The Saturday Read – a selection of the best articles of 2015 from Jon Ronson, Oliver Sacks, Kathryn Schulz and Nikil Saval

This week the recommendations for ‘The Saturday Read’ come from journalists who wrote some of the most popular long form articles of the year. Instead of a book, which might seem daunting in the midst of holiday shopping and celebrating, sample the writings of these four storytellers who tackled a range of topics including internet shaming, death, earthquakes and the origins of the white collar worker.

On Wednesday, ‘The Upshot’ covered ‘The Stories That Held You The Longest in 2015’. “We measured the favorite Times articles of 2015 in a new way — by the total combined time readers have spent looking at them. It’s a mix of ambitious investigative projects, big breaking news, features and service journalism.”

Number two on the list first appeared in the February 12, 2015 New York Times Magazine. Written by Jon Ronson, ‘How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life’ tells the story of the world of public ‘internet shaming’ through the experience of its victims.

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“In the early days of Twitter, I was a keen shamer. When newspaper columnists made racist or homophobic statements, I joined the pile-on. Sometimes I led it…

Still, in those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.”

Number ten on the list was an Op-Ed piece by neurologist and writer, Oliver Sachs, ‘My Own Life’, on learning he had terminal cancer.

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“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).”

A New Yorker article received a lot of attention when it first appeared in July. ‘The Really Big One’ was researched and written by contributor, Kathryn Schulz.

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“Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.”

Longreads.com selected their ‘Best of 2015’ which included an excerpt from the book, ‘Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace’. The fifth most popular article was ‘I Would Prefer Not To: The Origins of the White Collar Worker’, written by Nikil Saval.

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“When does the office begin? It’s a question without an easy answer. One can associate the origins with the beginning of paperwork itself—until recently, the most common mental association with office work (think of the derogatory phrase “paper pusher”). In other words, since the invention of writing and the corresponding ability to keep records in a systematic manner, there have always been places that resemble offices: monasteries, libraries, scholars’ studies. Banking furnished an especially large amount of paperwork; the Uffizi, an incomparable gallery of Renaissance art in Florence, was also one of the first office buildings—the bookkeeping offices of the Medici family’s groundbreaking financial operations. Clerks, too, have existed for ages, many of them unclinching themselves from their desks to become quite famous: from Samuel Pepys, the British government diarist who reported on the gossipy world of seventeenth-century England, to Alexander Hamilton, who had cut his teeth as a merchants’ clerk before he became the first secretary of the Treasury of the United States; Benjamin Franklin, paragon of pecuniary restraint and bourgeois self-abnegation, started out as a dry goods clerk in 1727. Perhaps some of the tediousness of Franklin’s own writing was honed in the conditions of his first job: since clerks have had the opportunity to keep diaries, they have bemoaned the sheer boredom of their tasks—the endless copying, the awkward postures, the meaninglessness of their work. When not doing writing for the job, clerks have cultivated the habit of writing about the job—or literally around it…”

 

 

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