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Top Authors Share Their Must Reads

The writers behind Pocket’s Best of 2021 stories spotlight the articles they couldn’t put down.

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Hacked ice cream machines, irrational numbers, alien drop-ins and bad art friends: In 2021, we consumed a wild amount of great journalism on even wilder topics. So why not up the ante and go straight to the writers of the year’s top stories to get their personal recommendations?

Read on for a glimpse inside the minds of 30 of 2021’s top authors as they share the deep dives and hidden gems they loved this year.

I Fell in Love With Motorcycles. But Could I Ever Love Sturgis?

Jamie Lauren Keiles
The New York Times

Katie Baker: “No matter what Jamie Lauren Keiles writes about—credit card miles; summer camp; Adam Sandler, or a journey to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—their work never fails to make me feel like I’m a tween again, lying on my bedroom floor, devouring some vivid, brilliant, and also highly informative slice of life in a magazine and thinking: ‘It would be SO COOL to write like that.’ With a keen eye for absurdity (and bullshit) and a generous capacity for both explaining and understanding humankind, Keiles is a writer who brings depth to the silly and lightness to the self-serious. And Sturgis is definitely both.”

Read and Save Katie Baker’s The Ringer story, The Day the Good Internet Died, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Technology.

After More Than a Year of Separation and Isolation, Americans Are Reuniting.

Karin BrulliardKatie Zezima
The Washington Post

Weiyi Cai: “It’s always heartwarming to see an emotional and uplifting piece of journalism. The raw emotion displayed in this story is one of the most beautiful things I encountered this year; it made me laugh and it made me cry. It’s so simple and straightforward, yet so powerful. It reminded me that despite all the horrible things that can happen around us, these human connections and love are what keep us going.”

Read and Save Weiyi Cai’s New York Times story, Why Markets Boomed in a Year of Human Misery, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Explainers.

One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps

Tahir Hamut Izgil
The Atlantic

Cody Cassidy: “Though I could go in a million directions, one story that I haven’t been able to get out of my head was The Atlantic’s ‘One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps’ by Tahir Hamut Izgil. The beautiful writing and the tragic details Tahir delivers about a crisis where specifics seem so hard to obtain personalizes the plight of the Uyghurs in a way I haven’t otherwise seen. It provides a face to a story often reported with numbers, which may be why I’ve found myself thinking of his article often in the months since I read it.”

Read and Save Cody Cassidy’s Wired story, How to Survive a Killer Asteroid, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Science.

My Year of Grief and Cancellation

Liat Kaplan
The New York Times

Monica Chin: “I think it’s a great reflection on the forms that discourse took in the early 2010s, and the ways in which young internet communities navigated the new cultural mouthpieces they’d never had before. I find myself thinking about this story a lot as I listen to today’s debates about ‘cancel culture’—it does a great job highlighting the nuance that I wish more of those conversations had.”

Read and Save Monica Chin’s The Verge story, File Not Found, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Technology.

The Search for a Ranger Who Was Lost and Never Found

Brendan Borrell
Outside Magazine

Mitchell Clark: “Generally true crime isn’t my thing, but there was something gripping about this story. Even though there’s no real answers, the writer talking to the lost ranger’s wife and going through all the details of his life that wouldn’t seem odd had he not disappeared was compelling.”

Read and Save Mitchell Clark’s The Verge story, Blockchain, Explained, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Explainers.

The Bangles

Chris O’Leary
64 Quartets

Jordan Ellenberg: “The Bangles are one of the few bands on whose greatness I and my teen/tween children can agree. But they don’t have the same accumulated written records as more canonical acts of the 80s like REM or U2. Chris O’Leary gives them the full longform treatment they’ve always deserved.”

Read and Save Jordan Ellenberg’s Slate story, The Most Irrational Number, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Science.

Call Me a Traitor

Kerry Howley
New York Magazine

Justin Elliott: “This was a humane, beautifully observed portrait of Daniel Hale, who blew the whistle on the U.S. drone assassination program. The piece memorably captures his courage along with the messy realities of the leak and striking apathy of much of the public.”

Read and Save Justin Elliott’s ProPublica story, The Billionaire Playbook: How Sports Owners Use Their Teams to Avoid Millions in Taxes, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Sports.

The Sun Gods of the LBC

Jeff Weiss
The Ringer

Jason Fagone: “This is a profile of a ’90s band, Sublime, that never meant much to me when I was young, but I couldn’t put the story down. The energy of the writing is relentless, and Weiss takes this maximalist approach to music writing that I just love—there’s so much detail here, and sadness, and joy.”

Read and Save Jason Fagone’s San Francisco Chronicle story, The Jessica Simulation: Love and Loss in the Age of A.I., featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Technology.

Heat Listed

Matt Stroud
The Verge

Karen Hao: “This is one of those pieces I wish I had reported. The level of detail that Stroud was able to excavate about a controversial predictive policing practice in Chicago and the impact it had on one man gives us a whole new level of understanding about how these technologies, meant to keep communities safe, actually endanger them. The writing is also brilliantly executed. It’s a tale that haunts you for a long time.”

Read and Save Karen Hao’s MIT Technology Review story, How Facebook Got Addicted to Spreading Misinformation, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Technology.

Afghanistan Meant Nothing

Laura Jedeed

Chris Hoffman: “Much has been written about the end of the war in Afghanistan, but it’s rarely this visceral. U.S. Army veteran and journalist Laura Jedeed’s reflection on her time in Afghanistan is a must-read for anyone who wants to face the reality of what the Afghanistan conflict was.”

Read and Save Chris Hoffman’s How-To Geek story, How to Delete Your Old Online Accounts (and Why You Should), featured in Pocket’s Most Read Articles in 2021.

Vibe Check

Mike Abrusci
Please Enjoy

Graham Isador: “Mike Abrusci writes emotionally raw and tragically funny essays. This piece on the tension of city life post-pandemic made me laugh and knocked the wind out of me.”

Read and Save Graham Isador’s GQ story, How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking?, featured in Pocket’s Most Read Articles in 2021.

How We Survived COVID-19 in Prison

Nicole Lewis
The Marshall Project

Whizy Kim: “I think a letter is the most intimate kind of writing, and these letters written by people incarcerated during the pandemic let us, if only briefly, share in the grief and anguish they feel. It’s harrowing and heart-rending to hear their voices, their own words, on a system that’s frankly too cruel to capture in words.”

Read and Save Whizy Kim’s Refinery 29 story, Is That All There Is? Why Burnout Is A Broken Promise, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Business & Career.

A Peer-Reviewed Portrait of Suffering

Daniel Engber
The Atlantic

Robert Kolker: “This one made my heart stop, and then start and stop again, and again, and again. Here is a family catastrophe with an astonishing coincidence—a father’s expertise strangely in tune with the injury his daughter sustained. The story is a perfect mingling of medicine and technology and brain science and the human condition. Most of all, I love how sensitive and intimate it is—how the writer never loses sight of the people involved. In his hands, this is no case study—it’s life.”

Read and Save Robert Kolker’s New York Times story, Who Is the Bad Art Friend?, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Culture.

A Silence Louder Than Words

Taylor Moore
Chicago Reader

Jasmine Mithani: “Taylor Moore is an excellent reporter who spent months untangling this complex story around a cultural institution very dear to many in Chicago, deftly weaving a cohesive narrative from dozens of interviews and all sorts of documents. The result is a thorough, empathetic investigation that centers the experience of those harmed while touching on accountability, gender, and stardom in the city’s youth poetry community.”

Read and Save Jasmine Mithani’s FiveThirtyEight story, Why People Fall For Conspiracy Theories, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Explainers.

Golden Ticket

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux
ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories

Laine Nooney: “Dashingly written and scrupulously researched, this long, long, long read is a whirling travelogue through the financial infrastructures propping up the 2019 Dota 2 esports championship, held in Shanghai that year. Come for the phenomenally deep read of esports in a Chinese context, stay for the poop emoji in the footnotes.”

Read and Save Laine Nooney’s Vice story, How the Personal Computer Broke the Human Body, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Technology.

When the Techies Took Over Tahoe

Rachel Levin
Outside Magazine

Devon O’Neil: “The story resonated because I too live in a mountain town within driving distance of a major metropolitan area, and we experienced much the same phenomenon: swarms of people unlike anything many longtime residents had seen before. But it’s not as simple as just bemoaning their presence; the trend is a symptom of a changing world, and you have to live with it and adapt. This story showed how hard that is to do, while delivering color and balance to a nuanced subject.”

Read and Save Devon O’Neil’s Outside story, The Final Descent of Dean Cummings, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Sports.

A Kidnapping Gone Very Wrong

Brendan I. Koerner
The Atlantic

Daniel Riley: “Koerner has an incredible nose for finding stories that contain most of the elements I love the most: international intrigue; American politics and statecraft; murder and manhunts; Mexican hotels—and Mexican hotel breakfasts; skyjackings; Lambretta scooters; the South of France in the sixties; and the seventies as both subject and character. More than the ingredients, though, it’s how Koerner cooks this one: It’s a structural marvel—and the sort of piece that reveals its recipe of research and reporting only once you read to the end. It’s like Argo in the desert.”

Read and Save Daniel Riley’s GQ story, The Secrets of The World’s Greatest Freediver, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Sports.

The Complicated Reality of Doing What You Love

Marian Bull

Kaleigh Rogers: “So many reporters got into this business because we loved writing. I know that was the case for me when I was three years into an English/Creative Writing degree and suddenly realized I couldn’t pay bills as a poet. Through interviews with artists who have unexpectedly found success in their craft, Bull manages to articulate a near-universal tension among creative industries: can your work be a pure creative outlet when you have the pressure of making a profit hanging over you?”

Read and Save Kaleigh Rogers’ FiveThirtyEight story, Why People Fall For Conspiracy Theories, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Explainers.

Blade, the Uber for Helicopters and Chartered Jets, Had a Fake Spokesperson for 3 Years [PAYWALL]

Gabrielle Bluestone
Business Insider

Emily Stewart: “I find myself bringing up the story of the fake helicopter startup spokesperson in conversation at least monthly. Just a beautiful example of a ‘What’s up with that guy?’ gem that entirely delivers.”

Read and Save Emily Stewart’s Vox story, Why Everybody’s Hiring but Nobody’s Getting Hired, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Business & Career.

‘They Could Be the Visionaries of Our World’: Do ‘Overemotional’ People Hold the Key to Happiness?

Emine Saner
The Guardian

Melody Wilding: “As someone who identifies as highly sensitive, this article spoke directly to me. It’s refreshing and empowering to consider that something once regarded as a weakness can in fact be our biggest strength.”

Read and Save Melody Wilding’s Harvard Business Review story, Stop Being So Hard on Yourself, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Great Advice.

Red America’s Compassion Fatigue: A Report From Mobile, Alabama

Marion Renault
The New Republic

Ed Yong: “Marion Renault delivers an utterly heartbreaking look at the alienation that vaccinated people in a largely unvaccinated rural community are experiencing. I love how deftly Renault weaves together matters of faith and science, and how much intellectual breadth and emotional depth she brings to her writing.”

Read and Save Ed Yong’s Atlantic story, How the Pandemic Now Ends, featured in Pocket’s Most Read Articles in 2021.

What Slime Knows

Lacy M. Johnson
Orion Magazine

Joe Zadeh: “This is a beautiful meditation on the wonders of slime mold: a single celled puddle-like organism that has no brain or nervous system, yet can solve mazes, learn patterns, and keep time. It’s a sobering reminder of how our belief in human exceptionalism has tainted our view of the natural world, and it sent me hurtling into a wormhole of further reading about the untapped intelligence lurking inside things we ordinarily dismiss.”

Read and Save Joe Zadeh’s Noema Magazine story, The Tyranny of Time, featured in Pocket’s Best of 2021: Big Ideas.

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