Subscribe to the magazine
 
 
Announcing: Our first-ever ebook! 
Longreads: Best of 2011 includes seven of our favorite stories from the past year. 
The ebook is a unique partnership with the writers and publishers—we want to help celebrate outstanding storytelling, and this is just another way for us to do it. Additionally, money from the ebook sales will be shared with the creators, and we’re excited to have them participating.
Longreads: Best of 2011 is available now and includes:
• “Travis the Menace,” by Dan P. Lee (New York magazine)
• “Vanishing Act,” by Paul Collins (Lapham’s Quarterly)
• “In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club,” by Molly Lambert (This Recording)
• “What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447,” by Jeff Wise (Popular Mechanics)
• “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon (New York Times)
• “The Girl from Trails End,” by Kathy Dobie (GQ)
• “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library,” by Maria Bustillos (The Awl)

Announcing: Our first-ever ebook

Longreads: Best of 2011 includes seven of our favorite stories from the past year. 

The ebook is a unique partnership with the writers and publishers—we want to help celebrate outstanding storytelling, and this is just another way for us to do it. Additionally, money from the ebook sales will be shared with the creators, and we’re excited to have them participating.

Longreads: Best of 2011 is available now and includes:

• “Travis the Menace,” by Dan P. Lee (New York magazine)

• “Vanishing Act,” by Paul Collins (Lapham’s Quarterly)

• “In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club,” by Molly Lambert (This Recording)

• “What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447,” by Jeff Wise (Popular Mechanics)

• “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon (New York Times)

• “The Girl from Trails End,” by Kathy Dobie (GQ)

• “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library,” by Maria Bustillos (The Awl)

Ross Andersen: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Ross Andersen is freelancer living in Washington, D.C. He has recently written about technology for The Atlantic, and is now working on an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books. He can also be found on Twitter at @andersen.

***

"The Mother of Possibility," by Sven Birkerts, Lapham’s Quarterly

Procrastination being my favorite vice —and the impetus behind many a plunge into Longreads.com— it is perhaps not coincidental that this essay, an elegant defense of idleness, is my favorite of the year. Reading Birkerts may mean forgoing more pressing tasks, but he at least has the decency to make you feel like a visionary for doing so:

"Idleness … It is the soul’s first habitat, the original self ambushed—cross-sectioned—in its state of nature, before it has been stirred to make a plan, to direct itself toward something. We open our eyes in the morning and for an instant—more if we indulge ourselves—we are completely idle, ourselves. And then we launch toward purpose; and once we get under way, many of us have little truck with that first unmustered self, unless in occasional dreamy asides as we look away from our tasks, let the mind slip from its rails to indulge a reverie or a memory. All such thoughts to the past, to childhood, are a truancy from productivity. But there is an undeniable pull at times, as if to a truth neglected."

"Evolve," by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, Orion

Orion, billed as America’s finest environmental magazine, is a strange place to find a moving paean to technology, but that’s exactly what Shellenberger and Nordhaus have written here: a brief, albeit sweeping, history of the relationship between man the toolmaker and his environment.

"After the project was approved, the head of World Wildlife Fund Italy said, “Today the city’s destiny rests on a pretentious, costly, and environmentally harmful technological gamble.” In truth, the grandeur that is Venice has always rested—quite literally—on a series of pretentious, costly, and environmentally harmful technological gambles. Her buildings rest upon pylons made of ancient larch and oak trees ripped from inland forests a thousand years ago. Over time, the pylons were petrified by the saltwater, infill was added, and cathedrals were constructed. Little by little, technology helped transform a town of humble fisherfolk into the city we know today."

"Why We Shouldn’t Treat Rap as Poetry," by Willy Staley, The Awl

Because what’s not to like about a close look at the understudied phenomenon of ghostwriting in Hip-Hop? I’d almost forgotten about this piece until this superb tweet by John Pavlus reminded me of it.

"The Next Future," by Michael Crowley, Lapham’s Quarterly

I badgered my Google Reader clique (R.I.P.) relentlessly with this essay, a sprawling take on science fiction, prediction and futurism—first by sharing it twice, and second by commenting on both shares with selected excerpts from the piece, so that it would show up at the top of Reader’s (since departed) Comment View. One such excerpt:

"And when read now, forty years from when I first began to write it, what is immediately evident about my future is that it could have been thought up at no time except the time in which I did think it up, and has gone away as that time has gone. No matter its contents, no matter how it is imagined, any future lies not ahead in the stream of time but at an angle to it, a right angle probably. When we have moved on down the stream, that future stays anchored to where it was produced, spinning out infinitely and perpendicularly from there."

"Windsor Knot," by Jonathan Freedland, New York Review of Books

Sure, Christopher Hitchens’ takedown of the Royal Wedding was a more satisfyingly vicious read (“By some mystic alchemy, the breeding imperatives for a dynasty become the stuff of romance, even fairy tale.”) but it missed the complexity of Freedland’s piece, which opens with a withering run of digs at the crown, before finishing on a grace note about the Queen’s place in British culture.

"Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas," by Zach Baron, The Daily

As the author notes, Vegas, particularly Hunter S. Thompson’s Vegas, is without peer as clichéd essay subject. Nonetheless, Baron manages a dazzling walk along the meta-tightrope he has stretched between himself and the strip’s gaudy towers. He manages to generate fresh insights about the culture of the city, while serving up a penetrating, and at times unflattering, look at the impulse behind Thompson’s original project and his own. Oh and all this before Baron goes undercover at DEFCON, an annual hacker convention at which journalists are notoriously unwelcome. 

***

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

Ben Cohen’s Top Longreads of 2011

Ben Cohen writes about sports for The Wall Street Journal. In 2011, he also published a Kindle Single and wrote for Grantland, The Classical, Tablet, The Awl and Yahoo! Sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @bzcohen.

***

I don’t know that I can pinpoint exactly what it was about these stories that compelled me to re-read them, over and over, but I do know that you’ll find yourself doing the same. In any case, you don’t need me to explain how to enjoy these stories, or why you should adore them. They speak for themselves. So, in the spirit of the season: gifts that keep on giving!

“‘It’s Too Bad. And I Don’t Mean It’s Too Bad Like “Screw ‘Em”,’” Jessica Pressler, New York: Lloyd Blankfein goes to a diner.

"Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference," Wells Tower, GQ: Starbury goes to China.

"The Hangover Part III," Brett Martin, GQ: Aziz Ansari, David Chang and James Murphy go to Tokyo.

"The History and Mystery of the High-Five," Jon Mooallem, ESPN The Magazine: Hand goes high.

"Why John Calipari Can’t Catch a Break," S.L. Price, Sports Illustrated: Coach goes to Kentucky.

"It’s The Economy, Dummkopf!" Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair: Michael Lewis goes to Germany.

"Danny Meyer on a Roll," Sean Wilsey, The New York Times Magazine: Restauranteur goes… everywhere?

"Jennifer Egan on Reaping Awards and Dodging Literary Feuds," Boris Kachka, Vulture: Jennifer Egan goes to Brooklyn.

"The Confessions of a Former Adolescent Puck Tease," Katie Baker, Deadspin: Teenager goes to the Internet.

"American Marvel," Edith Zimmerman, GQ: I’m not sure who goes where, or when, or why, but what!

***

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

Kevin Purdy: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, and a frequent Longreader. Check out his site here.

Not all written in 2011, but brought to my attention and saved in 2011:

•••

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

Brian Wolly: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Brian Wolly is an associate web editor at Smithsonian Magazine.

•••

1. Tom Bissell’s Breakdown of L.A. Noire on Grantland

When ESPN and Bill Simmons’ Grantland debuted in early June, the knives were out and its initial reaction was mixed at best. Like many, I approached the new project with simultaneous skepticism and optimism, but it wasn’t Simmons or Chuck Klosterman that sold me on the site’s potential. Bissell’s searingly accurate review and analysis of Rockstar’s supposedly groundbreaking video game L.A. Noire was the revelatory pice of writing that said, “Grantland will be around for a long time.” With his wit and contemplative style of placing L.A. Noire in the context of where the video game industry is headed, Bissell brought two much-vaunted products (Grantland and the game) down to Earth.

2. Sarah Stillman on the Invisible Army in Iraq

Perhaps no story from the New Yorker this year was more under-recognized than Stillman’s devastating expose on the third-country nationals working on U.S. military bases. The never-ending strata of deception piled upon political indifference was staggering. Her reportingwas a mash-up between the existential dread of The Wire with Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight and it deserves to be recognized for its brilliance.

3. The Film Nerd 2.0 Series on Star Wars: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

The six posts that encompass Drew McWeeny’s adventure in introducing his two sons to the six Star Wars films are a joyous series that reawakened the film nerd in me as well. McWeeny does the impossible: he makes me appreciate the Phantom Menace. For any parent (or eventual parent) who dreams of showing their own kids the two trilogies, McWeeny offers an endearing road map for how to do so. For those who want to just show the original trilogy, he’ll show you why you’re wrong.

4. Jonathan Bernhardt on Peter Angelos and the Orioles

In 2005, with the introduction of the Washington Nationals, I had to choose between my hometown’s new team and the team I had grown up rooting for, the Baltimore Orioles. I picked the Nats and have never looked back. Here are Bernhardt’s catalogues of Angelos’ transition from working class hero to the most despised owner in professional baseball. Taken in aggregate, the list of misdeeds gets to the heart of loving a team that will always disappoint.

5. James Fallows on Hacked!

In his Atlantic cover story, Fallows relates what everyone’s biggest nightmare, losing control of their gmail, happened to his wife. I sent the piece around to friends and family, insisting that they implement the steps Fallows recommended. Service journalism at its best.

And quickly, 3 great longreads from Smithsonian.com:

1. A Mega Dam Dilemma in the Amazon

Clay Risen weighs the positives and negatives with the Inambari Dam in Peru — the astounding photos by Ivan Kashinsky are also worth a look.

2. The Beer Archaeologist

Staff writer Abigail Tucker takes on the toughest assignment ever: reporting on Dogfish Head Brewery’s attempts to recreate ancient beer recipes.

3. Minter’s Ring: The Story of One World War II POW

Our new history blog is a great source for so many #longreads, but Gilbert King’s retelling of Minter Dial’s lost ring is a stirring tribute to the “Greatest Generation.”

•••

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

Molly Lambert: My Top 13 Longreads of 2011

Molly Lambert is a writer covering pop culture at Grantland. (She’s also featured in our Top 10 Longreads of 2011)

***

These are some Longreads I enjoyed this year:

"The Bell Jar At 40": Emily Gould on Sylvia Plath (Poetry Foundation)

• "The J in J. Crew": Molly Young on Jenna Lyons (New York magazine)

"The Recessionary Charms Of American Horror Story": Tess Lynch (Grantland)

• "The Movie Star": Bill Simmons on Ryan Reynolds and Will Smith (Grantland)

"Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia": Colson Whitehead at The World Series Of Poker (Grantland)

"Crass Warfare": Emily Nussbaum on Whitney and 2 Broke Girls (The New Yorker)

"Frantically Impure": Alex Carnevale on Susan Sontag (This Recording)

"Beauty": Durga Chew-Bose on Barbara Loden (This Recording)

"God Knows Where I Am": Rachel Aviv (The New Yorker, sub. required)

• "What Women Want: Porn and the Frontier Of Female Sexuality": Amanda Hess on James Deen (GOOD)

“‘Make Me Proud’: Does Drake Actually Care About Women?”: Emma Carmichael (The Awl)

"Free The Network": Allison Bland (The Awl)

"The Celebrity Rehab Of Dr. Drew": by Natasha Vargas-Cooper (GQ)


***

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

Peter Smith’s Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Peter Smith has written about food and science for GOOD, Wired, and Gastronomica. He’s based in Maine, and, in 2011, he covered pickle juice, patented sandwiches, and the last sardine cannery in North America. This is his first attempt at Top Five Longreads.    

***

Here are my (somewhat arbitrarily selected) #longreads that, er, explore unexpected, underexplored, and purposely obfuscated aspects of the world—sometimes involving the curious things we put in our mouths. 

***

1. “The Mystery of the Canadian Whiskey Fungus,” Adam Rogers, Wired

Mycology hardly gets the kind of attention we reserve for charismatic megafauna—whales and wolves and wooly mammoths—but Adam Rogers explains how a conspicuous black growth in distillery in Lakeshore,  Ontario led to the discovery of a previously undiscovered fungal microparadise.

2. “Here Be Monsters,” Michael Finkel, GQ 

I read very few stories on my phone, but I started reading this adventure story and could not put it down. Michael Finkel tells the tale of three boys who make a drunken escape off a tiny, isolated island and end up lost at sea, starving and trying to catch fish with the innards of their boat’s engine.

3. “Planet in a Bottle,” Christopher Turner, Cabinet 

Diets are a dime a dozen—the Atkins Diet, the Blood Type Diet, the More-of-Jesus-Less-of-Me Diet, the Paleo Diet—but the CRON-diet was not one that I had ever even heard about. Christopher Turner delves into its origins in the failed experiment in the Arizona desert known as Biosphere.

4. “India’s Vanishing Vultures,” Meera Subramanian, The Virginia Quarterly Review

Subramanian’s essay on the devastating unintended consequences of a veterinary drug on India’s vultures, along with one man’s efforts to restore the birds with “vulture restaurants,” elicits a rare enthusiasm for both environmental toxicology and the scavenging creatures who eat the dead.

5. "Unnamed Caves," John Jeremiah Sullivan, The Paris Review

Sullivan’s most recent collection—as Wells Tower put it recently—makes you want to barf with envy. After reading this extensively researched story about spelunking in Tennessee, wherein the author tries to find the meaning of 6,000-year old cave paintings, I’ll admit, I also had to pick my jaw up off the floor. (It’s only excerpted online; you’ll have to buy the paperback.)

***

See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.