Man oh Mandarin, that’s a great trilogy.
Photoquai 2013: Qingjun Huang, Family Stuff
Photographer Huang Qingjun has spent almost ten years creating portraits of Chinese people with all their belongings arrayed in front of their homes. The collections of seemingly mundane objects offer some insight into what China’s economic growth has meant for each household. Read more about Huang’s project.
Beer Can by John Updike - A one-paragraph essay on the paradox of progress.
Trial by Fire by David Grann - Simply the best piece of journalism I can ever recall reading. Has all the ingredients: great reporting and great storytelling on a crucially important subject; namely, criminal justice and capital punishment.
Has Success Spoiled the Crow? by David Quammen - All of Quammen’s short essays on natural history are smart and engaging and funny, but this one especially, about the “world’s smartest bird,” has stuck with me. This doesn’t really stack up against Quammen’s heavy-hitting stuff like "Planet of Weeds" but I wanted to pick something less obvious.
What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? by Richard Ben Cramer - As far as sportswriting and great opening lines go, it doesn’t get much better than this: “Few men try for best ever, and Ted Williams is one of those.”
The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Just for this alone: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
And the ones you’ll need to break out your credit card to read:
Last Words by Joan Didion - Didion’s reverence for Hemingway makes the act of writing seem like a life and death proposition, which it isn’t but sometimes feels like it is.
Cabin Cabin by Joy Williams - From Williams’ blisteringly contrarian collection, Ill Nature, which boasts other classics like "The Case Against Babies" and "Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp." This one could have been subtitled “Sympathy for the Unabomber.” I admire Williams’ bravery and cussedness even when—and also because—her writing and her arguments so often make me uncomfortable.
The Cure for Baldness by Jon Krakauer (can’t find this one anywhere, online or in print!) - Krakauer was made rightly famous by Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, but all of his early magazine journalism (he was a prodigious freelancer) is worth reading for anyone interested in the craft of nonfiction storytelling. This one, about climbing Cerro Torre in Patagonia, is a fine example of using a journey (a vertical one, in this case) to tell a larger story. In a similar vein, "Yosemite, Mon Amour."
Centre Court John McPhee - A seemingly superhuman feat of journalism (he seems to be everywhere at once) by the amazing Mr. McPhee. This report on Wimbledon grabbed me from the first line (and I have to say, I don’t have much interest in tennis): “Hoad on Court 5, weathered and leonine, has come from Spain, where he lives on his tennis ranch in the plains of Andalusia.”