I’m contrary by nature. So when I sat down to pick my Longreads for 2011, I reviewed the lists that Mark had published to date and decided not to include a single story that had already been chosen. Which meant some obvious candidates were off the table from the beginning: no Lawrence Wright on Scientology, no Keith Gessen on Kazakhstan. No Allie Broshie. No John Jeremiah Sullivan. But see for yourself—the following pieces shine just as brightly.
Autopsies on the brains of hockey and football players have been making big news lately. But here, Laskas checks in on the life of a former NFL linebacker to see what it’s like for mentally-impaired players who are still alive. Welcome to Dementia—it’s a funny, terrifying place.
A vigilante murder launches this story, and the reporter’s investigation of it spirals into a tale of cowardice and cruelty. “He was a wayward teenager, a bad boy wanting to become a worse boy,” Bearak writes of one character, plunging into everything that follows. Race, xenophobia, money, and history make themselves felt in a way that never dulls the humanity—beautiful or horrifying—of the people Bearak portrays.
One of the biggest joys of running a music store in Washington, DC, during my college years was that my co-workers were gloriously unembarrassed. Want to groove to Pet Shop Boys and Black Flag? No problem. Asking for that promo copy of A Tribe Called Quest to take home with the k.d. lang you bought today? Go for it. I had a saying then: “You love what you love,” which is insipid. But this article is what I meant. So short it has to stand on tiptoe to be a Longreads, Dolnick’s piece contains perhaps the most honest sentence ever written by a critic: “Taste doesn’t work for reason; reason is a skinny underpaid clerk in the office of taste.”
Ronson motors along, encouraging you to snicker at a cavalcade of real-world wannabe superheroes headed up by Seattle’s Phoenix Jones. Then the story takes a hairpin turn, and you can’t imagine what happens next.
What if you died alone and miserable, and no one even noticed?
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