GQ's Sean Fennessey: My Top Longreads of 2011

Sean Fennessey is the editor of GQ.com. (See more stories on his Longreads page.)

I’ll try to follow a few guidelines for the sake of imagined objectivity, so, no friends; no GQ pieces; no pieces published before January 1, 2011; no stories pseudonymously submitted by my mom; no sandwiches. Here we go, with apologies, to, like, everyone.

***

Lawrence Wright, The Apostate (The New Yorker, February 14, 2011)

An obvious choice made less obvious by the passage of time. It has been only nine months since Wright’s startling, white-knuckled journey to the center of Scientology, with outraged and wounded filmmaker Paul Haggis as his Ahab. In Internet time, this story feels very old—check out Tom Cruise’s new movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this Christmas!—but it hasn’t budged an inch. Wright has long been a dogged writer-reporter and interpreter of foreign, pre- and post-Judeo-Christian faiths, but he’s never been so simultaneously zingy and stone-faced. TNY fact-checkers famously sent the Church of Scientology 971 questions for confirmation before this was published, followed by an eight-hour inquiry session with the religion’s spokesman. I have 971 questions for Wright. Question One: How?

Alex French and Howie Kahn, The Greatest Paper That Ever Died (Grantland, June 8, 2011)

An arch and hilarious move by the editors at Grantland to lead their launch week with the story of an ambitious, innovative, and ultimately overextended sports publication. Too cute by half or not, French and Kahn, who have contributed great work like this to GQ, too, talk to damn near every wunderkind, wonk, and graybeard involved in the fast construction and faster crumbling of The National, the first (and last) sports-only newspaper. By turns funny, informative, and oddly thrilling, it presages the too-much media by at least a decade. Also, the characterization of editor-in-chief and sports scribe demigod Frank DeFord as a dashing dandy beyond all, an almost Gatsby-esque sportswriter (?!) is remarkable.

Jessica Pressler, “It’s Too Bad. And I Don’t Mean It’s Too Bad Like ‘Screw ’Em.’” (July 24, 2011)

Access isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things. Refreshing. Enlightening. Embarrassing. Mirth-making. Other gerunds. That much is clear in this loose, funny portrait of one of the most important people in America, drawn small and sorta goofy, but not without empathy by Pressler. Just a damn good and entertaining profile.

Nathan Rabin, Louis C.K. Walks Us Through Louie’s Second Season (The AV Club, September 19, 2011)

Rabin is a pretty brilliant cultural critic and flotsam scavenger, but he’s secondary here to the form, the increasingly utilized Insta-Tell-All. Though shows like Louie or the rabidly championed Community are seen by relatively modest audiences, rarely exceeding a few million or so, the fandom they inspire is maniacal, bordering on unhealthy. In some instances, I hate this. But when it’s something I care about, I make exceptions. This literal step-by-step, shot-by-shot printed audio commentary track for the second season of comedian Louis CK’s FX series plays out in four parts and in a way that both satisfies in a very grim empty-calorie way and devastates with clarity. Louie isn’t exactly better after you’ve heard about every motivation—it’s fine standing alone, on your DVR. But that doesn’t mean you won’t inhale this series in one sitting and then enjoy this.

AJ Daulerio, The Electric Dock Ellis Acid Test: An Attempt To Recreate His Drug-Addled No-Hitter, On Xbox (Deadspin, July 11, 2011)

Stunt journalism, maybe. Multimedia art project gone wrong, sure. Belly-button-deep inside baseball, yeah, definitely. Doesn’t mean this very funny and very unnecessary attempt to get high and get paid for it (while sort of lampooning the whole Plimptonian, we-can-do-it style of participatory journalism along the way) isn’t a genuinely inventive and uniquely audience-conscious piece of web writing.

Five More

Daniel Zalewski, Show the Monster (The New Yorker)

Guillermo del Toro, a perfect profile subject. Bonus points for savvy multimedia accompaniment.

Dan P. Lee, Travis the Menace (New York Magazine)

Brilliantly crafted. Made a monkey outta me.

Mindy Kaling, Flick Chicks (The New Yorker)

Could probably do with less tweeting and more writing of this kind from Kaling.

Bradford Evans, The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase (Splitsider)
Wherein the Chevy Chase is a Colossal Asshole reputation is burnished, buffed, and efficiently honed in a countdown form that neatly conveys the story of a career coulda-been.

William Bowers, Now What? (Pitchfork)
Made me feel better about all my time spent mining the crevasses of insular music writing.