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 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.

Cards Against Humanity’s Super Bowl ad was a failure

Cards Against Humanity has written a spot-on parody of long-form Medium post-mortem pieces:

Most startups fail for one of two reasons: they run out of money, or they fail to reach an audience. We spent all of our money while simultaneously failing to reach an audience. This is a classic blunder.

At Cards Against Humanity, we believe that you can only become a master by trying and failing. In this way, failure is life’s greatest teacher; failure is actually success. At Cards Against Humanity, we fail all the time. We are veterans of failure. And constant failure, plus unlimited capital, is what led us to greatness.

My 10 Favorite Longreads of 2016

It has been a brutal year in terms of updating this blog (only 5 posts since the LAST “Top 10 Longreads” post? Terrible). I am putting plans in place to move this sucker over to WordPress/Medium and get going again. The biggest obstacle remains porting over/recreating all my old posts and making sure the link structure is intact. Once that’s done, I am hopeful that the regular blogging will recommence!

But some traditions die hard, so as usual, here are my 10 favorite longreads of 2016 in no particular order. These were pieces that in some way caused me to think, moved me, changed my mind, or made me laugh. I hope you get something out of them too:

How Making a Murderer Went Wrong – Kathryn Schulz explores the terrifying implications of letting popular entertainment dictate the path of justice in individual cases. In the case of the wildly popular Making a Murderer on Netflix, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the case presented to you.

How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers with Nothing – Kickstarter (the company) did something most companies wouldn’t: they asked a freelance reporter to write a story on one of their high-profile failures. Kickstarter failures happen often, with project creators frequently failing to deliver on the promised project or on individual rewards. By pulling back the curtain on how one company failed, this story hopes to encourage caution in optimistic backers.

Ask Polly: I’ve Failed at Everything I Worked to Achieve – It wouldn’t be a yearly favorite longreads list without another advice column by Heather Havrilesky. In this one, she provides advice to a young law school student struggling with trying to make sense of her level of accomplishments (or lack thereof). As usual, her advice feels universal and essential.

It Smelled Like Death: An Oral History of the Double Dare Obstacle Course – Hilarious piece by Marah Eakin about a pop culture artifact that I hadn’t given any thought to since childhood. The best nuggets from this piece all involve how slapdash and potentially dangerous the obstacle course really was. Sometimes, the best entertainment is borne of necessity and severe constraints.

The Revenge of Roger Ailes – Riveting story by Gabriel Sherman about how the women at Fox News took down Roger Ailes, a man who sexually harassed women with impunity and who subjugated his employees through constant fear and scrutiny.

How Things Work – In Nick Denton’s final post for Gawker, he lays out what he was trying to accomplish with his company and its flagship blog, as well as what led to its downfall. A lot of insightful ink was spilled about how the downfall of Gawker is emblematic of a lot that’s going wrong with the media and our culture today. This piece by Denton himself felt like the best one to include here.

Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All – In a year filled with great reporting about Donald Trump (and a ton of truly awful reporting about him), I was struck by Tony Schwartz’s desire to speak out against Trump decades after helping him write The Art of the Deal. This piece in The New Yorker was one of the first that featured his critiques, and its anecdotes are still remarkable to this day.

Time Risk – More than any other piece this year, Terry Rossio’s column on “time risk” helped me to understand the entertainment industry better. It is a massive column (it took me over 2 hours to read) but within its insights about how film projects get made, there’s also a lot here about how we choose to spend our time as creators in this world, and what we should prioritize.

Death, The Prosperity Gospel, and Me – Cancer can instantly reconfigure all of your life’s priorities and your entire view of the world. Kate Bowler movingly describes what happens when your theology comes in conflict with your life circumstances.

The Quest for a Unifying Theory of Time Travel in Star Trek – Delving through decades worth of Trek episodes and films, Xaq Rzetelny searches for a way to explain how the legendary franchise deploys the mechanic of time travel.  In other words, this article was genetically engineered for me to love it.

Also worth mentioning:
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
– History tells us what will happen next with Brexit and Trump by Tobias Stone
In Defense of a Boring, Comfortable Life by B.J. Mendelson
Future Shock by Abraham Riseman

My 10 Favorite Longreads of 2015

My reading life really took a hit this year. Between my full-time job, the release of The Primary Instinct, and the release of my cello EP, I didn’t have nearly as much time to dive into online essays and investigative journalism as I wanted to (and as I have in years past).

Nonetheless, I was still able to consume a few pieces that really spoke to me. In particular, many of these pieces focused on the challenges of choosing a life in the arts, something I’ve struggled with mightily this year.

Anyway, here are my favorite reads of 2015, in no particular order.

Ask Polly: Should I give up on my writing? – Heather Havrilesky remains one of my favorite writers on the internet (In fact, when I first started the /Filmcast, she was one of the two people I knew wanted to get on the show. The other one: Shawn Ryan. Still gotta figure out a way to make the Havrilesky guest spot happen…). Havrilesky really has been killing it with her Ask Polly column, and this entry is no different – a beautiful essay on the limits of chasing after fame.

Get rich or die vlogging: the sad economics of internet fame – It’s an act of boldness to show people your weaknesses and your balance sheet. Gaby Dunn does it here in order to reveal the trials and tribulations of being in the Internet’s “middle class.” Sometimes, hundreds of thousands of subscribers and followers don’t convert into income cleanly, and Dunn gives voice to this anxiety.

25 Years in LA (parts 1-5) – While I don’t always agree with Drew McWeeny’s opinions on films or the entertainment industry, I’ve always found his to be an essential voice in our world. Plus, I’m fascinated by the backstories of how my favorite writers came to be who they are. Drew’s “25 years in LA” series was moving and personal, and gave readers a glimpse into a time in his life (and perhaps in all our lives) when it felt like anything was possible.

Raiders of the Lost Web – The web we know is dying piece by piece. Linkrot affects all elements of our society, all the way up to the Supreme Court. Adrienne LaFrance’s piece for The Atlantic about how a Pulitzer-finalist investigative series almost vanished should give any online content producers pause: we are partially responsible for preserving the work that we produce. And we must do all we can to make that happen.

The Lonely Death of George Bell – This extraordinary investigative effort documented what happens to a person when they die in New York. Most people who have friends and family have people to take care of their affairs for them. But for those who live lives of solitude, the resolution of their affairs fall to civil servants, who are brought together across time to help put this person to rest.

How Snoopy Killed Peanuts – In advance of the new Peanuts film, Kevin Wong published this loving chronicle of how Peanuts became less biting (and less intelligent) over time. This piece will make you miss the Peanuts of yesteryear.

The art of sound in movies – A fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the sound design of films like No Country for Old Men and Miles Ahead. These people are some of the many unsung heroes in the film industry.

The Last Day of Her Life – Sandy Bem knew her mind was deteriorating, and she wanted to die on her own terms. But how does one choose when it is time to die? A heartbreaking story of love, life, and loss that makes me consider how to approach the end of my own life.

The Myth of the Ethical Shopper – Buying clothing that isn’t made in terrible conditions is becoming more and more challenging these days. Shopping responsibly is an intractable issue, and Michael Hobbes’ piece for Huffington Post explores these problems in depth.

How to lose weight in 4 easy steps – Hilarious and touching, this piece by Aaron Bleyaert is (obviously) not just about weight-loss. It’s about how to deal when your life blows up and how to reconstitute it afterwards.

My 15 Favorite Longreads of 2014

This past year has totally revitalized my “reading life.” For the first time in many years, I’ve read entire books (not just longform pieces online) and it feels great. I’ve also discovered a love for Audible, which is fantastic if you choose works that are performed well.

All that being said, I thought was still worth sharing my favorite online longreads of the year, as I have in years past. Here they are, in reverse chronological order:

Justine Sacco Is Good at Her Job, and How I Came to Peace with Her  – Sam Biddle tells a personal, self-deprecating story of how the person beyond your computer whose life you’re raging against online is likely a well-balanced, real human being. The internet destroys people’s lives on a daily basis, often for no good reason. This piece is a good reminder of how senseless it all can be. There are a ton of quotes from this piece that I am going to return back to from time to time, including, “She knew the only divine truth of the internet: Do nothing. Never tweet. Never apologize. Never say anything at all. Be an inert bundle of molecules and let the world tear itself apart around you.”

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis – Jonathan Rauch explains some of the biological foundations of the “midlife crisis” and how to set yourself up for mid-life and late-life success.

I Regret Reporting My Female Boss for Sexual Harassment – Tana Yeşil describes, with great regret, an incident in which she had to make an incredibly difficult decision and the toll it took on her and her boss.

Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies – The sugar industry has been trying to convince you that it’s not killing you for many years. Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens break down how we got here.

Amazon, Publishers, and Readers – Clay Shirky, a professor who I’ve been fortunate enough to be a student of, always puts out some of my favorite pieces, and this year was no different. Here, he explains why Amazon will win any dispute against publishers in the long term: because it has a vision for the future.

The Price of Blackness – Lanre Akinsiku describes the psychological toll of being black in a country that has seen numerous high profile cases this year of young unarmed black men shot and killed by police with no repercussions.

17 Things I Learned from Working on Other People’s Films – It’s been an enormous pleasure this year for me to get to know local talented filmmaker Megan Griffiths (you can listen to a /Filmcast episode we recorded together here). This piece on 17 things she’s learned during her time as a filmmaker was useful for me to have, as someone who’s in the process of making my own film this year. I’ve also enjoyed her writing on her personal blog as well.

The Greatest Story Never Told – I didn’t even remember that Passion of the Christ was supposed to have a sequel until I read this gripping piece by Luke Dittrich. Apparently, there are pretty good reasons why it never happened!

The Trials of Entertainment Weekly – Few people write as intelligently about pop culture as Anne Helen Peterson. As someone who used to read EW quasi-religiously (before the rise of fan blogs like /Film), I found this to be a fascinating journey through the magazine’s history that also functions as a commentary on the state of the publishing industry at large today.

The Day I Started Lying to Ruth – This is one of the few articles I’ve ever read that have made me openly weep. Peter B. Bach, a cancer doctor, describes his last days with his wife. That last paragraph will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.

How to WriteHeather Havrilesky has been one of my favorite writers on the internet for at least 7-8 years now, and this piece demonstrates why. I won’t say anything more about it, except that it is delightful.

Amanda, @TrappedAtMyDesk on Twitter, Dies, Age Unknown – Content goes viral every day, but often, it’s not real. Jennifer Mendelsohn dives deep into the existence (or lack thereof) of Twitter user @TrappedAtMyDesk, whose death was repackaged into a viral video earlier this year.

Street Fighter: The Movie – What Went Wrong – Absolutely hilarious and unfortunate story by Chris Plante (fast becoming one of my favorite internet personalities – see his video essay on the racism in Gremlins here). Street Fighter: The Movie needs its own Lost in La Mancha-style documentary.

The Prophet – Unfortunately, this piece by Luke Dittrich (his second entry on my list this year!) is no longer available for free. However, the way it explores the background of Eben Alexander (author of Proof of Heaven) is fascinating and revealing. I was particularly interested in how the piece described Alexander’s own reaction to the forthcoming the piece itself that Dittrich was working on as he interviewed him. It’s rare to get a peek behind the curtain like that in these features.

Almost Everything in Dr. Strangelove Was True – Eric Schlosser describes in excruciating detail how the events of Dr. Strangelove easily could’ve happened.

My 10 Favorite Online Reads of 2013

I didn’t spend nearly as much time reading as I wanted to this year. More responsibilities at work, changing responsibilities at /Film, and my new interest in creating original video work have all consumed a great deal of time and energy. But just as 2013 was a fantastic year for film, it was also a great year for quality online journalism and storytelling.

I have a reading backlog that’s a mile long, but here are the things I did read that I can unequivocally recommend:

Murder by Craigslist by Hanna Rosin – By far, the single most riveting piece of writing that I’ve read all year. This piece is so good that I could not put it down until I finished it, even through a dinner and grocery shopping afterwards. The conclusion is totally unexpected and, in some ways, even uplifting. If you read one article from this blog post, make it this one.

Diamonds Are Bullshit by Rohin Dhar – This article explores how/why diamonds are not only artificially inflated, but how their elevated status has been completely manufactured by the diamond industry.

I’m still here: back online after a year without the Internet by Paul Miller – Paul Miller spent a year without internet as an experiment to see how his life would improve. In some ways, it did. But it turned out not to be the Thoreau-style utopia he was hoping for.

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets by Peter Maass – By now, a significant number of people on this planet know who Edward Snowden is. Fewer know about Laura Poitras, the award-winning filmmaker that has put her livelihood in jeopardy to help tell his story. Great reporting by the Times.

A Day Inside Comic-Con’s Hall H: Worshipping the Ultimate Movie Church by Todd VanDerWerff – There’s nothing super timely about this piece – it could’ve been written in any of the past few years, save for some of the specific pop culture references. But it is such a perfect distillation of the agony and ecstasy of attending Comic-Con that I can’t help but recommend it.

The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss by Liza Mundy – As gay marriages have become more mainstream and widely accepted, the resulting family units may have a lot to teach heterosexual couples on how to be more functional.

Copernicus on the Science of Gravity by Andy Howell – An illuminating exploration on the where Gravity gets the science right and wrong (as told by an actual astronomer), and why Cuaron might have made those choices.

What Is It Like to Earn a Living Through Poker? by Michael Shinzaki [Quora post] – A fascinating reflection on the working life of a guy who regularly made $40,000 a week. A great supplement to Jay Caspian Kang’s similar piece on this lifestyle.

The Story Behind Why AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Fired an Employee in Front of 1,000 Coworkers by Nicholas Carlson – Carlson provides some fascinating context behind one of the most public tech firings of the year.

Sylvester Stallone’s Career Tells A Story of Going the Distance by Matt Singer – Few people are as good as Matt Singer is at wringing meaning out of a celebrity’s career choices. This exhaustive retrospective at Stallone’s career is both amusing and illuminating.

Honorable Mentions

And Then Steve Said, “Let There Be an iPhone”
Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel
The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon Became the Everything Store
Good Cop, Bad Cop: An Oral History of the Shield
Damon Lindelof Explains the New Rules of Blockbuster Screenwriting

My Favorite Longreads of 2011

I spend a lot of time reading, whether on the internet or on my Kindle through Instapaper. The latter is an activity I heartily recommend for anyone.

This year, a myriad of compelling, informative, moving longform content was published online, available for free. Here are some of the pieces I found the most interesting. As some of these cover some pretty dark territory, I certainly didn’t “enjoy” reading them all, but if they’re on this list, I found them to be works worthy of your attention. Many of them have significantly changed how I think about the topics they cover, which I believe to be a sign of any well-written content:

How 480 Characters Unraveled My Career – Nir Rosen’s apologia explains how a few careless tweets destroyed everything he’d been working towards for years.

Our Desperate, 250-Year-Long Search for a Gender-Neutral Pronoun – Maria Bustillos breaks out her forensic grammarian hat over at The Awl.

Leaving in a Huff – Eric D. Snider reconstructs the Moviefone meltdown with hilarity and truth.

The Sad Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything – Linda Holmes presents the ultimate conundrum of following pop culture.

Our Universities: Why Are They Failing? – Anthony Grafton not only presents a sobering portrait of American education, but also points to flaws in how we write and conceive of it.

Sweet Emulsion – Scott Tobias explains why we should care that the days of film are numbered.

The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox – A gripping Rolling Stone feature on how young Amanda Knox unwittingly wandered into the midst of an international scandal.

The Hellish Experience of Making a Bad Horror Film – Leigh Whannell describes the nightmare that was making Dead Silence. Glad to see he has a sense of humor about it!

Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door – A Vanity Fair piece on the horrors of domestic sex trafficking.

A Day at the Park – Shawn Taylor movingly describes the emotional struggles of a black father in America.

Parents of a Certain Age – Lisa Miller explores the idea of parents getting pregnant for the first time when they’re in their 50s. Arguments for both sides are presented but Miller definitely has a specific position on the subject. I found her explanation behind it to be thought-provoking.

The Shame of College Sports – Taylor Branch provides a sprawling look at the injustice of college athletics and the travesty that is the NCAA.