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Sitdown Sunday: The 24 deadliest reads from 2015

Two from every month, just for you to enjoy.

IT’S BEEN A year of great longreads – 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 2015. If you want even more to read, you can check out all of the year’s longreads here.

January

download (47) Source: Shutterstock/Julia Ivantsova

Geraldine Largay was an accomplished hiker. So how did she disappear without a trace in a woods in Maine?

(Boston Globe, approx 22 mins reading time)

There was a chill in the air, and Gerry was wearing a bright red fleece. She was absolutely beaming — so much so, in fact, that Rust asked if she could take her picture. “It’ll make the perfect Christmas card,” she told her new friend. Gerry mugged for the camera, waved goodbye, and then turned toward the same challenging half mile of trail Rust and Clark had traversed the previous day. A few seconds later, they watched Gerry disappear into the heavy foliage.

We have countless websites and apps at our behest, but are they in fact making us less efficient? That’s what Daniel J Levitin – a neuroscientist, no less – believes.

(The Guardian, approx 19 mins reading time)

Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.

February

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The legendary Joni Mitchell hardly needs an introduction. It’s incredible to look back at her career, but sad to read about the tough times she’s had in recent years.

(NY Mag, approx 21 mins reading time)

Now 71, Mitchell has been ill for eight years, which she describes as a “survival blur.” In fact, she’s been sick throughout her whole life — polio, scarlet fever, dengue, abscessed ovaries — and now suffers from the skin disorder Morgellons, a “weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space,” which many doctors find mysterious

Jon Ronson meets Justine Sacco, who infamously sent a tweet that turned her into an instantly reviled person. But was she just misunderstood?

(NY Times, approx 25 mins reading time)

She chuckled to herself as she pressed send on this last one, then wandered around Heathrow’s international terminal for half an hour, sporadically checking her phone. No one replied, which didn’t surprise her. She had only 170 Twitter followers.

March

download (48) Source: AP/Press Association Images

Kerri Rawson was an adult when she discovered that her father was the infamous BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Killer. Here is her story.

(Wichita Eagle, approx 23 mins reading time)

Other cops had just arrested Dennis Rader as he was driving home for lunch, pinning him on the pavement as they cuffed him. Around Wichita, officers were picking up Rader’s family and friends for questioning. At the police station, Paula defended her husband. Had she ever noticed anything unusual? No.

Jean McConville ‘disappeared’ in December 1972. Gerry Adams has repeatedly said he was not a member of the IRA. This essay looks at both situations.

(New Yorker, approx 80 mins reading time)

For all the gnawing irresolution, there was one clear explanation. Michael’s sister Susan, who was eight when Jean was taken, told me that she knew, eventually, that her mother was dead, because otherwise “she would have found her way back to us.”

April

download (49) In this Thursday April 12, 2012 file photo, Beatrice Munyenyezi leaves federal court in Concord, N.H Source: AP/Press Association Images

Beatrice Munyenyezi told her neighbours in New Hampshire that she was a Rwandan refugee, having escaped the genocide there. But the truth was even darker than that.

(Boston Magazine, approx 30 mins reading time)

In her memoir, which was never published, Munyenyezi described surviving a Tutsi attack on her village in 1990, and claimed she had witnessed Tutsis massacring thousands of Hutus in the lead-up to April 1994, when the tables turned and Hutus began slaughtering Tutsis. She wrote of surviving the “100 days of genocide,” and then fleeing Rwanda for America.

Controversy and family

Sally Mann’s photographs of her children were featured in a New York Magazine article, and labelled ‘disturbing’. But to her mind, she was only documenting life in their remote farm. Now, she reflects on the media storm.

(New York Magazine, approx 29 mins reading time)

I was blindsided by the controversy. It occasionally felt as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick. I thought my relative obscurity and geographic isolation would shield me, and I was initially unprepared to respond to the attention in any cogent way

May

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We all know Katie Hopkins’ name – and that’s how she likes it. But how did the talented student end up becoming one of the most hated women in Britain?

(Buzzfeed, approx 16 mins reading time)

People who knew Hopkins at the Stella Maris Catholic convent school in Bideford, Devon, say she was competitive, likeable, and above all driven – a word that crops up again and again. One woman who knew her at the age of 12 told BuzzFeed News that Hopkins was “very bright”, came from a “very ordinary family”, and was “popular and fun to be with”. Hopkins used to tease schoolmates who spoke in a posh accent, she said.

This utterly absorbing – and totally bizarre – profile of Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashians, is an incredible read.

(New York Times, approx 24 mins reading time)

On the 18th-century Italian table in the foyer of Kris Jenner’s house lay a pile of nondisclosure agreements, ready for anyone who enters to sign. On the floor was a small framed sign that states: “What we say here, what we see here, let it stay here, when we leave here.” Cameras, however, have been installed in the ceiling above. At any given moment, there are one or two cameras on some combination of Kardashians and Jenners.

June

download (51) Source: AP/Press Association Images

There has been a lot of talk about the athletics coach Alberto Salazar, and allegations about use of certain substances. This article sees former team members talking about their experiences with him.

(Pro Publica, approx 31 mins reading time)

Over the last decade, a huge portion of the most promising pro distance runners in America have been in Salazar’s charge, from Dathan Ritzenhein, the third fastest American marathoner ever, who held the American 5K record in 2009 and 2010; to Alan Webb,  who holds the American mile record of 3:46. Salazar was able to entice some of these athletes not just with his name, but with all that Nike’s budget could provide: specialized coaches for strength and conditioning and sports psychology, masseuses, personalized lab tests, altitude tents, a “Space Cabin” cryo-chamber, even an underwater treadmill.

They were responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, but the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 have also taken part in a huge amount of classified and deadly attacks. Here’s a look into their secret history.

(New York Times, approx 41 mins reading time)

Almost everything about SEAL Team 6, a classified Special Operations unit, is shrouded in secrecy — the Pentagon does not even publicly acknowledge that name — though some of its exploits have emerged in largely admiring accounts in recent years. But an examination of Team 6’s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale.

July

download (52) Source: P/Press Association Images

Their children have been kidnapped by terrorists – and in some cases killed by them – and they are desperate for help. But it doesn’t always come from those with the power to help them.

(New Yorker, approx 105 mins reading time)

The Foleys believed that the Syrian government was holding their son, and in January, 2013, they publicly called for his release. Bradley wrote a note to Diane offering to help. Initially, she thought it unnecessary. Philip Balboni had hired Kroll, the investigations and security-consulting firm, and the F.B.I. was also on the case, so the Foleys felt that they were in good hands. By spring, however, their opinion had changed, especially of officials at the bureau.

Holly Madison has written a memoir about her time living at the Playboy Mansion. And it transpires that behind the smiles, there were many, many dark moments.

(Buzzfeed, approx 17 mins reading time)

In the whole transactional experience, there hadn’t been any discussion about whether she wanted to have sex with Hefner. Does she consider it to be nonconsensual when she looks back on it? “I think everybody just assumed because I was there and making it clear that I wanted to be a girlfriend that I knew something went on,” Madison said. “And I knew something went on. I’m not stupid. But none of the girls would ever really admit to it or talk about it.”

August

download (53) Jennifer Pan being interviewed by police Source: Buzariel Videos

Jennifer Pan’s parents were Hong Kong immigrants who wanted – and expected – the best from their children. But Jennifer didn’t live up to their standards, and began lying about her life. Then, she decided the only thing she could do was have them killed.

(Toronto Life, approx 27 mins reading time)

As graduation from Grade 8 loomed, Jennifer expected to be named valedictorian and to collect a handful of medals for her academic achievements. But she received none, and she wasn’t named valedictorian. She was stunned. What was the point in trying if no one acknowledged your efforts? And yet, instead of expressing her devastation, she told anyone who asked that she was perfectly fine—something she called her “happy mask.”

In 1943, Harpers covered the story of Herman W Mudgett (aka H H Holmes), the serial killer who operated in Chicago. He was the first documented serial killer – and although he confessed to killing 27 people, the body count might actually reach in excess of 200.

(Harpers, approx 34 mins reading time)

If ever a house was haunted, that one on Chicago’s South Side should have been. To this day, fifty years later, nobody knows precisely how many persons were murdered in it. Estimates range from twenty to a couple of hundred. Most, if not all, were women. It is believed that they were chloroformed, gassed, strangled, or perhaps beaten to death. Their bodies were destroyed in cellar pits containing quicklime and acids.

September

download (54) The Louisiana Superdome Source: Associated Press

10 years after Hurricane Katrina, ESPN journeyed to New Orleans to meet the survivors left behind.

(ESPN, approx 132 mins reading time)

“For those of us who were here, it was a deeply emotional, deeply personal, painful experience,” he says. “I mean, it was hard. But we were in a near-death environment, so we didn’t really have time to process it. We literally had to get out of harm’s way so that we could stay alive. Then we immediately had to start rebuilding. And I’m not sure that a lot of us have had a chance to process it.”

The ace writer David Sedaris got a FitBit, and found that it just made him (because of his competitive nature) walk and walk. And luckily for him, this helped him discover more about the world around him.

(Independent, approx 20 mins reading time)

During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, 12,000 steps, I’d go out for another 3,000. ”But why?” my boyfriend Hugh asked when I told him about it. “Why isn’t 12,000 enough?” ”Because,” I told him, “my Fitbit thinks I can do better.”

October

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You’ve never heard of Karl Martin Sandberg – but you know loads of his songs. He has written pop songs for Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, David Guetta and more, under the pseudonym Max Martin. Here’s the incredible story of the people behind the hits.

(The Atlantic, approx 20 mins reading time)

Millions of Swifties and KatyCats—as well as Beliebers, Barbz, and Selenators, and the Rihanna Navy—would be stunned by the revelation that a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits. It is an open yet closely guarded secret, protected jealously by the labels and the performers themselves, whose identities are as carefully constructed as their songs and dances.

Nobody knows how many bodies there are on Everest, only that they all met a tragic end. But what can be done with them?

(BBC, approx 27 mins reading time)

Perhaps most well-known of all are the remains of Tsewang Paljor, a young Indian climber who lost his life in the infamous 1996 blizzard. For nearly 20 years, Paljor’s body – popularly known as Green Boots, for the neon footwear he was wearing when he died – has rested near the summit of Everest’s north side. When snow cover is light, climbers have had to step over Paljor’s extended legs on their way to and from the peak.

November

download (56) Source: P/Press Association Images

Salvador Alvarenga went fishing off the coast of Mexico, but got lost in a storm and disappeared. It turned out that for over a year, he had managed to survive while lost at sea. This is his incredible story.

(The Guardian, approx 24 mins reading time)

Dark clouds stalked overhead, and after days of drinking urine and turtle blood, and nearly dying of thirst, a storm finally bore down on the men. They opened their mouths to the falling rain, stripped off their clothes and showered in a glorious deluge of fresh water. Within an hour, the bucket had an inch, then two inches of water. The men laughed and drank every couple of minutes.

Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the family that runs the Westboro Baptist Church. She believed AIDs was a curse sent by God, she picketed the funerals of gay men, and used the internet to spread the church’s message. Then Twitter introduced her to a new world.

(New Yorker, approx 53 mins reading time)

The children of Westboro attended Topeka public schools, and Phelps-Roper ran track, listened to Sublime CDs, and read Stephen King novels. If you knew the truth in your heart, Westboro believed, even the filthiest products of pop culture couldn’t defile you. She was friendly with her classmates and her teachers, but viewed them with extreme suspicion—she knew that they were either intentionally evil or deluded by God.

December

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Enya is one of Ireland’s most famous singers, but rarely do you get a glimpse into her personal life. Buzzfeed (lucky them) got to visit her in her Manderley estate, and here’s what they discovered.

(Buzzfeed, approx 30 mins reading time)

There are no photos of Enya in pants, or without the makeup that emphasizes her alabaster skin and dark, pooling eyes. Her look, like her sound, is markedly different from the norms of musical celebrity: her pitch black hair trimmed short, her clothes Arthurian. On her album covers, Enya’s always posed against a backdrop of nature or old regency; the cover of her 1988 breakthrough album Watermark renders her the subject of an impressionist painting.

Could new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, usher in a new era for the country? This article tracks his first weeks in the job, and the transition into the big role.

(New York Times, approx 24 mins reading time)

‘‘People in the street will either call me ‘Prime Minister’ or ‘Justin,’ ’’ Trudeau said. ‘‘We’ll see how that goes. But when I’m working, when I’m with my staff in public, I’m ‘Prime Minister.’ I say that if we’re drinking beer out of a bottle, and you can see my tattoos, you should be comfortable calling me ‘Justin.’ ’’

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

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