The reported essays that grabbed our editors’ attention this year demonstrate the craft of the form: immersing yourself in a new world and finding other people’s voices and expert knowledge to help tell a story. We have drawn from all our picks of the year, and also asked some of these talented writers for their own insights. Enjoy reading this eclectic range of pieces that report from around the world.

On Death and Love

Melanie Challenger | Emergence Magazine | January 20, 2022 | 3,605 words

In this poignant and incisive essay at Emergence Magazine, Melanie Challenger grapples with grief and loss in her life and the irony of a general human ambivalence to death in the plant and animal kingdoms that has allowed us to harm the planet over time. Speaking of grief, my own life has changed exponentially since I first read and shared Challenger’s piece back in January. I met death face-to-face when it came calling in August, and like Challenger, “I didn’t leave that room the same person.” She’s right when she suggests that we hurt so much when someone dies because we are so very privileged to love: “Among the many lessons Hannah taught me that day, and in the days to come, was the significance and seriousness of grief in human lives — which is another way of saying the significance of love in our lives, because it is the fever of our attachment to one another that charges grief with its intolerable brilliancy.” Now, if only we could love the planet the way we love and grieve for one another: “When we are closer to the animals and plants that accompany us in this life, we share in their demise and in their aim to flourish, which raises the force of their deaths and softens the force of our own.” —Krista Stevens

Melanie Challenger on her reported essay recommendations from 2022:

“The Turbulent Brain” “by Morten Kringelbach and Gustavo Deco for Aeon: I was very struck by this article in Aeon which presented new theories and findings on non-equilibrium states, and how we respond to the external world. It made me think hard, which, for me, is the best thing a piece of work can do. 

“Two Weeks in Tehran” by Azedah Moaveni for The London Review of Books: I’m an ideas-based writer rather than a reporter but I have huge admiration for quality reportage, and this is a piece that matters. And, as we now see, this article was prescient.

Our Animals, Ourselves

Sunaura Taylor and Astra Taylor | Lux | January 6, 2022 | 6,846 words

From a young age, we’re shown and sold the bucolic version of a farm, but in reality, a modern factory farm is a horrific place of reproductive violence on a massive scale. What would it mean to truly respect and honor animals? What will it take to radically shift the way we think about animal consumption, and to break up and abolish Big Meat and Big Milk? In this thought-provoking essay, Astra Taylor and Sunaura Taylor call for cross-species solidarity and make a socialist-feminist case for veganism. “We are all caught in the same racist, sexist, colonial, and ecologically catastrophic capitalist system,” they write. Vegans get a bad rap, but the authors urge people, especially those on the left, to join alongside them — and to expand their visions of democracy, reproductive choice, and egalitarianism to include pigs, cows, and other animals that we exploit for profit. This is an eye-opening piece making clear that the liberation of humans and the liberation of non-human animals are interconnected. I’ve returned to it numerous times this year during and after tough conversations with loved ones, and often think about it as I reconsider my own habits. —Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Deep Time Sickness

Lachlan Summers | Noema | July 14, 2022 | 3,699 words

Mexico City is built on soap. After the Lago de Texoco was drained (the coda to a centuries-long process of colonialism and development), what was left behind was a 70-meter deep layer of soil known as jaboncillo, “like moisture soap.” Jaboncillo is squishy, effectively hollow, and is no small reason why earthquakes in 1985 and 2017 so devastated the city. It also ensures that seismic damage continues to pervade the city’s landscape. As Lachlan Summers writes, CDMX “reflects the strangeness of the earth on which it sits. Footpaths undulate. Potholes suddenly appear in the street and begin consuming the road. A fissure slyly burrows under a building to do unseen work to its foundations.” Such instability also lives on in the psyches of residents, and Summers’ fascinating essay unpacks the staggering effect it has on Mexico City’s tocado, or “touched.” The tocado are beset by vertigo, loss of appetite, and a fear that one day the building they walk past every day will finally buckle and fall. Conventional medicine has no easy answer for them, dismissing such symptoms as a “cultural concept of distress,” but with insight and empathy Summers maps it as the inevitable result of human experience colliding with geologic time. Scales so disparate are never meant to overlap, of course — but as we’ve seen so many times, human intervention has a way of hastening end-time scenarios. —Peter Rubin

Lachlan Summers recommends two polar opposite reported essays from this year:

“Dead Man Living” by Elizabeth Bruenig in The Atlantic: Bruenig’s account of the Alabama state’s repeated efforts to kill Alan Eugene Miller is a bleak story of incompetence, indifference, and the unending horror of state-sanctioned murder. 

“Banana Nation” by Jasper Craven in The Baffler: A hysterical story about the insane worlds being built and destroyed by crypto-bros as they fight to convince everyone (including themselves) that crypto is the future.

This House Is Still Haunted

Adam Fales | Dilettante Army | February 15th, 2022 | 5,200 words

Calling all English majors who love the horror genre and whose nation’s many ghosts keep them up at night — and anyone else with a yen for a great literary read. Adam Fales’s brilliant essay about the motif of the haunted house in American fiction and film comprises seven sections, which he calls “gables” in a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Fales casts a wide net for source material, incorporating Ari Aster’s movie Hereditary, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and many more works of art. Fales argues that the haunted house tale, a staple of U.S. culture for hundreds of years, “lets Americans concentrate the past’s wrongness,” from genocide to slavery to capitalist exploitation. Problem is, these stories have often “failed, if not outright refused, to heal the wounds they simultaneously abhor and celebrate.” What does a better haunted house tale look like? In the answer to that question might be kernels of a wider revolution in how we talk about and, indeed, stop reconstructing our collective sins. —Seyward Darby

Super-Prime Mover: Britain’s Most Successful Estate Agent

Sophie Elmhirst | The Guardian | January 27, 2022 | 6,380 words

A delightful piece by the ever-witty Sophie Elmhirst, plucked from the murky depths of time — January 2022. Before the war in Ukraine. Before sky-rocketing bills. Early 2022 was a whole different landscape. Rereading this essay, I wondered how things had changed for Gary Hersham’s British real estate company, Beauchamp Estates: Russian Oligarchs, fond of buying up London properties, are now sanctioned, and interest rates in the U.K. (and around the world) have reached giddy heights. Despite this essay feeling like a time capsule, I still loved revisiting the indomitable Hersham. He has operated through ups and downs for decades; I bet he is doing just fine. Elmhirst tags along as he blusters his way through viewings, sales, interactions with his “fantastic” secretary, and many, many phone calls. It’s a riveting insight into a world where who you know absolutely matters, and Britain is sold as a brand. As Elmhirst eloquently puts it, “[a] slice of fictional England, a portal to aristocracy, yours for £10,000 a square foot.” While we glimpse Indian billionaires and Chinese industrialists, it is Hersham who remains the most fascinating character. He is another snapshot in time, confidently telling Elmhirst: “‘I always call it WhatsUp.’ As if the app had got it wrong.” —Carolyn Wells

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