Two-sentence “reviews” – dispute these please – share your favorites – I didn’t read everything last year – non-exhaustive – caveat: I prefer non-fiction – fiction swaying me this year, though – enjoy.
Only Cowgirls Get the Blues, Novel, Tom Robbins (find it at your library)
This Robbins Experience begins with a super-thumbed young hitchhiker in Roanoke, Virginia and ends with a cowgirl vs. FBI shootout at a ranch in the Dakotas. More fun and more life-changing than I ever expected from the English language and what seems like a “fanciful” tale.
“Northeast Kingdom,” short story, Nathaniel Rich (McSweeney’s 38)
Sorry, this isn’t available online; just in print. Rich’s short story concerns the oldest man in the world, a living miracle hounded by the envious, the curious and the media.
“Men Against Violence,” Rebecca Schiff, short, short story (n+1)
n+1 published & tweeted out this story on December 14, the Friday of the Newtown shootings, an hour or two before the Newtown shootings, and I didn’t happen to read it until after I learned about the Newtown shootings, or at least the numbers, the initial cartoon of those shootings. Schiff’s story is not about gun violence, or school violence, or anything related, surface-wise, to Newtown – but it, for me in those moments, regards violence as a force beyond the realm of public policy or politics-as-press-conference.
“Small Fates,” Teju Cole
Twitter-as-literary-form – and so much better than the late Mayor Emanuel stream of swear jokes, etc.
honorable mention: Pete Beatty’s @nocoastoffense feed
“You Owe Me,” Miah Arnold (University of Michigan Quarterly)
A strong, spare, personal account of leading writing workshops for children with cancer – sick children from all over the world – at a hospital in Houston.
“Who Pinched My Ride?” Patrick Symmes (Outside)
Symmes lives the bike theft victim’s dream – well, this guy really does – and it’s a vicarious thrill for any bike rider, theft victim or not. After his bike is stolen, Symmes employs a series of locks, tracking devices and other methods to see if he can crack the stolen bike problem.
Also read: Symmes’ report on soccer, violence and fandom in Argentina.
honorable mention: my friend Luis’ Peace Corps dispatches from China. They’ll be published someday, I hope.
“Reporting Poverty,” Katherine Boo & Emily Brennan (Guernica)
Brennan interviews Boo, author of the award-winning nonfiction book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” about the sensitivities of reporting on poverty – especially extreme poverty in another nation. Thoughtful questions and thoughtful responses. Let’s not lose the interview as form.
“Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons,” Shane Bauer (Mother Jones)
One element of our broken criminal justice system: solitary confinement and its arbitrary, closed-door application. Bauer, an American recently imprisoned in Iran for crossing the border from Iraq, visits a couple different maximum-security prisons in California and corresponds via letter with several men in solitary confinement.
“The Truce on Drugs,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells (New York)
A wide-ranging trip (sorry, pun) through U.S. federal/state/county/city drug policy and what really happens on the ground, from Humboldt County to Baltimore.
“Living Apart: Fair Housing in America,” Nikole Hannah-Jones (ProPublica)
It’s a typical ProPublica investigation with all the best and most infuriating elements: private malfeasance, lax, limp or even maliciously ignorant government oversight, and the stories of the lives ruined, maybe, in the process. In this ongoing series, reporter Hannah-Jones looks at the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the last of the major civil rights acts of that era, and continued housing discrimination in the United States.
by the way: read ProPublica.
“The Bell-Lappers,” Rob Mitchum (The Classical)
I read The Classical‘s writers and editors more on Twitter than on the site itself, but occasionally they drop a long, obscure, never-seen-anywhere-else must-read like Mitchum’s – on marathon bike races in the early 1900s. Includes a mention of the century-old bicycle shop around the corner from my apartment!