"The Return" by David Finkel in The New Yorker David Finkel’s reconstruction of an Iraq veteran’s experience with P.T.S.D. is terribly sad, emotionally raw, and perfectly told. This is one of those rare pieces I’ve found myself raving about in conversation for more than a week, a piece so flawless that I’m thankful it’s not online, because it’s too beautifully spun to be cannibalized into a “heart-wrenching” listicle. This is the very best thing I read this year, by far, and that’s not an insult to the other great work that’s been done this year—this piece is just that excellent.
"George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year" by Joel Lovell in The New York Times Magazine Joel Lovell’s excellent George Saunders piece is functionally a profile, but it’s also a meditation on so much more, thanks to the subject’s tremendous humanity. In the process of sketching the fiction writer for “our time,” Lovell works through the short-story author’s words and dialogue to think about weighty things like mortality, clarity, capitalism’s insidious captivity, etc. Lovell quotes the conversations he had with the Saunders, and I would pay good money to hear a recording of those dialogues.
"Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath Charles Manson" by Erik Hedegaard in Rolling Stone It had been nearly two decades since America’s most famous convicted murderer cooperated (using that word loosely) for a lengthy and thorough interview, and Erik Hedegaard’s portrait of the man circa-2013 is absolutely fantastic. Manson doesn’t disappoint, dependably volunteering chilling asides and offering some transparent manipulation, but he also starts phoning the writer so much that Hedegaard avoids his calls. And it’s with lonely details like that where the icon of evil starts to shrink to self-caricature and this piece grows even more historically remarkable. But then Manson spits out something terribly vile and you remember why he is who he is, and why we’re still talking about him more than 40 years later.
Wells Tower, “The Elvis Impersonator, the Karate Instructor, a Fridge Full of Severed Heads, and the Plot 2 Kill the President,” GQ This story was ridiculous when it was first in the headlines, but in Wells Tower’s lively retelling, a bizarre tale becomes delightfully bonkers.
The Media, a (mostly) bi-weekly ad-free webpaper The fullest disclosure: Founder Liz Pelly quoted me in her mission statement for starting this advertising-free online paper in the wake of the Boston Phoenix's untimely shuttering. But I'd hope that I'd recognize the significance and ambition of The Media without the personal connection: a DIY-minded alt-bi-weekly “experiment” that realizes traditional ad-based media models are broken, and is attempting to work from contributions and benefit shows and other ingenious fundraising methods. Besides, former Galaxie 500 mensch Damon Krukowski, who knows nothing about wine, has a wine column. This is important.
One year ago today, Sammie Eaglebear Chavez was arrested for talking about shooting up his school. While he was in police custody, Newtown happened. Sammie has been locked up ever since.
Here is a very long story I wrote for Gawker about his situation, which I see as a kind of allegory about adolescent rage in 21st-century America, parenting, the justice system, school violence, addiction, mental-health treatment, dark fantasy, and on and on.
Tremendous thanks to my editors John Cook and Tom Scocca, native Bartian Ward Harkavy, Tulsa World's Laura Summers, Dave Cullen, Stephen King, Adam Weinstein, Adam Weinstein’s dad, and everyone else mentioned in the story for helping to make this happen.
I wrote Spin's October cover story about the power-pop sister-rock trio, Haim.
— George Saunders’s Syracuse 2013 commencement speech
Happy Disclosure day. Hung out with Guy and Howard Lawrence in Detroit recently, as you can see from the photo above, and they were lovely. More on that adventure soon enough.
The Adalia Rose photo on the left kills me every time. So thrilled I got to do this.
Here is the longest thing I’ve ever published, 8000 words on the very cool kid Adalia Rose Williams, her besieged mom, and the horrible other kids who spent two months attacking her. That’s her above, dancing to “Ice Ice Baby.”
John Dixon, the Village Voice's excellent art director, chose two of my stories as his favorite covers of 2012.
Ian Parker, “The Story of a Suicide,” New Yorker. This deeply reported 12,000-word piece singlehandedly demonstrates why long-form writing and reporting is still essential in a social-media world.
Dan P. Lee, “Hiding Out With Fiona Apple, Musical Hermit,” New York. This piece wasn’t supposed to happen. The writer was initially given a slot in a turnstile of publicist-timed sit-down interviews, but under those manufactured circumstances, Lee managed to connect with Fiona Apple in such an organically human way that they end up spending 30 hours together, drinking wine, smoking hash, hiding. I’ve re-read this piece more times that I care to admit, and every instance, I’m surprised by the depth and range of its emotional tone. A lovely exchange of craft, empathy, and trust.
Mark Singer, “Marathon Man,” New Yorker. The truly bizarre tale of a dentist with a pathologically fraudulent marathon-running sideline. The most surprising part isn’t that Singer hops on a plane and unexpectedly shows up at the dentist’s office after being misled, but what happens when he finally meets the man in person.
The New York Times Magazine. An incomplete list of Times Magazine features, which were all generally excellent, that I loved this year: Sam Anderson’s wonderful Oklahoma City Thunder profile, Charles Siebert’s piece on his football-rookie nephew, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s trip to Cuba, Tom Robbins on the radical transformation of his old acquaintance Judith Clark, Jennifer Kahn’s interactions with a nine-year-old maybe psychopath, Scott Anderson’s story of a remorseful grown man who killed his parents.