Each year I try to put together a list of my 10 favorite stories I’ve read. If you’re interested, here’s last year’s list (via Facebook).
The list is not meant to be exhaustive. I read a lot, but I’ve missed a lot, too. If you’re interested in a more thorough list of great reading, might I suggest Longform’s year end list or Pocket’s or Bloomberg’s “Jealousy List” or all the great stuff on Longreads.
Instead, this list is just my favorites of what I read. Some are riveting narratives. Some are argumentative essays. All of them will stick with you long after you finish reading — and that, I think, is the sign of a great story.
What isn’t included here, purposefully, are stories on Trump. While some of these may tangentially touch on his presidency, I didn’t want this to turn into a long list of Trump stories or to politicize any of the great writing below.
I will, however, link to a number of great pieces on Trump in a follow up (HERE!) so if you’re looking for that kind of thing, it won’t be hard to find.
With all that said, my top 10 reads of 2017…
10. The Sub Eater
You don’t need to write a 10,000-word magazine story to find something great. This story from the Buffalo News on a guy who just likes eating a sandwich under a certain tree — and the neighbors who weren’t so thrilled about it — is utterly perfect. Seriously. If I were to ever teach a course on news writing, this would be my first example of how it should be done.
9. The Nut Thiefs
Outside Magazine’s Peter Vigneron writes about a huge problem you’ve probably never heard a word about: Nut theft. There’s both a legitimate narrative here, but it’s also such a deep dive into the logistics of growing and harvesting nuts that you’ll never buy a bag of almonds again without thinking about this piece.
8. Harvey’s spies
The Harvey Weinstein scandal — and subsequent scandals for other big names and powerful men — dominated the news cycle but I’m not sure any story dug so deep or underscored just how hard it was for women to come forward than this piece from The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow on the network of spies Weinstein employed to keep tabs on anyone who might hurt his image.
7. Dirty John
This story of online dating run amok got plenty of attention when it was released, and for good reason. The Los Angeles Times’ Christopher Goffard spins a riveting tail of how one con man ruined a family — with an ending you won’t see coming. Just terrific narrative journalism.
6. Requiem for John Boehner
One of the signs of great journalism is finding an unsympathetic character and exposing the real human underneath. Politico’s Tim Alberta does that here with John Boehner in one of the most candid political profiles I’ve ever read.
5. The Prisoner
This Skip Hollandsworth story in Texas Monthly is actually something of a late entry from 2016, but it’s perhaps the most complicated piece I’ve read in the last 365 days. Where is the line drawn for empathy? His portrait of a child murderer who has clearly served a brutal punishment but also did something horrific forces the reader to reconcile a desire to be merciful and a responsibility to society and victims. It’s fantastic.
4. My Family’s Slave
Perhaps the most controversial story of the year comes from The Atlantic. The late Alex Tizon, in his final work, unravels a dark family secret that, for more than a half-century, his parents had a slave. While plenty of readers found fault in Tizon’s actions — or lack thereof — his honest, open, raw narrative is extremely powerful and utterly haunting.
3. Sports writing’s filthiest fuck-up
This story from Jeff Pearlman in Deadspin is such a terrific example of taking something well known and digging deep enough to find a far more interesting story we don’t know. The tale of the fallout from one of the most infamous mistakes in journalism history is just exquisite.
2. Facebook hates you
In a few years, I think we may look back at 2017 as the year the tide turned for Facebook, and people began to realize how much of our lives it controls, and how much profit came from our own toil. This piece from John Lanchester in the London Review of Books is a must read on the impact Facebook has had on our lives.
1. How the elderly lose their rights
Great stories always evoke emotion — they make you sad or thrilled or curious or exhausted. And great advocacy journalism should make you angry. I’ve never been so angry reading a story as I was with this piece from the New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv on a corrupt government system that steals the lives, possessions, families and rights from the elderly.