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Return to River Town

A writer returns to Fuling, China more than a decade after he lived there as a Peace Corps volunteer. He witnesses major changes:

"The writer’s vanity likes to imagine permanence, but Fuling reminds me that words are quicksilver. Their meaning changes with every age, every perspective—it’s like the White Crane Ridge, whose inscriptions have a different significance now that they appear in an underwater museum. Today anybody who reads River Town knows that China has become economically powerful and that the Three Gorges Dam is completed, and this changes the story. And I’ll never know what the Fuling residents of 1998 would have thought of the book, because those people have also been transformed. There’s a new confidence to urban Chinese; the outside world seems much less remote and threatening. And life has moved so fast that even the 1990s feels as nostalgic as a black-and-white photo. Recently Emily sent me an email: 'With a distance of time, everything in the book turns out to be charming, even the dirty, tired flowers.'"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4286 words)

Dr. Don

A Longreads Guest Pick from E.A. Mann, an engineer and freelance writer living in Warren, R.I.:

I've read just about every issue of The New Yorker for the past seven years, and despite all of the big, important journalism I've read in those pages, this minor-key piece about a small town druggist has resonated deepest with me. As readers, we bring our pre-conceived ideas of what an article will be, and I assumed that this character study would pull back its camera and end as a commentary on the state of healthcare in America. But its author, entranced by his subject, instead burrows deeply into Dr. Don's outsized life in the lonely town of Nucla (population: 700 and falling), where the lonely landscape causes 'wives [to] leave the passenger's side empty and sit in the middle of the front seat, close enough to touch their husbands.' What the author ends up with is a haunting study on community, regret, and the essential mystery of other people.

PUBLISHED: Sept. 26, 2011
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5334 words)

Dr. Don

Don Colcord has owned Nucla’s Apothecary Shoppe for more than thirty years. In the past, such stores played a key role in American rural health care, and this region had three more pharmacies, but all of them have closed. Some people drive eighty miles just to visit the Apothecary Shoppe. It consists of a few rows of grocery shelves, a gift-card rack, a Pepsi fountain, and a diabetes section, which is decorated with the mounted heads of two mule deer and an antelope. Next to the game heads is the pharmacist’s counter. Customers don’t line up at a discreet distance, the way city folk do; in Nucla they crowd the counter and talk loudly about health problems.
PUBLISHED: Sept. 26, 2011
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5127 words)