Mike Dang: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Mike Dang is editor of Bundle and managing editor for Longreads. See his longreads page here.

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I’ve read a lot of great longreads this year, but I know that a longread is truly special when I become its biggest cheerleader. I’ll casually slip the story into conversations, teasing out some of its best bits to wheedle the person into reading it later on his or her own. Here are five of those stories:

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“Windeye.” Brian Evenson, PEN America

Although this story wasn’t published in 2011, it was one of my favorites from the 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize winners published in an anthology earlier this spring. The set up is terrific:

“Something wrong with the window,” he said. “Or not the window exactly but the number of windows.” She was smiling, waiting. “The problem is the number of windows. There’s one more window on the outside than on the inside.” He covered his mouth with his hand.

“Chat History.” Rebecca Armendariz, GOOD

Most of our casual conversations occur over e-mail threads or instant messenger, rather than the telephone. This happens so frequently that we rarely go back to read those threads and chats. In this heartbreaking longread, a woman remembers a relationship through a series of chats archived in her Gmail inbox. It compelled me to go through my own archives.

“Getting Bin Laden,” Nicholas Schmidle, The New Yorker

Already on many people’s Top 5 lists, this is one of the most exciting stories I’ve read. Schmidle was able to make you feel like you are with the 23 Navy SEALs who were on the ground in Abbottabad the night we got Bin Laden, even though he was only able to piece the story together by interviewing a number of people directly involved in the raid. I love how he focused on all the minute details — including a bit where the White House ordered sandwich platters from Costco before turning the Situation Room into a war room.

When Irish Eyes Are Crying.” Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair

I write about money for a living, so I read everything about the financial crisis. Michael Lewis is one of the best financial journalists of our time, and he has pointed out time and again how terrible countries and its people can be with money (the U.S. in “The Big Short,” Iceland in a V.F. longread published in April 2009, and Greece in a V.F. longread published in Oct. 2010). Lewis continues his “financial disaster tourism” with Ireland this year, and, once again, leaves us shaking our heads.

“Mister Lytle: An Essay.” John Jeremiah Sullivan, Paris Review

I know. JJS is clearly the Ryan Gosling of longreads this year. This essay was published last fall, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until I picked up Sullivan’s collections of essays, Pulphead. Sullivan recalls a time when he served as a houseboy for Andrew Lytle, a revered Southern author. The way Sullivan unfolds his story is just: magical. Other readers agree — the essay won a National Magazine Award in May.

Bonus:

“The Fresh Air Interview: Jay-Z ‘Decoded.’” Terry Gross, Fresh Air

The great thing about radio longreads — otherwise known as #audiofiles — is that producers get some poor intern to transcribe the entire broadcast so it doubles as a longread. I love the part where Terry and Jay-Z discuss the story behind “99 Problems” — really just the idea that Terry sat down to listen to Jay-Z’s records for this interview is perfect.

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