Longform You Have to Read: Wells Tower on Burning Man, Elephants, and Porn Star James Deen

In a world where you have more options for satisfying longform reading than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism and longform has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, being classic pieces of work, or by just a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading.

This week, with Burning Man on the horizon, we’re reminded of our favorite piece of Burning Man-related lore, GQ contributor Wells Tower’s melancholy and funny article about going to the goofball festival with his dad — from that, we were reminded of more essential pieces by Tower, one of the best magazine journalists working today. Here’s a collection of his articles that start out manly and end up in a completely different place.

james deen

The Well-Hung Boy Next Door,” by Wells Tower, GQ, July 2012

So porn star James Deen has an awesome life banging chicks every day? “All day, every day, James Deen is fucking the planet senseless so that the rest of us don’t have to try to.” It’s a bit more like the same shit every day to hear Tower tell it, a Groundhog Day-esque purgatory of monotonous of sexy sex available sexily all the time, while Deen is ever-chipper.

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Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant?” by Wells Tower, GQ, June 2014

Where Tower goes elephant hunting with two hunters, and the hunters are psyched — while Tower experiences a whole overload of feelings swarming his hippocampus. Upsetting and immersive.

the tuber

The Tuber,” by Wells Tower, Outside Magazine, March 2009

Tower updates John Cheever’s best short story, “The Swimmer,” by going tubing in the alligator-infested waters of north Florida. Despite the glorious pictures, this is not what one would call the brightest of ideas; however, like Cheever wrote, it is “determinedly original.”

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Good Dog: Small Dog, Big Heart,” by Wells Tower, Garden and Gun, June/July 2014

Perhaps it’s fitting that Tower, a writer wrestling with masculinity and its discontents in both his nonfiction magazine work and his fiction (2009’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a short story collection shouted out by “Blurred Lines” siren Emily Ratajowski), has a very silly, tiny dog. In this piece he tells us how he got the “stunted soul” (or not) that befits your average chihuahua owner.

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Meltdown,” by Wells Tower, Outside Magazine, April 2008

Tower’s father, Ed, beat cancer and now they take trips together every year. One year involved Iceland, Greenland, and fighting with his older brother while waiting on the shore for a ferry. Hilarity ensues.

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The Old Man at Burning Man,” by Wells Tower, GQ, February 2013

And this is the exact point where I am like, where is the memoir of the Tower men traveling together, year after year? Ed Tower’s lust for life, contrasted with Wells’ self-conscious awkwardness, results in a delicious comic duo. It works wonderfully at Burning Man, the silliest festival in the world and a great place to bring one’s elderly parent. You’re laughing and giggling so hard that you don’t even notice when, as a writer, Wells Tower essentially punches you in the face with mortality and melancholy, and the result is beautiful.

Bonus: Listen to this 2011 conversation with Tower and John Jeremiah Sullivan at the New York Public Library.