Rules: Nothing not published this year, nothing from GQ, because I work there, and—in the spirit of the assignment—nothing I didn’t first read on my iPhone. (And I realize now, having done this whole thing, that everything on the main list is from a print-based publication, which should not be taken as some kind of a Statement. I still love you, Internet!)
Michael Kruse, Lonely, Stressed and Frustrated: Inside the Mind of the Pinellas Monkey (St. Petersburg Times, May 16, 2010)
Best celebrity profile I read this year, and it’s a write-around. About a monkey. “People who are alone tend to make self-destructive decisions. They might drink too much or not eat right. They start giving up. And the monkey here, he explains, isn’t all that different.”
Mark Harris, The Red Carpet Campaign (New York, 2/7/10)
Reported essay about awards-season swirl and how the pseudo-event sausage of the Academy Awards gets made. The gist: “A good Oscar narrative makes voters feel that, by writing a name on a ballot, they’re completing a satisfying plotline. Only a few of these stories are effective, and every campaign season, movies scramble to own them.” Sprawling yet surgical; managed to make me care, in February, about a subject I’m usually utterly post-give-a-shit about by Thanksgiving.
Rob Tanenbaum, The Playboy Interview: John Mayer (Playboy, March 2010)
Yeah, this is the one where Mayer rendered himself culturally leprous with a few spectacularly ill-advised comments about African-Americans and his weiner— but it’s also the best Q&A with a rock personality I read this year. Speaking as somebody who does this for a living: It’s hard to get something interesting out of a subject who’s reluctant or dumb, but it’s actually way harder to take a quote machine like Mayer— who’s historically used compulsive self-disclosure and meta-acknowledgements of what he knows about the interview process to completely run the table in these situations— somewhere he doesn’t want to go. And, uh, obviously, that’s what happened.
Chris Jones, Roger Ebert: The Essential Man (Esquire, February 2010)
I spent an embarrassing amount of time—like, months—working on a snakebit-from-the-beginning Ebert profile for GQ five years ago. It never ran, mostly because it sucked. Sucked on draft 1, sucked worse on draft 18. (Like Rog once said about certain reviews: “The bad ones take forever.”) So I was all ready to hate this Ebert story just for existing and appearing in a magazine and reminding me of how spectacularly I blew it in 2005—but I didn’t, because it’s so goddamn good it turned off the part of my brain that hates people for being better than me. That part where Ebert gets mad at Disney’s copyright police for taking down YouTube videos of him and Siskel, and because he can’t yell, he makes the font bigger and bigger? “He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now. He’s standing outside on the street corner and he’s arching his back and he’s shouting at the top of his lungs.” Holy fucking shit.
Joe Hagan, The Return of Governor Moonbeam, And Other Hallucinations From The Golden State (New York, October 10, 2010)
Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman contest the California narrative as the state, fiscally gut-shot by the housing collapse, tumbles broke and stoned into the sea; Hagan weaves Jerry’s free-association and Schwarzenegger’s puny-humans ranting and Meg Whitman’s total carpetbagging bullshit in and out of a bunch of elegant set pieces—the Hyatt-ballroom rally, the pot dispensary, David Boies’ beach house. The obvious comparison to make when you’re talking about a story where a writer tries to comprehend weed-hazy apocalyptic California is Joan Didion, but the real bookend for this one—culturally, decade-wise, whatever—is the series of dispatches Hank Stuever filed from L.A. and Sacramento back in 2003, during the nutsoid recall election that led to Schwarzenegger taking office in the first place. (They’re collected in his book OFF RAMP as one essay, “Recallifornia”; the story about Gary Coleman is here. Read those and Joe’s story back to back, groove on the paradox of Californian perma-decline.)
Honorable mentions, aka “I could have done 15 of these”:
Jay Caspian Kang, The High Is Always The Pain and the Pain Is Always the High (The Morning News, 10/8/10), which I read after everybody else put it on their Top 5 lists, so I’m not counting it, because totally arbitrary rules are rules.
Sean Witzke, Emma Peel Sessions 39 – ‘Have you seen the Lady From Shanghai? Orson Welles… that one makes no sense’ (supervillain.wordpress.com, 7/5/10)
Molly Lambert, In Which We Eagerly Await Aaron Sorkin’s Friend Request (thisrecording.com, 10/7/10)
Michaelangelo Matos, eMusic Q&A: Rob Sheffield (17dots, 8/5/10)
Mary HK Choi and Natasha Vargas-Cooper, On ‘New Moon’: ‘Teenage Female Desire Manifest’ (The Awl, 11/20/10)
Oh, and it’s from 2009, but: Chris Stangl, Ghost Train: The Lost Pauline Kael Review of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) (The Exploding Kinetoscope, 7/7/09)
Dwight Yoakam is 63 years old. For GQ, Alex Pappademas attempts to have a conversation with him, but seems to end up as the audience to a man whose frenetic and continuous musical connection-making acts as the perfect defense against meaningful human connection.
You ask a question, then he’s off, parkouring from subject to subject, and before you know it Dwight Yoakam is saying things like “I would even point to the Spanish-American War” or “And that begins, to my way of thinking, with Northern and Western Europe throwing off the yoke of theocracy, and the writings of John Calvin, and Martin Luther, going back centuries earlier, and that’s what leads us…” in response to a question along the lines of “So how long have you had this office space?”
At one point our conversation spirals from Merle Haggard to the Maddox Brothers and Rose to a particular shot from the Amazon Prime series Patriot to the underdiscussed formal impact of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio on the modern novel to David Bowie. Dwight met Bowie in the ’90s and asked him about Elvis Presley, because Bowie and Elvis share a birthday—which is the kind of thing Dwight knows—and Bowie told him that six months before Elvis’s death, the King had called Bowie and asked him to produce his next record, because apparently Elvis loved “Golden Years.” Bowie said he’d do it; then every time he tried to call Elvis after that, some Memphis Mafia guy would pick up and say, “He can’t come to the phone right now, man.” Dwight’s never forgotten anything and everything reminds him of something, is the point. Sometimes it’s like talking to Doctor Manhattan.
Whether this is intentional or not, it’s a good way of avoiding giving too much away.
For GQ, Alex Pappademas attempts to have a conversation with 63-year-old Dwight Yoakam, whose frenetic and continuous musical connection making acts as the perfect defense against meaningful human connection.
Every generation gets its own Keanu Reeves, except every generation’s Keanu Reeves is this Keanu Reeves. Alex Pappademas attempts to separate the man from the myth.
By Josh Roiland
Longreads | December 2017 | 32 minutes (8,200 words)
At a hip Manhattan book launch for John Jeremiah Sullivan’s 2011 essay collection Pulphead, David Rees, the event’s emcee, asked the two-time National Magazine Award winner, “So John…are you the next David Foster Wallace?” The exchange is startling for its absurdity, and Sullivan shakes his head in disbelief before finally answering, “No, that’s—I’m embarrassed by that.” But the comparison has attached itself to Sullivan and a host of other young literary journalists whom critics have noted bear resemblance to Wallace in style, subject matter, and voice.
When Leslie Jamison published The Empathy Exams, her 2014 collection of essays and journalism, a Slate review said “her writing often recalls the work of David Foster Wallace.” Similarly, when Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life appeared a year earlier, a review in the L.A. Review of Books proclaimed: “If Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace had a love child, I thought, Michelle Orange would be it.”
Wallace was, himself, a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, winning once, in 2001; yet he compulsively identified himself as “not a journalist” both in his interactions with sources and reflexively as a character in his own stories. Nonetheless, he casts a long shadow in the world of literary journalism—a genre of nonfiction writing that adheres to all the reportorial and truth-telling covenants of traditional journalism, while employing rhetorical and storytelling techniques more commonly associated with fiction. To give better shape to that penumbra of influence, I spoke with Sullivan, Jamison, and Orange, along with Maria Bustillos, Jeff Sharlet, Joel Lovell, and Colin Harrison about Wallace’s impact on today’s narrative nonfiction writers. They spoke about comparisons to Wallace, what they love (and hate) about his work, what it was like to edit him, their favorite stories, posthumous controversies, and his influence and legacy.
Joel Lovell only worked with Wallace on one brief essay. Despite that singular experience, Lovell’s editorial time at Harper’s and elsewhere in the 1990s and 2000s put him in great position to witness Wallace’s rising status in the world of magazine journalism. He was unequivocal when I asked him which nonfiction writer today most reminds him of Wallace.
Joel Lovell: The clear descendant is John Jeremiah Sullivan, of course. For all sorts of reasons (the ability to move authoritatively between high and low culture and diction; the freakishly perceptive humor on the page) but mostly just because there’s no one else writing narrative nonfiction or essays right now whose brain is so flexible and powerful, and whose brainpower is so evident, sentence by sentence, in the way that Wallace’s was. No one who’s read so widely and deeply and can therefore “read” American culture (literature, television, music) so incisively. No one who can make language come alive in quite the same way. He’s an undeniable linguistic genius, like Dave, who happens to enjoy exercising that genius through magazine journalism. Read more…
This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, Vivian Ho, Christopher Goffard, Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Alex Pappademas.
Jackie Chan is a one-man industry. Like all one-man industries, however, he relies on many, many other people. This GQ profile of Chan by Alex Pappademas introduces you to the man himself, but also to those around him: co-stars, directors, and most important of all, the Jackie Chan Stunt Team.
Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.