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Sitdown Sunday: The 20 deadliest reads from 2014

The very best of the year’s writing from around the web.

IT’S BEEN A year of great longreads – but you might not have caught them all.

So sit back with a cuppa, now that you have the time to savour longer reads, and enjoy our favourite longreads from each month of 2014, plus a bonus eight.

January

Terrorst Confession Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is shown in this photo obtained Saturday, Jan. 26, 2002 Source: AP/Press Association Images

The last days of Daniel Pearl

Asra Q Nomani was a close friend of Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded in 20o2. Here, she writes about the Daniel she knew, what happened after he was kidnapped, and what it was like to meet the man who said he had killed him.

(The Washingtonian – approx 37 minutes reading time, 7542 words)

That they would keep him for days and then release strange and confusing ransom notes alternately identifying him as a CIA operative and a reporter and showing photos of him in a striped tracksuit, bound and with his head bowed beneath the barrel of a gun.

February

Being gay in Russia

Jeff Sharlet journeys underground in Russia, to forbidden gay clubs and places where people are in danger because of their sexuality. Being gay in Russia means you are always under threat.

(GQ – approx 38 minutes reading time, 7641 words)

In May, a 23-year-old man in Volgograd allegedly came out to a group of friends, who raped him with beer bottles and smashed his skull in with a stone; and in June a group of friends in Kamchatka kicked and stabbed to death a 39-year-old gay man, then burned the body.

March

Triple homicide

Susan Zalkind worked with This American Life to bring us the story that connects the Boston bombing suspect Tamerlin Tsarnaev and the murder of three men in 2011. (Contains some images that people might find disturbing)

(Boston Magazine – approx 39 minutes reading time, 7980 words)

On September 12, she returned unexpectedly from Florida—most of Brendan’s friends were under the impression that she wasn’t coming back—and after she couldn’t reach Brendan on her cell phone, she showed up at the apartment and asked the landlord to open the door. The bodies were inside.

April

NY Premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street Source: AP/Press Association Images

 Wolf Hunters of Wall Street

Michael Lewis takes a long look at the US financial markets, specifically high frequency traders. He believes that the market is rigged by these people – and a day after his book was released, the FBI announced an investigation into this type of trading.

(New York Times, approx 56 minutes reading time, 11,202 words)

Right away he saw that, even though his friend was using software supplied to him by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other big firms, he was experiencing exactly the same problem as RBC: He would hit a button to buy or sell a stock, and the market would move away from him.

May

The life of Jean McConville

Susan McKay looks at the life of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 who was dragged from her home by an IRA gang and murdered in 1972.

(London Review of Books, approx 22 minutes reading time, 4584 words)

By the age of 32, Jean had carried 14 children to term; four of them had died in infancy and one was brain-damaged. ‘I don’t know how my mother coped,’ Helen says. ‘It was blood, sweat and tears. Little red books to get food on tick at the shop till pay day…’

June

My husband’s death

Art critic Tom Lubbock was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2008. In a tragic irony, it attacked the language centre of his brain. His wife, artist Marion Coutts, writes about life leading up to his death.

(The Guardian, approx 23 minutes reading time, 4742 words)

To make sense of what is happening, we need to say it aloud. Only then will we hear the news mouthed back by others and reshaped into words – ohs and ahs, expletives, and long out-breaths.

July

Cycling - Lance Armstrong Filer Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Lance Amstrong fell from grace in a most spectacular way. To find out what life is like for him now, John H Richardson goes to meet him in his mansion.

(Esquire, approx 40 minutes reading time, 8180 words)

While the food cooks, Armstrong lounges—on this Sunday afternoon in Austin, the sun is bright and the temperature cool—watching a toddler in a Supergirl outfit wrestle his youngest son to the grass. Life is good, he insists.

August

Edward Snowden is the most wanted man in the world. This profile by James Bamford took nine months to set up, and is a fascinating read.

(Wired, approx 36 minutes reading time, 7384 words)

I confess to feeling some kinship with Snowden. Like him, I was assigned to a National Security Agency unit in Hawaii—in my case, as part of three years of active duty in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Then, as a reservist in law school, I blew the whistle on the NSA when I stumbled across a program that involved illegally eavesdropping on US citizens.

September

Dr Rebecca Gomperts is the woman behind Women on Waves, which attempted to bring an ‘abortion ship’ to Ireland. Now, she’s behind Women on Web, which sells tablets online to women who want to end their pregnancy in the first trimester. Emily Bazelon looks at the controversy around this.

(New York Times, approx 38 minutes reading time, 7611 words)

She said she was “interested in finding the blind spots of the law.” She liked upending the system. “I enjoy that,” she said. “If I was interested in money, I’d have a company in the Cayman Islands, getting all the tax deductions I could to get rich.”
October

Homeless Picnic Source: AP/Press Association Images

Every evening, people go to Cork Simon’s soup run for food. But they’re not all homeless, and their stories are heartbreaking.

(TheJournal.ie, approx 9 mins reading time, 1860 words)

Right now I work in part time job; it is not enough hours to pay for everything. That is why I am broke. He gestures to his friends. “People like me come in here. If I have the money I can make the shopping. Right now I am broke.”

November

A fascinating tale of art fraud and deception is the subject of Tim Burton’s new film, Big Eyes. Jon Ronson finds out the true story.

(The Guardian, 16 mins reading time, approx 3324 words)

“He had me sitting in a corner,” she tells me, “and he was over there, talking, selling paintings, when somebody walked over to me and said: ‘Do you paint too?’ And I suddenly thought – just horrible shock – ‘Is he taking credit for my paintings?’”

December

On 1 January this year, two men lost their lives on a stretch of road in Co Mayo. This series by Peter Murtagh tells the story of what happened.

(Irish Times, 23 mins reading time, 4695 words)

Scully’s girlfriend, Lorraine Devlin – she called him Skull; he called her Lo Lo – had been getting worried as midnight approached, fretting that he wouldn’t take time to pause from the hectic round of ferrying people here and there. She wanted them to be together as 2013 grew into 2014.

Bonus reads

Uruguay Costa Rica Soccer Luis Suarez Source: AP/Press Association Images

1. Suarez story

When Luis Suarez bit a player during a World Cup game, it was the latest bit of bizarre acting out he did on the pitch. As people struggle to understand his actions, Dónal Óg Cusack looks at how Suarez’s tough life may have contributed to his behaviour.

(The Irish Examiner, approx 29 minutes reading time, 5949 words)

They call it Picardía. We call it being a cute hoor. There’s a thin line between being celebrated as a cute hoor and being convicted as something else. You learn that too late.

2. Wimaweh

In 2000, Rian Malan told the story of a song many of us will know as ‘Wimaweh’, or ‘In the Jungle’. He traces its history back to 1939, when it was written by a man called Solomon Linda… who died a pauper despite the popularity of his composition.

(Rolling Stone – approx 53 minutes reading time, 10793 words)

It was in the nature of this transaction that black men gave more than they got and often ended up with nothing.

3. A life on Twitter

Jennifer Mendelsohn investigates the story of Amanda, known on Twitter as @trappedatmydesk, who tweeted about her impending death from a malignant brain tumour. But was she a real person – or a fake?

Medium – approx 19 minutes reading time, 3842 words)

Searching legacy.com turns up not a single Amanda who died in Canada in the last year who might be her. Nor is there an obituary for an Amanda with a brother named James. Perhaps she used a pseudonym. Except that there are no matching obits from Canada for a young woman dying of cancer on April 14 or April 15 of 2013.

CORRECTION Obit Hoffman Philip Seymour Hoffman Source: AP/Press Association Images

4. RIP Philip

Philip Seymour Hoffman died last week. This profile by Lynn Hirschberg back in 2008 looks at his incredible talent and versatility.

(New York Times – approx 36 minutes reading time, 7205 words)

It’s such an obvious metaphor, but Phil has a protective cocoon that he sheds very slowly. It takes him a while to make friends with his environment. And yet you know the men he plays the minute you meet them.”

5. Menstrual man

Vibeke Venema tells the remarkable story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian school dropout who went on to invent cheap, life-saving sanitary pads.

(BBC – approx 15 minutes reading time, 3151 words)

When he asked her why she didn’t use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Literature - Author Sue Townsend Author and Sunday Times columnist Sue Townsend, most famous for her Adrian Mole series of books. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

6. Diary of a mum on welfare

In 1989, the late Sue Townsend – author of the Adrian Mole books – wrote about her time as a young mother depending on social welfare in England. This heartbreaking story looks at one day when she scoured the streets for money to buy food for her children with.

(The Guardian, approx 11 minutes reading time, 2328 words)

Most of the people in the waiting room were ushered out. Others, desperate like me, stayed – explaining – some in tears, others shouting, that they hadn’t eaten, had nowhere to stay. It was bedlam. My children were hot and thirsty. Could I give them a glass of water? “No,” the office was now closed.

7. Harming baby

Giving birth to a baby is not necessarily a happy time – for some women, it is a frightening and unfamiliar time, due to the onset of maternal mental illness. Pam Belluck takes a sensitive look at this pertinent issue.

(New York Times, approx minutes reading time, words)

In the year after giving birth, studies suggest, at least one in eight and as many as one in five women develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a combination.

8. Death and beauty

Leave it to Irish writer Tóibín to deftly get to the kernel of what grief is, and how it is explored throughout literature.

(The Guardian, approx 21 mins reading time, 4232 words)

In the preface to her book Grief Lessons, translations of four plays by Euripides, Anne Carson muses on grief. “Why does tragedy exist?” she asks. And then replies: “Because you are full of rage.” Then she asks: “Why are you full of rage?” The answer is: “Because you are full of grief…

Catch up on all of this year’s Sitdown Sunday reads>

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