Best of 2021: Readers’ Favorites

The stories our readers loved.

Since we started the #longreads hashtag in 2009 to share great reads on Twitter, curation has been the beating heart of Longreads. We highlight our favorite stories in our weekly Longreads Top 5, and at year’s end — in what is now a decade-long tradition — we revisit and reflect on the pieces we loved most.

This year we did things a little differently — our editors still considered their top stories, but we also reached out to our readers to see what the Longreads community enjoyed in 2021. So today, we’re delighted to showcase 10 stories from the year that our readers loved — and hear why these pieces stood out to them in their own words.

The Epic Family Feud Behind an Iconic American Weight-Loss Camp for Kids, David Gauvey Herbert, Bloomberg Businessweek, August 2021

Dave Herbert’s piece on Camp Shane is incredible work, and deeply meaningful as a survivor of that weight loss camp. As an amateur writer — I also have to say that the author weaved a number of different issues and concepts using a fantastic narrative form, coupled with a unifying thread that would resonate with any reader.

—Mark Rothenberg

When the Techies Took Over Tahoe, Rachel Levin, Outside, April 2021

I am an American expat living in Australia, and this story gave me the most insightful look at how COVID-19 in the U.S. is impacting work, place, real estate, local culture, and nature — and how the socio-economics pervade everything.

—Tara Johnston

To Protect Me From America, My Parents Changed My Name Without Telling Me, Leslie Nguyen-Okwu, Harper’s Bazaar, May 2021

I loved this essay’s description about “teetering on a tightrope between Asian America and Black America,” and her powerful explanations of coping with the realities of racism and discrimination from a young age.

—Vesna Jaksic Lowe

Kevin Durant and (Possibly) the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time, Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine, June 2021

The question of profile writing is: What fascinates me about this person, and what does it say about myself or the world? The other, especially in sports writing these days is: How can I get enough time and access to get to the core of a character? Anderson manages to obtain one of the deepest and — given the insane shield put around sports stars these days — most unlikely portraits of an NBA star. We see the moody, ingenious, unlikely Kevin Durant in a way he’s never been shown to us before. It’s the piece every sportswriter I know is jealous of.

—Joseph Bien-Kahn

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass: Making Money From Sewage in Kolkata, Amitangshu Acharya, and Sudipto Sanyal, The Economist, January 2021

It’s a story that traverses the very real ecological and sociological issues of our present world — a world at the brink of irreversible damage. Written with poetic articulation, it narrates a well-researched story of the unique wetlands of Kolkata. Despite the imminent urgency of the problems discussed, it still relates an uplifting instance of the human capacity for survival, resourcefulness, and optimism. Beautifully written and moving.

—Reshma Matthew

The Depths She’ll Reach, Xan Rice, Long Lead, November 2021

This profile about freediver Alenka Artnik blew me away. Not only is her story of overcoming grief and mental health challenges inspiring, but it is written in such an evocative way. I’ve never seen a story designed like that either. The video of Alenka diving under the story transfixed me.

—Jenni Blossom

Once Upon a Time in Central Florida, Katherine LaGrave, AFAR, February 2021

This is still a story I think about. After two years filled with so much loss and immeasurable lost time, this feature clung to my heart and made me appreciate how much more time I do have, post-pandemic.

—Sarah Anderson

To Catch a Turtle Thief: Blowing the Lid Off an International Smuggling Operation, Clare Fieseler, The Walrus, November 2021

It’s an age-old problem that isn’t spotlighted much, and wildlife trafficking interlopes with lots of other types of crimes (e.g., drug trade). This was a great article.

—Lindsey Reeves

The Epic Battle to Break the Mississippi River Canoe Record, Frank Bures, Outside, November 2021

I loved this story so much. It was a good old-fashioned rip-roaring adventure story, done the way it should be: the biggest, baddest river, a race, a record meant to be broken, petty interpersonal conflict, tension, and terror — all with a dose of redemption at the end. And it was reported from the boats, not after the fact. Great stuff.

—Jason Albert

There Has Been Blood, Diana Hubbell, Eater, August 2021

This piece on the Thailand palm oil industry, and the violence and harassment against local farmers, shows the strengths and courage of ordinary people — who, although vulnerable and underprivileged, refuse to give up on insisting their rights are respected.

—Sutharee Wanna