Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism

My personal picks for must-read nonfiction from 2013.
Wiertz Sebastien/Flickr

Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction for The Best of Journalism, a weekly email newsletter I publish. The result is my annual Best Of Journalism Awards. I couldn't read every worthy piece published last year and haven't included any paywalled articles or many of the numerous pieces from The Atlantic that I enjoyed*. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention.

The Art of the Personal Essay

Serge Saint

ORANGE COAST / Center of the Universe by Jay Roberts

"Normally, I wouldn’t have gone to a motel room with a stranger, but I never gave it a thought. I just liked the guy so much, and he seemed so kind and together, that it never occurred to me he could be dangerous. But even if he were, I was a U.S. Marine, and of the pure canonical type—hard-core infantry, a rifle range coach at times, finishing the final leg of my four-year enlistment as a scout sniper... And although I served in peacetime, I was not a stranger to hands-on violence."
THE NEW YORKER / Thanksgiving in Mongolia by Ariel Levy
"People were alarmed when I told them where I was going, but I was pleased with myself. I liked the idea of being the kind of woman who’d go to the Gobi Desert pregnant, just as, at twenty-two, I’d liked the idea of being the kind of girl who’d go to India by herself."
n+1 / What Do You Desire? by Emily Witt
"While I certainly worried about what I had seen, I could not find it in myself to feel that level of indignation. I ate my ice cream sandwich and went to sleep."
THE SUN / The Love of My Life by Cheryl Strayed
"I was bereft, in agony, destroyed over her death. To experience sexual joy, it seemed, would have been to negate that reality."
MTV HIVE / The Only Black Guy at the Indie-Rock Show by Martin Douglas
"It wasn’t my parents’ music. It was something that was happening right now, and regardless of the color lines placed between it and me, it was something that I was a part of."
AEON / My Mom by Mary HK Choi 
"She pulls rank all the time and once judo-flipped me onto my back in a grocery store to remind me where things stood."
THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR / One Road by Donald Hall
"Driving through postwar Yugoslavia was nearly impossible, but a young poet and his new wife struggled through the desolate landscape to Athens."
GAWKER / Our Kind of Ridiculous by Kiese Laymon
"I wanted her to say that we were the collateral damage of a nation going through growing pains. Part of me wanted us to hug and agree each other to death that we were better people than we actually were. But most of me was tired of lying to myself and really tired talking to white folks."
THE NEW YORK TIMES / The View from the Victim Room by Courtney Queeney
"In this court, your ex is referred to as the Respondent. I was there because my ex beat me."  

"...there is no female counterpart in our culture to Ishmael or Huck Finn. There is no Dean Moriarty, Sal, or even a Fuckhead. It sounds like a doctoral crisis, but it’s not. As a fifteen-year-old hitchhiker, my survival depended upon other people’s ability to envision a possible future for me."

GQ / The Old Man at Burning Man by Wells Tower

"It's something we've all been meaning to do. The father-son bonding adventure. You know: The big fishing excursion, The road trip down Route 66. Last year, Wells Tower took a completely different approach with his dad: Burning Man, the world's largest chemically enhanced self-expression festival. They went to witness the Slut Olympics. They went to see the art. They went to discover what draws 60,000 people to one of the least hospitable places on Earth. Then they set up camp and took off their clothes." 

THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR / At Sixty-Five by Emily Fox Gordon

"A writer faces the contingencies of being old."

TEXAS MONTHLY / The Other Side of the Story by Jenny Kutner
"When I was fourteen, I had a relationship with my eighth grade history teacher. People called me a victim. They called him a villain. But it's more complicated than that."
"By traveling to my daughter's new turf with the cloak of having been a camper there myself, I thought maybe the bubble might last a little longer. Maybe it would be 10 hours before our old routine closed back around us."
THE AWL / I Am an Object of Internet Ridicule by C.D. Hermelin
"Without the sign, without the context, I definitely look like someone who is a bit insane. That’s how I thought of it, before I clicked to look at the hundreds of replies; I figured people were probably wondering why I would bring my typewriter to a park. And when I started reading the comments, I saw most people had already decided that I would bring my typewriter to the park because I'm a 'fucking hipster.'"
"We didn’t laugh and clap, probably because we were all wondering if there is a point to being alive."

Man vs. Nature


THE NEW YORK TIMES / There's a Reason They Call Them Crazy Ants by Jon Mooallem

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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