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Sitdown Sunday: The 20 deadliest reads of 2013

It’s been a year of great writing. Here’s the very best from around the web.

Image: Tea and a book via Shutterstock

THIS HAS BEEN the second full year of Sitdown Sundays, and we’ve seen our readership grow and grow.

While it’s been a pleasure sourcing the great reads every week, it has also been a pleasure to read your comments and see what pieces have been your favourites.

Here are our favourite longreads from each month of 2013, plus a further eight to give you even more reading while you’re relishing the Christmas holidays.

All you have to do now is pick a comfy chair, sit back with a cuppa and savour the following reads.

January

1. The entertaining thief

Adam Green spends some time with Apollo Robbins, the pickpocket extraordinaire who has specialists studying what his methods reveal about the nature of human attention.

(The New Yorker – approx 42 minutes reading time – 8561 words)

Robbins works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side of the law. “You have to ask yourself one question,” he often says as he holds up a wallet or a watch that he has just swiped. “Am I being paid enough to give it back?”

February

2. Stuck in time

Mike Dash details the amazing story of a Russian family who lived in complete isolation for 40 years, never knowing that World War II had come and gone.

(Smithsonian, approx 17 minutes reading time – 3417 words)

The sight that greeted the geologists as they entered the cabin was like something from the middle ages. Jerry-built from whatever materials came to hand, the dwelling was not much more than a burrow – “a low, soot-blackened log kennel that was as cold as a cellar,” with a floor consisting of potato peel and pine-nut shells.

March

3. The unknown camps

Eric Lichyblau profiles the work of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the thousands of previously unknown Nazi ghettos and camps that they’ve uncovered.

(The New York Times, approx 5 minutes reading time – 1193 words)

Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising.

April

4. Life online

Amy O’Leary meets Jenna Marbles, a real-life, modern-day YouTube sensation whose videos are watched by millions.

(The New York Times, approx 12 minutes reading time – 2522 words)

On a bright Monday this winter, Ms. Mourey allowed the rare reporter inside her rented $1.1 million Santa Monica town house. The décor could be called contemporary teenage mess. Pizza boxes and a parking ticket littered the countertop. A fruit bowl held two bananas, turned solid black. Nerf darts spilled across the floor. A lonely dart clung to a high window, just out of reach. Any chaos in her daily life, however, sits neatly out of frame.

May

5. The Landsdowne Road Riot

TheScore.ie staff tell the riveting story of what happened on 15 February 1995, when a riot broke out during an Ireland-England friendly at Landsdowne Road.

(TheScore.ie, approx 16 minutes reading time – 3272 words)

I was 12 at the time and was quite scared when it all kicked off. The hardest thing was knowing people in that section of the stadium and not knowing if they were okay or not. This was well before mobile phones were everywhere so it wasn’t until they got back home that you were able to find out if they were unhurt.

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Brittny Griner (right). Pic: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

June

6. Power and talent

Kate Fagan introduces us to the world’s most famous female basketball player, the 6ft 8 Brittney Griner.  The uber-talented 22-year-old doesn’t care about what others think of her – and is refreshingly frank about the fact she won’t change who she is for anybody.

(ESPN,  approx 19 minutes reading time – 3951 words)

“I am 100-percent happy,” she says. “When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out. It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”

July

7. Fighting fire

Jaime Joyce looks at the prison inmates who died fighting the Dude Fire in Arizona in 1990, and the families who struggled for justice in the wake of their deaths. What motivated the men to take on the challenge – and what happened when they could fight the fire no more?

(The Big Round Table, approx 50 minutes reading time – 10,164 words)

Heart attacks and burnover—in which fire overcomes a crew, forcing them to take cover in portable fire shelters until the flames pass—are among the most common causes of death, the former brought on by extreme physical exertion. But the inmates weren’t focused on that. They considered it a privilege to fight fire, and a spot on the crew was coveted.

August

8. Mind memories

Bonnie Wertheim meets David Hilfiker, who writes a blog about Alzheimer’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in September of last year. He chronicles the decline of his mental state.

(Mashable, approx 26 minutes reading time – 2288 words)

Kris felt a responsibility toward other Alzheimer’s sufferers: to change the conversation about the disease by putting a new face on it. “I did not realize what a stigma there was about this disease,” Kris tells me. “I’d known people who had this disease before, but I never really thought about it as anything other than a disease, until people started treating me differently. I knew I needed to educate people.”

September

9. Oral history of the Bank Guarantee

Hugh O’Connell and a number of other TheJournal.ie staff contributed to an oral history of the Bank Guarantee, with the five-year anniversary being marked on 30 September this year. It’s the story behind the story.

(TheJournal.ie, approx 36 minutes reading time – 7312 words)

“I remember thinking: ‘This guy is shorting Anglo’. Again, he didn’t predict Anglo was going to go bust but he predicted the share price could fall by €10 and that’s what he was doing. I remember finding that quite frightening. This guy owed €400-500 million… to various banks, not just Anglo.”

October

10. Twitter wars

Nick Bilton looks at the story behind Twitter: the myths that surround how it was started, the fractious relationships that emerged as it became more successful, and how exactly it managed to become a start-up that made millions.

(New York Times - 30 approx minutes reading time, 6188 words)

In the Valley, these tales are called “the Creation Myth” because, while based on a true story, they exclude all the turmoil and occasional back stabbing that comes with founding a tech company. And while all origin stories contain some exaggerations, Twitter’s is cobbled together from an uncommon number of them.

November

11. Beneath New York’s streets

William Langewiesche meets three men who work beneath New York’s streets: A subway worker, an engineer in charge of three huge projects, and an underground explorer.

(Vanity Fair– approx 43 minutes reading time, 8673 words)

I asked Duncan if he knows what they thought of him when he first showed up, and he said, “They thought I was a curious, geeky kid. But many times, especially in that tunnel, I’d see someone in the distance and he’d see me, and we’d go in opposite directions in fear that the other person was either a cop or a crazy psycho killer. But most people in New York aren’t crazy psycho killers, homeless or not”

December

12. Girls and video games

Tracey Lien examines the gender stereotypes regarding toys, and particularly video games. Why are games aimed at girls pink and fluffy? And why do less girls play the games than boys?

(Polygon – approx 31 minutes reading time, 6362 words)

Most “girls’ sections,” if they exist, are lined with fitness titles and Ubisoft’s simplified career simulation series, Imagine, which lets players pretend they’re doctors, teachers, gymnasts and babysitters. As for the boys section — there isn’t one. Everything else is for boys.

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Nirvana. Pic: Starfile/All Action/EMPICS Entertainment

We couldn’t leave out these eight other longreads:

13. Fighting with wire

Clay Tarver meets Jason Everman, one-time member of seminal grunge band Nirvana. After getting kicked out, he went and did something a little unexpected – he became an elite member of the US Army Special Forces.

(New York Times, approx 24 minutes reading time – 4,855 words)

In Everman’s cabin, I saw medal after medal, including the coveted Combat Infantryman Badge. “Sounds kind of Boy Scouty,” he said. “But it’s actually something cool.” I saw photos of Everman in fatigues on a warship (“an antipiracy operation in Asia”). A shot of Everman with Donald Rumsfeld. Another with Gen Stanley A McChrystal. And that’s when it hit me. Jason Everman had finally become a rock star.

14. The truth in between

Jay Caspian Kang writes about Reddit, and its role in wrongly ‘unmasking’ one of the Boston bombers – who turned out to actually be a young man who had taken his own life. He asks, should the hugely popular website be blamed for the spreading of a smear?

(New York Times, approx 31 minutes reading time – 6365 words)

Minutes after the world first saw the suspects’ photos, a user on Reddit, the online community that is also one of the largest Web sites in the world, posted side-by-side pictures comparing Sunil’s facial features with the face that would later be identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

15. Disappear here

Kirstie Clements, the former editor of Australian Vogue, writes about a culture that leads to models eating tissues to stay full, and taking other drastic steps to remain ultra-thin.

(The Guardian, approx 11 minutes reading time – 2242 words)

When I first began dealing with models in the late 1980s we were generally drawing from a pool of local girls, who were naturally willowy and slim, had glowing skin, shiny hair and loads of energy. They ate lunch, sparingly for sure, but they ate. They were not skin and bones.

16. Experiencing the ‘experiencers’

Ralph Blumenthal was invited to the annual meeting of “seemingly ordinary folk with extraordinary stories” – those who believed they had been abducted by aliens. These are the stories he was told.

(Vanity Fair, approx 22 minutes reading time - 5,565 words)

She had gathered them to compare experiences as, well, ‘experiencers,’ a term they prefer to ‘abductees,’ and to socialize free of stigma among peers. Cuvelier, an elegant and garrulous woman in her 70s, isn’t one of them. But she remembers as a teen in the 1940s hearing her father, Rear Admiral Donald James Ramsey, a World War II hero, muttering about strange flying craft that hovered and streaked off at unimaginable speed, and she’s been an avid ufologist ever since.

17. Finding my mother in the Amazon

William Kremer tells the incredible story of David Good, whose father was from the US and mother was a member of an Amazonian tribe.

(BBC News, approx 30 minutes reading time – 6042 words)

It was as a graduate student of Chagnon’s that David Good’s father, Kenneth Good, first travelled to the Amazon in 1975. He travelled up the Orinoco past the Guajaribo Rapids, just as his son did 36 years later. He made his home in a little hut a short distance from the Hasupuweteri. The plan was to stay for 15 months of fieldwork, measuring the animal protein intake of all the village members.

18. Nuclear truth

Will Storr delves into the story of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who was poisoned at the age of 43. Storr details what occurred after the poison was slipped into Litvinenko’s tea one afternoon, and why someone wanted to kill him.

(Matter, approx 44 minutes reading time – 8893 words)

That muscular grip alerted Henry to a potential problem in the diagnosis. How could Litvinenko be so physically strong? Why wasn’t his energy dissolving away? Goldfarb showed the full toxicology report to Henry. “It says here that the level of thallium is elevated, but only three times over the norm,” Henry said. “This is too low to account for the symptoms.”

19. Always looking

Megan Nolan writes about her teenage years and the trials and tribulations of always wanting to be a slightly different version of herself.

(Siren Magazine, approx 7 minutes reading time, 1445 words)

When I looked at the book again recently, before writing this article, I immediately remembered the weak relief of being addressed as a fat, lazy slob. When you think these things about yourself repetitively, it comes as an almost exhilarating release when a third party confirms it for you. I hated the book and I hated myself for buying the book, and I especially hated that I had used profit reaped from the use of my brain to invest in this vanity.

20. Football for life

Amos Barshad writes about Israel’s football league. In a country where teams have political affiliations, the players that are signed can have an impact both on and off the pitch.

(Grantland, approx 40 minutes reading time, 8040 words)

On the last Saturday in January, with most of Israel shut down for Shabbat, Beitar Jerusalem FC – the only soccer team in the Israeli Premier League to have never signed an Arab player – announced that it had picked up two Muslim players from Chechnya: Dzhabrail Kadiyev, 19, and Zaur Sadayev, 23. The first response from fans was nonviolent but brutal: At the team’s next match, members of Beitar’s proudly racist ultras group La Familia unfurled a giant yellow banner in Teddy Stadium’s Eastern grandstand. It read, in a surreal echo of Nazi terminology: “Beitar Will Be Pure Forever.” The next response was arson.

Want to share your favourite longreads from 2013? Tell us what they are in the comments.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

The Sports Pages – the best sports writing collected every week by TheScore.ie >

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