Far and away #1 on this list: Wells Tower took his dad to Burning Man, and the resulting story is lyrical, truly hilarious and vividly rendered. Laughed and cried.
The aftermath of a massacre: After Newtown, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet. By Eli Saslow.
MOORE, Okla. — "They were ready, because they're always ready, because the people here know that when the black clouds start forming and the sirens begin to scream, it is time to go down. Down under desks. Down into cellars. Down onto knees." Ben Montgomery.
Ariel Levy’s devastating essay about her miscarriage: Thanksgiving in Mongolia.
A lovely graduation speech from George Saunders: “If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves."
"I keep a list in the back of one of my journals called "Moments of Strange Magic." It contains events that were either (a) just really, really happy (jumping around to Beyoncé with friends) or (b) aesthetically cohesive and perfect and synesthetic (driving through the desert in a blue convertible to Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" past a bunch of neon-sign motels and trailer parks). Each event is marked with a symbol indicating whether it took place in real life, a movie/TV show/book, or my imagination." Tavi Gevinson on memory and imagination. I love the way her brain works. And, for good measure, her December editor's letter for Rookie about the adolescent concept of forever.
Outstanding public service journalism: The Child Exchange series from Reuters. Segregation in Alabama sororities. The Kansas City Star: Nightmare in Maryville. Elisabeth Rosenthal's Paying Til It Hurts series. Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott. Ariel Levy on Steubenville.
In books: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Old School by Tobias Wolff, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman, Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
“If a baby is born after the 22nd week of pregnancy but before the 25th, not even the smartest doctors in the world can say what will happen to it… About one in 750 babies arrives in that awful window of time, suspended between what is medically possible and what is morally right. One of them was born on April 12, 2011, at Bayfront Medical Center. My daughter.” This, by Kelly Benham, is a very long series, but it’s some of the most powerful writing I’ve ever been witness to.
Can’t believe I’d never read it before, but: DFW’s Consider the Lobster.
12 minutes of freedom in 460 days of captivity.
Loved this poem: Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye.
“The most important thing for aspiring writers is for them to give themselves permission to be brave on the page, to write in the presence of fear, to go to those places that you think you can’t write." Cheryl Strayed.
Lane DeGregory’s stunning story about Miss Teen America’s escape to the woods — except that’s not what the story’s about at all. Just one of a million amazing things by Lane this year, case in point, her letter to a young journalist. My favorite line: “I wish I had done fewer phoners and gotten sunburned on more boats.”
More good advice for young writers (and just about anyone): It doesn't get any easier. What you get for doing something well is the opportunity to do it better. On Michael Kruse's blog.
From the archives: the Pulitzer-winning “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a child in the back seat of a hot, parked car is a horrifying, inexcusable mistake. But is it a crime?” Absolutely devastating and so compassionately written.
The secret life of grief.
John Jeremiah Sullivan’s retelling of his family’s trip to Disney World features a kid named Lil’ Dog, covert weed-smoking, a fascinating history of the Disney Empire and incalculably funny sentences.
Drew Magary’s hilariously absurd journey on the loud-and-proud redneck party dubbed Kid Rock’s Chillin’ The Most Cruise, which is as booze-soaked and insane as you’d expect.
“Kim can fish and fight and spit as well as any man on any boat, and she knows it and so do they.” A short, terrifically written and powerful profile of a tough, tough woman by John Woodrow Cox.
“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” — Bill Watterson, who made his own life, is honored in this lovely short comic.
A year in writing advice from some of the best.
"I’m writing this not only in the hope that everyone will cross me off the list of writers to hit up for free content but, more important, to make a plea to my younger colleagues. As an older, more accomplished, equally unsuccessful artist, I beseech you, don’t give it away. As a matter of principle. Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless."
My selfie, myself. By Jenna Wortham.
How a relationship brought me halfway around the world and back, by Ruth Curry for Buzzfeed.
An oral history of Good Will Hunting.
"When I was 14, I had a relationship with my eighth grade history teacher. People called me a victim. They called him a villain. But it's more complicated than that." Jenny Kutner in Texas Monthly.
A Soldier’s Wife,” by Chris Goffard, the Los Angeles Times, about a family’s struggle to adjust to life after war.
“Beauty is often treated as an essentially feminine subject, something trivial and frivolous that women are excessively concerned with. Men, meanwhile, are typically seen as having a straightforward and uncomplicated relationship with it: they are drawn to it.” But our best novelists reveal the truth about female beauty, which is much more complicated.
How to talk to little girls.
“The profoundest, truest communication I’ve ever experienced has been with my son, who can’t yet speak.”
“I basically destroyed my favorite books with the pure logorrheic force of my excitement, spraying them so densely with scribbled insight that the markings almost ceased to have meaning.” The joys of marginalia.
And for good measure, my favorite essay of all time: Cheryl Strayed, ‘The Love of My Life.’
My Instapaper queue is seven pages deep thanks to everyone else's end-of-year lists, so this is painfully incomplete. January will be busy.
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
- Mary Oliver