This is my third year compiling the best longreads of the year (see the 2010 best longreads and 2011 best longreads). As usual, I will highlight the top five longreads of 2012:
(1) “Battleground America” [The New Yorker] — this piece was published in April of this year, but I highlight it first because of its relevance after the Sandy Hook tragedy. In this exhaustively researched piece, Jill Lepore discusses the history of guns, the Second Amendment, and the course of gun control in America.
(2) “The Personal Analytics of My Life” [Stephen Wolfram] — this blog post by the founder of Mathematica personally resonated with me because I made a strong point to track a number of things in my life this year (weight, diet, sleep habits). While I wasn’t as hardcore about the process as Stephen Wolfram (he’s been collecting data for more than 20 years!), this blog post served as further motivation that if you want to understand how to change your habits, you first have to become good at tracking them.
(3) “The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever” [D Magazine] — Just as the title says, this is the most amazing bowling story I’ve ever read (and I am not a fan of bowling). Bill Fong is 48 years old and almost did what no bowler has done before: bowl three consecutive perfect games. Read the whole thing, because there’s an amazing twist at the end of the story:
Aside from bowling, Bill Fong hasn’t had a lot of success in life. His Chinese mother demanded perfection, but he was a C student. He never finished college, he divorced young, and he never made a lot of money. By his own account, his parents didn’t like him much. As a bowler, his average in the high 230s means he’s probably better than anyone you know. But he’s still only tied as the 15th best bowler in Plano’s most competitive league. Almost nothing in life has gone according to plan.
(4) “A Vintage Crime” [Vanity Fair] — Michael Steinberger write a fascinating piece about Rudy Kurniawan, a 31-year-old Indonesian transplant living in the United States and producing counterfeit wine. It’s a story of a slow rise and an astronomical fall:
No one moved the market more than a twentysomething West Coast collector named Rudy Kurniawan. He first surfaced on the wine scene in the early 2000s. He was reportedly the scion of a wealthy ethnic-Chinese family from Indonesia. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, in 2006, he explained that Kurniawan was an Indonesian surname his late father had given him to protect his identity. He said that his family had business interests in Indonesia and China, but refused to elaborate.
(5) “Louis C.K. and the Rise of the Laptop Loners” [Los Angeles Review of Books] — as I explained in September when I originally profiled the piece, I hadn’t even heard of Louis C.K. until the Internet hyped his no-strings-attached $5 comedy show. Since then, I’ve watched the first two seasons of Louie’s show, and I must say, I’ve become an even bigger fan. If you haven’t heard of the guy, read Adam Wilson’s brilliant profile (and then purchase the TV series and become a fan like I have)
For comedians, a healthy dose of fatalism is a job requirement. In one of his funniest standup routines, C.K. complains that even the most ideal life will end in the deaths of you and those you love. But Louie’s fatalism is balanced out by an occasional idealism that’s almost shocking in its earnestness. Louie isn’t jaded. When he asks the annoying stoner who lives across the hall to “just be a neighbor, a human being,” it feels as if he’s addressing the world writ large, that basic human decency is something he believes in. We get the sense that he actually cares about other people.
“Cold Pastoral” by Marina Keegan (published in The New Yorker). All the pieces I highlighted above are works of journalism (non-fiction). “Cold Pastoral” is an exception. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this incredible short story, but without a doubt, it’s the best piece of short fiction I’ve read in 2012. Tragically, Marina Keegan died in a car accident in May of this year, at the age of 22. She passionately argued in The New York Times that college students should resist the allure of high-paying jobs and go after their dreams. Ms. Keegan’s also wrote an impassioned address to the class of 2012, titled “The Opposite of Loneliness”:
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.
But it is “Cold Pastoral,” published in The New Yorker for the first time, which I think unanimously showcases her craft and beautiful, deep insight into human behavior and emotion. “Cold Pastoral” is the only piece of writing which I’ve read this year which left tears in my eyes after finishing it. Marina Keegan (1989-2012), RIP.
You can check out the best 2012 longreads from other contributors on the Longreads blog. You can see what other longreads I’ve read throughout the year by checking out the longreads category.