This year, I kept track of the stories on the web that I liked the most. The list is necessarily personal, and incomplete — the internet's wunderkammer is infinite, and my travels there in 2013 only took me so far. Still, I loved dozens of stories this year, of all lengths, and I'm happy to share them with you as the holidays approach. As you travel over the next month, here are some things to throw in your Pocket.
[I limited myself to one story here from The Verge — once merely my favorite website and now, in ecstatic addition to that, my employer — because I've spent all year tweeting out links to the site and have always felt that the holidays are a time to spread the love around. It goes without saying that theverge.com should be your homepage and you should do your best to memorize its contents daily.]
Best of the Best
- Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie, by Stephen Rodrick. Granted extraordinary access to a disastrous film project, Rodrick offers the rare kind of behind-the-scenes Hollywood storytelling that stays with you forever.
- Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, by Steven Brill. Armed with an anecdote about a woman who thought she was having a heart attack that turned out to be heartburn, and was billed $21,000 for her trouble, Brill highlights all that is insane about the American healthcare system with uncommon clarity and wit. He deserves credit for exposing the criminally unfair nature of the "chargemaster," the almost totally arbitrary list of prices for everything that takes place within a hospital's walls.
- The End of the Waffle House, by Jessica Contrera. This account of the closing of a local restaurant is as affecting a story I read in a newspaper this year, and is also unquestionably the best piece of journalism I have ever read by a college student.
- Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer, by Peggy Ornstein. "I used to believe that a mammogram saved my life." So begins Ornstein's provocative, everything-you-know-is-wrong story about how the gospel of early detection has proven hugely ineffective in reducing the mortality rate for breast cancer.
- It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being 'It', by Russell Adams. Adams' unforgettable tale of a group of men who have played a game of tag for 23 years is the kind of superlative piece of newspaper writing where a spectacular new detail lurks in every paragraph. To the great benefit of mankind, Will Ferrell and Jack Black will star in a movie based on the story.
- Lone Ranger Pitch Meeting, by Eric D. Snider. This short piece of humor writing is the story I have returned to most this year — I have probably read it seven times now from start to finish. It manages to capture the deep cynicism that led to the making of a bomb in the funniest way imaginable, and in so doing manages the impossible — making you glad someone made The Lone Ranger, if only so this piece of writing could result from it.
Business and Tech
- Beyond recognition: the incredible story of a face transplant, by Katie Drummond. Permit me one Verge link here: Drummond's heart-rending story about an indomitable woman given a fresh start by science. The companion video just wrecks me.
- Multiplayer Game 'Eve Online' Cultivates a Most Devoted Following, by Ashlee Vance. Vance is my favorite feature writer in tech, and his tale of Eve Online was my favorite thing he did this year. Ignore the boring headline and just click: the story begins in a hotel bar in Reykjavík and immediately goes right off the rails.
- Explaining the Hyperloop, in Basic Terms, by Jason O. Gilbert. Gilbert has a flair for the absurd — he also wrote a wonderful nonsense explainer about Twitter's IPO this year — but this effort to explain Elon Musk's pipe dream is one of the funniest things I read all year.
- E-Commerce is a Bear, by Andy Dunn. This piece by the founder of Bonobos offers fascinating insights into how an e-commerce business can compete with a business as terrifyingly ruthless as Amazon — an already difficult proposition that could someday become all but impossible.
- Why Android first is a myth, by Steve Cheney. A sharp explanation of why despite market share dominance, Android lags far behind iPhone in third-party app development. (I know that sounds boring but this one really shaped the way I think about my beat!)
- The Amount of Questionable Traffic Online Will Blow Your Mind, by Mike Shields. It did and it does!
- The Body in Room 348, by Mark Bowden. A crazy story, impeccably told.
- A scandal at the Bolshoi ballet, by David Remnick. An extraordinary feat of reportage from the superhuman editor of The New Yorker.
- After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet, by Eli Saslow. Ugh.
- Overheard: Steven Soderbergh. A more serious companion piece to The Lone Ranger Pitch Meeting. Soderbergh details everything wrong with Hollywood in a speech that explains why he plans to leave the studio system permanently.
- Stephen King’s Family Business, by Susan Dominus. A memorable portrait of a talented family.
- Behind Kanye’s Mask, by Jon Caramanica. "I’m going to use my platform to tell people that they’re not being fair. Anytime I’ve had a big thing that’s ever pierced and cut across the Internet, it was a fight for justice. Justice. And when you say justice, it doesn’t have to be war. Justice could just be clearing a path for people to dream properly. It could be clearing a path to make it fair within the arena that I play. You know, if Michael Jordan can scream at the refs, me as Kanye West, as the Michael Jordan of music, can go and say, 'This is wrong.'"
- Choking on the Splinters: Taking stock of Beck's career 20 years after 'Loser,' by Alex Pappademas. A sharp overview of an era-defining artist who has somehow disappeared from view.
- The Pixar Theory, by Jon Negroni. A delightfully insane argument that every Pixar film adds up to one continuous story.
- Thanksgiving in Mongolia, by Ariel Levy. A devastating reflection on motherhood and loss told in the most clear-eyed, heart-wrecking prose imaginable.
- Now We are Five, by David Sedaris. A cold, even ugly reminiscence of a sister on the occasion of her suicide. It's an essay that has stayed with me in part because of how callous a portrait Sedaris paints of his own behavior — he indicts himself as a brother in a way that feels surprising and brave.
Politics and Policy
- How to Win in Washington, by Mark Leibovich. The firing of a congressman's flack becomes a rich parable of Washington's obscene cynicism and self-involvement.
- A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip, by Gabrielle Giffords. One of the bleakest stories of the year was the failure of all congressional attempts at massacre reduction. In the wake of the legislation's collapse, Giffords' plainspoken op-ed was the commentary that cut me the deepest.
- Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building, by Wright Thompson. A lyrical, wistful, and ultimately depressing account of Jordan in his twilight years. "He's in his suite at the Bobcats' arena, just before tip-off of another loss, annoyed that one of his players is talking to the opponents. Tonight he's going to sit on the bench, to send a message that the boss is watching. He used to sit there a lot, but he got a few phone calls from NBA commissioner David Stern telling him to chill with the screaming at officials. Mostly he watches in private, for good reason. Once, when he was an executive with the Washington Wizards, mad at how the team was playing, he hurled a beer can at his office television, then launched whatever he could find after it, a fusillade of workplace missiles. Now, 10 years later, he mostly just yells."
- Gibson in '88: 'It's a good story,’ by Arash Markazi. If you grew up a Dodgers fan in the 1980s, as I did, one moment stands out above all others as the greatest and most theatrical moment in the recent history of the franchise. On its 25th anniversary, Kirk Gibson's game-winning World Series home run gets the oral-history treatment, and the buildup to the eventual moment is almost — almost — as satisfying as the moment itself. It's to Markazi's credit that he's able to generate so much suspense in a story to which we have known the (happy!) ending for a quarter of a century.