I’m in need of a quick one today, so I thought I’d share some of the best articles I read this year.
I read a preposterous amount of what I suppose you’d now call “longreads” (a term I hate) every week—according to my Instapaper (humblebrag incoming), around a dozen pieces a week, plus the entire New Yorker except for the poetry. (Sorry, poetry—it’s not you, it’s me.)
Here are a few of my favorites from the year—my year, that is. Some of these were published before 2020, but I didn’t get to them until later. Also note that I have preemptively excluded any and all Trump-related articles from this list.
What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say, by John Hendrickson (The Atlantic)
This article posits that a lot of the supposed signs of Biden’s age-related decline—and his general proneness to gaffes—are actually just side effects of the techniques he uses to manage his stutter. The author, who stutters himself, changed the way I see Biden, and made me empathize with him a lot more.
Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston, by Jia Tolentino (The New Yorker)
Although humankind’s quest for meaning has been mediated through both religion and drugs for millennia, I haven’t seen anyone explore that intersection as well as Jia does in this article since William James almost a hundred years ago. Plus, this piece paints such a vivid portrait of Houston that it actually makes it seem like an appealing place to live.
This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful, Marc Dunkelman (Politico)
Is it Robert Caro’s fault that Penn Station sucks? In a roundabout way, yes. After Caro’s masterful Robert Moses biography The Power Broker (which, by the way, I would highly recommend) revealed how Moses had amassed immense development power and used it to run roughshod over the needs of (especially poor and minority) local communities, well-intentioned reformers instituted veto points so that no bureaucrat would ever have such unchecked, prone-to-abuse power again. But they accidentally went overboard, creating so many potential bottlenecks that it’s almost impossible to get anything built in New York (and many other major cities.) If we want to fix Penn Station, we probably need to go 10% back in the Robert Moses direction.
Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop, by an anonymous writer on Medium
A former cop definitively explains why the problem in policing is more than just a few bad apples. I can’t prove that the author is really who he says he is, of course, but the level of detail is such that I’m inclined to believe it.
Mother Nut, by John Jeremiah Sullivan (The New Yorker)
This novella-length piece is not only the best essay I read this year, but almost certainly the best essay I have ever read, period. It’s about jealousy, illness, unrequited love, the tree fungus that killed most American chestnuts, bad decisions, and a bunch of other stuff, but it’s worth reading not because of what it talks about but because of how it does so. This piece is almost impossible to describe, but I guarantee you’ll be glad you read it.
Yours in vowing to start writing this before Sunday night next week,