Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reads of the year

Sometime in the next couple of weeks I'll post a list of my favorite things of 2010 -- a mix of sports, music, books, movies and other stuff. But for now I want to break out a separate category -- magazine and newspaper stories, the work dearest to my heart.

Those of us who care about the well-done newspaper or magazine story have fallen in love with a Web site called Longreads. It takes great work from around the world and gathers it in one place. You can even search by how much time you have to read. I could stroll around in there forever.

A bunch of people in the writing field have been posting their favorite long reads of the year, so I thought I'd add mine to the stack. These stories aren't all beautifully written or doggedly reported. They're just the pieces that have stuck with me long after I read the last word.

5. "Please Allow Me To Correct a Few Things," by Bill Wyman (Slate, Nov. 5). This fooled some people -- including me -- when it came out. It's supposedly a letter from Mick Jagger responding to Keith Richards' autobiography, sent to Stones bassist Bill Wyman, but accidentally arriving at the home of the rock writer with the same name. It's a fake -- the writer Wyman made the whole thing up. But it's so good -- so spot-on in every detail we know about the tension between Mick and Keith, the waste, the compromises, the musical miracles that got made anyway -- that I can believe it's what Mick WOULD write, if he had the guts.

4. "The Mess He Made," by Michael S. Rosenwald (Washington Post, June 13). A first-person piece from a hoarder trying to understand what he does, why he does it and why he can't stop. So raw and true and painful that I can't Google him to see what happened next, because I'm afraid to find out.

3. "It Happens," by David Fleming (ESPN the Magazine, Oct. 7). The degree of difficulty on this one was incredible -- write a funny, humane, moving story about athletes who defecated on themselves during competition. Fleming (who lives in Davidson) pulls it off -- even if you think you can't possibly enjoy this story, you will. Although the headline really should've been "The Tao of Poo."

2. "Bill Murray Is Ready To See You Now," by Dan Fierman (GQ, August). This is normally my least-favorite type of story -- the celebrity Q&A. But this time the Q's are insightful, the A's are brilliant, and by the end I felt like I knew Bill Murray 10 times better than I did before. The sequence about the "Garfield" movie alone is worth it. God, would I love to have a drink with that guy.

1. "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man," by Chris Jones (Esquire, March). Many others have this story on their lists, and as much as I wanted to do something different, keeping this off is like leaving Cam Newton off your Heisman ballot. A profile tries to answer two questions: What is this person's life like? And what does it mean? A great profile does both. A brilliant profile adds rich detail, beautiful writing and a universal message. A transcendent profile has something else on top of all that -- something that reaches in and shakes your bones. That's this story right here.