My 10 favorite longreads of 2018

Every year for the past few years I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite longreads, which include lengthy journalistic features and other forms of online writing. This year, I actually feel like I read more than I ever have before, although much of it was shorter form and thus not the best fit for this list. With news moving at the speed it does these days, I found myself engrossed by detailed write-ups of current events, rather than expanding my mind with rich stories of people I’d never heard of before.

Still, there’s plenty of amazing writing to be found online as always. You can go here to read my previous years’ lists. Here are my 10 favorite longreads of 2018, in no particular order:

The Young and the Reckless – Brendan Koerner wrote a great yarn for Wired about what happens when hacking Xboxes goes from being a fun hobby to a life-altering, law-enforcement-provoking activity. As a former Microsoft employee, it was fascinating to read about this case, which I’d heard nothing about when I worked for Xbox.

Too Many Men – In China and India, men outnumber women by 70 million, and we are about to witness how this involuntary social experiment will play out on a massive scale. Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen put together a startling piece for the Washington Post about this vast gender imbalance and what it will mean for society.

Sperm Count Zero – Speaking of ways in which humanity is doomed, Daniel Noah Halpern has a detailed examination for GQ on how fertility is dramatically declining around the world, the possible causes, and what happens next.

What Ever Happened to Brendan Fraser, How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million and The Trouble with Johnny Depp – Call this a three-way tie for celebrity profiles, but in an age when celebrities can share their inner thoughts instantly with millions of fans via Twitter and Instagram, these profiles creatively brought fascinating details to light. See also: the NYTimes profile of Alfonso Cuarón, and Rolling Stone‘s profile of M. Night Shyamalan.

Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong – A bold story by Michael Hobbes for HuffPo, that suggests that the way we’ve been treating obesity is not only ineffective, it’s actively damaging.

The Kilogram Is Dead; Long Live the Kilogram – Loved this piece by James Vincent, which makes you rethink how you understand one of the fundamental assumptions you have about the world: how much a kilogram weighs.

How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monoply Game and Stole Millions – This piece by Jeff Maysh for The Daily Beast is by turns fun and disturbing. But perhaps most importantly, it answers the question: why the hell couldn’t I ever find that Boardwalk piece in the McDonald’s Monoply game?

The comforting fictions of dementia care – Larissa MacFarquhar wrote a fascinating piece for the New Yorker that asked one fundamental question: Should we lie to dementia patients to ease their pain? The answer is more complicated than it seems.

The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion Users – This exceptional feature by Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox for Motherboard challenges the popular notion that Facebook isn’t trying to moderate hate speech and other objectionable content on its website. But it also makes clear that while the task of moderation is noble, it’s also likely impossible. See also: This Radiolab episode about the same topic.

I’m broke and mostly friendless, and I’ve wasted my whole life – I make it a yearly tradition to link to a Heather Havrilesky piece. This year, it’s a column that displays Havrilesky’s characteristic style of humor combined with insight and compassion.

My five favorite podcasts (right now)

I was recently featured in an alumni magazine for my work in podcasting, and I was asked what my five favorite podcasts are. When you listen to dozens of different podcasts at differing frequency, it can be difficult to distill your list to only five (particularly when your preferences can change over time). Moreover, it feels pointless to list podcasts that are already extremely popular — why not give love to shows that need it?

I tried to strike a balance between longtime shows that I love and shows that are relatively new that could use more attention. Here were my submissions:

Reply All – A show about the internet that manages to take major trends and online obscura alike to create compelling, emotional stories.
The Next Picture Show – A movie review podcast that evaluates older films and their newer analogues. It’s a must-listen for folks interested in how the past has inspired the present.
On The Media – A show about the media that looks past the headlines to explore how coverage is influenced and deployed.
Death Sex & Money – Anna Sale interviews people from all walks of life and has in-depth discussions on topics that we all think about but don’t usually talk about: death, sex, and money.
Today Explained – This relatively new daily podcast explores the biggest news topics of the day via interviews with experts and other people impacted by world events. Impressive production value for a show that is produced so frequently.

My 10 favorite longreads of 2017

I didn’t get nearly as much reading done in 2017 as I wanted to — hence why this year’s list is coming out much later than usual. I didn’t even know if it was worth putting together a list, as many of these choices are from the first half of the year, before I got a new full-time job and barely had the time to enjoy longform journalism regularly.

But hey, I’ve been keeping this list running for several years now, and it would be a shame to stop it just for having an off year. So without further ado, here are 10 pieces I read in 2017 that I really appreciated:

My President Was Black – On the verge of the Trump presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ wrote a moving account of the Obama White House, capturing both its redemptive nature and the high price that came with it.

The Republican Waterloo – Healthcare was a hot button issue this year and in this essay, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum explains why the Republican strategy was always bound to be a losing one.

The Heart of Whiteness – Ijeoma Oluo’s interview with Rachel Dolezal is contentious, uncomfortable, and revealing. It also helps to bring some closure to this crazy saga of the past two years.

The Lost Picture Show: Hollywood Archivists Can’t Escape Obsolescence – One of the side effects of the digital age is the challenge of archiving films. With a frightening, clinical approach, Marty Perlmutter lays out the very real possibility that many of our greatest cultural works are in danger of being lost forever.

The Leftovers: Life, Death, Einstein and Time Travel – There’s been a lot of great writing about The Leftovers, but this piece by Maureen Ryan is my favorite. It really destroyed me. Ryan powerfully relates personal tragedy with how the show captures grief.

The Silence of the Lambs – Kathryn Joyce chronicles a sex scandal in the Protestant church, demonstrating that complicity and cover-ups are not confined to any single religion.

Four Castaways Make a Family – You don’t have to be biologically related to be a family. In this piece, Rene Denfield describes the process of adopting children. And while she makes it sound intensely difficult to love someone that much (especially when they don’t love you back), it’s also clear that sometimes only the hard things are worth doing.

The Two Americans – Sabrina Tavernise writes about the case of Abraham Davis, who helped vandalize a mosque in Fort Smith, Arkansas, then unexpectedly found forgiveness by the people he attacked. Even in the increasingly divided age that we live in, love still trumps hate.

How Uber’s Hard-Charging Corporate Culture Left Employees Drained – Caroline O’Donovan and Priya Anand’s deep dive into Uber’s intense culture asks the question: What is the true cost of unicorn startup valuations, and is it worth it?

Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Accusers for DecadesHarvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories, and many others  Possibly the most socially consequential stories of the year, Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow broke the story on Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual assaults, and helped create a movement whose impact is still being felt today.

The 8 podcast episodes of 2017 that I’m most proud of

A lot of writers on Twitter have been sharing pieces they’ve created this year that they’re most proud of. Since I do way more podcasting than writing, I thought I’d take this idea and apply it to the podcast episodes I’m proud of having been part of. Here they are in no particular order:

1) The /Filmcast: Transformers: The Last Knight review with Paul Scheer – Paul Scheer’s comedy career has been ascendant recently (I loved him in The Disaster Artist) so it was a delight to have him on the /Filmcast to dismantle this atrocity of a franchise film. Bonus: We used this episode to raise over $8500 for LA Children’s Hospital.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

2) A Cast of Kings – Live from Con of Thrones: The Ghosts of Westeros Panel – I was honored to moderate this panel with Joanna Robinson at Con of Thrones, in front of an audience of thousands of Game of Thrones fans. We talked with characters who’ve met brutal ends on the show. It was really a geek’s dream come true.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

3) The Tobolowsky Files: The Soldiers of Empathy – This episode from the latest season of the Tobolowsky Files is a wonderful articulation of the challenges and rewards of being an actor.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

4) The /Filmcast: The Dark Tower movie review with Matt Singer – I try not to take too much glee in panning films. Nobody sets out to make a terrible film, and even the worst films feature a lot of hard work from dozens, if not hundreds, of people. But Sony’s The Dark Tower felt like such a half-hearted effort, lacking the resources necessary to tell a story of such epic scope and tragically closing off the possibility of any similar adaptations for the foreseeable future. I had fun deconstructing this film with Matt Singer from Screencrush.

I try to do at least one of these movie dissections per year with Matt Singer and it’s always a lot of fun. See: our review of Collateral Beauty last year.

5) Peaks TV: Series Finale recap – The return of Twin Peaks was a genuinely exciting television event. David Lynch opted not only to subvert viewer expectations, but to deliver episodes that were chock full of exciting ideas and bravura filmmaking. That said, the experience of watching the show could often be baffling and disorienting. I’m proud of the finale recap episode I recorded with Joanna, where we try our best to explain WTF happened and summarize the entire experience of watching this unique show.

Listen below:

6) A Cast of Kings: Season Finale recap – This season of Game of Thrones was amazing and terrible in almost equal measure, hinging largely on an incredibly stupid plotline up North that was totally unbelievable. That said, I was happy that Joanna Robinson and I got to dissect the show in brutal detail as usual. This recap of the season finale really nailed many of the issues and the joys we had with the show as a whole. It’s also Joanna Robinson at her best, bringing wit and insight to this beloved series.

[Side note: A Cast of Kings shattered download records this year. Over 300K people downloaded this episode.]

Download or listen below:

7) The /Filmcast: Blade Runner 2049 review with C. Robert Cargill – I’ve followed C. Robert Cargill’s work since he was a movie reviewer for AICN. Since then, he’s gone on to write two hit films (Sinister and Doctor Strange), and become a brilliant creator in his own right. His appearance on the podcast this year to review one of my favorite sci-fi films of recent memory was a wonderful geek-out session.

Download or listen below:

8) The /Filmcast: A lot of conversations about The Last Jedi – The /Filmcast did two episodes on The Last Jedi, totaling about 3.5 hours of conversation (not to mention this additional 1-hour Periscope I recorded). I’m about done talking about this film, but was super thrilled to have many thought-provoking conversations about how this film takes the Star Wars franchise in bold new directions. Our first episode can be found here. Our spoiler-filled follow-up episode is below.

Download or listen below:

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Seattle

Shortly after I moved to Seattle from Boston, I wrote up a brief “Things I’ve learned so far” post. All that stuff is still true.

That being said, I’ve been living here for nearly two years now. Today, I’d like to supplement that post with a few things I’ve learned about this city, which I have come to love.

1. The traffic is comically terrible – Traffic in Seattle is a Kafkaesque nightmare from which you can scarcely hope to escape. Traffic patterns are almost completely unpredictable; one day you can cruise easily down the 520 bridge, and the next day, during that exact same time period, you can be backed up for hours. It doesn’t help that Seattle drivers seem to be terrified by snow, rain, and mild curves in the road, prompting them to slow to a crawl anytime they encounter any of the above. One of my most maddening Seattle experiences is being stuck in awful traffic for 45 minutes, only to arrive at the origin of that traffic: nothing. No root cause. Just people slowing down because they don’t like to drive too fast on the highway around curves. That being said, the Washington state’s Traffic Twitter account is amusing and useful. It provides a window into the madness that commuters face every day.

2. This place is frickin’ beautiful – Hopefully you can glimpse some of this beauty from my photos, but yeah, the Puget Sound area is gorgeous. I can’t remember any other time in my life, other than my brief trip to New Zealand, during which I could witness postcard-quality images on a daily basis.

3. The income inequality is significant and stark – I don’t think tensions here have grown to San Francisco-esque levels, but in Belltown, the inequality is as obvious as ever. Homeless sleep under storefront awnings every night. As I was leaving my garage last night, I saw some dude foraging in my apartment’s garbage container. Meanwhile, luxury apartments are shooting up left and right. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out.

4. The food is still amazing, but… – Spending more time here has definitely made me appreciate the food scene here even more, especially compared to the food scene in Boston, which I can’t help but look back on with disenchantment and disappointment. The food here is just better, and you can get more per dollar than in lesser cities. But it’s not all great. While many styles of food are well-represented, the BBQ is pretty lacking in the city, as is the Chinese and Korean cuisine (although there’s some great Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese to be found). For some quality Chinese/Korean, I often need to head into parts north or to the East Side.

5. Construction is everywhere – From where I sit right now as I type this blog post, I can see (unassisted) no fewer than six construction cranes in my field of view. The real estate market here is about to explode, helped in no small part by Amazon’s plans to dramatically expand its workforce and urban footprint. This place is going to look and feel dramatically different five years from today.

6. There is no infrastructure to handle snow – In Boston, fleets of trucks dispatched by private towing companies would roam the streets at night, making the roads navigable for regular cars. Here, that just doesn’t happen. When it snows, the city shuts down, schools are cancelled, a State of Emergency is declared, etc. Beware snow’s ability to totally mess with your plans. On that note…

7. Seattle makes you soft – I lived in Boston for my whole life, and while it’s not at at all the most challenging weather environment, I went through dozens of brutally harsh winters and scalding hot summers. Seattle, despite its constant spritzy rain, is fairly temperate throughout the year. As a result, experiencing actual extreme temperatures after staying here for awhile can be a more jarring, unpleasant experience than usual.

8. Christmas just doesn’t feel the same – My brother brought this up when he was visiting me in Seattle for Thanksgiving: the one thing you really can’t get on the West Coast is the “feeling” of Christmas. How to define that feeling? I’m not sure. It’s the feeling of freshly fallen snow on the ground outside, silently coating the nearly-empty streets. It’s the warmth of a fire in a brightly lit house with a freshly chopped tree, and some hot soup or hot coffee waiting for you. It’s the smell of pine needles and wreaths and fruitcakes. It’s the sound of expertly-sung Christmas carols echoing through the halls. It’s the feeling I get walking through the white streets of Harvard Square on a December evening. I can’t really fully define the feeling of Christmas. But it’s not the feeling I get when I see families gathered at the Pacific Place mall to enjoy the fake snow that falls from the top floor of the atrium.

9. I love the dress code – People basically wear whatever they want. On the East Coast, if you dress business casual or wear a suit, you are professional and appropriate. Here, that kind of dress is considered formal. It’s fun to work in a part of the country where people are allowed (encouraged?) to wear jeans and flip-flops to work.

10. There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear – Between Macklemore being poised to sweep the Grammys, Microsoft making one of the biggest acquisitions in its history, Amazon getting people talking about its drone program, and a bunch of our local/celebrity chefs continuing to gain notoriety and win awards, it feels like Seattle is having a “moment” right now. It’s an amazing city full of entrepreneurial vigor and it’s incredibly exciting to be here during this formative period. While Boston will always be my home, I’m glad to be part of the Seattle during this time of my life.

Here’s hoping that 2014 brings even greater adventures.