The best long reads of 2015 / by James Kelleher

Here are 28 of my favourite stories from the past year. The list is in no particular order, but the online incarnation of Paul Ford's colossal 38,000-word What is Code? deserves a particular shout-out for its ambition, humour and compelling execution. I'm still dying to get my hands on the print version, so if anybody has a spare copy, send it to my luxuriously-appointed ivory tower and I promise I'll post you something nice back.

We're only mid-way through December now, so I'll be updating this post to include any other gems that crop up over the next month. 

Data management is the problem that programming is supposed to solve. But of course now that we have computers everywhere, we keep generating more data, which requires more programming, and so forth. It’s a hell of a problem with no end in sight. This is why people in technology make so much money. Not only do they sell infinitely reproducible nothings, but they sell so many of them that they actually have to come up with new categories of infinitely reproducible nothings just to handle what happened with the last batch.

What is Code? by Paul Ford, for Bloomberg Businessweek.

The solitude of so many deaths wears on Mr. Plaza, the fear that someday it will be him splayed on the floor in one of these silent apartments. ‘This job teaches you a lot,’ he said. ‘You learn whatever material stuff you have you should use it and share it. Share yourself. People die with nobody to talk to.’

The Lonely Death of George Bell by N.R. Kleinfeld for The New York Times.

Video games aren’t for us the way football and finance aren’t for us: sure, there are girls who break in, and we applaud them for it at a comfortable distance. But where there is a welcome mat rolled out for men, there is only a bloodied stretch of briar for women.
What if Westboro had been wrong about everything? What if she was spending her one life hurting people, picking fights with the entire world, for nothing?

Unfollow by Adrian Chen, for The New Yorker.

The Kamikaze was the ride that brought people into a water park; the Lazy River kept them there. Soon, Wet ’n Wild’s marketing photos had swimmers paddling in the river, gazing up at slides that towered above them like the beehive towers of Martian civilization.

The Wet Stuff by Bryan Curtis, for Grantland.

Between Columbine and Aaron Ybarra, the riot changed: it became more and more self-referential, more ritualized, more and more about identification with the school-shooting tradition.

Thresholds of Violence by Malcolm Gladwell, for The New Yorker.

Society’s recipes for fulfillment cause a great deal of unhappiness, both in those who are stigmatized for being unable or unwilling to carry them out and in those who obey but don’t find happiness.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit, for Harpers.

When Javier Bardem shoves open the car door, you hear the door handle stick for a moment before it releases. There are three distinct sounds of broken glass tinkling to the pavement from the shattered window, a small handful of thunks as he falls sideways to the ground, his laboured breathing, the chug of his boot heel finally connecting with the asphalt – even the pads of his fingers as they scrabble along the top of the window.
I did what I wanted, and it was freeing and painful. Painful because the end of my marriage was a private thing, and watching Thurston show off his new independence in front of audiences was like someone rubbing grit in a gash. My friendliness faded away as one city turned into the next, replaced by anger.

Kim Gordon on the Pain and Anger of Performing With Her Ex by Kim Gordon, for New York magazine.

Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with apes. We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.

The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo by Pamela Newkirk, for The Guardian.

David Carr convinced me that, through the constant and forceful application of principle, a young hopper, a fuck-up, a knucklehead, could bring the heavens, the vast heavens, to their knees. The principle was violent and incessant curiosity represented in the craft of narrative argument.

King David by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The Atlantic.

’Price is nothing when it comes to fashion. It’s all about the style,’ she said, turning her head slightly to see if the reporter was writing that down.

38 Hot Sex Moves That Will Make You a Better Feminist by Noreen Malone, for New York magazine. 

With no food in their bellies and two doses of psychedelics every day, people are very strange. Bill is lying on his back on the grass. He’s waving his arms and legs in the air like an upturned beetle. Bill took what looked like a whole pint of mescaline this morning.
The fundamental script of traditional romantic love, found in most poetry and literature, is of men adoring women, reversing the usual disempowerment of women, even compensating for it. In the Western world, until the 1970s, this was romantic love: men adored women, and at the same time deprived them of social and economic power.

She Swoons to Conquer by Batya Ungar-Sargon, for Aeon.

Jean McConville put on a tweed overcoat and a head scarf as the younger children were herded into one of the bedrooms. The intruders called the children by name. A couple of the men were not wearing masks, and Michael realized, to his horror, that the people taking his mother away were not strangers—they were his neighbors.

Where The Bodies Are Buried by Patrick Radden Keefe, for The New Yorker.

Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.

The Agency by Adrian Chen for The New York Times Magazine.

The utter capitulation of London’s planning system in the face of serious money is detectable right there in that infantile, random collection of improbable sex toys poking gormlessly into the privatised air.

The City That Privatised Itself to Death by Ian Martin, for The Guardian.

Participation in a game, any kind of game, gives you new ways of perceiving others. Victory only gives you new ways of perceiving yourself.

Even If You Beat Me by Sally Rooney, for The Dublin Review.

To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world.

The Doomsday Scam by C.J. Chivers, for The New York Times Magazine.

Rather than studiously following a worn path to fame, the kids get famous first, while a new infrastructure tasked with figuring out what to do with them gasps to catch up.

Sexts, Hugs, and Rock’N’Roll by Ellen Cushing, for Buzzfeed.

If I were directing a movie and I could tell Ali where to knock him down and Sonny where to fall, they’re exactly where I would put them.

How Things Break by Dave Mondy, for Slate.

Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.

The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz, for The New Yorker.

In a Strangelovian lair on the third subterranean level, Blatter holds executive committee meetings in a conference room with a floor of lapis lazuli. The room is lit by a round, crystal chandelier meant to evoke a soccer stadium.

A League of His Own by Tariq Panja, Andrew Martin and Vernon Silver, for Bloomberg Businessweek

There was some trial and error in trying to find the right girl, but eventually Scrooge found a 22-year-old whom he was able to take to Pink concerts and to plays and to movies before taking her up to his hotel or apartment to conduct the Weird Sex Thing he needs so badly that he cannot even wait till a third date before asking for it.

Searching For Sugar Daddy by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, for GQ.

After mujahideen reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.

What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood, for The Atlantic.

I wanted to see the next generation of Spain’s bullfighters, naively pining for the next Tomás, but of course, he was not there anymore than Madison Square Garden has offered the next Ali in boxing, or any of Madrid’s galleries offered the next Goya.

Last Breaths in a Spanish Bullring by Brin-Jonathan Butler, for SB Nation.

Then the fatigue sets in. You feel like a torn net through which the thoughts pass, hazily. You cannot speak or write or do. Starving doesn’t transform your life into one glorious act of self-expression. Starving silences who you really are.

There Once Was a Girl by Katy Waldman, for Slate.

The two women in niqabs quickly found two items that the sheikh approved of: matching sets of thongs and skimpy, transparent nightgowns, one in red and the other in blue.

Learning To Speak Lingerie by Peter Hessler, for The New Yorker.