, in a flash, who they were, where he had met them, and whether they were criminal suspects.

September

A man with a head transplant plan 

Will it eventually be possible to transplant a person’s head onto a new body? That’s what these audacious scientists believe – and there’s a young man counting on them.

(The Atlantic, approx 38 mins reading time)

More troubling are the rash, unfounded claims he makes about the likelihood of the surgery succeeding, and his habit of promoting his work largely through the media—a practice that most scientists consider unseemly, if not unethical. His critics describe him, on blogs and tech websites, as a “corrupt” and “delusional” liar “with a knife and a mad glitter in his eye.” He “glibly glides past major problems,” they say, with his “Human Centipede–level medical horrorshow.” His plan is insane, “like James Bond villain insane,” and will amount to “an elaborate act of slow torture and murder.”

How to trace a gun

These police officers have one of the toughest jobs in the force. Why is it so tough? Well, they have to trace guns, but they can’t use computers. Good thing that they’re ‘geniuses’…

(GQ, approx 34 mins reading time)

Anytime a cop in any jurisdiction in America wants to connect a gun to its owner, the request for help ends up here, at the National Tracing Center, in a low, flat, boring building that belies its past as an IRS facility, just off state highway 9 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the eastern panhandle of the state, a town of some 17,000 people, a Walmart, a JCPenney, and various dollar stores sucking the life out of a quaint redbrick downtown. On any given day, agents here are running about 1,500 traces; they do about 370,000 a year.

October

Germany Berlin Elections Source: Markus Schreiber

The new star of Germany’s Far Right

Frauke Petry is the leader of the far-right party Alternative fur Deutschland, and she’s a phenomenon. This profile explores who she is and what her popularity means.

(The New Yorker, approx 60 mins reading time)

In April, the Party said that head scarves should be banned in schools and universities, and minarets prohibited. Party members called for a referendum on whether to leave the euro; for the expulsion of Allied troops, who have been stationed in Germany since 1945; and for school curriculums that focus more on “positive, identity-uplifting” episodes in German history and less on Nazi crimes. Most contentious of all was the declaration “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

White nationalist no more

Derek Black was supposed to follow in his Stormfront-creating father’s footsteps and become a white nationalist leader. But then he went to college, and started mixing with the very people he was supposed to hate.

(The Washington Post, approx 33 mins reading time)

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking. It was the only social invitation Derek had received since returning to campus, so he agreed to go. The Shabbat meals had sometimes included eight or 10 students, but this time only a few showed up. “Let’s try to treat him like anyone else,” Matthew remembered instructing them.

November

What Beyoncé taught me

Zadie Smith writes about dance, writing, high art and popular culture as only she can.

(The Guardian, approx 21 mins reading time)

When I write I feel there’s usually a choice to be made between the grounded and the floating. The ground I am thinking of in this case is language as we meet it in its “commonsense” mode. The language of the television, of the supermarket, of the advert, the newspaper, the government, the daily “public” conversation. Some writers like to walk this ground, recreate it, break bits of it off and use it to their advantage, where others barely recognise its existence. Nabokov – a literal aristocrat as well as an aesthetic one – barely ever put a toe upon it. His language is “literary”, far from what we think of as our shared linguistic home.

Watching the World Rot at Europe’s Largest Tech Conference

When the Web Summit moved from Dublin to Lisbon, some wondered how it would go. Sam Kriss from The Atlantic called this year “where humanity rushes towards its extinction”.

For all the usual guff about dynamism and entrepreneurship, it’s clear that Web Summit isn’t really about showcasing new ideas or changing the way anyone does anything. The point is to attract buyouts or investment; this is how so much of the tech industry functions.

December

Venezuela Political Crisis Source: Ariana Cubillos

This essay on the economic crisis in Venezuela is an incredibly difficult read, showing the huge impact it has had on ordinary people, particularly those who are in hospital.

(The New Yorker, approx 53 mins reading time)

I was introduced to a surgeon, who took me outside to speak. We stood under a tin roof, near piles of garbage and a deserted loading dock. The surgeon was bearded, heavyset, nervous. He looked exhausted. He did not want me to know his name, let alone use it. “We have no basic trauma tools,” he said. “Sutures, gloves, pins, plates.” He ran down a list of unavailable medications, including ciprofloxacin, an all-purpose antibiotic, and clindamycin, a cheap antibiotic. The doctors lost surgical patients because they had no adrenaline.

The story of where hair extensions come from

The hair on real hair extensions has to come from somewhere – so Olivia Carville and photographer Mike Scott went to China and tracked how hair goes from the head of a young girl to the head of a woman in New Zealand. It’s a fascinating read.

(NZ Herald, approx 17 mins reading time)

Consumers don’t want to think about the women who grew their hair or the chains of labour that led to it landing on their scalp because, hair trade academics argue, the thought of wearing someone else’s body part is grotesque. We contacted 22 salons across New Zealand that specialise in hair extensions and found demand has almost tripled in the past five years. But not even the hairdressers who work with these products know where they’re coming from.

Want to read more? Check out all of our Sitdown Sunday reads from 2015>

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