We had a terrific but terrifically busy 2012, so we’re still digesting all the brilliant work—articles, books, music—released last year. And it seemed like a nice idea, even if it’s a little late, to share some of the best stuff we stumbled across.
Please enjoy our list of long-form writing lovingly assembled by our in-house designer and list-maker, Roque Strew, after the jump.
- Zadie Smith, “Joy,” NYRB
“A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience.”
- Jessica Hopper, “Sisters Outsiders: The Oral History of the ‘Bikini Kill’ EP,” SPIN
Bikini Kill were a band, a movement, a media phenomenon, an inspiration to girls, and a cheeky scrawl across the skin of pop culture. Here they speak on their thrilling, dangerous, combative beginnings.
- “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives”
Texas Monthly's executive editor Mimi Swartz traces the reverberations of the state's shifting public health priorities. What will happen to Texas women, Swartz finds, remains very much unclear.
- Pico Iyer, “The Joy of Quiet,” NYT
The renowned travel writer reflects on the yearning for silence and refuge from today’s flood of data. “The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.”
- Michael J. Mooney, “The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever,” D Magazine
“More than 95 million Americans go bowling, but, according to the United States Bowling Congress, there have been only 21 certified 900s since anyone started keeping track.” In a bowling alley one night, Bill Fong’s quest for perfection nearly killed him.
- Kelley Benham, “Never Let Go,” Tampa Bay Times
When their baby was born too soon, weighing just 1 pound, 4 ounces, Kelley Benham and her husband faced impossible questions. Was the dream of a healthy baby too much to hope for, the cost of saving her too high? And if it was, did they have the strength to let her go?
- Jon Mooallem, “What’s a Monkey to Do in Tampa?” New York Times Magazine
A positively rollicking account of the havoc wreaked by a wily rogue monkey—a rhesus macaque, to be precise—on the loose in Tampa. “Since 2009, Yates estimates that he has gone after the animal on roughly 100 different occasions. The monkey was his white whale.”
- Karen Russell, “The Blind Faith of the One-Eyed Matador,” GQ
Last fall, one of Spain’s greatest matadors took a horn to the face. It was a brutal goring, among the most horrific in the history of bullfighting. And in the process of losing half his sight, he somehow managed to double his vision.
- Molly Young, “Riccardo Tisci: Designer of the Year 2012,” GQ
Riccardo Tisci, the 38-year-old designer, reinvented Givenchy, turned around its fortunes, and conquered both the runways of Paris and the streets of Atlanta. Molly Young infiltrates the atelier of the man who got Kanye West to wear a skirt. (We’ve been digging Molly’s stuff for a while. —M&S)
- Abigail Tucker, “The Great New England Vampire Panic,” Smithsonian
Two hundred years after the Salem witch trials, farmers became convinced that their relatives were returning from the grave to feed on the living.
- Chris Jones, “Animals: The Zanesville Zoo Animal Escape,” Esquire
It was dark and wet and dangerous in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Thompson had let his scores of big animals out of their hard, grim cages, then shot himself in the head. The tigers and bears were loose. Night was falling. Everything was out of control.
- Colin McSwiggen, “Against Chairs,” Jacobin
An acidic diatribe against chairs, entertaining as it is erudite. “We’ve become dependent on them and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free.”
- Aatish Bhatia, “The Crayola-fication of the World,” Empirical Zeal
How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains.
- Jacob Mikanowski, “That Face! The Uncanny Art Of Studio Photography’s Heyday,” The Awl
Before Facebook, there was the photo studio: a room, a camera, and a photographer. Once upon a time, studio portraiture was an essential part of the visual vernacular.
- Pamela Colloff, “The Innocent Man,” Texas Monthly (and part two)
On August 13, 1986, Michael Morton came home from work to discover that his wife had been brutally murdered in their bed. His nightmare had only begun.
- Vanessa Veselka, “The Truck Stop Killer,” GQ
He was methodical, he rode the highways, and he preyed on teenage girls. In the summer of 1985, the author was such a girl. Now, years later, she returns to the scenes of her fugitive youth looking for clues to that terror—and the girls who lost their lives to it
- Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, “The Comedian Comedians Were Afraid Of,” New York
Patrice O’Neal didn’t just want to be famous, he wanted to be as good as Richard Pryor. To hear his fellow comics tell it, he was—a brutal truth-teller who spared no one, starting with those closest to him.
- “Experience & Innocence,” Frieze
As a director, writer, artist and, more recently, curator, John Waters has been dealing in taste and transgression for close to 50 years. Here he talks about sex, death, God and the art world.
- Alex Pappademas, “Up from the Streets,” GQ
Alex Pappademas trails the king of street style from Manhattan to Milan—Fashion Week by bike!—and gets the secrets to staying in the picture
- Slaves to the smartphone, The Economist (Schumpeter blog)
“Just as the abundance of junk food means that people have to be more disciplined about their eating habits, so the abundance of junk information means they have to be more disciplined about their browsing habits.” The ideal companion to Pico Iyer’s essay (#4).
- John Fairfax, “Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74”
Hands down, the obituary of the year. “He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there. He made both crossings in a rowboat because it, too, was there, and because the lure of sea, spray and sinew, and the history-making chance to traverse two oceans without steam or sail, proved irresistible.”
- Anne Hull, “In Rust Belt, a Teenager’s Climb From Poverty,” The Washington Post
“Her four older siblings were grown. None of them had graduated from high school. They wore headsets and hairnets to jobs that were so futureless that getting pregnant at 20 seemed an enriching diversion. Born too late to witness the blue-collar stability that had once been possible, they occupied the bottom of the U.S. economy. ‘I’m running from everything they are,’ she said. The question was whether Tabi could outrun the odds against her.”
- “Scientology’s Sea Org: A Story of Escape for Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise,” The Daily Beast
Astra Woodcraft grew up in the hard-core, militaristic arm of Scientology known as the Sea Organization—until she risked everything to break free. A glimpse of the path set out for Suri Cruise, as told to Abigail Pesta.
- Leslie Jamison, “The Immortal Horizon,” The Believer
Actually from 2011, but we didn’t see it until last year. In the Believer’s words: Thirty-Five Runners Face Hollers and Hells, a Flooded Prison, Rats the Size of Possums, and Flesh-Flaying Briars to Test the Limits of Self-Sufficiency.
- Zadie Smith, “The House that Hova Built,” New York Times T Magazine
One of the best writers of her generation meets one of the best rappers of his generation, a man indelibly shaped by his journey from the projects to the boardroom.