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.
I’m not sure when Barack Obama first entered my consciousness: whether it was a 60 Minutes segment during the first campaign or reading about him in the July 10th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone — which, albeit slightly crumpled — remains on our coffee table to this day.
The time leading up to his first election was the darkest period of my life to date and during those long nights in late 2008, I took strength from the enthusiasm surrounding him, his campaign, and his election. The optimism was part antidote to my troubles, part encouragement to move on. Of all the articles written about Obama over the years, the ones that intrigued me most were the ones that helped me get to know the man and what he stood for, just a little bit better.
Thursday, January 19th, 2017 is the last day in office for Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. With this reading list we remember the man, his time in office, and take a peek at what’s in store after the White House.
1. “The Conciliator” (Larissa Macfarquhar, The New Yorker, May 7, 2007)
Macfarquhar reports on Obama in action with constituents before being elected president, observing his calm demeanor, “freakish self-possession,” and ability to connect with humans of every description. She describes a man who, early on, eschewed political outrage as an impotent, empty tactic — a distraction to achieving unity.
2. “A Conversation with Barack Obama” (Jann S. Wenner, Rolling Stone, July 10, 2008)
In this wide-ranging interview during Obama’s first bid for president in 2008, Wenner takes us back to the optimism surrounding the candidate and his campaign. They chat about Obama’s three favorite books, musical tastes, pop culture, getting endorsed by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and Obama’s overall approach to governing a nation.
3. “Obama’s Way” (Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair, October, 2012)
Michael Lewis spent six months with the president before Obama was elected to his second term in office. Lewis reports on the emotional demands of the presidency, avoiding distraction to save decision-making energy as commander-in-chief, the potentially disastrous human consequences of those decisions, and what the president does to soothe his soul after a particularly hard day.
4. “The way ahead” (Barack Obama, The Economist, October 8, 2016)
In his own words, Barack Obama examines the state of the U.S. economic union, positing that globalization, inclusion, and closing the gap between the richest and poorest Americans will aid U.S. prosperity.
5. “Barack Obama is Preparing for His Third Term” (Jason Zengerle, GQ, January 17, 2017)
Most former presidents avoid the spotlight to spend more time with family and maybe enjoy some golf. Even though Barack Obama is stepping away from political office, he’s gearing up to influence the direction of the United States by advising his successor.
Here are the stories we loved this week.
“Zac was a thumper,” his father says, standing in the family kitchen. “Of all the boys, he was the one who wouldn’t show pain, who’d be fearless.… He’d throw his head into anything. He was the kind of guy I like on defense.”
…only Winslow knew the full extent of Zac’s struggles in the five and a half years since high school: the brain tremors that felt like thunderclaps inside his skull, the sudden memory lapses in which he’d forget where he was driving or why he was walking around the hardware store, the doctors who told him his mind might be torn to pieces from all the concussions from football. She knew about the drugs and the drinking he was doing to cope. She knew about the mood swings, huge and pulverizing, the slow leaching of his hope.
Below, our favorite stories of the week.
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…