The end of any year brings much introspection and the inevitable best of lists. As this is a project solely devoted to a best of theme, it appears to be only appropriate to select a best of for the year. However, I am reluctant to provide such a selection for both practical and philosophical reasons. To understand my reasoning, I must return to the impetus of this project.
In early 2008, I took notice that many of my friends had stacks of The New Yorker magazines neatly piled on their coffee table (or bedside table, or dining room table . . .). Each time I spotted this stack I instinctively asked if they had read some article with which I was currently obsessed. Perhaps it seemed that I asked only to assert that I too was one of the cool kids reading this fine Condé Nast publication. Although I have oft been guilty of such transparent self-serving inquisition, on these occasions I had no ulterior motives. Each time I asked the answer would be some variation of “I’m still about ten issues behind, is that a good article?” After months of these conversations, I figured that there may be more people out there who love The New Yorker, but just don’t have time to read each issue from cover to cover. Thus the New Yorkerest was born.
The intention behind the name was to treat the title as a bizzarro inflected adjective referring to the piece in the issue that most lives up to the thought-provoking writing that we expect from The New Yorker. My two finalists under this concept were the New Yorkerer and the New Yorkerest. Since it progresses tall, taller, tallest I decided that the superlative state best embodied the endeavor (plus Yorkerer made me a little tongue-tied). Soon after launching the project, I realized (or rather vocal members of the Internet public informed me) that the name had a slight snag.
Some thought the name referred to the project’s author and were perplexed that I live in San Francisco, not New York City. Others thought it should be spelled with an -ist presuming that I thought of myself as a practitioner of or expert about New York. Still others thought that I had even the slightest association with The New Yorker magazine or the fine folks at Condé Nast. I can assure you that I am neither an expert on New York nor am I in the employ of Condé Nast. I am just a man who likes a magazine a little too much.
To ensure the project would be more complicated than necessary, I created a short list of arbitrary rules.
- Each issue can have only one piece selected (the most arbitrary and difficult of the rules to follow);
- Each discrete piece in the issue (article, review, cartoon) is eligible; and
- Only pieces published in the print edition are eligible.
Each week I receive The New Yorker on a Thursday or Friday (truly one of the worst aspects of living in San Francisco) and read it throughout the weekend. I finish it on the following Monday or Tuesday (hopefully). Some issues have one standout piece, while the plethora (or dearth) of pieces I enjoy in other issues make it difficult to make my pick. I post the “winner” on the website sans editorial and toss a note on my Twitter account. Sometimes my kind readers tweet a sentiment of agreement or disagreement, sometimes the Twitterverse stands silent. A few days pass and the process begins anew.
That long explanation (which I will now use on an “About the Site” page) brings me to my reluctance to select a best of for the year. Practically, I began this project in April 2008 so any selection would completely ignore the first quarter of the year. Philosophically, I view this project as a tool to help people navigate their stacks of unread The New Yorkers. As such, pieces that narrowly lost the best of issue title would not be in contention for a best of the year list (e.g. A Man of Taste by D. T. Max; By Meat Alone by Calvin Trillin; Method Man by Claudia Roth Pierpont). Of course, I could open up the field to all pieces from the year, but I fear that my memory won’t cooperate as nicely as I’d like.
In the spirit of hypocrisy and the great tradition of arbitrary rules, I am delighted to highlight what I consider to be some standout pieces from the year. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. My list, in no particular order:
- Up and then Down: The lives of elevators. by Nick Paumgarten
- Pixel Perfect: Pascal Dangin’s virtual reality. by Lauren Collins
- The Brass Ring: A multibillionaire’s relentless quest for global influence. by Connie Bruck
- The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism. by Lawrence Wright
- Dr. Kush: How medical marijuana is transforming the pot industry. by David Samuels
- The Island in the Wind: A Danish community’s victory over carbon emissions. by Elizabeth Kolbert
- The Chameleon: The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin. by David Grann
- Awake by Tobias Wolff
- A Desert Encounter: A hat, an ocotillo, and an academy. by John Updike
- In the Ring: Grappling with the twentieth century. by Norman Mailer
I have enjoyed connecting with other zealous readers who like The New Yorker a little too much. Thanks for making this project a success and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the best pieces from 2008.