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The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Nicholas Thompson is a senior editor at The New Yorker and a frequent Longreader.

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I’m a sucker for stories about reinvention, disappearence, and people who pretend to be someone they aren’t. The genre has cliches, and can become trite. But it can also be wonderful. And this year, the category brought us some wonderful longreads.

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"Where’s Earl?" Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

I’m biased, but the story by Kelefa Sanneh in The New Yorker about the rapper Earl Sweatshirt is, I think, a classic. The character Earl is the reinvention of another boy, whose amazing past and origins Sanneh describes. But then there’s the second disappearence of Earl himself, and then his quandry about whether and how to return to his career. Sanneh is also, stylistically, one of the most original and graceful writers around. Every sentence is a pleasure.

"His Own Private Idaho," Sean Flynn, GQ

This piece by Flynn about a mobster who reinvents himself in Idaho, seems familiar at first. But then it turns out the central character is much more complex than you might have thought—and he ends up undone by something surprising and redemptive. It’s great. 

"My Mother’s Lover," David Dobbs, The Atavist ($1.99)

I’m biased on this one too (I’m a co-founder of The Atavist), but Dobbs’s piece has deservedly been one of the best-selling “e-singles” of the year. It’s an amazing tale of a man discovering that his mother harbored a secret her entire adult life. And then, as Dobbs tries to resolve a mystery of his own family’s past, he gets tangled in the story of another’s. 

"Dave Sanders: Fiber-Optics Exec by Day, Defender of Justice by Night", Joshua Davis, Wired

Joshua Davis is one of the most cinematic magazine writers around; he’s wonderful at introducing groups of characters, crafting scenes, and keeping a narrative moving. This recent piece in Wired about a fiber-optics-executive who recreates himself as a (sort-of) good-guy vigilante is a classic. It’s complicated, but Davis tells the story smoothly and smartly. 

"The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms," Joshuah Bearman, This American Life

I know this is a long “reads” list, but the lines with long “listens” are blurry, and there was a story this fall on This American Life of this type that I just loved: Joshuah Bearman’s “The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms.” Like many of the other best stories in this genre, it takes, layer by layer, through a complicated series of reinventions and disguises. Plus it mixes in reality television, a mole, and an heroic journalist.

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