One version of my perfect day would consist of nothing but walking from one spicy-noodle stand to another, consuming so much chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns my mouth would no longer feel like it’s connected to my body. At Roads and Kingdoms, Josh Freedman made that dream reality, following Mr. Lamp — Chongqing’s most devoted noodle explorer — around the city, in search of the ultimate bowl of xiaomian.
Lamp steps out to take a call; he returns to tell me it is a reporter for one of China’s national newspapers. The article written about me the day before has been published in the local morning paper, under the headline “American Guy Loves Chongqing Noodles So Much He Flies All the Way to Chongqing to Eat Noodles and Learn About the Ingredients.” Within hours, the article was reposted by the flagship state-run paper, the state newswire, and dozens of aggregators. The article about me writing an article was such a big hit that the national press wanted to redo it for the international edition.
I look around the table, uncomfortable with the attention, thinking about the xiaomian stories that link each person together. Mrs. Lamp and her sister-in-law sit to our right, drinking sugary iced tea and gossiping. Across the simmering hotpot, Ms. Hu and her husband propose a toast to the table. They run a store called Fat Sister’s Noodles, named, they quickly add, after Ms. Hu. They operate the store themselves, with little help, starting before dawn every morning; rarely do they have a free moment to go out and eat with friends. After several rounds of toasting and laughter, Ms. Hu’s cheeks have turned bright red, almost as red as the hotpot broth on the table between us. Brother Lamp sits back, soaking it all in, watching connections borne of noodles grow into friendship and camaraderie. He has started smoking again.
In Sichuan’s spicy-noodle capital, a local xiaomian aficionado takes a visitor on a quest for the ultimate bowl.
I’ll try to follow a few guidelines for the sake of imagined objectivity, so, no friends; no GQ pieces; no pieces published before January 1, 2011; no stories pseudonymously submitted by my mom; no sandwiches. Here we go, with apologies, to, like, everyone.
An obvious choice made less obvious by the passage of time. It has been only nine months since Wright’s startling, white-knuckled journey to the center of Scientology, with outraged and wounded filmmaker Paul Haggis as his Ahab. In Internet time, this story feels very old—check out Tom Cruise’s new movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this Christmas!—but it hasn’t budged an inch. Wright has long been a dogged writer-reporter and interpreter of foreign, pre- and post-Judeo-Christian faiths, but he’s never been so simultaneously zingy and stone-faced. TNY fact-checkers famously sent the Church of Scientology 971 questions for confirmation before this was published, followed by an eight-hour inquiry session with the religion’s spokesman. I have 971 questions for Wright. Question One: How?
An arch and hilarious move by the editors at Grantland to lead their launch week with the story of an ambitious, innovative, and ultimately overextended sports publication. Too cute by half or not, French and Kahn, who have contributed great work like this to GQ, too, talk to damn near every wunderkind, wonk, and graybeard involved in the fast construction and faster crumbling of The National, the first (and last) sports-only newspaper. By turns funny, informative, and oddly thrilling, it presages the too-much media by at least a decade. Also, the characterization of editor-in-chief and sports scribe demigod Frank DeFord as a dashing dandy beyond all, an almost Gatsby-esque sportswriter (?!) is remarkable.
Access isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things. Refreshing. Enlightening. Embarrassing. Mirth-making. Other gerunds. That much is clear in this loose, funny portrait of one of the most important people in America, drawn small and sorta goofy, but not without empathy by Pressler. Just a damn good and entertaining profile.
Rabin is a pretty brilliant cultural critic and flotsam scavenger, but he’s secondary here to the form, the increasingly utilized Insta-Tell-All. Though shows like Louie or the rabidly championed Community are seen by relatively modest audiences, rarely exceeding a few million or so, the fandom they inspire is maniacal, bordering on unhealthy. In some instances, I hate this. But when it’s something I care about, I make exceptions. This literal step-by-step, shot-by-shot printed audio commentary track for the second season of comedian Louis CK’s FX series plays out in four parts and in a way that both satisfies in a very grim empty-calorie way and devastates with clarity. Louie isn’t exactly better after you’ve heard about every motivation—it’s fine standing alone, on your DVR. But that doesn’t mean you won’t inhale this series in one sitting and then enjoy this.
Stunt journalism, maybe. Multimedia art project gone wrong, sure. Belly-button-deep inside baseball, yeah, definitely. Doesn’t mean this very funny and very unnecessary attempt to get high and get paid for it (while sort of lampooning the whole Plimptonian, we-can-do-it style of participatory journalism along the way) isn’t a genuinely inventive and uniquely audience-conscious piece of web writing.
Guillermo del Toro, a perfect profile subject. Bonus points for savvy multimedia accompaniment.
Brilliantly crafted. Made a monkey outta me.
Could probably do with less tweeting and more writing of this kind from Kaling.
Bradford Evans, The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase (Splitsider)
Wherein the Chevy Chase is a Colossal Asshole reputation is burnished, buffed, and efficiently honed in a countdown form that neatly conveys the story of a career coulda-been.
William Bowers, Now What? (Pitchfork)
Made me feel better about all my time spent mining the crevasses of insular music writing.
When an Ashland County Sheriff deputy lethally shot 14-year-old Ojibwe boy Jason Pero, many residents of the Bad River Reservation demanded answers for what appeared an unjustified use of force. But to members of the Bad River Band of the Ojibwe nation, Pero’s death was one horrific incident in a long history of police depredations by an police force that harms instead of protects them.
For BuzzFeed, John Stanton reports from Ashland, Wisconsin, one of many towns whose law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over a neighboring Native American reservation and has fostered tensions. In Ashland, a correctional officer allegedly preyed on female Native American inmates before committing suicide, a deputy shot another young Ojibwe man, and instead of trying to offer answers or consolation to Jason Pero’s family, the Sheriff tried to control the media narrative around Pero’s death. Tribes overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs often hold that Federal agency in equally low standing. Poor police relationships are themselves shaped by the cultural divides between residents of reservations and adjacent white communities, who frequently know little about tribal culture other than broad brush strokes or inherited stereotypes.
Like many groups, the Ojibwe learn to avoid the police. So when the police are breaking the law, who are they supposed to go to, and why would they ever believe things will improve? As one tribe member put it, “This has been going on for 300 years…”
On a per-capita basis, Native Americans are 12% more likely to be killed by law enforcement officers than black Americans — and three times more likely than white Americans.
If you live on one of the dozens of reservations across the country in which local, white police forces from nearby border towns have jurisdiction, the chances that you’ll end up in jail are high. In Ashland County, for instance, Native Americans make up 11% of the population but account for 44% of the inmates in the county jail, according to data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice research and reform group.
For tribal leaders here and across the country, that leads to one conclusion. “That becomes a disproportionality that speaks to some sort of institutionalized injustice going on,” says Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins.
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in crime reporting.
Contributor to The Atlantic, Los Angeles Magazine, and The Daily Beast. Author of The Spy with No Name.
Dirty John (Christopher Goffard, The Los Angeles Times)
I love a good villain, and my baddie of the year was John Meehan, a hazel-eyed Casanova who hid his murky past behind fake surgeon’s scrubs and a kaleidoscope of lies. This wannabe mobster lured a moneyed Orange County divorcée into a toxic relationship, creating an elevated psychodrama that recalled Gone Girl. Delivered as a six-part narrative on the web, Dirty John was also accompanied by a six-part podcast. Both were irresistible. Goddard’s spare prose kept this thriller racing towards its bloody end — the kind of murderous climax we were promised at the start of S-Town but never received — one that made an unlikely hero of a seemingly meek fan of The Walking Dead. Bravo to Goddard for divining this epic yarn from local news to national attention, and for his terrifying portrait of Meehan told through the eyes of his victims. This is the genius of the domestic horror genre: The monster is no longer under the bed but between the sheets.
Contributor to The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and The New Republic. Author a book on women, crime, and obsession will be published by Scribner in 2019.
The Tragic Story of a Texas Teen and the Marines Who Killed Him for No Reason (Sasha von Oldershausen, Splinter)
Contributor to Buzzfeed, The New Republic, and the Life of the Law podcast.
‘I Am a Girl Now,’ Sage Smith Wrote. Then She Went Missing (Emma Eisenberg, Splinter)
Carl Ichan’s Failed Raid on Washington (Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker)
While it may not have been the juiciest crime story this year, Patrick Radden Keefe’s precise and damning piece on Carl Icahn’s stint in the Trump Administration chilled me more than I could have imagined. This is how the world works: We’re being taken for fools while the Masters of the Universe move from private to public positions. I can only hope to read about more financial crimes in 2018 that get appropriately punished.
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in essays.
Editor in chief of Catapult magazine, author of the forthcoming memoir All You Can Ever Know.
Going It Alone (Rahawa Haile, Outside Magazine)
One of my favorite personal essays published this year was Rahawa Haile’s stunning “Going It Alone,” for Outside. She uses a personal story, her own journey on Appalachian Trail, to try and answer a larger question: Just who is the outdoors for? To answer this, Haile doesn’t just rely on her own experiences on the trail, she also does a ton of research, bringing in past interviews and stories, and interweaving anecdotes from other through-hikers she meets along the way. I really appreciated how, with all these other voices in play, we get a clearer vision of Rahawa and her journey, too. At the conclusion of this piece, which is so gorgeously written and urgent and honest and full of life, Rahawa closes with the perfect ode to those she met on her way: “It is no understatement to say that the friends I made, and the experiences I had with strangers who, at times, literally gave me the shirt off their back, saved my life. I owe a great debt to the through-hiking community that welcomed me with open arms, that showed me what I could be and helped me when I faltered. There is no impossible, they taught me: only good ideas of extraordinary magnitude.” Read more…
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in profile writing.
Executive editor, The Atavist
A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof (Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, GQ)
There was no piece of journalism in 2017 more honest or more raw than Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s profile of Dylann Roof for GQ. Its brilliance began with an enviable lede—”Sitting beside the church, drinking from a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, he thought he had to go in and shoot them” — and persisted for the duration of what proved to be an unlikely profile. Unlikely, because Kaadzi Ghansah didn’t set out to write it. She went to Charleston to cover Roof’s murder trial, planning to report on the families of his victims, but found herself drawn to the young man who sat, angry and silent and unfazed, day after day in the courtroom. She decided to profile a black hole, an absence, because she couldn’t not.
The story is unlikely, too, because of its style. Ghansah winds through Roof’s life like a criminal profiler. She collects evidence, data, interviews, and observations, then pieces them together for readers, showing where the connective tissue resides. She is an essential presence in the story, which is no easy feat to pull off, and the result is wholly organic. This is a story about race, class, anger, bewilderment, and division. It is also, as the headline “A Most American Terrorist” attests, a story about the current political moment. You come away from it knowing who Dylann Roof is, who Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is, and what America is—or, really, what it has always been.
As traffic fled Houston before Hurricane Harvey, a line of trucks towing small, flat-bottomed boats made their way into the city. The Cajun Navy would save hundreds of lives from flooded neighborhoods, and instead of rejecting their help, the government embraced it, entrusting much of the evacuation to this rag-tag band of individuals, preferring them over the Red Cross, and in some cases, the National Guard.
Miriam Markowitz followed the Cajun Navy for GQ in the days after the hurricane, when it became clear that the resources needed simply weren’t adequate. The Navy itself is small but organized. Begun in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, it’s helped residents of Louisiana with almost yearly flooding, and travels to nearby states for help during big storms or hurricanes. It’s the kind of help that comes in the moment, and the Navy uses a walkie-talkie app to dispatch boats to specific locations. Even local Louisiana politicians are on board with the independent rescue squad: