Dear Slate Plus readers,
I’m the wrong person to tell you what to read in Slate this week. I stepped down as editor on Monday, which means this is the first time in, oh, 18 years, that I haven’t read the magazine critically. So is Ali Griswold’s piece on smartphones in restaurants any good? I don’t know! Readers are raging about Jordan Weissmann’s account of a Comcast customer service call gone awry—I just scanned the headline. What human foible did Dear Prudence explore this week? Beats me!
Instead, I’ve spent the whole week in a nostalgic haze about Slate, so let me at least put those tears to use by sharing a few of my favorite deep cuts, the old, spectacular pieces that I return to again and again and again. My favorite piece in Slate history is Herb Stein’s “Watching the Couples Go By.” Herb wrote this in 1997, shortly after his wife of 60 years died, and it is an economist’s musing on love. It has the hard, crackling exoskeleton of analytical brilliance that you expect from Slate, but a soft, creamy, heartbreaking center.
I could fill an entire book with favorite Seth Stevenson stories. Maybe the funniest is “Extroverted Like Me,” his diary of taking Paxil to overcome his shyness. Don’t miss the part about “delayed orgasm”!
One of the greatest pleasures of my working life was editing Emily Yoffe’s gonzo column, Human Guinea Pig. She did all kinds of ridiculousness for a story—street performing! Nude modeling! Learning math!—but nothing topped her magnificent effort to win the Mrs. Washington D.C. contest.
Slate has a proud history of enlisting famous people down on their luck to write for us. Perhaps the best example was when we sent Henry Blodget, just coming off his troubles, to cover the Martha Stewart trial. He began like this: “Given the current state of my reputation … readers may want to take everything I say with a grain of salt.”
Disaster helped produce some of Slate’s best journalism. Rebecca Liss’ piece about the Marine who found the last two survivors of the World Trade Center attack is so moving and odd that we re-run it every Sept. 11. Blake Bailey was driven from his home by Hurricane Katrina: His piece about the poet who rescued him will make you weepy.
What about Slate’s new bosses? What are their best stories? New editor-in-chief Julia Turner wrote one of the most popular stories in our history, this slideshow history of the bikini. (Hmm, wonder why that was popular?). But my favorite Turner is her series about signage, in particular this story about why Penn Station is the most confusing spot on the planet. New deputy editor John Swansburg etched his name in history with the definitive takedown of “your stupid birthday dinner.” And executive editor Josh Levin: “The Welfare Queen,” of course.
Let me finish with what is undoubtedly the wrongest piece in Slate history. In 1996, a Slate writer spent a month reporting on White House geography, Secret Service techniques, and presidential logistics, and concluded that it was impossible for the president to commit adultery. I give you “Could Clinton Cheat?” by David Plotz.