First of all, I am not even going to bother listing John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Disney World piece because it was obviously the best thing anywhere this year but everyone agrees and has read it anyway. Here is the link just in case. But this doesn’t count as one of my five.
• I thought “The Lost Yankee,” by Bill Pennington in the Times, was really quite extraordinary. The Yankees signed Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa in 2007 to a $46 million, 5-year contract. Then they sent him to the minors after several disappointing outings, where he has pitched ever since, in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, cashing gigantic paychecks and setting minor league records. His contract just expired and I hope someone else gives him a chance.
• My favorite book review of the year was Elaine Blair’s good-hearted, incredibly funny review of Nicholson Baker’s “House of Holes” in the New York Review of Books. Best part: When she advises parents to just sneak a copy to their kids, and soon. “You will have to make sure that they accidentally stumble on it soon, before they find the Internet, if they are to have a fighting chance at being wholesome and delightful fuckers instead of hopelessly depraved ones like yourself.”
• I’m really happy that many outlets (like The A.V. Club, Vulture, and others) now publish long, in-depth interview transcripts, on the grounds that someone out there is interested in them. I particularly loved this Q&A, on Ain’t It Cool News, with Steven Soderbergh, about Contagion but also about ten million other things, like his annoyance when other people’s movies go over budget.
• Any music fan who missed it the first time around should be sure to read Chris Richards’ awesome WaPo story about trying to track down George Clinton’s lost Mothership in the woods of Prince George’s County.
• And I’m pretty sure I did not laugh as long and as hard at anything anyone wrote this year as I did at “Dressing Up My Boyfriend As Marc Anthony In His Terrible Kohl’s Clothes,” by Sarah Miller, in The Awl.
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in under-recognized stories.
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Michael J. Mooney
Dallas-based freelance writer, co-director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
You Are Not Going to Die Out Here: A Woman’s Terrifying Night in the Chesapeake (John Woodrow Cox, The Washington Post)
I saw this story posted and shared a few times when it first ran, but in the middle of an insane election cycle, it didn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. This is the tale of Lauren Connor, a woman who fell off a boat and disappeared amid the crashing waves of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s about the search to find her, by both authorities and her boyfriend, and about a woman whose life had prepared her perfectly for the kinds of challenges that would overwhelm most of us. This is a deadline narrative, but it’s crafted so well—weaving in background and character development at just the right moments, giving readers so many reasons to care—that you couldn’t stop reading if you wanted to.
A science reporter from Oakland, California, who teaches at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and is the author of We Have the Technology, a book about biohacking.
A clear-eyed, thought-provoking retelling of Michelle-Lael Norsworthy’s long legal battle in hope of becoming the first American to receive sex-reassignment surgery while in prison. Her lawyers argued that the surgery was medically necessary and withholding it violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But, they argued, rather than grant the surgery and set a legal precedent, the Department of Corrections instead ordered her parole. The piece is a nuanced take on what it’s like to transition in prison—at least 400 California inmates were taking hormone replacement therapy when the article was published in May—where trans women are vulnerable to sexual assault and survivors are placed in a kind of solitary confinement, stuck in limbo in a prison system where it’s unsafe for them to live with men, but they are generally not allowed to live with women. And it asks a bigger question: What kind of medical care must the state cover?
Investigative Reporter, New America Future of War Fellow.
At first, it may seem like a simple essay about cultural appropriation, but this opus on the nameplate necklace is so much more than that. It is a beautiful ode to black and brown fashion. It is a moving history of how unique names became a form of political resistance to white supremacy. And it is the biting reality check Carrie Bradshaw so desperately needed. Read more…
Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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Anna Clark | Elle | June 27, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,297 words)
Clark weaves the story of Ardelia Ali’s 1995 rape—one of 11,431 Detroit cases in which the rape kit had been left untested—into a profile of Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took on the testing of those kits and the prosecution of perpetrators as a personal mission. Worthy, both the first woman and first African American to hold her position, is a rape survivor herself. Her commitment to women brave enough to report what happened to them is rooted, in part, in her own regret for not going to the police after her own experience, leaving her rapist possibly free to attack other women.
Jodi Kantor, Catrin Einhorn | New York Times | June 30, 2016 | 22 minutes (5,511 words)
In Canada, ordinary citizens are clamoring to sponsor Syrian refugees and welcome them into their homes. The Times spent five months interviewing families and refugees about their experiences, which have been largely positive.
Jia Tolentino | Jezebel | June 28, 2016 | 12 minutes (3,203 words)
Tolentino explores the recent "Becky With the Bad Grades v. UT Austin" Supreme Court ruling through the lens of her own experience writing college essays for privileged white high school students.
Evan Hughes | GQ | June 28, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,403 words)
Kurt Sonnenfeld became a suspect in the death of his wife and moved to Argentina to start a new life. When the U.S. government pursued extradition, Sonnenfeld began insisting to Argentinian media that the U.S. wanted him for ulterior motives related to 9/11.
Dan Kois, Isaac Butler | Slate | June 28, 2016 | 68 minutes (17,161 words)
Twenty-five years after its premiere, the behind-the-scenes story of Tony Kushner's landmark play.
We’re proud to present, for the first time online, “For the Public Good,” Belle Boggs‘s story for The New New South about the shocking history of forced sterilizations that occurred in the United States, and the story of victims in North Carolina, with original video by Olympia Stone.
As Boggs explained to us last year:
“Last summer I met Willis Lynch, a man who was sterilized by the state of North Carolina more than 65 years earlier, when he was only 14 years old and living in an institution for delinquent children. Willis was one of 7,600 victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program, and one of the more outspoken and persistent advocates for compensation.
“At the time I was struggling with my own inability to conceive, and the debate within my state—how much is the ability to have children worth?—was something I thought about a lot. It’s hard to quantify, the value of people who don’t exist. It gets even more complicated when you factor in public discomfort over a shameful past, and a present-day political climate that marginalizes the poor.”
Thanks to Boggs and The New New South for sharing this story with the Longreads Community, and thanks to Longreads Members for your helping us bring these stories to you. Join us.
A writer adopts the Choose Your Own Adventure book format to write a story about a disastrous love affair:
“The answer, of course, is that you should dump Anne before it’s too late. But the absurd options the book gives ‘you’— later ‘choices’ include dueling with an Ant-Warrior, or attacking the Evil Power Master—simply highlight the completely screwed-up perspective of the co-dependent. When I was stuck in one of those terrible relationships, and friends told me it was time to break it off, I looked at them as if they were crazy—as if the options they were offering had so little to do with my actual situation they were functionally useless.
The Game of Thrones star’s long path to stardom—and the choices he made to reject stereotypical roles for dwarves:
I read about him online the day before the Globes. It really made me sad. I don’t know why.’ He corrected himself: ‘I mean, I know why: it’s terrible.’ In October, Henderson, who is 37 and is 4-foot-2, was picked up and thrown by an unknown assailant in Somerset, England. He suffered partial paralysis and now requires a walker. The night of the Globes, after Dinklage’s mention, Henderson’s name was a trending topic on Twitter. Dinklage later turned down offers to discuss the case with Anderson Cooper and other news hosts.
‘People are all, like, I dedicated it to him,’ he said. ‘They’ve made it more romantic than it actually was. I just wanted to go, “This is screwed up.” Dwarves are still the butt of jokes. It’s one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice. Not just by people who’ve had too much to drink in England and want to throw a person. But by media, everything.’ He sipped his coffee and pointed out that media portrayal is, in part, the fault of actors who are dwarves. ‘You can say no. You can not be the object of ridicule.’
Filmmaker Kunle Afolayan is looking to push the boundaries of moviemaking in Nigeria—but it’s still too early to know whether the audiences can support a film with even a $500,000 budget:
Twenty years after bursting from the grungy street markets of Lagos, the $500 million Nigerian movie business churns out more than a thousand titles a year on average, and trails only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenues. The films are hastily shot and then burned onto video CDs, a cheap alternative to DVDs. They are seldom seen in the developed world, but all over Africa consumers snap up the latest releases from video peddlers for a dollar or two. And so while Afolayan’s name is unknown outside Africa, at home, the actor-director is one of the most famous faces in the exploding entertainment scene known — inevitably — as “Nollywood.”
On a continent where economies usually depend on extracting natural resources or on charity, moviemaking is now one of Nigeria’s largest sources of private-sector employment.
More film #longreads: “I Watched Every Steven Soderbergh Movie.” — Dan Kois, Slate, Sept. 14, 2011
Before Wonder Woman there was Miss Fury, the first female superhero, introduced in 1941:
Miss Fury was created, written, and drawn by a woman, June Tarpé Mills, who published under the more sexually ambiguous Tarpé Mills. Had Miss Fury entered an enduring canon like DC’s, it’s possible that the template for female superheroes, as well as for superhero comic readership, would have depended more on the influence and perspective of actual women.
1. Celebrity profiles are the hardest genre to make fresh. So props to GQ for doing it not once but three times, with Jessica Pressler on Channing Tatum, Edith Zimmerman on Chris Evans, and Will Leitch on Michael Vick. With Pressler and Zimmerman, what’s great is the willingness of both subject and writer to play, and the dynamic between them—these pieces exploit the “profile as date” subtext really well. It’s fun to think about them as a sort of inverse to Jennifer Egan’s brilliant satire of the profile biz in A Visit From the Goon Squad. In the Vick piece, what I like is the way that Leitch uses the PR apparatus around the process of profiling Michael Vick to reveal what’s at stake for him. He didn’t get much time with Vick, just a photo shoot and a phone call, but he used it to both explain and complicate the Michael Vick Story that the quarterback’s handlers want to tell.
2. There are a bunch of New Yorker stories I could pick—Ryan Lizza’s “leading from behind” piece on Obama’s foreign policy was so influential; Jane Mayer on Thomas Drake and state secrets was fascinating and moving; Kelefah Sanneh not only wrote a great analysis of Odd Future, he tracked down their missing member; David Grann is David Grann—but my favorite was Jeffrey Toobin’s take on Clarence Thomas. There are so many things going on here: It’s a revisionist view that frames Thomas as very smart and canny; it shows how one justice can move the entire Supreme Court over decades through the way opinions are written; it sets the stage for next year’s healthcare ruling as a culmination of Thomas’s entire mission; and it makes clear once again just what a strange, extremist man he is.
3. Overall, my favorite thing in the new New York Times Magazine is probably the Riffs section—it identified a gap in the preview-and-review saturated culture journalism market, which is (relatively) long form argument/idea-driven pieces. To pick a few highlights: Dan Kois’s piece on avant-garde movies kicked off a fierce, endless, at times kind of ridiculous debate that just about every movie critic had to weigh in on; Adam Sternbergh’s piece on jokeless comedies defined an era; Sam Anderson on Derek Jeter both mocked empty sports hagiography and read like a hilarious version of Donald Barthelme. Alternate winner in this category is the New York Review of Books, which published some of the best cultural essays this year—Daniel Mendelsohn on Mad Men and Spiderman, Lorrie Moore on Friday Night Lights, and Dan Chiasson on Keith Richards were all delightful and provocative.
4. I just loved Paul Ford’s “The Web is a Customer Service Medium.” It’s the kind of piece that would be hard to get into a print magazine for various reasons, but it resonated instantly online. It’s a pretty abstract argument about a subject that’s not exactly under-analyzed—what is web content about, and how is it different from other forms of content?—but it opens by coining a phrase which instantly makes sense to anyone who works on the web: “Why wasn’t I consulted?” And then it goes on to make a very detailed, specific, convincing, and non-buzzword-filled argument that isn’t formulated expressly to piss off anyone who works in “old media,” which is refreshing.
5. Finally, some favorites in the emerging multimedia genre of longform tweeting. I probably read more words on Twitter than anywhere else this year, and I am grateful for the stamina of those who somehow manage to tweet and retweet extended thoughts all day, every day on specific themes. I learned as much about the Arab Spring by dipping into @acarvin’s feed as from any essays about it. @daveweigel is constantly insightful, and one of the few people capable of being funny about politics. Following @questlove’s stream is like listening to the world’s kindest, most passionate music geek.
Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.