1. The Perfect Beach Read
Summer is a time for adventures and escapes -- road trips, beach getaways, afternoons spent by the backyard BBQ, evenings by the campfire. I started my summer reading over Fourth of July weekend, in a lounge chair, under the shade of a palm tree in Miami, digging into the new story from Joshuah Bearman, the guy who wrote the story that became "Argo."
Bearman's latest, available at The Atavist and in the July issue of GQ, is the perfect thing to read at the beach or by the pool, lemonade in hand. He tells the tale of the Coronado Company, a group of 20-something surfers in California who begin swimming bales of marijuana across the border from Mexico in 1969 and eventually build a global pot-smuggling ring. Over time, the jobs become bigger, more innovative, and more lucrative. The boys trade their woodies for Ferraris and the seemingly endless summer you can buy when you're cruising around with millions of dollars in your pocket. Even the feds are in awe.
It's a story that feels made for Hollywood. And indeed, according to The Wrap, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who produced "Argo" along with Ben Affleck, are already planning to make the story of the Coronado Company into a movie. So read it here first. (Soon, it seems, all movies will start out as Joshuah Bearman articles. Bearman's 2010 Wired magazine article, "Art of the Steal," is also being made into a film.)
2. The King Of Kentucky
Jason Cherkis and Zach Carter travel to Kentucky to investigate how Mitch McConnell has ruled the Bluegrass State, and what they find is surprising. Early in his political career, McConnell was pro-abortion rights, supported Planned Parenthood, worked on the Equal Rights Amendment, and won the support of labor unions. Today, in Washington, he is the "abominable no-man," the sour-faced symbol of Washington gridlock, and a staunch opponent of Obamacare. But he has funneled money to Kentucky to provide free health care and prevention programs. Such policy ping-pong has helped McConnell maintain his grip on power over the past 30 years, but Kentucky does not appear to have prospered under his reign.
"The most dominant and influential Kentucky politician since Henry Clay, McConnell has rarely used his indefatigable talents toward broad, substantive reforms," Cherkis and Carter write. "He may be ruling, but he's ruling over a commonwealth with the lowest median income in the country, where too many counties have infant mortality rates comparable to those of the Third World. His solutions have been piecemeal and temporary, more cynical than merciful."
It's a truly epic piece of reporting and writing. Read the whole thing.
3. The Modern Celebrity
I'll admit that I don't often pick up issues of Marie Claire (cover lines on the August issue include "Your sexiest hair ever" and "The busy girl's guide to perfect skin"). But Amy Wallace -- who created the popular hashtag #WomenEdsWeLove during the recent controversy over Port Magazine featuring an all-white, all-male cadre of magazine editors -- has an insightful cover story on Nicki Minaj.
The story's conceit -- solicit questions directly from Minaj's 16 million Twitter followers and then ask the rapper-singer-"American Idol" host to respond to her fans -- could have fallen flat with a more guarded celebrity. But Minaj understands how modern stardom works, and the power of social media to create a connection with her audience. "With social media, there's a difference in the fan-artist relationship," she tells Wallace. "They get to feel: Are you real?"
This is a particularly salient question for Minaj, who has built a facade with outlandish wigs and costumes, and various alter egos. Now, it seems, that facade is coming down -- spurred, at least in part, by her role as a judge on "Idol," where she aimed to present her true personality. "My core is a genuine human being who roots for other people," she tells Wallace.
Soon we will see the new Nicki Minaj in a movie alongside Cameron Diaz. She has a clothing line coming to Kmart. She says she will do a music video at some point with her real hair. And now, with Wallace bringing Minaj's fans literally inside her trailer, the wall seems to erode even further. "I don't think you understand what's about to happen to you," Minaj warns Wallace. "I'm serious. Watch what's going to happen when my Barbz see that you've asked these questions. I'm just going to tell you right now: You're going to be their new hero."
Bonus: In a sure sign of collusion in the magazine industry, Drake is on the cover of July's GQ, undoubtedly feeding the hopes of those Minaj fans who long for a romance between her and her "Moment 4 Life" collaborator. If you're going to read just one GQ article about Drake, make it last year's interview with Claire Hoffman in which he infamously asks Hoffman "Are you sleeping with me?"
Bonus #2: Read Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards' recent profile of radio personality Peter Rosenberg, who famously clashed with Minaj at Hot 97's Summer Jam last year.
Bonus #3: For another take on modern celebrity, read Paul Schrader, director of "The Canyons," on working with Lindsay Lohan. It's not a long read, but it's a good coda to Stephen Rodrick's much-talked-about feature for The New York Times Magazine earlier this year, in which he chronicled the trials and tribulations involved in making the movie.
Have you read a good longform feature lately? Email me at email@example.com
4. The Real Story Of Benghazi
Vanity Fair runs an excerpt from Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz's forthcoming book "Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi." It's a gripping first-hand narrative of the night of the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, pieced together from intelligence reports and eyewitness accounts.
As to the controversy surrounding the Obama administration's initial characterization of the attack as "spontaneous," Burton and Katz are unequivocal. "They were not members of a ragtag force. Split into small groups, which advanced throughout the compound methodically, they employed military-style hand signals to direct their progression toward their objectives," they write. "It was clear that whoever the men who assaulted the compound were, they had been given precise orders and impeccable intelligence."
Yet they also seem to caution against too much second-guessing by pundits in Washington. "The Special Mission Compound in Benghazi on that night was not a textbook case," they write. "No classroom, no training officer, and certainly no armchair general could understand the nuances of those terrifying uncertain moments of the attack."
For the most part, though, they keep the politics out of it and let the events of that night speak for themselves.
The Internet is going gaga over the SyFy Channel's new movie "Sharknado," starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (remember them?). We seem to have reached peak B-movie madness. But after you've watched the trailer (and, really, you should watch it), read Amanda Hess' piece on Asylum, the studio behind "Sharknado," and how these creature features get made.
It seems that our endless cable channels and demand for instant streaming content on Netflix have created an insatiable hunger for content -- any content -- and films like "Sharknado" are cheap ways to fill the hours and provide the illusion that Netflix is chock-full of new content.
And while the first rule of B-movie filmmaking is that you have to take it seriously (“You’re not supposed to make fun of the movie,” one filmmaker tells Hess), the studios themselves seem to be having the last laugh. “We’re making fun of the commerce side of this. You made your movie for $200 million? I’ll make it for 20 bucks,” says one of Asylum's co-founders.
Bonus: io9 asks the writer of "Sharknado" the questions that you are just dying to know the answer to, like "How are the sharks cognizant enough to keep biting people while they're flying through the air?" and "Seriously, how drunk were you guys the first time someone uttered the word 'sharknado'?"
Bonus #2: For more on Asylum, check out Brian Raftery's feature in Wired from 2009.