My favorite stories of 2020: An awful year with some great journalism

This year, I set a New Year’s resolution goal: Read 366 feature stories in 366 days.

We’ve still got a few days left, but you can find everything I’ve read (closing in on 366) here:  January’s readsFebruary’s readsMarch readsApril readsMay reads, June reads, July reads, August reads and a whole mess at the end because I was lazy.

After reading so many awesome stories, however, I don’t expect you to cull through all 366 to find your favorites, so I’ll share mine below.

Of course, these are always supposed to be top 10 lists, and that’s an impossible task when I’ve read so many great pieces, so I’ll cheat a bit to get a few more into the mix…

Best oral history: Brian Van Hooker’s amazing deep dive into the impact of The Simpsons’ “Steamed Hams” bit. There’s a full day’s worth of laughs in here & it goes well beyond the basic history, which is great. As a side note, as a reporter, my favorite part of the Steamed Hams oral history was imagining Brian calling an astrophysicist to ask if it was theoretically possible the Northern Lights could be contained entirely in someone’s kitchen.

Best series: Eli Saslow’s first-person “as told to” accounting of normal people’s battles with COVID-19 was haunting and essential, and none got to me more than this one about parents who nearly lost their two sons to the virus.

Best story by one of my friends: Lots of good work from the great ESPN folks this year, but nothing better than Andrea Adelson’s emotional look at David Shaw’s battle to save his brother’s life. Just a beautiful story of what we’ll do for the people we love.

Best non-college football sports story: Tom Junod’s tale of what actually happened on a Maine baseball field and the tragic backstories of the people involved is so deeply reported and emotionally intense. Then again, it’s what you expect from Tom.

Best sports essay: Ryan McGee’s personal appeal to NASCAR fans after the sport banned the confederate flag is the takedown of “History not Hate” that was desperately needed. It takes courage start pulling the skeletons out of the family’s closet, and this was a courageous piece.

Best feel-good read: In a year without much good news, we all needed a pick-me-up, and Sam Anderson’s profile of Weird Al Yankovic was exactly that… a joyful & surprisingly emotional treatise on the pleasures of being different.

Most prescient story of the year: Back in February when we all assumed COVID-19 would go away soon enough, James Hamblin’s story offered an astonishingly prescient alternative, that before hardly any Americans had it, the virus had already won.

Most deeply reported story of the year: Matthew Shaer goes around the world and back to find the real truth of a man who claimed to be a lost US commando lost in Vietnam for half a century. Nobody dug deeper on a story this year.

Best narrative essay: Sarah Viren’s wife was accused of harassment. The accusations were all lies. The taut narrative here reads like a crime thriller while exposing the dark underbelly of higher education.

Reporting MVP of the year: The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe had more stories I absolutely loved than anyone else this year. Just a terrific run of deeply reported, narrative driven pieces, one of which I’ll include in my top 10, but also wanted to share a couple others…

The pandemic hit and this car became home for a family of four — stunning storytelling that illustrated the massive and disproportionate impact the virus had on people who were already struggling to get by…

A pandemic, a motel without power and a potentially terrifying glimpse of Orlando’s future — Another deeply reported and detailed piece that’s haunting in its specificity and also how universal these stories are becoming…

Now my top 10 favorite stories of the year. The one common thread among them is that they each go deep on their subjects, and if that’s all they were, they’d all be excellent stories. But in each case, the writer elevates the content into something bigger and better and more lasting. Hope you’ll read them all.

Reminder: please please please continue to support good journalism in 2021 by subscribing to your favorite news outlets & sharing the stories that impact you.

10. Linda Rodriguez found perhaps the most outside-the-box approach to telling a COVID-19 story this year with her piece on a man who’s spent nearly his whole life in an iron lung. It’s beautifully reported and written and perfectly captures the humanity of a man whose existence requires machines.

9. I mentioned Greg Jaffe’s outstanding work this year, and you could pick one of many for the top 10, but this piece on the soldier turned in by his own platoon who became a conservative hero after a Trump pardon. The depth of reporting & visceral emotions are next level here.

8. The reporting here is great, too, but the writing in Burkhard Bilger’s deep dive into high-end reno projects in NYC is the type of thing that keeps me up at night I’m so jealous of it. The quotes are amazing, too. Contractors got jokes.

7. Michael Lista’s story of a poorly planned sting operation in Canada goes so far beyond the narrative thrills of a crime story and results in a heartbreaking tale of loneliness and despair.

6. Caroline Randall Williams wrote the most powerful piece I’ve seen on how to address the country’s fraught history with race. Too many of our big debates are had with excess emotion and too little empathy, and Randall Williams flips the script in gut-wrenching fashion.

5. I hate celebrity profiles but Taffy Brodesser-Akner upends all the tropes and actually finds something deep and meaningful in her story about Val Kilmer that, in the end, feels like a story that mattered so much more because of the time in which it appeared. It’s beautiful.

4. Hannah Dreier’s story of a police standoff just days after de-escalation training in Alabama is the type of nuanced and objective reporting on police violence we so desperately needed this year. It doesn’t take sides. It just puts the reader in the midst of the chaos.

3. Jesmyn Ward’s essay on losing her husband just before the pandemic upended the world was simply heartbreaking. It reminded me of “The Leftovers” subplot in which personal grief gets upstaged by national tragedy and the additional hurt that comes with that.

2. Chris Solomon’s essay on the love shared between his parents and the toll that commitment took as they got older and his father dealt with dementia. Just gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. Not sure any story will stick with me more than this one.

1. Sarah Zhang’s story on prenatal testing & Down Syndrome is touching and heartfelt but also asks some big questions we face as humans. It’s one of those rare stories that deeply connects with its subjects but is about something so much bigger.

December Reading List: The Search for September-November’s Reading List

So I’ve been slacking. Yes, I’ve still been reading… just not nearly so much. My goal of 366 stories in 366 days is… possibly not going to happen. I write this with 21 days remaining and 26 stories left to read. But hey, I was one of Pocket’s top 1% this year, so that’s got to be good for something, right?

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Anyway, as I’ve also slacked on posting these, I’m skipping most of the commentary and just including links. I am worthless during football season. Forgive me.

If you’ve missed any previous reading, here’s January’s reads, February’s reads, March reads, April reads, May reads, June reads, July reads, and August reads, along with a best of the first half of 2020 list and a best of all time list. Best reads get a .

247.) The Lesson Americans Never Learn by Annie Lowery in The Atlantic

248.) On and off the field, Marvin Wilson leaving a lasting impact at Florida State by Andrea Adelson for ESPN

249.) Can ‘Athletic Intelligence’ Be Measured? by Devin Gordon for The New York Times

250.) The Scramble to Pluck 24 Billion Cherries in Eight Weeks by Brooke Jarvis in The New York Times

251.) On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by a Pandemic by Jesmyn Ward in Vanity Fair

252.) The 5G lie: The network of the future is still slow by Geoffrey A. Fowler in The Washington Post

253.) Going Postal: A psychoanalytic reading of social media and the death drive by Max Read in BookForum

254.) The Falling Man by Tom Junoud in Esquire
I read this one every September 11, and it always feels new and haunting.

255.) Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence on BLM, listening and learning: ‘I’m on the journey of discovering’ by Hallie Grossman for ESPN

256.) The U.S. shows all the signs of a country spiraling toward political violence by Rachel Kleinfeld in The Washington Post

257.) Deshaun Watson is ready to be heard by Tim Keown for ESPN

258.) The Fight Against Words That Sound Like, but Are Not, Slurs by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic

259.) The Limitless Potential of Zion Williamson by JA Adande in Men’s Heath Continue reading December Reading List: The Search for September-November’s Reading List

August reads: Yes, this year is still happening. Dear God when will it end?

It’s August. I don’t have anything more to add. I’m drained.

Update: Turns out, I was a slacker this month. Well, not a slacker all around. Life was chaos. That led to less reading — just 17 stories in 31 days. Alas, I’ll do better in September.

If you’ve missed any previous reading, here’s January’s reads, February’s reads, March reads, April reads, May reads, June reads and July reads, along with a best of the first half of 2020 list and a best of all time list.

Best reads get a .

Enjoy August fare…

230.) How the Trump campaign came to court QAnon, the online conspiracy movement identified by the FBI as a violent threat by Isaac Stanley-Becker for The Washington Post

231.) My Midlife Crisis as a Russian Sailor by Andrea Pitzer for Outside Magazine

This was a really fun travelogue and a reminder that I wish I had more adventures as a reporter. Damn sports being so buttoned-down.

232.) Bob Newhart made comedy history in Houston by Andrew Dansby in the Houston Chronicle

Bob Newhart is on the very short list of comedians I most enjoy. He’s an absolute American treasure.

233.) How the Media Could Get the Election Story Wrong by Ben Smith in The New York Times Continue reading August reads: Yes, this year is still happening. Dear God when will it end?

July reading list: Because the second half of 2020 pretty much has to be better than the first half, right? Right!?! Hello?

We’re more than halfway through our project of reading 366 feature stories in 366 days in 2020. It’s been a helluva ride so far — through a pandemic, protests, Mike Gundy. But, here’s to better days ahead.

If you’ve missed anything, here’s January’s reads, February’s reads, March reads, April reads, May reads and June reads along with a best of the first half of 2020 list and a best of all time list.

Now, on to our July stories… Best reads get a .

190.) You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument by Caroline Randall Williams in The New York Times

“I have rape-colored skin.”

That’s the opening sentence of this powerful essay, and it might be one of the most important works of the current societal moment. An amazing read.

191.) Why We Need ‘Hamilton’ Now More Than Ever by Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone

Watched “Hamilton” for the first time over the weekend and it belongs in that pantheon of things that were so hyped in advance that there seemed no way for them to live up to the billing, and yet somehow they managed to exceed expectations. Everything in this piece is true — but there’ve been about a million “Hamilton” think pieces in the past week and there could be a million more. There’s just so much to unpack.

192.) The Republican Choice by Clare Malone for FiveThirtyEight

Solid accounting of how the Republican party evolved over generations to what it is now.

193.) The Mysterious Deaths of 6 Historical Figures by Bess Lovejoy for Mental Floss

194.) How Dollar Stores Became Magnets for Crime and Killing by Alec MacGillis for ProPublica

195.) The Cursed Platoon by Greg Jaffe in The Washington Post

Horrifying. This is terrifically reported, and like another of Jaffe’s recent pieces I highlighted, it’s impossible not to be caught up emotionally in the story. Jaffe is this year’s journalism MVP frontrunner at the moment.

196.) The Master Thief by Zeke Faux in Bloomberg

Nothing will ever be more Boston than this story.

197.) Airplane! Is Considered One of the Best Comedies of All Time. But 40 Years Ago No One Saw it Coming. by Chris Nashawaty for Esquire

198.) The Hero of Goodall Park: Inside a true-crime drama 50 years in the making by Tom Junod for ESPN.com

There’s a reason Tom Junod is one of the best writers alive. This piece is so damn good, with so many twists and turns, a genuinely human story to the very core. Just terrific. Continue reading July reading list: Because the second half of 2020 pretty much has to be better than the first half, right? Right!?! Hello?

Best of 2020 at the halfway mark: My 10 favorite stories I read during the first 6 months of this awful, awful year

In January, I decided to read 366 feature stories this year — averaging out to one per day. It’s been a nice experience, though far too many of the stories have been entirely depressing, which comes with the territory in this depressing era we’re all trying to survive. It’s also been an interesting calendar of sorts. Looking back over the past six months, it’s almost amazing to see how much the tone, subject matter, urgency of stories has shifted. There’s probably something more to be said about all that, but I don’t have the energy at the moment, so let’s just get to the 10 best stories I’ve read so far this year…

10.) How This Con Man’s Wild Testimony Sent Dozens to Jail, and 4 to Death Row by Pamela Colloff in New York Times Magazine

9.) Hitchhiker, hero, celebrity, killer: The strange journey of the man called Kai by Jana Pruden in The Globe and Mail

8.) The Sting by Michael Lista in Toronto Life

7.) The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic by Sam Anderson in The New York Times

6.) A stubborn stain, a selfless act, a wrenching discovery: cleaning up after Chris Beaty’s death in Indianapolis by Mary Claire Molloy in The Indianapolis Star

5.) The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It?by Sarah Viren in The New York Times

4.) Miranda’s Rebellion by Stephanie McCrummen in The Washington Post

3.) Boss of the Beach by David Gauvey Herbert in New York Magazine

2.) What Happened to Val Kilmer? He’s Just Starting to Figure It Out. by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in The New York Times

1.) The pandemic hit and this car became home for a family of four. by Greg Jaffe in The Washington Post

 

 

 

 

Understanding the humans in a human interest story

I initially posted this as a thread of tweets, but the thing about Twitter is that, after just a few hours (or minutes or seconds) online, ideas can easily disappear into the ether, never to be seen again. I didn’t want that to happen here, if for no other reason than I want to be reminded of this every so often, like stepping on the scale to refresh your goal to eat healthier (which I also need to do, but that’s a different story).

Still, the starting point comes from Twitter, from @PrimeDiscussion, a Florida State fan I’ve followed for years, who continuously offers insight that requires me to think deeper about my own opinions and choices on things like race and politics and, occasionally, FSU football.

(Note: There’s more to Adam’s thread that’s also worth reading, but this was the jumping off point for my thread.)

(Second note: This is lightly edited from the original Twitter thread to add context and account for the lack of a character limit here.)

Adam’s tweet got me thinking a lot about how we tell the human stories of college athletes, and that’s required me to take a hard look at the process. Adam’s larger issue is 100% right but I want to address the “tragic stories overcome” trope, which runs deep.

First, since he’s mentioned in Adam’s tweet, let me say that there’s no nicer human in this business than Tom Rinaldi, so none of this is a critique of him. Rather, it’s a critique of me and (hopefully) a point to consider for all of us who tell stories for a living.

I like to fancy myself a feature writer. Maybe not a good one, but it’s the part of the job that gives me the most satisfaction. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is that all stories are stories about people, and features let me tell the best people stories.

When telling a feature story — or any story, I guess — you’re really giving your perception of someone else’s story. I hope my reporting is thorough enough that my perception matches experienced reality, but that’s especially hard when writing about black athletes as a white reporter.

Let me give you an example. I wrote this piece about former FSU star Devonta Freeman and his pal, former Syracuse DB Durrell Eskridge a few years ago. I liked it. I thought I did a good job showcasing why they were so close. Continue reading Understanding the humans in a human interest story

June Reading List:We’re not even halfway through 2020 and I’m exhausted from reading all of this stuff, please send help.

My goal to read 366 feature stories in 366 days is proceeding on schedule, but given the percentage of those stories that have just kicked me in the stomach, it’s been a more arduous journey than I’d imagined when we began in January. But part of the reason for this adventure was to see what impact consuming so much in-depth journalism would have on my outlook, and I must say, it’s been exhausting and, at the same time, inspiring. Hope it’s been the same for those of you reading along with me.

Here’s January, February, March, April and May reading lists, along with a greatest hits package.

On to this month’s picks. Best reads get a .

154.) How Pandemics End by Gina Kolata in The New York Times

155.) How the fake Beatles conned South America by Ed Prideaux for the BBC

156.) History Will Judge the Complicit by Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic

This piece is not for the faint of heart. It’s long, and it’s deep, but it offers some genuine historical perspective on why so few Republicans are willing to step out from behind Trump’s coat tails to speak truth to power — and why a few of them do. It’s fascinating.

157.) Cops Are Always the Main Characters by Kathryn VanArendonk in Vulture

158.) A stubborn stain, a selfless act, a wrenching discovery: cleaning up after Chris Beaty’s death in Indianapolis by Mary Claire Molloy in The Indianapolis Star

The woman who wrote this is a freshman in college. A freshman. My god. I might as well quit the profession because if an 18-year-old is already this much better than me… well, what hope do I have? But seriously, this is an absolute tour-de-force of journalism. If I were teaching a course in feature writing, I’d pass out this story and just tell the students, “do this.” (Note: I wouldn’t be a very good teacher.)

159.) What’s a journalist supposed to be now — an activist? A stenographer? You’re asking the wrong question.by Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post

160.) Inside the Revolts Erupting in America’s Big Newsrooms by Ben Smith in The New York Times

The inherent question in the two stories above are the same: How do journalists balance their personal beliefs with their role as objective observers. I think a big part has to start with this: Objectivity is not about giving equal footing to all arguments, many of which are made in bad faith or not supported by evidence. It is our job to discern reality from narrative and present the most accurate version to our audience. Too much of our industry, on shaky ground as it is, has been bullied into “both sides-ing” everything, when in fact, one side is just eager to muddy the waters. On the flip side, it’s essential that un-muddying those waters is done with facts and reporting, not our own personal ethos. In fact, good reporting answers a lot of the problems we’re facing.

Continue reading June Reading List:We’re not even halfway through 2020 and I’m exhausted from reading all of this stuff, please send help.

May reading material: The lockdown is ending. Bring on that fog that turns people inside-out!

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It’s May. We’ve been holed up for two months. The country is demanding we march back toward normalcy, even if nothing has really changed in the fight against Covid-19. Fun times. How about some reading material to distract you?

Here’s January, February, March, and April reading lists, along with a greatest hits package.

On to this month’s picks. Best reads get a .

117.) The harmless practical joke that changed baseball by Will Leitch for MLB.com

Boston ruins everything in sports.

118.) ‘Space Jam’ Forever: The Website That Wouldn’t Die by Erik Malinowski for Rolling Stone

This is from 2015, but came up in my Pocket feed recently, and it’s definitely worth reading again now.

119.) Inside the Strip Clubs of Instagram by Taylor Lorenz in The New York Times

120.) Revisiting Hours: How ‘Walk Hard’ Almost Destroyed the Musical Biopicby Alan Scherstuhl in Rolling Stone

Man, I love this movie. Everything about it is pitch perfect. Which leads me to my ranking of the best parody movies ever:

1.) Naked Gun
2.) Spaceballs
3.) Dewey Cox
4.) Airplane!
5.) Hot Shots!

Note: There’s a subtle difference between spoof and parody. They’re both aimed at undercutting tropes of traditional fare, but a spoof tends to aim more broadly — what it has to say is mostly about the actual thing it’s spoofing — whereas parody (say, Shaun of the Dead or Spinal Tap), have slightly loftier goals. Continue reading May reading material: The lockdown is ending. Bring on that fog that turns people inside-out!

April reading material because we’ll never leave our homes again.

If you’re late to the party, this is a running list of stories I’ve read in 2020 — part of a New Year’s resolution to consume 366 feature(ish) stories in 366 days this year. As of April 1, we’re all caught up after a late start. The pieces I’ve particularly liked get a next to them, so feel free to just read those. Or anything. Reading is good. It’s like listening, but with your eyes.

ICYMI, here’s January, February and March lists, along with my unofficial list of favorite stories ever.

On to April…

92.) ‘He didn’t even pretend to let us win’… Growing up with the world’s biggest stars, by their children collected by Joshua David Stein in The Guardian

This was a fun piece with some middling insight from children of John Lennon, John Wayne, Miles Davis, Caitlyn Jenner and Samuel L. Jackson, but the star of the show here is Jeff Bridges, who sounds like he’s every bit as wonderful as you might hope.

93.) Favorite Players: Dan Quisenberry by Joe Posnanski in The Athletic

Because we’re all trying to fill some space without sports, The Athletic is doing some creative essay work, and Posnanski’s picture of the former Royals closer is just beautiful. I’d read Joe on anything, but aside from Springsteen and Buck O’Neil, Quiz might be his most soul-filling topic.

94.)A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music by William Weir in Slate

This piece is from 2014 (btw, Pocket is a great spot to find some fun older features) and asks a question I’ve been contemplating for 20 years… why don’t songs fade out anymore? The story has a soft spot for the fade outs. I, however, do not. They are the laugh track of pop music.

95.) Touting Virus Cure, ‘Simple Country Doctor’ Becomes a Right-Wing Star by Kevin Roose and Matthew Rosenberg in The New York Times

This story feels like it symbolizes the absolute worst of every part of our modern culture. A potentially critical medicine is politicized because of course it is. A guy gets on YouTube to promote something that hasn’t been proven. People who actually need the drug aren’t able to get it, a community is up in arms, and in the end, we’re all suffering for it.

96.) The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller in The Washington Post

This is the best synopsis of the failings of the federal government during the pandemic I’ve read. And it’d be easy enough to say this is a political issue. It’s not. It’s a Trump issue. Many Republicans have been exceptional during this crisis, including the governors in Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky, to name a few. But when Trump has created a culture in which experts are derided, every issue is a referendum on him, cronies and kiss-ups hold high office, the State Department has been ravaged, and hundreds of federal jobs remain unfilled — well, none of this should be a surprise. Continue reading April reading material because we’ll never leave our homes again.

Great reads for a long quarantine

What are the best features stories I’ve ever read? No clue. The list is too long. But a few do immediately spring to mind, and since we all have some extra time on our hands, I figured I’d put together a quick list here for your reading pleasure.

Looking for more reading? My New Year’s Resolution was to read 366 features in 366 days in 2020, and I’ve been keeping tabs on my progress. See January, February and March‘s lists.

Got favorites you’ve read over the years? Please share in the comments.

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The Squid Hunter by David Grann in The New Yorker

This is my default answer for the best thing I’ve ever read. It’s just perfect in every way, a small story that is a big one, a true-life Moby Dick. It’s brilliant. Of course, everything by David Grann is brilliant, and if you’re looking for something longer, The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon are both book-length tours de force.

As Time Runs Out by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated

This is the story that made me want to become a sports writer, the moment I realized that the job wasn’t just writing about games. The story of Jim Valvano’s final days is told with such compassion and honestly and emotion. It’s a work of art. Gary Smith was my idol growing up, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know him a little, and his work at SI is just tremendous always. But this one will always stand out to me.

The Promise by Joe Posnanski on JoeBlogs

Springsteen and dads. It doesn’t get much more white American sports writer than this. But Joe Posnanski, one of the most compassionate writers out there, does something utterly gorgeous with this piece that will make you want to listen to Nebraska on Spotify and call your old man.

Frank Sinatra has a Cold by Gay Tales in Esquire

Arguably the single most famous piece of profile writing ever done, and it deserves all the hype.

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? and Why Not the Worst? both by Gene Weingarten in The Washington Post

Everything Gene Weingarten has ever written is genius, but these two — absolute polar opposites in terms of subject matter — are probably my favorites. (Note: He won the Pulitzer for a different story, Pearls Before Breakfast.) The former, a deep look into the aftermath of the worst mistake a parent can make — leaving their child in a hot car — is perhaps the most emotional story I’ve ever read. In fact, since I’ve had my own kids, I can’t read it. No one has ever added empathy to such dark subject matter better, though. It’s amazing. The latter, on Weingarten’s quest to find America’s worst city, is so insightfully hilarious that it’s a perfect pick-me-up in an otherwise very dark time.

Final Salute by Jim Sheeler in the Rocky Mountain News

The photos and reporting for this piece are so vivid that the piece in its entirety is just a complete gut punch. When I think of the Bush years, the unending wars, of 9/11 and the aftermath, of the first decade of this century — this will be the story that defines it for me. But as if this story needed more tragedy, the RMN folded just a couple years after this piece won the Pulitzer.

The Falling Man by Tom Junod in Esquire

Tom Junod has gotten a lot of publicity lately for his profile of Mr. Rogers, which of course, is excellent, but for me, The Falling Man is a quintessentially perfect piece of journalism, a piece that will stand on its own in the history of writing as something unique and special and perfect. In the aftermath of 9/11, I’m not sure anything so perfectly captures the true emotion of that day as honestly as this does.

You Can’t Quit Cold Turkey by Tommy Tomlinson at ESPN.com

My friend Tommy Tomlinson is a brilliant writer, but he’s also a man who’s carried the burden of his weight with him for nearly his entire life. In fact, he wrote a book about it, and you should definitely read that book. But the book probably wouldn’t have happened if not for this story, a brilliant bit of writing — including arguably my favorite lede to any story ever — about Jared Lorenzen, the Hefty Lefty, who was making the rounds on the Internet as a point-and-laugh fat QB in the Arena League before Tommy wrote a beautiful story that captured the utter torment for people whose passion and weight often pull them in different directions. That Lorenzen died last year only adds to the emotion of reading this piece now.

Right Here Waiting by Edward McClellan in The Morning News

Richard Marx got some Twitter buzz last week for talking shit on social media. For anyone who read this wonderful piece, that wasn’t news. This is a hilarious story of the feud between the writer and the 80s pop star, but it’s also something more, about finding your place in a world that isn’t always looking to make room for you. It’s just terrific.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace in Gourmet

I mean, knock yourself out on Infinite Jest if you’re really looking to do some DFW during your quarantine, but if you’re looking for something a bit more manageable, here ya go.

Thanksgiving in Mongolia by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker

First-person essays are dangerous. The upside is an ability to really tell a story because, of course, the writer lived it. The downside is that it’s way too easy to get into the weeds, to veer off course, to gloss over the less comfortable moments. None of that happens here. This story of the writer’s miscarriage is utterly heartbreaking and unflinchingly honest.

After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet by Eli Saslow in The Washington Post

There are many great writers who came out of Syracuse, so my chances of reaching the top of the totem pole were already pretty low. But the bottom line is, nothing I write will ever be as good as this, so Eli Saslow has permanent bragging rights.

Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building by Wright Thompson at ESPN.com

The GOAT of modern sports writing at his absolute apex.

The Innocent Manby Pamela Colloff in Texas Monthly

Pamela Colloff is one of my favorite writers, and this story has started nearly a decade of reporting on people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. She’s done some amazing work, and I’d recommend reading more of it, but this piece remains my favorite.

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane by William Langewieche in The Atlantic

Just terrific reporting, told in a riveting narrative. It’s heart stopping and heart breaking at the same time. One of the best things I’ve read in the past few years.

Cake Weather by Holly Anderson in Medium

Man, I loved this story about a cake recipe being passed down through the family and the writer’s job of making correctly. Holly Anderson is a terrific writer, and I wish she got to do it more. I’d also highly recommend her story from Grantland on Florida Man.

The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence by Tim Urban at Wait But Why

The most mind-bendy feature on AI that I’ve ever read. Is it a bit too far on the optimist’s side of things? Perhaps. But it’s still an gloriously fun read.

Additionally, if you’re looking for something good to read to pass the time in quarantine, a few places you can find ample material:

The Sunday Longread
Longform
Long Reads
Pulitzer
Pocket
Bloomberg’s Jealousy List