Here are the most memorable longform articles I read this year. Enjoy!
“Children of the Drone” by Andrew Blum, Vanity Fair
James Bridle and his cohorts are creating era-defining art on what it means to live in the NSA’s 2013.
“Trial by Twitter” by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker
There have been thousands of posts and articles on the Steubenville rape case. This is the definitive account by a master journalist.
“The Cultural Genetics of César Aira” by Alex Estes, Trop
This is longform literary criticism at its best. Estes dives deep into Aira’s life, work, and process, providing some much-needed context for the Argentinean novelist.
“Coronado High” by Joshuah Bearman, The Atavist
Sun, surf, and a drug-smuggling kingpin/high school teacher. What more do you need? My favorite tidbit from this cinematic tale: the feds initially dismissed the scope of the Coronado Company’s $100M operation because there were no laws on the books to even prosecute such a far-reaching network. The smugglers had that much imagination and ambition.
“Why Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel Loves Selling Drugs in Chicago” by Jason Mcgahan, Chicago Magazine
Yes, another one about drugs. This epic piece of journalism brings fresh eyes to the subject, providing up-to-the-moment context on the scope of the cartels’ operations in the U.S., investigators’ moral compromises and the futility of containment. The saddest part? How much the Sinaloa leadership sound like Exxon Mobil execs: removing us will do nothing to stem the public’s appetite for our product.
“Jack Handey Is the Envy of Every Comedy Writer in America” by Dan Kois, The New York Times Magazine
I’ve memorized more “Deep Thoughts” than I have poetry, so of course I loved this profile of the semi-reclusive humorist. That last paragraph is just great.
“Man vs. Corpse” by Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books
Zadie Smith has been a world-class essayist for a decade, but something changed in 2013. Her style’s matured into something looser and more intuitive, a light hopscotch belying the intellectual rigor at work. She writes about Warhol and Rothko in “Man vs. Corpse,” but to me Smith is our Rauschenberg.
“The Manic Mountain” by Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker
A lesser magazine would have titled this “Imperialism & Fistfights on Everest!” Paumgarten’s tale is really three articles folded into one: the story of Ueli Steck, one of the world’s best mountain climbers; Everest’s uneasy balance between tourist attraction and sacred ground for the Nepalese; and the thriller narrative of a harrowing exchange between Steck’s group and a group of bellicose Sherpas.
“How James Turrell Knocked the Art World off Its Feet” by Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine
Turrell’s Guggenheim show was thrilling, and this profile captures how simple and deceptive his artwork can be.
“The Old Man at Burning Man” by Wells Tower, GQ
Similar in spirit to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s hall-of-famer “Upon this Rock,” Wells Tower visits Burning Man with his 69-year old father in an earnest attempt to assess why 60,000 people trek into the desert once a year to consume drugs, run around naked, and set things on fire. His total squareness is assumed and exploited.
“Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer?” by Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair
Goldman Sachs doesn’t understand computers.They do understand litigation. Unfortunately.
“How to Win in Washington” by Mark Leibovich, The New York Times Magazine
This is cheating, since it’s an excerpt of Leibovich’s blockbuster book. Doesn’t matter. After reading this article I’ve come to think of “Veep” as a documentary.
“10 Paragraphs About Lists You Need in Your Life Right Now” by Mark O’Connell, New Yorker’s Page-Turner
An excellent essay from frequent Millions contributor O’Connell regarding the question, Why is the internet so full of lists?
Pretty Much Everything in the Tournament of Books, The Morning News
The best writing about literary culture can be found in an annual competition whose sole prize is a rooster. The judges take their jobs seriously, but write breezily. (See D.T. Max on Arcadia vs. How Should a Person Be?) Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner write “match commentary,” which is really an investigation into what it means to be a literary reader in 2013. And the rest of us? We find ourselves shaking our fists and yelling, “How could you pick Chris Ware over Alice Munro?!” Everybody wins.