The announcement of the nominees for the National Magazine Awards are a kind of reader’s holiday, a chance to revisit pieces you loved throughout the previous year, and to add more entries to your reading list. The 2014 nominees were announced earlier today by the American Society of Magazine Editors. These are my picks, and I plan to read the pieces I missed in coming days. Let me know your favorites in comments so I can bump them up the list.
1. “Crimes Unpunished,” and “The Horrors Every Day,” by Emily DePrang: If you feel like being thoroughly depressed, this sentence from the lede of an investigation into police misconduct in Texas should take care of you. After shooing away other cops, and leaving a rape victim and her family to clean up their ransacked house while he wrote a report that said there was no evidence at the crime scene (which was untrue), “Officer Sweatt explained to Sgt. King that he had left the scene because he was under the impression that no investigators were coming and that he needed to complete his report by the end of the shift because no paid overtime was available.” DePrang is telling us a bureaucratic horror story about the inability of police departments to govern themselves. The story is more frightening than any found footage cheap thrills.
2. “Life On The River Gambia,” by Jason Florio: Dayo Olopade’s recent book “The Bright Continent,” an argument for new ways of engaging with African countries, begins by examining the ways the continent was “mapped” and “discovered” by people who were exploring regions that were new only to them. Florio’s photographs, which follow the Gambia through three countries, and from its wellspring to its mouth, are another alternative map. He includes mosques and jetties among its landmarks, and shows us people harvesting rice, gathering oysters, and putting on heavy coats on cold mornings. It’s a quietly disruptive portfolio.
3. “Thanksgiving In Mongolia,” by Ariel Levy: Online publishing is awash in personal essays, confessional writing, and “honest” dispatches from the writer’s personal experience meant to provoke broader discussion. It makes sense: the pieces can be quick to write, cheap to pay for, and can be left unedited in the name of unvarnished truth. For anyone who might scoff at this sort of writing, Levy’s piece about a very-much wanted child she lost while on a reporting trip in Mongolia cleaves like a broadsword through any preconceptions about what personal writing must be. “Thanksgiving In Mongolia” is gorgeously written, immensely sad, and in fascinating ways, deliberately and obviously an incomplete story. “I realize that I have turned back into a wounded witch, wailing in the forest, undone,” Levy wrote. “Honest” writing cannot always give us the catharsis of a clear conclusion.
4. “Michael Jordan Has Left The Building,” by Wright Thompson: Sometimes, the reporting just works out for you, as it did when Wright Thompson watched Michael Jordan and the woman who manages his affairs try to remember the combination on a safe. When Jordan finally got it right, “The door swung open and he reached in, rediscovering his gold medal from the 1984 Olympics. It wasn’t really gold anymore. It looked tarnished, changed — a duller version of itself.” The piece is a terrific dispatch from a beach often marked by tragedy and failure, the long stretch of an athlete’s life after he departs the hardwood or the gridiron.
5. “Difficult Women,” by Emily Nussbaum: To begin with, a disclosure: I know Nussbaum socially, and we discussed this piece as she was writing it. That said, if you think “Sex and the City” is a trashy sitcom, vastly inferior to the anti-hero dramas that have dominated cable television for the past decade and a half, you especially should read Nussbaum’s long consideration of just how terrific the show was, and why its reputation has faded so dramatically. Nussbaum simultaneously interrogates received cultural history, does a close read of a show that is regularly dismissed as sequins and red shoe soles, and pokes at the political reasons behind our biases.