I was thinking about sharing a list of the best books I read this year*, but hadn't yet gotten around to it; partly because it just felt too limiting. There's so much great writing in the universe not contained in book form, why not consider it all? So I am. (And, as you may have noticed, the writers at Gawker second that emotion
, having published their own similarly inspired lists.)
The following pieces aren't ranked or exhaustive or even limited only to things published only this year. It's just a collection of some writing — poems, reportage, essays, reviews, stories, novels — that stayed with me over the last twelve months. The best part? Unlike with a typical "best books" list, several of these pieces are online. Free. For all to read. Like, right now. So go.
1. "Bears Do It" by David Owen in The New Yorker: This fascinating article distills behavioral science for animal lovers as it documents the reproductive plight of the modern panda, proving that what comes naturally doesn't necessarily come easily. A total triumph of science writing.
2. "Sexy Tree" by Wendy Xu in The Pinch: A poem that is frenetic, joyful, and urgent. It demanded my attention from the first line and — in an unexpected move on the part of poetry! — made me laugh.
3. "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich: I described Erdrich's novel to someone as "worth calling in sick over." It grabs you hard and leaves a bruise. The story, told from the perspective of a teenage boy living on the Ojibwe reservation, traces his coming of age as it converges with his mother's brutal rape, leaving irreparable damage but revealing the true and complicated meaning of survival.
4. Guy Aroch's review of Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" for The Washington Post: It may not be original or particularly brave to bash Arcade Fire these days, but Aroch's hilarious takedown of the band's latest effort was a good-natured, raucous evisceration. It also contains one of the most hilarious ledes I've had the chance to read in a newspaper, perhaps ever: "Look, I’m sure they’re very nice people, but on their fourth album, 'Reflektor,' Arcade Fire still sound like gigantic dorks with boring sex lives."
5."Dogs Are People Too" by Gregory Berns for The New York Times: The second animals-and-science-themed pick on my list. This opinion piece explains how new scientific understandings of empathy in dogs and the way their brains work teaches us not only more about them, but about ourselves.
6. "Every Woman's Dream Wedding" by Meghan O'Keefe in McSweeney's: This brief story starts out sounding like several conversations most women have either overheard or participated in, then ups the comic ante with increasing levels of ridiculousness. Mandatory reading for anyone who has ever been a hesitant bride. Or bridesmaid. Or groom. Or friend or relative of someone getting married.
7. "I Don't Know Jack" by Benjamin Svetkey in Los Angeles Magazine: As someone who talks to and writes about celebrities for a living, I'm often asked what a particular star "is like." Svetkey's does an excellent job of describing the mirage of personality that these interviewer/interviewee exchanges set up — and explains why it's a question I can never quite answer.
8. "California" by Amra Brooks: Brooks's memoir-as-novel is experimental but not indulgent. She reveals the inner world of girls by showing us the life of one, with vignettes that are at times coldhearted and bleak, at others bouyant and adrenalized. The book maps her story in evocative settings that capture the California both widely known and widely unknown.
9. "Bobcat" by Rebecca Lee: Lee's masterful short story is a nesting doll of metaphors about the unhappy collisions of people against the world. Taking place over the course of a dinner party, it's a slow unravel that will leave you in awe of Lee's deft twists and turns. It's no wonder her collection of short stories is named for this one.
10. "Widow Basquiat" by Jennifer Clement: A richly written retelling of Basquiat's tormented relationship with his girlfriend, muse, and oftentimes caretaker Suzanne Mallouk. A visceral and poetic story about love, dependency, betrayal, and art that echoed with me.
11. "Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M." by Sam Wasson: Sheer fun. This retelling of the making of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is quick and witty, expertly researched, and pulls back the curtain on one of the most iconic films of our time. It feels less like reading than being invited inside Holly Golightly's infamous cocktail party.
12. "Bettering Myself" by Ottssa Moshfegh in The Paris Review: Nothing much happens in Moshfegh's tale of a divorced, alcohol-dependent schoolteacher, but everything devolves. I read it on a quiet, lonely weekend afternoon and felt like it stole a little piece of me.
13."Sexting, Shame, and Suicide" by Nina Burleigh in Rolling Stone: Another piece that made me glad Rolling Stone still seeks out and publishes stories with real heft and weight. Audrie Pott's torment and eventual suicide will move you to anger, but even though it's hard to read, it's worthy of the reading.
*I've also still published my annual list of books I read this year on Pinterest, for tradition's sake. I don't necessarily condone all the titles contained in it, but if you ask, I'll be more than happy to give you a one-sentence review.