We read a lot here at Jezebel HQ. Some of it's good; some of it's think-piece-inducing infuriating. But there's always a few sparkling gems winking from the midden. Here are our favorite essays, books, tweets, emails of 2014.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Who knew a story about a blogger could be so riveting? (I kid, I kid.) Yes, this book came out in 2013 and there's nothing I can say about Americanah that hasn't already been said better by others but: what I found the most heartening about this beautiful text was the comfort you can write a book for adults that doesn't have an endlessly depressing ending.
"The Worst Day Of My Life Is Now New York's Hottest Tourist Attraction," Steve Kandell "As a New Yorker who grew up and went to school mere blocks away from the Twin Towers during 9/11," I've got a lot of strong feelings about that day. Kandell managed to validate all of those emotions while pushing the way I thought about them even further, something I didn't think was possible. History, time, perspective, an exploration of the divide between the personal and the political—this piece has it all.
"Lawyer for Santa Accused of Public Handjob Demands Article Be Yanked," Neetzan Zimmerman Dude who gets caught doing something embarrassing in public pretends to be a lawyer, is swiftly called out. There's no better blog content than that.
This email I got from my best friend after going on vacation for 10 days Returning to the internet after not looking at it for over a week can be daunting, until you realized that you missed probably five good things. This was the best of those things.
When I was a kid I was a chronic re-reader; I'd often finish a book and start it over right away. I don't do that anymore, but here are a few things I read and often revisited in 2014:
"Golden Toilet Tower, headless nude statues: Inside Kimye's wedding," by Page Six Spy: This is the greatest gossip report of all time, in part because it reads less like a report and more like unhinged fan fiction. There are many beautiful sentences in here, but my favorite is towards the end, after Andrea Bocelli sings for Kim's processional and is then sent home because the wedding planners hadn't saved him a seat. Page Six Spy writes, straight-faced, "Bye-bye to one of the greatest living Italian vocalists of all time." I often repeat this sentence to myself. It is musical and deranged. Bye-bye to one of the greatest living Italian vocalists of all time. Bye-bye.
KattWillFerrell's Twitter, by KattWillFerrell: Here in 2014, most things on the internet are bad, and KattWillFerrell has a knack for combining multiple things that are bad—mostly, overused memes and Twitter jokes—and making them meaningless, which I appreciate. Consider progressions like this one:
KattWill is the only good thing left on Twitter.
True Summer, by Taisia Kitaiskaia: We published this on The Hairpin last spring, just before summer, and like a lot of my favorite essays, it's proven to be one I like going back to and reading in chunks. I find it gives me a gut punch at a different point every time I read it.
"This Old Man," by Roger Angell: This paragraph about aging and memory:
Old letters are engrossing but feel historic in numbers, photo albums delightful but with a glum after-kick like a chocolate caramel. Home movies are killers: Zeke, a long-gone Lab, alive again, rushing from right to left with a tennis ball in his mouth; my sister Nancy, stunning at seventeen, smoking a lipstick-stained cigarette aboard Astrid, with the breeze stirring her tied-up brown hair; my mother laughing and ducking out of the picture again, waving her hands in front of her face in embarrassment—she's about thirty-five. Me sitting cross-legged under a Ping-Pong table, at eleven. Take us away.
"Janay Rice, in Her Own Words," as told to Jemele Hill: A peek into the mind of the woman who was victimized on tape and still kind of refuses to believe what she saw herself.
"The Man Who Was Immune to Aids," by Jesse Green: The story of a man who couldn't catch the disease that literally killed all of his friends, a predicament that mentally tortured him.
"What It Was Like In The Streets On Ferguson's Worst Night," by Joel Anderson: For those who weren't there or watching the livefeed online like I was, this piece was a glimpse into what would grow into the millions march and the #icantbreathe movement. All people want is justice and instead, they got what Joel Anderson writes about. Madness.
"Which One of My Garbage Sons Are You?": Clickhole and the New Yorker are the only media properties I trust, and Clickhole is the only website that I consistently enjoy reading. Their holy work reminds us that there is light and humor at the crap-filled bottom of the barrel where all of us have come to live, and that in a time of utter illogic and false equivalency there are still boundaries of communication to be messed with in a concrete and interesting way. Also the site is fucking dumb as shit! A salute to the best opening paragraph of 2014, in a quiz that unveils a novel's worth of idiotic narrative:
I've got some shit boys. My huge beautiful wife gave me children who think and speak like the toilet. I have four garbage sons: The first son is named Royce, the second son is named Preston, the third son is named Lance And Blake (two names for just one son), and the fourth son is the dreaded Laramie. Which one of my toxic sons are you? Take this quiz to find out!
The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn (excuse those tacky covers) and the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante: When I started working on the internet, I was in an MFA program for fiction writing, and as time went by I could feel the nature of my attention shifting. I was more impatient, and I figured it had to be at least partly because I spent half the day speed-reading and speed-editing and churning through thousands of words before noon. These two series—patient with time, razored with intelligence, intensely knowledgeable about families and power and love—reminded me that maybe my brain wasn't dying, that I still craved books, and that the best literary fiction can and does always wholly captivate any blog-or-otherwise-tired brain.
Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm: This book comes out in mid-January and it, like Claire Vaye Watkins' Battleborn, will be a book I recommend to anyone I know for YEARS. I started it at midnight a few days ago and didn't put it down till 3 a.m. when I finished. It is a high-stakes, intricate, cinematic thriller a la Gone Girl, but with a heartbeat to it, something honeyed and magical and also remarkably real. And it's got an old-fashioned structure despite the book feeling very right for now: a countdown starts ticking in the first paragraph, the bombs don't finish going off till the end.
This Gchat: Earlier this year, Emma and I got a pitch at the Hairpin about the evolutionary adaptations of sex organs, which led up front with the STILL NOT-WELL-KNOWN FACT that the clitoris is actually the size of a MEDIUM ZUCCHINI.
Erin Gloria Ryan
"The Hunt for El Chapo," by Patrick Radden Keefe: The story of how US and Mexican authorities apprehended one of the most notorious drug lords in the world reads like an incredible screenplay.
"Your Princess is In Another Castle," by Arthur Chu: Chu writes on nerd culture entitlement in the aftermath of the UCSB shootings. Brilliant, funny, heart wrenching read. I love Arthur Chu's brain.
"Exile in Brooklyn, With an Eye on Georgia," by Jason Horowitz: Tacky ex-President of Georgia sweatsuits his way around Williamsburg, incongruent, hilarious, scheming.
"The Front Lines of Ferguson," Rembert Browne: I read a bunch of great articles from great writers about Michael Brown and what happened in Ferguson that shouldn't have. This was one that put me there and made me feel helpless and scared and yet happy about what good writing can do. I also really enjoyed Roxane Gay's tumblr post, Silence Is Not An Option.
"Justin Bieber: A Case Study in Growing Up Cosseted and Feral," by Vanessa Grigoriadis: This breakdown of Bad Boy Bieber is the best summation I've read about his ridiculous transformation. Plus the headline is great and laughable. She calls Bieber "little Mr. Big Man, the innocent boy turned de-virginator, master swordsman at a Brazilian brothel, double-sleeve-tattooed thug, gold-chain-bedecked hood. He sees himself as Brando, McQueen, Dean. We may see something different—a costume of machismo; a slip of a boy buffed up and doffing his shirt like a South Bronx stoopie in August; a white person fetishizing blackness with the laserlike focus of someone for whom "being down" is the most important thing in life—all of it, perhaps, a way of covering up and hiding so that we don't find out what's behind the curtain, in case there is nothing at all."
Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Cosby Show" hit on what a lot of us are feeling about him.
"Ricky Gervais Broke My Heart," by Lindy West: As a comedian, feminist and writer that essay touched so many buttons with me. I think she wrote the best essay about waking up to the fact that your heroes might be shitheads. After that, it was almost easier to digest the news about Cosby.
Colin's tipping post from Kitchenette: He poured his heart into that; it's not just a writer ruminating about some topic—this is a guy who has been struggling to survive on this dumb system telling people why it just doesn't work.
"I Don't Know What to Do With Good White People," by Brit Bennett: Hands down, best essay I have ever read on Jezebel or any site ever. This isn't a think piece; it's a game changer.
The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig: I don't read remotely as much long nonfiction as I'd like, because the Internet has turned my brain into a ceaselessly buzzing bug zapper. But I tore through this memoir of European literary life between 1900 and the beginning of World War II. One of the most popular writers of his day, Zweig knew everyone. Everyone! He writes beautifully (and from the front row) about his childhood in turn-of-the-century Vienna, the antiwar efforts during World War I, the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the years between the wars, and ultimately the rise of Hitler. It's all the more moving for knowing that he'd eventually commit suicide in 1942, far from his beloved Europe.
On a lighter note, I read and enjoyed Diana Vreeland's delightful and bonkers D.V., which is a trip and a half.
Boatloads of romance: Whenever I get especially annoyed about how much of popular culture just straight ignores the perspectives of women (for instance, whenever I read anything about Aaron Sorkin), I calm myself by dipping into the cool pool of water that is romance, one of the few genres that really puts the female experience first and makes zero apologies. So some shouts to the writers who sucked me in this year: Sarah MacLean, Meredith Duran, Kit Rocha, Courtney Milan, Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas.
"All Dressed Up for Mars and Nowhere to Go," by Elmo Keep: Mars One must be one of the strangest projects out there—a Dutch company that insists it can get settlers to Mars using current technology, as long as they sell the TV rights Olympics style and, oh, make it a one-way trip. And there are many people who've applied. I'm so glad somebody finally wrote a long, in-depth assessment of this escapade and its odds (let's call 'em long). It was a good year for nerdy stories, generally—see also New York's piece on singularitarian and all-around fascinating human Martine Rothblatt and Grantland's piece on Diplomacy, the tabletop game that destroys friendships.
"A Journey to the Center of the World," by Jon Mooallem: The wonderfully odd tale of Jacques Andre-Istel, the mayor of Felicity, Calif. (population: Jacques and his wife), who built a pyramid to mark the exact center of the Earth.
"A Birth Story," by Meaghan O'Connell: O'Connell's funny, terrifying account of labor was vivid enough to make me feel physically ill, beautiful enough to keep me reading through the nausea. (Note: I am frail and weak, you will not have this reaction.)
"Pets Allowed," by Patricia Marx: Marx tests out public response to several "emotional-support animals," including a pig named Augustus and a 15-pound turtle. Absurdist humor at its absolute best.
"The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," by John Jeremiah Sullivan: This piece is astonishing. Sullivan managed to actually figure out the back stories of Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, two of the most mysterious figures in the history of blues. Nobody had ever bothered to try to trace these women before, and when Sullivan actually did it, and even found an amazing photo of one of them (just read the piece, I won't ruin it for you), I damn near cried.
There was later a huge debate about whether Sullivan's reporting methods were ethical, specifically the way he acquired a transcript used in the piece, which had been locked in the private archive of a reclusive blues historian named Robert McCormick. But I have to side with Sullivan here: that transcript contains an incalculably valuable piece of American history and it belongs in public. And despite the ensuing shitstorm, Sullivan's original piece is beautiful and important and you should read it.
"This is My Jail," by Jeffrey Toobin: This is a smart, thorough history of how gang members in Baltimore's jail basically started running the place by manipulating young female guards who were also, many of them, people they'd known on the outside. Unlike a lot of criminal justice stories, nobody's exactly a hero or a villain or a victim, which is what makes it so solid.
"Battered, Bereaved and Behind Bars," by Alex Campbell: This pieces traces how "failure to protect" laws are used against women, many of them victims of the same abusive relationships that killed or harmed their children. It's the best thing BuzzFeed has ever published. That is not anti-BuzzFeed shade. It's just so good.
Racket Teen: Short version: A bunch of smart, hilarious people got hired to write for Racket, a magazine that fucking imploded before any of them got to publish a word. Instead they channeled their considerable wit into Racket Teen, a dark in-joke of a Tumblr. If that makes no sense, you can read this Q&A with Racket Teen's staff. This might only be funny if you work in media or if you're really high, or some glorious Venn diagram of the two. About twice a week I think the word "Baehill" to myself and start laughing.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
"The New Face of Richard Norris," by Jeanne Marie Laskas: What goes on behind the facade of one of the only people in the world to have ever received a full face transplant? What does it mean to transform completely into another person, and to whose end? Laskas did her best to tell us in this incredible piece, peering into Norris' darkest, deepest moments—but to her credit, she never quite could.
"Revisiting 'Ready to Die': Biggie's Brooklyn, Then and Now," by Judnick Mayard: Not just a commemoration of Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album on its 20th anniversary, but a deeply nuanced summation of the gentrification of one of the biggest cities in America—both the bad, and the unlikely mitigating "good"—written by a native of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, who now lives in Bed-Stuy, the unknown, terrifying neighborhood of her, and Big's, youth:
I often stand on the train platform at Nostrand and wonder how Biggie would feel seeing white people all over the A train. I always specifically think about his opinion because he was the kind of guy I was scared of. When I listen to Ready to Die, I feel a nostalgia for the way we were, but I also remember that I would never have actually wanted to run into Biggie in 1994. He was authentic to the terror we brought upon ourselves in our despair. Every lyric reminds me of the madness of trying to thrive in that time.
"The Man Who Was Immune to AIDS," by Jesse Green: This year saw a lot of cultural soul-searching about the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York and elsewhere, most notably in the form of HBO's The Normal Heart, which has a strong chance at winning a Golden Globe next month. This piece about Steve Crohn was one of the most devastating and least reported-upon stories that I've seen, about a man who could not contract HIV due to a genetic mutation, and like many New Yorkers in the '80s and early '90s, watched nearly everyone he loved succumb to AIDS. His mutation helped modern science create a drug to help those who had contracted the disease, but ultimately, Crohn couldn't live with the loss.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More by Janet Mock: I am here for self-actualization memoirs as a general rule. Janet Mock's was exceptional not just for the struggle she's been through and for the pure honesty with which she presented it, but also for the strength of her prose, reliably vivid and best-friendly. This book is full of little explosive feminist revelations that her en fuego brain drops like NBD, and it inspires me to be a better, more realized version of myself—or at least try, but also not beat myself up if I don't get there as fast as I want.
Illustration by Jim Cooke