There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Among City Paper’s more active Slack channels is #goodreads, where we drop links to the most delightful, heartbreaking, and stunning stories open in our browsers. I’ll hazard a guess that most newsrooms have such a channel—a forum for thinking about what they’re doing right and the kind of journalism they can aspire to produce.
Below, staffers select a few of their favorite stories from the year, each of which has made an appearance in #goodreads. They span investigations of gun violence to personal essays about climate change and wild yarns about paths crossed (and missed). We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did. —Morgan Baskin
Stephanie Rudig, Creative Director
“New York’s Latest Arts District? A String of Five Bodegas Downtown”By Scott Indrisek, Artsy
A good artist profile captures not just what the work looks like, but the spirit in which it was created. This story on artist Neil Hamamoto’s model of selling his price sticker art in bodegas is just as idiosyncratic and amusing as the work in question. (Or maybe I’m just jealous of New York’s bodega culture.)
“The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul”By Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
This look at both the usage and marketing of Juuls was so thoroughly researched that Tolentino was called to testify before Congress about juuling. How is this piece so seriously, rigidly reported and so tongue-in-cheek about its topic at the same time?
“The Story of a Trans Woman’s Face”By Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
This is a fascinating look at the journey that trans women embark on when undergoing facial feminization surgery, and also a deep meditation on the concept of female beauty and femininity in general.
“Deana Lawson’s Kingdom of Restored Glory”By Zadie Smith, The New Yorker
For years, Lawson has been toiling away at a breathtaking body of photography, largely working under the radar. Just as Lawson exalts and uplifts ordinary people as the subjects of her stunning portraiture, Smith’s profile grants long overdue recognition and reveals hidden truths about its subject, with poetry and grace that equal the beauty of Lawson’s own work.
Morgan Baskin, Housing Complex reporter
“He Helped Build an Artists’ Utopia. Now He Faces Trial for 36 Deaths There.“By Liz Weil, The New York Times Magazine
This is a story about a young man who found his home and then lost it. It’s about our national housing crisis, and repeated failures of the state to protect the people and homes we do have. It’s interrogates our definitions of family and community, and how our society is fundamentally ill-equipped to do the same.
Weil does it with extraordinary grace. “Each life is precious. Each life is beautiful. Harris, a vegan since age 14, believes this to his core,” she writes. “To Harris, even a fruit fly pirouetting in his cell is a miracle. ‘It’s like a dog,’ he told me. ‘A little Labrador or something. It’s different, but it’s still this little shard of life. It’s still this spark of divinity in this moving work of art.’”
“An Account of My Hut“By Christina Nichol, n + 1
All three of my picks are, on some level, about home and the threat of losing it. If you, like me, read the United Nations climate report this year and dissolved into bubbles of panic, I recommend An Account of My Hut as a balm. It’s not soothing in the traditional sense—it was, in fact, an emotionally destabilizing read—but it’s nice to have a stranger recognize fears you haven’t yet acknowledged.
By Lizzie Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle
Johnson’s coverage of California’s Camp Fire, the most deadly in modern American history, is a master class in empathetic, nuanced local reporting. It’s elemental in articulating the human cost of natural disasters.
Kelyn Soong, Sports Editor
“The Search for Jackie Wallace“By Ted Jackson, Nola.com
This deeply reported, emotional piece is one of the most memorable stories I’ve read all year. The author, a photojournalist, met the subject decades ago, and writes about the man’s current struggles and disappearance. Sometimes, the most impactful stories are the ones you spend your whole life chasing, even if you don’t realize it.
“Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.”By The Boston Globe, Spotlight team (Bob Hohler, Beth Healy, Sacha Pfeiffer, Andrew Ryan, and editor Patricia Wen)
This series showcases the strength of The Globe‘s heralded Spotlight team. By digging into different aspects of Hernandez’s young, troubled, and violence-filled life, the reader learns plenty of new things about the high-profile athlete’s downfall and the events surrounding his eventual suicide in prison.
“She reported her 2006 rape. Then nothing happened. In the #MeToo era, what do we owe her?” By Elizabeth Bruenig, The Washington Post
I often thought about this column during Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh‘s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. It’s a gut-wrenching reminder of what happens (and doesn’t happen) when a town, a justice system, and a society ignores and dismisses a woman’s claim of sexual assault.
By Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post
This story, by one of my favorite features writers at The Post, resonated beyond a sports audience, and for good reason. This tale of a minor league pitcher who lost his one shot at the major leagues due to weather is relatable to anyone who’s worked for years at a goal, only to fall short.
Caroline Jones, Managing Editor
“Jonathan Franzen Is Fine With All of It”By Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The New York Times Magazine
Most everything Taffy (yes, she’s on a first-name basis around here) writes is a “good read,” but this profile stood out because of the way she both challenged and embraced her subject, the very divisive writer Jonathan Franzen. And the story is not just about Franzen, it’s about turning away from digital life and debating the merits of doing so. Maybe it makes sense to step away from our screens and enjoy the outdoors while we still can.
I particularly loved this passage: “People can think something about you that isn’t true, and it isn’t necessarily your job to correct them. And if you do correct them, the corrections will eat up your entire life, and then where is your life? What did you do? You don’t have to answer criticism of yourself. You don’t even have to listen to it. You don’t have to fit your thoughts into sound bites just because of character limitations.”
“Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special-Education System”By Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
Reading this story, about how Georgia’s special-education system segregates black students, left me enraged. That America’s public education system is a mess should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read anything about it, but the ways it oppresses those who need it most—in this case, a young black family with an autistic son—still shocked me and reminded me why reporting like this, and reporters like Aviv, who uses her national platform to tell specific, often local stories, are so essential.
“The Return of the Native”By Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
Personal essays about leaving New York are plentiful, but one more became part of the canon this year: New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead’s piece about moving back to her native England with her American-born husband and son in the context of Trump’s America and Brexit. It’s both a thoughtful rumination on what it means to be from somewhere and a document about how contemporary politics have transformed the way we live our lives, consciously or unconsciously.
Laura Hayes, Food Editor
“It’s Never Just About The Burger”By Helen Rosner, The New Yorker
Earlier this year, Thrillist writer Kevin Alexander wrote about killing the best burger joint in America by putting it at the top of a definitive listicle. His story is a commentary on the perils of listicle journalism, and in it he argues that landing the first place spot on his burger list contributed to the demise of the business. But there was more to the story, which fellow alt weekly Willamette Week published. Most notably, the owner of the Portland, Oregon burger restaurant has a history of domestic abuse, legal troubles, and financial woes. As she frequently does, New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner contextualizes the whole kerfuffle and argues that food writers have to ask hard questions, writing that “a once-cushy beat that was largely divorced from hard-news concerns is now being recognized as a battleground for issues of sexual assault, immigration, labor issues, and financial fraud.”
Kayla Randall, City Lights Editor
“The Insect Apocalypse Is Here”By Brooke Jarvis, The New York Times Magazine
As we engage in petty squabbles and center ourselves in Earth’s great narrative, the health of our blue planet deteriorates at our hands and the threat of its destruction looms over us. But, as Jarvis captures in her story about the dwindling numbers of insects and what that means for Earth and why that matters, we get used to the destruction, and in fact, we accommodate it. “The world never feels fallen, because we grow accustomed to the fall,” she writes. At the conclusion of this story readers are forced to recognize that the wellness of the place where we live and breathe is at stake. What could be more important?
“In Praise Of ‘Good As Hell,’ The Song That Believes In You Even When You Don’t”By Hanif Abdurraqib, NPR
Abdurraqib is a wizard with words. The writer and poet has a way of expressing ideas that simply makes you feel. That’s what Abdurraqib’s contribution to NPR’s American Anthem series, a yearlong meditation on significant tracks in the American songbook, does for me in its lauding of empowerment anthem-maker Lizzo’s fantastic “Good As Hell.” The song, as he writes, gives “permission to exit from whatever version of yourself doesn’t believe in the other you: the best, most impossible you.”
“Get Up And Go Vote”By Roger Angell, The New Yorker
When a 98-year-old tells you something, you listen. You listen even closer if that person is talking about what it is they still believe after nearly a century of life. Essayist Roger Angell, now 98 and legally blind, writes that he still believes in the civic power of voting. After having read his New Yorker essay, in which he puts eloquently into words the meaning of that voting power, I understand my own belief in it more than ever.
Mitch Ryals, Loose Lips reporter
“Blood Will Tell“By Pamela Colloff, ProPublica
In this two-parter, Colloff dissects the case of Joe Bryan, who has served more than 30 years for killing his wife based in large part on bloodstain pattern analysis. Colloff’s reporting sheds light on the junk science and other flaws in the prosecution of Bryan, who has maintained his innocence.
“A Betrayal“By Hannah Drier, ProPublica
A teenager named Henry tells police about the inner workings his gang, MS-13. He expects protection, but instead is targeted for deportation.
Matt Cohen, Arts Editor
“How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal“By Jason Cherkis, Huffington Post Highline
This is the most empathetic piece of journalism I read in 2018.
“How Trump’s Wall Could Kill a Texas Border Town“By Suhauna Hussain, Center for Public Integrity
The Center For Public Integrity did yeoman’s work this year with its Abandoned in America series, which looks at how President Donald Trump‘s policies are destroying small towns in the country. In the collection, this article stood out—a portrait of a small Texas border town that doesn’t just neighbor Mexico; it relies on it.
“Collateral Damage: Caught Between Gun Violence and Aggressive Policing“By Patrick Madden, WAMU
This article provides a good macro view of the gun violence (and police-community relations) currently affecting our city, D.C.
“A Craving for Snacks Brought 3 D.C. Boys Out on a Frigid Night. Then Gunfire Changed Everything.”By Paul Duggan, The Washington Post
And this article offers a tragic micro view of gun violence in D.C.