Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

Death of a Salesman

On the genius of Cal Worthington, the legendary Southern California car dealer and TV pitchman who died Sept. 8 at age 92:

"Worthington’s long-running series of self-produced spots never deviated from a formula. The slender cowboy—six foot four in beaver-skin Stetsons and a custom Nudie suit—always preceded his hyperactive sales pitch with a gambol through the lot of his Dodge dealership, accompanied by an escalating succession of exotic animals. Originally it was an ape, then a tiger, an elephant, a black bear, and, finally, Shamu, the killer whale from SeaWorld—each of which was invariably introduced as Cal’s dog, Spot. Not once did he appear with a canine. The banjo-propelled jingle (set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) exhorted listeners to 'Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal,' a catchphrase that became the basis for the most infamous mondegreen in Golden State history. To this day, Pussycow remains a nostalgic code word exchanged among Californians who came of age in the era before emissions standards."

(via The Browser)
AUTHOR:Sam Sweet
PUBLISHED: Oct. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1553 words)

Longreads Member Pick: 'A Semester with Allen Ginsberg,' by Elissa Schappell

This week we're excited to feature Elissa Schappell's essay, "The Craft of Poetry: A Semester with Allen Ginsberg," as our Longreads Member Pick. Her recollections are an intimate window into the Beat legend. The piece originally appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of the Paris Review and was later anthologized in their 1999 collection Beat Writers at Work. Thanks to Schappell and the Paris Review for sharing it with the Longreads community.

Become a Longreads Member to receive the full ebook.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 62 minutes (15685 words)

Child Mortality

The writer on contemplating death at an early age:

"For a time I thought that if I ignored death it would ignore me. At school, I tried not looking out across at the cemetery; I shielded my eyes when I was driven past it in the mornings and afternoons, turned my face away any time I was made to go outside during the day. But the grounds and the graves were always there on my blurred periphery. Even tucked away inside the school building, sitting in class or walking the halls, I felt a dark, sickly pull, like death had me in its sights, like it was daring me, just daring me, to look it in the eye.

"I wasn’t even safe at home, or asleep. That fall I began to dream of death—or perhaps I had always dreamed of death but it was only then that I was able to remember the dreams in any detail when I woke. I was so much a child then that it is almost hard to comprehend. I feel like I never possibly could have been so small, so new. When things happened then, they happened for the first time. They had never happened before."
PUBLISHED: June 20, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5379 words)


[Fiction, National Magazine Awards finalist] A lapsed Christian Scientist meets a woman escaping her past:

"Seamus lived in Wheaton, Maryland, in the last house on a quiet street that dead-ended at a county park. He’d bought the entire property, including a rental unit out back, at a decent price. This was after the housing market crashed but before people knew how bad it would get—back when he was still a practicing Christian Scientist, still had a job and a girlfriend he’d assumed he would marry. Now, two years later, he was single, faithless, and unemployed. The money his mother had loaned him for a down payment was starting to look more like a gift, as were the checks she’d been sending for the last year to help him cover the mortgage. His life was in disrepair, but for the first time in months he wasn’t thinking about any of that: he was sitting out back on a warm spring day with a woman. Her name was Charity, and she was a stranger."
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2013
LENGTH: 48 minutes (12042 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Picks this week from Mother Jones, Slate, Grantland, The Washington Post, Film Comment, The Paris Review, and a guest pick by The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2013

Longreads Guest Pick: Emily Keeler on 'To Err, Divine, so Improvise' and 'Afterlife'

Today's guest pick comes from Emily M. Keeler, a writer, critic, and the editor of Little Brother Magazine. She recommends two stories, "To Err, Divine, so Improvise" by Kaitlin Fontana in Hazlitt and "Afterlife" by Chris Wallace in The Paris Review.
PUBLISHED: April 22, 2013


On identity, self-mythology, and Biggie Smalls:

"Hip-hop has always been a sort of test kitchen for the art of self-mythology. Maybe because execs force artists into adapting personas that play to some tired trope that consumers recognize, but there is nary a given name or suburban softy in the bunch. Every practitioner has invented an outsized, super-gritty, superhero pseudonym for themselves. And, like Australian aborigines who, during dream time, sing the world into being, rappers spend the bulk of their bars bragging about the exploits of these avatars."
PUBLISHED: April 16, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2681 words)

Bettering Myself

[Fiction] A woman struggles to deal with personal problems:

"My classroom was on the first floor, next to the nuns’ lounge. I used their bathroom to puke in the mornings. One nun always dusted the toilet seat with talcum powder. Another nun plugged the sink and filled it with water. I never understood the nuns. One was old and the other was young. The young one talked to me sometimes, asked me what I would do for the long weekend, if I’d see my folks over Christmas, and so forth. The old one looked the other way and twisted her robes in her fists when she saw me coming."
PUBLISHED: April 1, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4145 words)

A Stowaway to the Thanatosphere: My Voyage Beyond Apollo with Norman Mailer

In 1972, two men sneaked onto a cruise ship in order to warn Norman Mailer about a plot for the rich to inhabit the moon:

"'They’ve cleverly organized this thing on a ship, you dig, that way no one can crash it,' mused Forcade. He theorized that the cruise was just a cover for an elite conclave conspiring to jettison Earth once they’d totally ravaged it, and establish an exclusive colony for the rich and powerful in space. Everyone else would be left to fight over dwindling resources and perish in the terrestrial ruins. 'Mailer is either in on the scam or they’ve suckered him into it. We have got to get on board that ship,' Tom said, 'find out what these motherfuckers are up to, blow their cover, and rescue Mailer before it’s too late.'"

"Under the influence of a fresh shipment of Tom’s Columbian import, I thought it seemed like an entirely reasonable plan. Or at least a fine Caribbean escape from the Manhattan winter and the relentless political chill that had set in. So I became one of the two stowaways on the Voyage Beyond Apollo."
AUTHOR:Rex Weiner
PUBLISHED: Jan. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3575 words)