Reading to remember, 2013

I’ve tried to put together some of the best stories I read from this year. It’s by no means authoritative, objective or exhaustive, but I think it will point you toward some powerful writing.

Into the Lonely Quiet by Eli Saslow, The Washington Post: Months after the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Eli Saslow burrowed into the life of the Barden family, which lost a young son. Deploying restrained but searing snapshots of the mourning parents desperately trying to go about their daily lives, the story transcended its role as a follow-up to a tragic mass shooting. For all of the year’s stories, none captured a more visceral human experience.

“There were no memories here,” Saslow writes when the mourning parents try a new diner, just before the thoughts of their son come bouncing through the door in the form of one of his peers — one who had been in another classroom that day, one who was at the diner to celebrate a birthday.

Excuse Us While We Kiss the Sky by Matthew Power, GQ: In case the topic, urban exploration (or place-hacking), wasn’t interesting enough, the story starts off with an immediate jolt, like a good roller-coaster. Diving into the exploits of a band of daredevils,  hybrids between history buffs and BASE jumpers, the reading experience can feel physical — a testament to the enthralling nature of the story.

The Prophet by Luke Dittrich, Esquire: Published with a price tag, the story was Esquire’s first dip into charging for an online reading experience. So, it’s not accessible without the fee or a subscription, but it’s worth it. For my money, the deeply reported investigation of Dr. Eben Alexander is the year’s most intricately constructed piece. Slowly building its case while also revealing the inner workings of Alexander’s character, Dittrich’s story culminates with a conclusion that is exceptional in its clarity and force.

Have You Heard the One About President Joe Biden? by Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ: In the most fascinating political profile in recent memory, Laskas gets a tour of the ever-spontaneous Vice President’s hometown from the man himself. With a full account of the Biden charm, the story mirrors his habit of delivering substance in more entertaining clothing: The man is more than one-liners and surprises.

The Prophets of Oak Ridge by Dan Zak, The Washington Post: A dazzling tale of three peace activists, including a nun, breaking into a U.S. nuclear facility. Beautifully presented, it wouldn’t seem out of place in a short story collection probing the absurdities of our national security apparatus. Of course, this story is true.

Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend is a Hoax by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, Deadspin: It’s hard to overstate the shock waves created when this story dropped. Between the all-world levels of absurdity and the complete nature of the initial story, it was an incredible, blindside scoop for Deadspin.

The Legend of Chris Kyle, by Michael J. Mooney, D Magazine: There were two prominent stories published about the famed sniper shortly after his death (the other was a New Yorker examination by Nicolas Schmidle focusing on the PTSD-stricken veteran who killed Kyle). Mooney’s exploration of the persona in which Kyle was shrouded was framed by a great bit of storytelling magic that lends the piece its name.

‘Stay open, forever, so open it hurts‘ by Joel Lovell, The New York Times Magazine: Lovell, typically the editor behind the Times magazine’s best stories, took on a profile of George Saunders, the masterful short story writer. Perhaps Saunders’ eloquence and openness accounted for some of the moments, but it’s tough to find a profile that cuts deeper into its subject.

Others that stuck with me:

The Master by Marc Fisher, The New Yorker

Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building by Wright Thompson, ESPN

Why Did Jodon Romero Kill Himself on Live Television? by Jessica Testa, Buzzfeed

Stranger in a Strange Land by Rany Jazayerli, Grantland

For more, the ever-helpful folks at Longform have lists of the year’s best stories broken down into a variety of categories. Enjoy.