So here we go, my top 10 stories of the year. I preface this by saying that, while it may not look like it, I actually read a lot less this year than I’d intended to, so there are probably plenty of excellent pieces that I missed. But these are the pieces that were both immensely good reads but also stuck with me long after I finished. Enjoy…
Alt Inclusion: This isn’t a formal story, so it doesn’t fit the criteria, but this list from McSweeney’s on what your favorite classic rock band says about you is a good reminder that the key to humor is specificity and it’s the funniest thing I read all year.
10. This is a story about a very old spider. It’s also a story about life and death how we all search for meaning. Avi Selk’s piece in the Washington Post on the death of what had been the world’s oldest living spider is something that unexpectedly sticks with you long after you’re done reading it.
9. One of the most fun reads of the year came from Huffington Post writer Jason Fagone, who details the mathematical brilliance of two retirees who gamed the lottery to the tune of millions.
8. One criticism I often have of reporting is that it fails to ask central questions any reasonable reporter should ask by simply assuming we either a.) don’t need to know, or b.) are already aware. It’s an odd thing, but it happens often, perhaps never more frustratingly than with the Larry Nassar case, where the specifics of his crimes and the cover-ups that followed were largely glossed over in favor of a narrative about girls finally coming forward. Instead, New York’s Kerry Howley tells it like it is — that women spent 30 years trying to bring down Nassar before anyone would believe them.
7. I loved this first-person story from Darius Miles in the Players Tribune so much, not because of its redemptive arc — which sort of felt a bit light by the end — but for the behind-the-scenes look at the life of the newly rich NBA teen star. I’ve said for a while, I’d love to host a podcast that’s just former players telling stories about back in the day. Darius would be a terrific guest.
6. Eli Saslow does such a wonderful job of finding depth and creating empathy for subjects we might otherwise view as the bad guy. This piece on Stoneman Douglas resource officer Scot Peterson is a perfect example of those talents.
5. I can’t quite explain why I loved this story from The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal on how straws get made so much other than to say it’s something incredibly simple that really tells a far greater story of American commerce. It’s wonderful.
4. Few people have done more to address the misuse of forensic “science” in the criminal justice system than Pamela Colloff, and while her most recent story on a woman convicted of murdering her child due to faulty blood pattern analysis is utterly heart wrenching, it was her two-part work on the Joe Bryan case that utterly knocked narrative investigative writing out of the park. More frustrating than the story, however, is the follow up. The courts have no interest in overturning Bryan’s conviction, despite the fact that the man who testified against him now says he was wrong.
3. I thought long and hard about putting this at No. 1: Brendan Borrell writes for The Verge in what could’ve easily been a simple crime story about rocks but instead provides an empathetic and ultimately incredibly sad insight into mental illness, right-wing politics, obsession and the need for self-worth. It’s a terrific example of a story about one person that’s actually about all of us.
2. There’s no writer who captures imagery — the way a place feels and smells and looks — better than David Grann. He’s just an astonishingly good feature writer. This story from The New Yorker on a British man’s quest to find himself on a perilous journey across Antarctica is so damn good, and so riveting from start to finish, that you’ll hardly notice it took you two hours to read.
Oh, and by the way, one of my all-time favorite stories — maybe the best I’ve ever read — is also by David Grann, if you’re looking for a bonus read.
1. There’s nothing I read this year that stuck with me quite like Holly Anderson’s lovely essay in Medium on baking her grandmother’s “haunted” cake recipe. Every word in this piece is perfect — sad and poignant and utterly hilarious — in other words, exactly what you’d expect from Holly. It’s just wonderful. I’m going to read it again now.