Extended Play’s guide to the best online writing of 2010

Okay, this isn’t ALL of what I read (most of which I’ve forgotten anyway), but the stuff that sticks out, probably since it was so good. I set a couple rules here: I’m trying to include a mix of different sources, not just major magazines, and nothing that’s a simple book excerpt. There’s no real order to my list, but stuff you need a subscription for (or I can’t find online) I moved to the bottom.

I’ll provide links to each, when I can find them, but some will need a subscription. Go to a library and read them, it’s free and these are all good reading!

Beware of Greeks bearing bonds – Michael Lewis (Vanity Fair – October 2010)


Lewis’s piece on the influence of a small sect of monks on the Greek economy is an interesting example of how bizarre the finances are in that country. But more then that, it’s a good breakdown of how broke Greece is and how they may bring down the entire EU. Don’t let this money talk steer you away – Lewis’ prose is clear, direct and refreshingly clear of jargon.


Greatest Moments In Sports – Various


This is actually a collection of sports-related paintings. There’s a few cool ones here – I really liked Curse of the Buffalo Bills and Don’t Mess With the Bull, Young Man. These are worth looking at even if you don’t really care for sports.


The Case of the Vanishing Blonde – Mark Bowden (Vanity Fair – December 2010)


A story about a sexual assault the cops didn’t take entirely seriously – they just wanted to write it off as a prostitute getting what she deserved – becomes an obsessive quest for a private investigator, and through his relentless digging, he uncovers something far more heinous then anybody suspected. It’s gripping, chilling and very well done.


No Secrets: WikiLeaks and Julian Paul Assange – Kaffi Khatchadourian (New Yorker – June 7, 2010)


This was written in the wake of Wikileak’s big release of a helicopter attack on unarmed civilians earlier this year. Now, in context of Wikieaks’ latest releases – especially the diplomatic cables – it takes on a whole new meaning, and is a brilliant portrait of a man the US Government considers a gigantic threat. It’s long, but the New Yorker kept it all online, and it’s more then worth your time.


Africa’s Soccer Impostors – Brian Phillips (Slate, Oct. 4, 2010)


An interesting, if bizzare, story about the so-called Togo National Team, which was not actually a team from Togo and was the soccer equivalent of a tomato can – a poor team easily beaten and who’s losses were used to boost a team’s FIFA rankings. In a word, it was sports fraud.


What Happened To Roger Ebert? – Chris Jones (Esquire – February 2010)


I’ve actually been a reader of Ebert’s blog for a couple of years now and I was genuinely surprised by the reaction this piece – and most especially, the photo of Ebert that accompanied it – caused. But nonetheless, Jones’ profile is a provoking look at one of the most influential voices in film criticism (even if he hasn’t actually spoken in four years).


McLaren & Meyer & Rotten & Vicious & Me  – Roger Ebert (Roger Ebert’s Journal, April 11, 2010)


A long time ago, Ebert was tapped to help write the for the Sex Pistols movie. Here Ebert looks back at his time with the Pistols, at the height of their infamy (and before they became cliches) and shows some insight into the character of Russ Meyer. Between Meyer, Malcom McLaren and the Pistols, there’s enough outsized personality to fill a novel. And the scenes from the screenplay are hilarious, too.


Total Loss – Stef Willen (McSweeney’s – ongoing)


Willen works in inventory and her job is catalog what’s left of personal possessions after a disaster. Her columns all tell stories about people right after they’ve lost it all. While they could easily become tragedy, a collection of woes, Willen uses a light touch that borders on humour – “I held up sweepstake prizes Bruce didn’t even know he’d won: two margarita blenders, a panini press, a 6 piece set of Emeril cookware, an autographed I Know What You Did Last Summer movie poster,” she says while digging through the basement of a hoarder. It’s easily the best of McSweeney’s ongoing columns.


The Dirtiest Player – Jason Fagone (GQ – Feburary 2010)


Before this, I didn’t remember Marvin Harrison doing much more then catching touchdown passes – a lot of touchdown passes – from Peyton Manning. It would seem he’d like it if more people thought that way; that’s to say, people overlooked his assaults, his connection to a murder and his all-around anger issues. It’s a very good read and an important one – after it’s publication, a Philadelphia DA reopened the case against Harrison.


The Making of Glenn Beck – Alexander Ziatchik (Salon – September 2010)

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/09/21/glenn_beck (first of three parts)

This three-part profile is a highly detailed, well reported tale about how a DJ with substance abuse problems rose to become one of the most influential – and hated – commentators in the world. The most interesting part is once you read it, you realize how little Beck has changed – and that maybe he’s a little more earnest then you may have thought.


The Gun – CJ Chivers (Esquire – November 2010)


This book excerpt – well, it’s more of a reworking of the book, as I understand – charts the origins and causes of what may be the most important gun ever made. Was it the reason the US lost the Vietnam war? And if it was, has this gun had a bigger impact on world politics then anything since the Atom Bomb? Maybe so…


Shaq In Winter – Scott Raab (Esquire – June/July 2010)


Raab’s piece was obstinately about Shaquille O’Neal, but was really about how badly the city of Cleveland wanted a title, especially when there was so much uncertainty about the future of it’s Cleveland Cavaliers. As it turned out, the team collapsed in the postseason, it’s star player LeBron James ripped his jersey off after the final loss and fled to Miami. Given how Raab is now writing a contentious book about James, this piece has a new feeling in retrospect.


Caucasian Nation – Marco Roth (N+1 – October 2010)


A breakdown of Tea Party politics and the underlying racial dynamics. No matter your politics, it’s worth a look at how the movement’s leaders speak and act – and how they’re interpreted.


Balls Out: A column on being transgendered – Casey Plett (McSweeneys.net – Ongoing)


A frank, detailed series of columns from a person deep in the transition between genders. Plett’s observations on little details – on how the way one blow dries their hair affects how people read gender – are very interesting. But what really stands out to me is when Plett writes about life before coming out: “Shit, I’d think, looking with a longing was not even remotely sexual, Shit. I wish I was her. I wish I had her body, a girl’s body. Shit.” It’s a fantastic look into a world one rarely hears about.

Subscription Required

Second Lives – Daniel Alarcon (New Yorker – Aug. 16, 2010)

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/08/16/100816fi_fiction_alarcon (Subscription required)

Alarcon’s one of my favourite writers at the moment, and this short story is no slouch – it’s about brothers and immigration in the US and more. Highly recommended.

An Arranged Marriage – Nell Freudenberger (New Yorker – September 6, 2010)

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/09/06/100906fi_fiction_freudenberger (subscription required)

A neat little story about a marriage between two people who’ve never actually met, save over the internet. I think it’s worth checking out if you’ve got access to a library.

Hammer and Sickle – Don DeLillo (Harper’s – December 2010)

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/12/0083226 (subscription req.)

A cool story about being in white collar prison. Go buy this issue! It’s also got a great piece by Anne Proulx.

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