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#NPRreads: Obsessing Over A Murder And The Times' Man In Tehran

#NPRreads is a new feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we bring you threes reads and — we're cheating — one watch.

First, from Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday:

Visiting Hours – A Memoir of Friendship and Murder is the literary debut from writer Amy Butcher. It tells the true story of a murder on a college campus in a small town in Pennsylvania. A murder that Butcher feels perilously close to. The murderer was her friend, Kevin, and she was with him on that night – just hours before he would fatally stab his girlfriend Emily dozens of times in what appeared to be some kind of psychotic break. Kevin would turn himself into the police immediately afterwards and maintained that he never meant to hurt Emily.

Amy Butcher becomes obsessed with the tragedy. She cannot shake the feeling that there may have been something she could have done to prevent it. But even more, she keeps re-living the details of that night and indeed her entire friendship with Kevin in a way that becomes hauntingly debilitating. After graduation, she moves to Iowa for a teaching job but feels pulled to write Kevin letters while he is in prison. She tells herself it's because it's the right thing to do, to be there for someone so clearly in need of a friend. But when she's honest with herself, she realizes that her motivations for keeping in touch with him are self-serving. She wants details of that night to feed her own obsession.

Here's an excerpt:

"Because what Kevin had done – though I would never admit it – had somehow become my story, my trauma, tangled my life up in ways I still find complex and uncomfortable.

"But I was there, I'd tell myself, a vain attempt at consolation. He walked me home and then he killed her. This happened to me, too.

"Even now I can't say what I wanted, but I suspect the ugliest of truths: that in some way I wanted to allow myself the possibility of physical danger so that I might finally stake a claim in the fear I felt. Because at least then it might make sense – move my suffering beyond the periphery to the center, something tangible and real. Maybe this is why I wrote to Kevin. Already it seemed I was sacrificing, suffering, and so what else could I do but finally chase our friendship for the truth? What did it matter how ugly it felt? How much it truly scared me? How repulsed I was of me? I already felt a part of a mystery; I was an episode unto myself.

"Tell me what happened, I wanted to write. Don't you dare leave anything out.

"Instead I wrote detailed paragraphs about my new job, my new apartment, my life as it unfolded miles west in Iowa. There's this black squirrel outside my house, I wrote. I've never seen anything like it.

"I didn't tell him about my dreams or how I fantasized about taking hold – of feeling pain or else inflicting it, of feeling the power rush back in. I wanted to flood my body until my organs burst, until they split and tore apart. I wanted to feel, in short, violence. Instead he recommended to me East of Eden, and I wrote back to suggest The Road.

"Miss you, he'd always write, and Miss you, I'd respond.

"It was only later – after class, or in my car, or in line at the grocery store – that I'd find myself running my fingers above my collarbone, my chest, my lungs, my heart, the very places where Emily suffered. Am I capable of such rapid breaking? I'd wonder, never certain I wanted to know."

From Tanya Ballard Brown, an editor on NPR's national desk:

There have been a string of stories over the past few years about the laziness of "clicktivism" — signing online petitions, clicking "like" on a post and/or participating in a hashtag campaign and then moving on to the next shiny thing — and whether it nets any results or leads to change. When I saw the headline (thanks, again, Gil Scott-Heron) on the i-D story I was curious to see if this was a different take or the same old story.

Writer Felix Petty argues that #blacklivesmatter, #jesuischarlie and so on have shown that social media can be a key tool in activism. He also points out that not every protest in the past netted results either, which makes you wonder why the bar is so high for social media activism. Here's one example of successful "clicktivism" from the piece:

"Following the siege in a café in Sydney, Australia, in December 2014, in which two hostages died in a stand-off that lasted 16 hours, a spate of anti-Muslim messages began proliferating on social media. In its wake, a hashtag sprang to life, #illridewithyou, offering emotional support to Muslims feeling persecuted on public transport. It started after people picked up on a Facebook post by someone named Rachael Jacobs, in which she claimed to have seen a woman take off her hijab on the train to avoid being victimized. Jacobs wrote that she had run after the woman, telling her to "put it back on" and that she'd walk with her. Like 'Je Suis Charlie', 'I'll Ride With You' spread quickly, with people offering up their travel timetables to strangers, creating a positive response to a tragedy. It was clicktivism at its most heart-warmingly simple."

From Russell Lewis, NPR's southern bureau chief:

New Orleans is a city that has long grappled with crime. NPR has reported on many aspects of the issue for years ( here, here, here and here, just to highlight a few). But this article highlights a wrinkle to the crime problem in New Orleans: juveniles being tried in adult courts and sent to adult prisons. Louisiana allows for anyone who is 17 to be tried as an adult. But increasingly kids who are much younger find their cases transferred to adult courts.

From Anastasia Tsioulcas, of NPR's classical music unit:

I usually behave well and submit actual articles and essays to #NPRreads, but I just couldn't resist including one fascinating video series. With the Iranian nuclear negotiations underway, Our Man in Tehran couldn't arrive at a more opportune moment. This weekly online series on The New York Times(with new episodes arriving through early May) features Thomas Erdbrink, a Dutch-born journalist who is the former Iran bureau chief for the Washington Post and has been doing the same for the Times since 2012.

Erdbrink brings an outsider/insider perspective to his work: he's been living in Iran for 13 years now, and is married to a talented . What Erdbrink is able to do with in this video series is quite expansive. It's partly a chance to give his audience a glimpse of what it is like to do his job: "Working here is like walking a tightrope," as he observes in the first installment. Erdbrink can also afford us some slice-of-life scenes from his adopted home, like his encounter with a sidewalk fortune-teller, whose bird will divine the future by picking out a poetic couplet. (And what does a young woman ask, smilingly, but: "What will be the outcome of the nuclear negotiations?")

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Anastasia Tsioulcas
Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
Russell Lewis
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Tanya Ballard Brown
Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.