Things we like: November 2013

Our monthly rundown of what’s been inspiring/vexing the Mosaic team in long-form storytelling.

You can’t handle the truth (This American Life)

Jon Ronson’s story of secret identities has a brilliant premise, great characters and a killer twist that adds even more intrigue to an already fascinating story.

Inside the National Suicide Hotline: Preventing the Next Tragedy (TIME)

A rare feature on a taboo subject in the media. This has a strong opening and deals with a difficult subject, but several of us were disappointed that the story didn’t go into as much depth on the subject of suicide as we’d hoped. Would it have been better if it had been more clearly framed as a profile of the Lifeline?

We also noted less-than-helpful subheadings and unfortunate auto-placement of links to ‘related’ content.

Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence?(Guardian)

We really enjoyed this from Oliver Burkeman, who turns a profile of an interesting outsider into an exploration of the nature of outsiders in relation to academia. He trails the reader with a sense of mystery, always holding something back: first of what Birnbaum’s book, and idea, are about, then with the elaborate conference — this is where the characters find out what it is all about, and so it’s the same for the reader. Only halfway through does Burkeman explain what Birnbaum’s big idea is.

Burkeman doesn’t tell the reader how to feel about Birnbaum or his ideas — that’s left to you. He manages to conclude in a satisfactory manner without drawing a conclusion on the matter.

The Social Life of Genes (Pacific Standard)

David Dobbs’s fabulous long-read on genetics and the environment unearths some fascinating stories with some lovely turns of phrase, making epigenetics understandable and compelling.

Discussion point: the author introduces himself as a character in the final section – this can sometimes be distracting but it works well here, injecting a bit of humour and a sense of intimacy in having a quiet dinner with the main researcher.

Road Trip! (Vanity Fair)

A crazy, burning-rubber chunk of gonzo journalism. Literally car-crash entertainment. Revels in its excess. Amazing quotes, amazing story. We think it's great.

Discussion point: How on earth would one go about fact-checking this?

Alfonso Cuarón and the Cinematic Precipice

A wonderful 10 minute montage of the work of Alfonso Cuarón, showing the poetry and power of cinematic framing and how much emotion one can convey with a shot, a look, a close-up, a detail.

What have you been reading recently? Do share in the comments.

What have you been reading recently? Do share in the comments.