Here are a few of the stories and articles that stayed with me long after I’d finished reading them. I apologize that a couple of the stories are hidden behind paywalls.
“Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong” and “3 Theses About The Daily‘s Demise” by Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic
Madrigal will always have a spot on this list. He’s just the most cogent and forward-thinking tech reporter around.
“Love on the March” by Alex Ross, The New Yorker
There can be a moment of dissonance when a critic writes autobiographically for the first time. Not so for classical music critic Alex Ross. He masterfully weaves his own story into a thorough and moving history of postwar gay culture.
The author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore created two innovative essay forms this year. One of them, an iOS app, and the other, a reading list for programmers, by programmers.
“A Scrupulous Fidelity: on Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser” by Douglas Glover, The Brooklyn Rail
Close reading doesn’t get much better than this. Glover expertly unpacks the logorrheic hilarity of Benhard’s text without ruining any of the fun.
“The Golden Vanity” by Ben Lerner, The New Yorker
Easily one of the best short stories of the year. Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station was my favorite novel of 2011, and he impresses again in this seemingly straightforward tale of a man’s decision to get his wisdom teeth removed.
“Fictitious Values: Boom and Bust in Twenty-First Century Lit” by Christian Lorentzen, Bookforum
Why are there no good novels about late capitalism? Lorentzen’s fiery response diagnoses a crucial flaw in the literary-capitalist framework. And he’s funny in that cranky James Wood kind of way.
“Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace” by Maud Newton, The New York Times Magazine
Oh man did this set off a tempest in my little corner of the nerd internet. In reaction, bloggers’ arguments seemed to harmonize into a (predictable) polyphony of highbrow and lowbrow voices, with some serious analysis of how media infects and shapes the vernacular–in other words, exactly what Newton ascribes to David Foster Wallace in the first place.
“The Best Night $500,000 Can Buy” by Devin Friedman, GQ
Seven years ago GQ sent George Saunders to Dubai to capture the capitalism-as-X-games absurdity of it all; this year they turned the mirror on the U.S. Guess which city they visit first?
“The Joy of Quiet” by Pico Iyer, The New York Times
Technically this was published on December 29th of last year, but let’s include it anyway. Iyer’s meditation on slowing down was a panacea for this stressed New Yorker.
“After Ellen” by Justin Taylor, The New Yorker
In a way, this is the hardest short story to write. On first glance you might mistake it for one of those MFA stories workshopped into Carver-esque mediocrity. Then you realize Taylor’s signposts–broken relationships, casual emotional violence, new beginnings, adulthood–have been weathered into near illegibility by others, true, but he can still give ’em a good scrub and find something worth relating.