I managed to read a heap of good stuff this year, nearly all of it narrative nonfiction. I burned through Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers back in January, and I still can’t quite comprehend how she transformed her years of reporting into such a seamless story. I picked up John Jeremiah Sullivan’s instant-classic essay collection, Pulphead, during a trip to Boulder in March, and have been working my way through it ever since. Later that same month I read two fascinating books by writer pals of mine during a three-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington, to Southeast Alaska: The Oil Man and the Sea, Arno Kopecky’s chronicle of a sailing trip through the proposed tanker route for a controversial pipeline, and The Footloose American, about a young Hunter S. Thompson in South America, by Brian Kevin.
In the spring I read two wonderful books by Mike Paterniti: Driving Mr. Albert, about a cross-country road trip with Einstein’s brain, and The Telling Room, a complicated and thoughtful story about a famous Spanish cheese. Over the summer and fall I read three very different books, but each one in a single sitting or close to it: Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls, the story of a group of young women who were murdered – presumably by one uncaught killer – on Long Island; The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko, about an illegal speed run through a flooded Grand Canyon in a tiny wooden boat; and John Branch’s Boy On Ice, about the life and early death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard.
In terms of shorter stuff, I tried my best to keep up with the wonderful stories published by The Atavist all year. I managed to get to Love and Ruin, James Verini’s tale of romance in Cold War Afghanistan, and Charles Homans’ taxidermy heist story, The Dead Zoo Gang. I read A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite, about a casino extortion scheme, and The Trials of White Boy Rick, about a young white crime kingpin in Detroit, and 52 Blue, Leslie Jamison’s sad, thoughtful story about a lone whale and loneliness.
Some other stories that stuck out for me this year: my friend Lauren Quinn’s excellent The Ism and the Alcohol, on addiction and recovery narratives; Landays: Cries of the Pashtun Women, Eliza Griswold’s look at the short rebellious poems shared among women on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; Jon Mooallem’s Lest Ye Be Judged, about a pastor who ministers to major league baseball umpires; Outside Magazine’s 1997 classic on the fine details of freezing to death; Remote Control, Sarah Marshall’s look back at Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan; the very smart Greg Howard on Ferguson: America Is Not For Black People; Brian Phillips’ lovely, haunting sumo epic, Sea of Crises; and finally, The Case For Reparations, an eye-opener from Ta-Nehisi Coates.