Search Results for: David-Grann

The Masterful Storyteller: A David Grann Reading List

Credit: Aidan Monaghan/Amazon Studios, Bleecker Street

David Grann is the ultimate writer’s writer. The reporter and staff writer for The New Yorker has a way of discovering nuggets of an idea (the bare minimum of a pitch), and then, through intrepid and painstaking research, crafting pieces that tend to stick with readers for years.

“Many of the characters are driven by obsession,” Grann once told Nieman Storyboard. “But I’m also interested in what these characters are obsessed with, so it’s not just their obsession, it’s the object of their obsession…I’m looking for multiple elements. On one level, there is a story that is compelling, there are characters that are interesting, but also there are some intellectual stakes.”

For his upcoming book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I., Grann details the murders committed against members of the Osage Nation—which subsequently became the first case investigated by the FBI—and spent more than three years researching and reporting events that happened nearly a hundred years ago. Josh Dean similarly had been interested in writing about the Osage Nation killings, when he was informed by his agent that Grann had, in Dean’s words, “been working on this book quietly for two years.”

Dean told the Longform podcast:

I literally fell out of my chair. I admire David Grann; he is one of the best at this thing. I read his stories voraciously. I know what David Grann is doing…One, I know he is going to do an amazing job. He has a two year head-start. If it hadn’t been him…why would I [write the book]? I went into a shell and drank for six days.

While Killers of the Flower Moon will undoubtedly become a blockbuster hit one day (Imperative Entertainment paid a whopping $5 million for film rights), another of Grann’s works will debut in theaters this week. “The Lost City of Z” came to life as a New Yorker feature in 2005, and according to Grann, it was one of his rare pieces that felt incomplete as a magazine article. “It was the first piece I’d done for The New Yorker where I finished and I said, one, I’m not sick of it, and, two, there are so many more places to go. There were still doors to open,” he told Interview magazine. The article became a book, which was published in 2009, and now a film starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson.

Hunnam stars as Percy Fawcett, a turn-of-the-century English explorer who disappears in a quest to prove the existence of an ancient and influential civilization in the Amazon. In reporting Fawcett’s travels, Grann journeyed to the jungles where Fawcett vanished, as well as plumbed through his diaries and life, turning what had initially been a piece about this lost civilization into an all-encompassing biography—all the better for its adaptation to screen.

It’s impossible to compose a “best of” list for Grann’s writings, so below is a primer for some of his most compelling New Yorker pieces, which includes some of his earlier (and often overlooked) work. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2012: Esquire's Chris Jones

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Chris Jones is a writer for Esquire and ESPN and the winner of two National Magazine Awards.

Favorite new writer discovery of 2012

I’m always scared of making lists like this, because a year is a long time, and I read a lot, and invariably I’ll forget writers and pieces that I liked very much. But this category is easy for me: Michael J. Mooney. He wrote back-to-back stories for D Magazine this summer that are so different but the same in that they both knocked me on my ass. First he wrote about a brutal rape in “When Lois Pearson Started Fighting Back.” (It is a difficult read, but the ending is more than worth it.) And then he wrote the most amazing bowling story ever in “The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever.” Plus, he’s a straight-up good dude. Love this guy so much.

Best election story

I’m going to seem like a homer here, but I don’t care: Charlie Pierce did journalism on Esquire.com during this entire election cycle that bordered on heroic—and I don’t use that word lightly. In its ideas, in its language, in its sheer volume, his account of this election, taken as a whole, is humbling and inspiring at the same time. Start with the end, “The Greatness of Barack Obama is Our Great Project” and go back from there.

Best personal blog post/essay

I’m going to pick two stories here, both sports stories. Writers hate hearing athletes say, “You never played the game,” but it’s hard to deny that former athletes understand the games they played better than most of us do. Just the other day, The Classical posted a meditation by former basketball player Flinder Boyd about Ricky Rubio, “The Ricky Rubio Experience.” I’m not sure I can say why, exactly, but I was really moved by this story. Some of The Classical guys can be snide little shits, far too Internet cool, but Boyd wrote with real heart here. I love this story.

The second is by one of my most favorite friends, Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN. He wrote about the death of a semi-pro football player in a story called “Games of chance.” Kevin played college football at the University of Montana, and he writes beautifully about the pull of the game as well as the charge that comes from hitting and with being hit. Sometimes the first person interrupts; here it informs.

Best crime story

I see the great David Grann has already picked this one, but I’ll echo his pick, because it was that good: Pamela Colloff’s “The Innocent Man” for Texas Monthly is an epic, immersive, amazing story. And full credit to the gang down in Austin for committing so completely to longform journalism. That this story even exists makes me hopeful about so many things.

The story that made me feel the most awesome about just about everything

I’ve always been an optimist about writing, or at least I’ve always tried to be an optimist about writing, and 2012, for me, has been filled with reasons for optimism (like Pamela Colloff’s story above, which is really a multi-layered testament to the power of belief). Yes, this business remains in flux, and yes, many good writers continue to put more love into their writing than their writing returns to them. But I still feel like we live in a golden age, filled with possibility. One of the stories that most made me feel that way—both because of the story itself, and because of its subject—was “How One Response to a Reddit Query Became a Big-Budget Flick” by Jason Fagone in Wired. The title describes the tale exactly, and it’s just as improbable and fun and crazy as it sounds. I feel like this story sums up the modern writing business as well as any: There’s still plenty of lightning out there, and there are still lots of bottles, and every now and then, someone still catches one with the other.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012.

Longreads Best of 2012: The New Yorker's David Grann

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.  

I am never sure how to choose the “best” story as there are too many. But here’s a list of some of the most notable and memorable stories I read in 2012. Pamela Colloff’s two-part series, “The Innocent Man,” which appeared in Texas Monthly, was one of the best crime stories—and, indeed, best pieces of journalism in any category—that I read. Many of my favorite longreads are works of history, and, in that category, I would include two notable pieces published in the magazine that I work for, The New Yorker: they are Robert A. Caro’s “The Transition,” a book excerpt that details, through the eyes of Lyndon Johnson, the terrifying day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy; and Jill Lepore’s “The Lie Factory,” which chronicles the first political consulting firm in the United States, and helps explain everything that is rotten about our politics today.

Finally, I would include a category for the best longreads from the vault—those long ago published pieces that you suddenly discover or rediscover. This year, I read two remarkable pieces in this category. One was James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” which originally appeared in Harper’s, in 1955; it’s the kind of essay that is almost no longer done, and that uses autobiography to tell the story of a nation. The other old piece was David Foster Wallace’s “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” published in 1994, which begins as a predictable takedown review of Austin’s memoir and then becomes a totally unexpected meditation on the nature of athletic greatness and storytelling.


Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012

Longreads Best of 2012: The New Yorker’s David Grann

Longreads Pick
Source: Longreads
Published: Dec 4, 2012
Length: 1 minutes (261 words)

The Top 10 Longreads of 2012

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About This List

Thanks to everyone who has participated in the Longreads community this year, and to all of our guests who shared their favorite stories of 2012. The below list represents our editors’ favorite stories of the year, for both nonfiction and fiction.

Longreads is edited by Mark Armstrong and Mike Dang, with Kjell Reigstad, Joyce King Thomas, Hakan Bakkalbasi, Jodi Ettenberg and Erika Kussmann.

Thanks to all the writers and publishers who create outstanding work.


2012 Nonfiction Picks

1. Grace in Broken Arrow

Kiera Feldman | This Land Press | May 24, 2012 | 56 minutes (14,008 words)

The story of a sex abuse scandal inside a Tulsa Christian school, where church leaders were in denial and where the crimes shattered the lives of victims and their families:

“No more sleepovers. No more babysitting, or car rides home. No more being alone with children or ‘lingering hugs given to students (especially using your hands to stroke or fondle).’ Aaron Thompson—Coach Thompson to his PE students—sat in the principal’s office at Grace Fellowship Christian School as his bosses went through the four-page Corrective Action Plan point by point. It was October of 2001, the same month Aaron added ‘Teacher of the Week’ to his resume.

“Grace’s leader, Bob Yandian—’Pastor Bob’ as everyone calls him—wasn’t there: no need, he had people for this kind of thing. Pastor Bob’s time was better spent sequestered in his study, writing books and radio broadcasts. His lieutenant, Associate Pastor Chip Olin, was a hardnosed guy, ‘ornery as heck,’ people said. Olin brought a USA Today article on the characteristics of child molesters to the meeting. At age 24, Olin explained, Aaron was acting immature and unprofessional, and someone might get the wrong idea.”

More stories from This Land Press


2. State of the Species

Charles C. Mann | Orion | October 25, 2012 | 32 minutes (8,232 words)

A brief history of Homo sapiens—and a prognosis for our survival:

“Microorganisms have changed the face of the earth, crumbling stone and even giving rise to the oxygen we breathe. Compared to this power and diversity, Margulis liked to tell me, pandas and polar bears were biological epiphenomena—interesting and fun, perhaps, but not actually significant.

“Does that apply to human beings, too? I once asked her, feeling like someone whining to Copernicus about why he couldn’t move the earth a little closer to the center of the universe. Aren’t we special at all?

See also: “The Art of Waiting” (Belle Boggs, April 2012)

Books by Charles C. Mann on Amazon


3. The Yankee Comandante

David Grann | The New Yorker | May 21, 2012 | 88 minutes (22,146 words)

A story of love and revolution in Cuba. William Morgan was a free-spirited American drawn to Cuba to help Castro fight, only to grow disenchanted with his embrace of communism:

“One day in the spring of 1958, while Morgan was visiting a guerrilla camp for a meeting of the Second Front’s chiefs of staff, he encountered a rebel he had never seen before: small and slender, with a face shielded by a cap. Only up close was it evident that the rebel was a woman. She was in her early twenties, with dark eyes and tawny skin, and, to conceal her identity, she had cut her curly light-brown hair short and dyed it black. Though she had a delicate beauty, she locked and loaded a gun with the ease of a bank robber. Morgan later said of a pistol that she carried, ‘She knows how to use it.'”

See also: “The Caging of America” (Adam Gopnik, January 2012)

Books by David Grann on Amazon


4. Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

John Branch | The New York Times | December 20, 2012 | 70 minutes (17,639 words)

The story of 16 world-class skiers and snowboarders who decided to go skiing together in Washington’s Cascades in February 2012, and what happened to them when an avalanche hit:

“‘Just as I had the thought about what I’m going to do, wondering if it was going to bury me, that’s right when I could feel it,’ Castillo said. ‘It was like a wave. Like when you’re in the ocean and the tide moves away from you. You’re getting thrashed and you feel it pull out and you’re like, O.K., I can stand up now.’

“Castillo saw daylight again. His camera captured snow sliding past his legs for another 13 seconds. The forest sounded as if it were full of sickly frogs. It was the trees, scrubbed of their fresh snow, still swaying and creaking around him.

“Castillo turned to look back up the hill.

“‘Where there were three people, there was nobody,’ Castillo said.”

See also: “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad” (Charles Duhigg, David Barboza, January 2012)


5. The Innocent Man

Pamela Colloff | Texas Monthly | October 11, 2012 | 113 minutes (28,149 words)

A two-part series deconstructing the case against Michael Morton, who was convicted in 1987 of killing his wife but has maintained his innocence:

“Michael was breathing hard. ‘Is my son okay?’ he asked.

“‘He’s fine,’ Boutwell said. ‘He’s at the neighbors’.’

“‘How about my wife?’

“The sheriff was matter-of-fact. ‘She’s dead,’ he replied.

“Boutwell led Michael into the kitchen and introduced him to Sergeant Don Wood, the case’s lead investigator. ‘We have to ask you a few questions before we can get your son,’ Boutwell told him. Dazed, Michael took a seat at the kitchen table. He had shown no reaction to the news of Christine’s death, and as he sat across from the two lawmen, he tried to make sense of what was happening around him. Sheriff’s deputies brushed past him, opening drawers and rifling through cabinets. He could see the light of a camera flash exploding again and again in the master bedroom as a police photographer documented what Michael realized must have been the place where Christine was killed. He could hear officers entering and exiting his house, exchanging small talk. Someone dumped a bag of ice into the kitchen sink and stuck Cokes in it. Cigarette smoke hung in the air.”

Read part two of “The Innocent Man”

See also: “Portrait of the Artist as a Postman” (Jason Sheeler, September 2012)


6. ‘I Just Want to Feel Everything’: Hiding Out with Fiona Apple, Musical Hermit

Dan P. Lee | New York magazine | June 17, 2012 | 29 minutes (7,287 words)

A lost weekend, or several weeks, with Fiona Apple:

“A week later, my phone beeped. It was a heavily pixelated video. She was wearing glasses, looking straight at me:

“‘Hi, Dan. It’s Fiona. [She moves the camera to her dog.] This is Janet. [She moves it back.] Um, are you coming out here tomorrow? Um, I, I, I don’t know—I’m baffled at this thing that I just got, this e-mail shit, I don’t know what these people—are they trying to antagonize me so that I do shit like this, so that I start fights with them? I don’t understand why there are pictures of models on a page about me. Who the fuck are they? What? What?’

“The text attached read: ‘And are you western-bound? And hi there! F’

“I had no idea what she was talking about. Two days later, I landed at LAX.”

See also: “A Life Worth Ending” (Michael Wolff, May 2012)


7. The Queens of Montague Street

Nancy Rommelmann | January 1, 2012 | 41 minutes (10,299 words)

[Ebook, 99 cents] Memories of life as a truant teen in 1970s Brooklyn:

“Most of the time we just hung out, in front of the newly opened Baskin-Robbins, on the corner of Montague and Henry Streets. This corner was the epicenter of Brooklyn Heights, a community unaccustomed to seeing its daughters straddling mailboxes and flicking cigarette butts into the street. Nor were we used to fielding the looks we began to get: wary, unhappy, every father coming home from Wall Street and every mother on her way to Key Food shooting us stern, silent reprimands. It made me squirm, but it also pissed me off: What was I doing that was so horrible? And if they had something to say, why didn’t they say it? While our little petri dish of a neighborhood evidently considered hanging out anathema, I was on the fence; my dad had grown up in Greenwich Village, an Italian kid playing stickball and rolling tires in the Hudson River. Isn’t this what teenagers did?”

See also: “The GOP and Me” (Rany Jazayerli, November 2012)


8. How A Career Ends: Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic Swimming Gold Medalist

Rob Trucks | Deadspin | July 31, 2012 | 21 minutes (5,369 words)

A first-person account of an Olympic career, a violent attack, and what happened next:

“My coach calls me up and says, ‘Listen, If you want to keep your scholarship’—by the way, he’s totally devious here—he said, ‘If you want your scholarship, all you have to do is show up for the meets. Don’t do anything else. Just show up. You don’t have to come to a single practice. You don’t have to warm up. Just show up at the meet.’

“Well, I was unhappy with how the first warmup went. I didn’t think I was in good enough shape for the first warmup, but I won all my events, OK? And so before the second time I thought, I’ll just go to a few workouts, you know. And then slowly, but surely…

“He was just so spot on. So then, sure enough, I’m now going to two workouts a day. I’m lifting weights and I totally get the hunger in a big, big way and my time was the third-fastest in the country. It wasn’t like the end-of-the-year time, which would be much faster, but I was really psyched that I could go that fast and do that well with just the amount of training that I had had.”

See also: “What Happens When A 35-Year-Old Man Retakes The SAT?” (Drew Magary, March 2012)

Books by Rob Trucks on Amazon


9. The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever

Michael J. Mooney | D Magazine | June 20, 2012 | 18 minutes (4,622 words)

It’s still remembered as “That Night”—when bowler Bill Fong stunned the crowd at the Plano Super Bowl:

“Most people think perfection in bowling is a 300 game, but it isn’t. Any reasonably good recreational bowler can get lucky one night and roll 12 consecutive strikes. If you count all the bowling alleys all over America, somebody somewhere bowls a 300 every night. But only a human robot can roll three 300s in a row—36 straight strikes—for what’s called a ‘perfect series.’ More than 95 million Americans go bowling, but, according to the United States Bowling Congress, there have been only 21 certified 900s since anyone started keeping track.

“Bill Fong’s run at perfection started as most of his nights do, with practice at around 5:30 pm. He bowls in four active leagues and he rolls at least 20 games a week, every week. That night, January 18, 2010, he wanted to focus on his timing.”

See also: “The Honor System” (Chris Jones, Esquire)


10. Come On, Feel the Buzz

Alex Pareene | The Baffler | November 5, 2012 | 26 minutes (6,530 words)

A critical look at the political newspaper and website Politico:

“One classic method of unleashing irresistible Drudge bait on the Internet is to boil another outlet’s story down to a couple salacious-sounding excerpts, or (failing an effective condensing strategy) to simply reinterpret the material to fit a Drudge-friendly narrative. This past May, for example, Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Maraniss’s biography of Barack Obama. (The liberal media vetting blackout continued apace, in other words.) Politico’s Dylan Byers took the excerpt and turned it into a little micro-news story: Obama admitted to Maraniss that certain figures in his first memoir were ‘compressions’—i.e., composite characters. Byers completely missed that Obama explicitly said at the outset of his own book that some characters were composites, but Drudge didn’t care. ‘Obama Admits Fabricating Girlfriend in Memoir,’ went his headline, with a link to Politico instead of Vanity Fair—and another false right-wing meme got its wings.”

See also: “Dead End on Shakin’ Street” (Thomas Frank, July 2012)


2012 Fiction Picks

1. Cold Pastoral

Marina Keegan | The New Yorker | October 5, 2012 | 28 minutes (7,023 words)

A college student grapples with the death of her on-and-off boyfriend:

“We were in the stage where we couldn’t make serious eye contact for fear of implying we were too invested. We used euphemisms like ‘I miss you’ and ‘I like you’ and smiled every time our noses got too close. I was staying over at his place two or three nights a week and met his parents at an awkward brunch in Burlington. A lot of time was spent being consciously romantic: making sushi, walking places, waiting too long before responding to texts. I fluctuated between adding songs to his playlist and wondering if I should stop hooking up with people I was eighty per cent into and finally spend some time alone. (Read the books I was embarrassed I hadn’t read.) (Call my mother.) The thing is, I like being liked, and a lot of my friends had graduated and moved to cities. I’d thought about ending things but my roommate Charlotte advised me against it. Brian was handsome and smoked the same amount as me, and sometimes in the morning, I’d wake up and smile first thing because he made me feel safe.

“In March, he died. I was microwaving instant Thai soup when I got a call from his best friend, asking if I knew which hospital he was at.

“‘Who?’ I said. ‘Brian,’ he said. ‘You haven’t heard?'”


2. Break All the Way Down

Roxane Gay | Joyland | May 26, 2012 | 24 minutes (6,184 words)

A baby’s arrival stirs up difficult memories:

“I sat with the baby in the living room, setting her on a clean blanket. When I tired of watching her, I stretched out, resting my hand on her stomach. I fell asleep with the baby staring at me, her eyes wide open.

“In the morning, my boyfriend kicked my foot with his heavy work boot. ‘What the fuck is this?’

“I sat up quickly, holding a finger to my lips. I stood and pulled him into the bedroom. ‘Anna Lisa brought the baby last night. She can’t take care of her anymore.'”

Books by Roxane Gay on Amazon


3. Miss Lora

Junot Díaz | The New Yorker | April 23, 2012 | 21 minutes (5,357 words)

A teenager’s grief and its aftermath:

“Years later, you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother would you have done it? You’d remember how all the other guys had hated on her—how skinny she was, no culo, no titties, como un palito, but your brother didn’t care. I’d fuck her.

“You’d fuck anything, someone jeered.

“And he had given that someone the eye. You make that sound like it’s a bad thing.”

Books by Junot Díaz on Amazon


4. Hello Everybody

A.M. Homes | Electric Literature | September 12, 2012 | 27 minutes (6,868 words)

A grieving family’s privileged, plastic life:

“She hears his car grinding up the hill. At the edge of the driveway, the engine shudders, continuing on for a few seconds before falling silent. Walter buzzes the front gate; Esmeralda, the housekeeper, lets him in. The gate closes with a thick metallic click.

“‘Where are you?’ he calls out.

“‘I’m hiding,’ Cheryl yells from the backyard.

“He enters the through the pool gate.

“‘Shouldn’t that be locked?’ she asks.

“‘I remembered the code,’ he says.

“‘The pool boy’s code, 1234?’

“He nods. ‘Some things never change.'”

Books by A.M. Homes on Amazon


5. Ice Man

Elmore Leonard | The Atlantic | June 22, 2012 | 9 minutes (2,351 words)

A run-in with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer after a rodeo:

“Victor saw Nachee and Billy Cosa looking toward the entrance and turned his head to see a Riverside County deputy talking to the manager. Some more law was outside. They’d go around to the kitchen and check on Mexicans without any papers. Victor saw the Riverside deputy look his way. No, he was looking at the white guy at the next table, the guy wearing a straw Stetson he’d fool with, raising the curled brim and setting it close on his eyes again. Never changed his expression. He had size, but looked ten years past herding cows. It was the man’s U.S. Government jacket told Victor he was none of their business.”

Books by Elmore Leonard on Amazon


6. Casino

Alix Ohlin | Guernica | May 1, 2012 | 16 minutes (4,225 words)

A sisters’ weekend and an unexpected encounter bring back memories:

“When Trisha comes to town we have to go out. She’s the bitterest soccer mom of all time and as part of her escape from home she wants to get drunk and complain about her workaholic husband and over-scheduled, ungrateful children. No one appreciates how much she does for them. All she does is give, give, give, without getting anything back, et cetera. I don’t really mind—I enjoy a good martini, and while Trisha rants I don’t have to worry about getting sloppy, given that she’s always sloppier—except that even her complaints are part boast. She has to mention her busy husband and the two hundred thousand he rakes in a year. Her children’s after-school activities for the gifted are just so freaking expensive and time-consuming. There’s a needle in every one of these remarks, pricking at my skin, saying See, Sherri? See?”

Books by Alix Ohlin on Amazon


7. Onward

Emma Donoghue | The Atlantic | August 24, 2012 | 17 minutes (4,385 words)

A close-knit family’s struggles in Dickens-era England:

“Caroline always prepares Fred’s breakfast herself. Her young brother’s looking sallow around the eyes. ‘We saved you the last of the kippers,’ she says, in a tone airy enough to give the impression that she and Pet had their fill of kippers before he came down this morning.

“Mouth full, Fred sings to his niece in his surprising bass.

“His brow is wet with honest sweat,

He earns whate’er he can,

And looks the whole world in the face,

For he owes not any man.

“Pet giggles at the face he’s pulling. Caroline slides her last triangle of toast the child’s way. Pet’s worn that striped frock since spring. Is she undersized, for two years old? But then, girls are generally smaller. Are the children Caroline sees thronging the parks so twig-like, under their elaborate coats? ‘Where did you pick that one up?’ she asks Fred.

“‘A fellow at the office.’

“‘Again, again,’ insists Pet: her new word this week.

“Caroline catches herself watching the clock.”

Books by Emma Donoghue on Amazon


8. West of the Known

Chanelle Benz | The American Reader | October 1, 2012 | 20 minutes (5,136 words)

Loyalty, betrayal and a final judgment for a brother-sister duo in the Old West:

“My brother was the first man to come for me. The first man I saw in the raw, profuse with liquor, outside a brothel in New Mexico Territory. He was the first I know to make a promise then follow on through. There is nothing to forgive. For in the high violence of joy, is there not often a desire to swear devotion? But what then? When is it ever brung off to the letter? When they come for our blood, we will not end, but go on in an unworldly fever.

“I come here to collect, my brother said from the porch. If there was more I did not hear it for Uncle Bill and Aunt Josie stepped out and closed the door. I was in the kitchen canning tomatoes, standing over a row of mason jars, hands dripping a wat’ry red when in stepped a man inside a long buckskin coat.

“I’m your brother, Jackson, the man smiled, holding out his hand.”


9. The Semplica-Girl Diaries

George Saunders | The New Yorker | October 8, 2012 | 35 minutes (8,979 words)

A father uses his lottery winnings for an extravagant birthday party for his teenage daughter:

“September 3rd: Having just turned forty, have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax. Exciting to think how in one year, at rate of one page/day, will have written three hundred and sixty-five pages, and what a picture of life and times then available for kids & grandkids, even greatgrandkids, whoever, all are welcome (!) to see how life really was/is now. Because what do we know of other times really? How clothes smelled and carriages sounded? Will future people know, for example, about sound of airplanes going over at night, since airplanes by that time passé? Will future people know sometimes cats fought in night? Because by that time some chemical invented to make cats not fight? Last night dreamed of two demons having sex and found it was only two cats fighting outside window. Will future people be aware of concept of ‘demons’? Will they find our belief in ‘demons’ quaint? Will ‘windows’ even exist? Interesting to future generations that even sophisticated college grad like me sometimes woke in cold sweat, thinking of demons, believing one possibly under bed? Anyway, what the heck, am not planning on writing encyclopedia, if any future person is reading this, if you want to know what a ‘demon’ was, go look it up, in something called an encyclopedia, if you even still have those!

“Am getting off track, due to tired, due to those fighting cats.”

Books by George Saunders on Amazon


10. Frogs
Mo Yan | Granta | October 11, 2012 | 14 minutes (3,591 words)

An aunt recalls how she met her husband:

“‘If you want to know why I married Hao Dashou, I have to start with the frogs. Some old friends got together for dinner on the night I announced my retirement, and I wound up drunk – I hadn’t drunk much, less than a bowlful, but it was cheap liquor. Xie Xiaoque, the son of the restaurant owner, Xie Baizhua, one of those sweet-potato kids of the ’63 famine, took out a bottle of ultra-strong Wuliangye – to honour me, he said – but it was counterfeit, and my head was reeling. Everyone at the table was wobbly, barely able to stand, and Xie Xiaoque himself foamed at the mouth till his eyes rolled up into his head.'”

Books by Mo Yan on Amazon

Our Top 10 Longreads of 2012

The Top 10 Longreads of 2011

I should preface this by saying I didn’t plan to do a list, because all of your Top 5 Longreads of 2011 really represent what the Longreads community is all about. But, in true WWIC form, I couldn’t resist. 

Thank you for an incredible year. Special thanks to the entire Longreads team: Joyce King Thomas, Kjell Reigstad, Hakan Bakkalbasi and Mike Dang. 

-Mark Armstrong, founder, Longreads


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1. Travis the Menace

Dan P. Lee | New York Magazine | Jan. 24, 2011 | 24 minutes (6,096 words)

The heartbreaking, horrifying story of a chimp named Travis and the Connecticut couple that raised him like a son. Lee followed Travis’s path from local celebrity to fully grown (and violent) adult:

“Stamford’s animal-control officer was more concerned. After contacting primatologists, she spoke with Sandy, arguing that Travis was by now a fully sexualized adult (chimpanzees in the wild have sex, nonmonogamously, as often as 50 times a day); that he had the strength of at least five men; that adult chimpanzees are known to be unpredictable and potentially violent (which is why all chimp actors are prepubescent); and that maintaining Travis for the duration of his five- or six-decade lifetime was not viable. Sandy seemed to pay an open mind to the officer’s warning but ultimately concluded that Travis had never exhibited even the slightest capacity for violence.”

“Travis” was the first in a “tabloid-with-empathy” trilogy from Lee: He also brought humanity to the story of Anna Nicole Smith (“Paw Paw & Lady Love”) and wrote about Harold Camping, the elderly doomsayer who never quite got his apocalypse calendar right (“After the Rapture”). 

More Lee: “Body Snatchers” (Philadelphia Magazine, 2008)

 

2. Vanishing Act

Paul Collins | Lapham’s Quarterly | Dec. 17, 2010 | 15 minutes (3,837 words)

A child-prodigy author mysteriously disappears. Barbara Follett was 13 when her first novel, The House Without Windows, was published in 1927:

“Through the door could be heard furious clacking and carriage returns: the sound, in fact, of an eight-year-old girl writing her first novel.

“In 1923, typewriters were hardly a child’s plaything, but to those following the family of critic and editor Wilson Follett, it was a grand educational experiment. He’d already written of his daughter Barbara in Harper’s, describing a girl who by the age of three was consumed with letters and words. ‘She was always seeing A’s in the gables of houses and H’s in football goalposts,’ he recalled. One day she’d wandered into Wilson’s office and discovered his typewriter.

“‘Tell me a story about it,’ she demanded.

“This was Barbara’s way of asking for any explanation, and after he demonstrated the wondrous machine, she took to it fiercely. A typewriter, her parents realized, could unleash a torrential flow of thoughts from a gifted child who still lacked the coordination to write in pencil.”

This was from December 2010, but it came out after last year’s best-of list was published. It’s also on The Awl editors’ best-of-2011 listI still think about this story constantly.

More Collins: “The Molecatcher’s Daughter” (The Believer, 2006)

 

3. In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club

Molly Lambert | This Recording | Feb. 22, 2011 | 11 minutes (2,825 words)

A manifesto for the modern woman:

“‘What If I Love Being The Only Girl In The Boys Club?’ Megan Fox Syndrome, aka Wendy from Peter Pan. It is the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys’ club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman. If you refuse other women admission you are denying that other women are talented, which makes you just as bad as any boys’ club for thinking there would only be one talented girl at a time.

“You will never actually be part of the boys’ club, because you are a woman. You are Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas.’ You are not Italian, therefore you are never going to get made. And you don’t want to be a part of the boys’ club, because it is dedicated to preserving its own privilege at your expense. Why wouldn’t you want to know and endorse the work of other women who share your interests? How insecure are you?”

I can think of at least ten other personal essays that blew me away this year, but Lambert’s seemed to completely take over our conversations, online and off.

More from This Recording in 2011: “Where We All Will Be Received” (Nell Boeschenstein)

 

4. A Murder Foretold

David Grann | The New Yorker | March 28, 2011 | 57 minutes (14,318 words)

A political conspiracy in Guatemala and the murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who created a video predicting his own killing in 2009:

“Rosenberg told friends that his apartment was under surveillance, and that he was being followed. ‘Whenever he got into the car, he was looking over his shoulder,’ his son Eduardo recalled. From his apartment window, Rosenberg could look across the street and see an office where Gustavo Alejos, President Colom’s private secretary, often worked. Rosenberg told Mendizábal that Alejos had called him and warned him to stop investigating the Musas’ murders, or else the same thing might happen to him. Speaking to Musa’s business manager, Rosenberg said of the powerful people he was investigating, ‘They are going to kill me.’ He had a will drawn up.”

Obviously, with David Grann, it’s never so straightforward.

More from the New Yorker in 2011: Clarence Thomas, Michele Bachmann, a small-town pharmacist and a Jamaican drug lord

 

5. A Brevard Woman Disappeared, but Never Left Home

Michael Kruse | St. Petersburg Times | July 22, 2011 | 10 minutes (2,735 words)

A reporter retraces the last years of a woman who slipped away from society:

“Kathryn Norris moved to Florida in 1990. She was intelligent and driven, say those who knew her back in Ohio, but she could be difficult. She held grudges. She had been laid off from her civil service job, and her marriage of 14 years was over, and so she came looking for sunshine. She knew nobody. Using money from her small pension, she bought the Cherie Down townhouse, $84,900 new. It was a short walk to the sounds of the surf and just up A1A from souvenir stores selling trinkets with messages of PARADISE FOUND.

“She started a job making $32,000 a year as a buyer of space shuttle parts for a subcontractor for NASA. She went out on occasion with coworkers for cookouts or cocktails. She talked a lot about her ex-husband. She started having some trouble keeping up at the office and was diagnosed in December of 1990 as manic depressive.

“After the diagnosis, she made daily notes on index cards. She ate at Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s. Sometimes she did sit-ups and rode an exercise bike. She read the paper. She got the mail. She went to sleep at 8 p.m., 1:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m. Her heart raced.

“‘Dropped fork at lunch,’ she wrote.

“‘Felt depressed in evening and cried.’

“‘Noise outside at 4 a.m. sounded like a dog.'”

Once you finish this piece, read the annotated version of this story, in which Kruse breaks down exactly how he reported each fact from Kathryn Norris’s life. Incredible. 

More from the St. Petersburg Times in 2011: “Spectacle: The Lynching of Claude Neal” (Ben Montgomery)

 

6. What Really Happened Aboard Air France Flight 447

Jeff Wise | Popular Mechanics | Dec. 6, 2011 | 17 minutes (4,253 words)

A fatal human error, repeated over and over again, as the reader observes helplessly. Writer Jeff Wise uses pilot transcripts to deconstruct, conversation by conversation, wrong move by wrong move, how bad weather and miscommunication between the pilots in the cockpit doomed this Airbus 330, which plunged into the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people: 

02:11:21 (Robert) On a pourtant les moteurs! Qu’est-ce qui se passe bordel? Je ne comprends pas ce que se passe. (We still have the engines! What the hell is happening? I don’t understand what’s happening.)

“Unlike the control yokes of a Boeing jetliner, the side sticks on an Airbus are ‘asynchronous’—that is, they move independently. ‘If the person in the right seat is pulling back on the joystick, the person in the left seat doesn’t feel it,’ says Dr. David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ‘Their stick doesn’t move just because the other one does, unlike the old-fashioned mechanical systems like you find in small planes, where if you turn one, the [other] one turns the same way.’ Robert has no idea that, despite their conversation about descending, Bonin has continued to pull back on the side stick.

“The men are utterly failing to engage in an important process known as crew resource management, or CRM. They are failing, essentially, to cooperate. It is not clear to either one of them who is responsible for what, and who is doing what. This is a natural result of having two co-pilots flying the plane. ‘When you have a captain and a first officer in the cockpit, it’s clear who’s in charge,’ Nutter explains. ‘The captain has command authority. He’s legally responsible for the safety of the flight. When you put two first officers up front, it changes things. You don’t have the sort of traditional discipline imposed on the flight deck when you have a captain.'”

This, along with “Travis the Menace” and Wired’s “The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist,” was one of the most heart-stopping of the year.

See also: “The Unlikely Event” (Avi Steinberg, Paris Review)

 

7. Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World

Amy Harmon | The New York Times | Sept. 18, 2011 | 30 minutes (7,524 words)

A year in the life of an autistic teen moving into adulthood—a time when support systems can begin to fall away:

“Many autistic high school students are facing the adult world with elevated expectations of their own. Justin, who relied on a one-on-one aide in school, had by age 17 declared his intention to be a ‘famous animator-illustrator.’ He also dreamed of living in his own apartment, a goal he seemed especially devoted to when, say, his mother asked him to walk the dog.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment,’ he would say, reluctantly setting aside the notebook he spent hours filling with tiny, precise replicas of every known animated character.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment, too,’ his father, Briant, a pharmaceutical company executive, replied on hard days.

“Over the year that a New York Times reporter observed it, the transition program at Montclair High served as a kind of boot camp in community integration that might also be, for Justin, a last chance. Few such services are available after high school. And Justin was entitled to public education programs, by federal law, until only age 21.”

Harmon’s was one of several outstanding pieces this year on the subject of autism. Also see Steve Silberman on John Elder Robison, an author with Asperger syndrome.

More from Amy Harmon: “A Son of the Bayou, Torn Over Shrimping Life”

 

8. The Girl from Trails End

Kathy Dobie | GQ Magazine | Sept. 6, 2011 | 26 minutes (6,657 words)

Revisiting the Texas gang-rape story, and a reminder about protecting our youngest victims. Dobie spends time with the girl’s family and attempts to understand how some members of the community could jump to the defense of the 19 men and boys accused:

“While the gag order did silence the defendants and the officials, it didn’t come close to quieting the rumors and accusations, the ill-informed but passionate opinions, the confusion and muddy thinking that obscured what should’ve been a clear-cut case of statutory rape: An 11-year-old child cannot consent to having sex. But a deep misunderstanding of the law persisted—of why it exists and the morality it is meant to express, as did an even deeper ignorance of children’s brains and the true nature of vulnerability.

“The most confused of all were the young people of Cleveland, the vast majority of whom sided with the boys and men and blamed Regina [not her real name]. The peer pressure to take sides—if you can even call it that, for at times it seemed like a mob versus one girl, all alone—was immense. Even the kind ones, the ones who called themselves her friends, had decided against her. In a Facebook conversation, a 13-year-old who was a cousin of one of the defendants said that Regina was ‘like my best friend n i love her’ but went on to write that ‘she ask for them to do that to her i do not care becuss thats just gross n i will never do that…. she like a slut type of girl.’ At 13, this girl could no more grasp the susceptibility of an 11-year-old than an anorexic can see herself clearly in a mirror.”

Just one of many outstanding pieces from GQ this year, including “The Movie Set that Ate Itself,” essays from John Jeremiah Sullivan“Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph High School Basketball Scandal,” and a fun collection of oral histories.

More Dobie: “The Long Shadow of War” (Dec. 2007)

 

9. A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

Mona Simpson | The New York Times | Oct. 30, 2011 | 9 minutes (2,383 words)

The final moments, and unforgettable last words, of a technology visionary’s life:

“He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

“Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

“He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

“This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

“He seemed to be climbing.

“But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

“Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.”

Steve Jobs tributes poured in during October and November, including a touching tribute from veteran tech journalist Steven Levy. Some of the best reading came from Steve himself, with his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech.

See also: The Steve Jobs archive on Longreads

 

10. Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library

Maria Bustillos | The Awl | April 5, 2011 | 38 minutes (9,439 words)

The ultimate DFW fan goes on a road trip to see what was on his bookshelves and pore over the marginalia for clues about his life:

“One surprise was the number of popular self-help books in the collection, and the care and attention with which he read and reread them. I mean stuff of the best-sellingest, Oprah-level cheesiness and la-la reputation was to be found in Wallace’s library. Along with all the Wittgenstein, Husserl and Borges, he read John Bradshaw, Willard Beecher, Neil Fiore, Andrew Weil, M. Scott Peck and Alice Miller. Carefully.

“Much of Wallace’s work has to do with cutting himself back down to size, and in a larger sense, with the idea that cutting oneself back down to size is a good one, for anyone (q.v., the Kenyon College commencement speech, later published as This is Water). I left the Ransom Center wondering whether one of the most valuable parts of Wallace’s legacy might not be in persuading us to put John Bradshaw on the same level with Wittgenstein. And why not; both authors are human beings who set out to be of some use to their fellows. It can be argued, in fact, that getting rid of the whole idea of special gifts, of the exceptional, and of genius, is the most powerful current running through all of Wallace’s work.”

After this was published, Bustillos kept going. In 2011 she also dissected the work of the late Christopher Hitchens, as well as Wikipedia and Aaron Swartz, among other topics.

See more longreads from The Awl in 2011

Our Top 10 Longreads of 2011