Longform’s Guide to the Best Essays of 2011
Personal stories of hope, hijinks, and a hellish summer job.
This week, Longform.org will be counting down its list of the year’s best articles on Slate. For our full list—including the top 10 stories about sports, politics, tech, and more—check out Longform’s Best of 2011. Here now: our favorite personal essays of the year. —The Editors
Katie Baker • Deadspin
Hockey message board memories:
“I wasn't really lying about Pukester. He basically was my friend from the summer, because it had been during that previous summer, technically, that I had asked my mom to drive me into Princeton—I didn't yet have my license—so I could meet up with friends. When she drove away I walked to the university train station, took the dinky to Princeton Junction, and hopped on the NJ Transit to the Metropark stop. There I was picked up by PUKSTPR31, otherwise known as some dude I had met on the Philadelphia Flyers Usenet group who believed me when I said I was 18 years old and had invited me to come spend the day with him at his house on the shore.”
David Hill • McSweeney’s
An ongoing column about adventures in gambling. From the latest installment, “$100 Hand of Blackjack, Foxwoods Casino”:
"Card counting isn’t mathematically very complicated. You keep a running tally in your head of the high cards versus the low cards. Low cards add to the tally, high cards subtract from it. The higher the number the more favorable the conditions for betting; the idea being that a shoe with a high concentration of high cards in it will deal out more winning hands than a shoe with low cards. There’s more complexity to it than this, but that’s the basic gist. I went to the bookstore and bought a book on counting called Blackjack for Blood. I practiced on decks of cards at home. I thought I had it down. I felt like I was ready. Once again my overconfidence was not only unfounded but about to get me in to trouble."
Paul Ford • Morning News
A pregnancy attempted:
"We don’t tell many people about what we are doing. When we do some say: ‘Well, it must be fun trying.’ Or: ‘Are you sure you’re doing it right?’ I laugh with them; after all, how many times have I said something insensitive while trying to be funny? I don’t talk about the large doses of medicine that I inject into my wife’s buttocks that cause her to inflate like a hormonal balloon. Nor do I discuss how intimacy itself has become such an awkward, uncomfortable thing that it’s scheduled on a Google Calendar named ‘LadyStuffings’ with events that show up in pink."
Meghan O’Gieblyne • Guernica
A childhood in Christian pop:
“By far the coolest CCM band when I was a teen was DC Talk. Short for ‘Decent Christian Talk,’ this trio of young men from Virginia—one black, two white—started their career as a hip-hop group. They gained popularity with tracks like ‘Jesus Is Just Alright,’ which sampled the Doobie Brothers’s song and laid down lyrics like: ‘I’m kicking it Jesus style / to the ones who think they heard, I did use the J-word / ’cause I ain’t too soft to say it, even if DJs won’t play it.’ They sang about the decline of Christian morals: ‘In reality our decency has taken a plunge / “In God We Trust” is an American pun,’ and occasionally broke into rhythmic harangues against racism, hypocrisy, or premarital intercourse: ‘I don’t want your sex for now / I don’t want it till we take the vow.’ I’m not going to lie: DC Talk was pretty damn good. I might be guilty of still listening to their albums occasionally when no one else is around. Despite the cheesy lyrics, they had a fresh street dance sound—close harmonizing and poppy rap verses. I once played their album Free at Last for a friend who hadn’t grown up in the church, and he thought it was Color Me Badd."
Andrew Marantz • Mother Jones
Learning to speak a foreign language:
“Next is ‘culture training,’ in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture”—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. ‘The most marketable skill in India today,’ the Guardian wrote in 2003, ‘is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.’ ”
For Longform’s top five personal essays of 2011, click here.