Best of America

The 20 Best Reads of 2011

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From magazines, newspapers and the Internet, the most unforgettable articles that crossed our editors’ desks (or screens) all year.

1. “The Life Reports” and “The Life Reports II,” by David Brooks, The New York Times, November 24 and November 28, 2011
Liz Vaccariello, VP, Editor-in-Chief, Chief Content Officer: “I find Brooks one of the smartest, wide-ranging columnists in the business. Almost every column feels personally relevant to me in some way. And these, published around Thanksgiving, a time of reflection and family for so many of us, seemed to say so much about what really matters in life—our connections.”

2. “The day begins with hope: Part 1 of Plain Dealer’s Tales from the Heart’ series at the Cleveland Clinic,” by Diane Suchetka, Brie Zeltner and Amanda Garrett, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 20, 2011
Ann DiCesare, Head Librarian: “The Cleveland Plain Dealer carried an eight-part series on the Heart and Vascular Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. The story takes the reader inside the heart institute, introducing patients and their worried families, detailing the anguished wait for organs and the intricacies and dangers of heart surgery. We hear so many negative stories about hospital care, inept doctors, hospital-induced infections—this article showed how one hospital, with its highly intelligent and caring staff, goes out of its way to diagnose and fix medical problems that seems unfixable. This article showed the best of the best—what every hospital and physician should strive for in terms of expertise and compassion. As the article said, ‘They’ve chosen the Clinic because they believe this is the place that can do what others can’t.'”

3. “Money Can Buy Happiness—As If,” by Woody Allen, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011
Andy Simmons, Humor Editor: “Woody Allen brings the game of Monopoly to hysterical life in this timely article from The New Yorker. Allen takes us through bankruptcies, Ben Bernanke, the Hamptons, risk-reward ration, and, of course, Marvin Gardens. I like my humor funny—laughing-so-hard-your-lunch-comes-out-of-your-nose funny. I don’t always get that with a lot of humorists, but I do with Woody Allen’s short stories. Not every sentence here is guffaw-worthy. But I did laugh. Now excuse me, I have to clean the lunch off my desk.”

4. “My Favorite Memory of Bil Keane,” by Moe Zilla, Beyond Black Friday, November 10, 2011
Jim Menick, Executive Editor, Select Editions: “Bil Keane, the creator of the Family Circus comic, died this year. The comic strip, which was always corny and family-oriented, eventually became the subject of a particularly rowdy and totally inappropriate Internet parody called “The Dysfunctional Family Circus.” How Keane handled the situation is the touching story of a real and honorable gentleman. Even the “Dysfunctional” people were impressed!”

5. “A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs,” by Mona Simpson, The New York Times, October 30, 2011
Barbara O’Dair, Executive Editor: “The whole piece is lovely, but the last third, where author Mona Simpson describes the death scene of her brother Steve Jobs in heartbreaking and awe-inspired detail, really got me. Simpson shares the many life lessons she learned by example from her brother in the years leading up to his death last October, most memorably revealing the sweetness and love at the heart of this driven idealist. “Steve had surprises in all his pockets,” she writes. I appreciated her memories of the softer side of Steve Jobs—and the revelation of his remarkable last words.”

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6. “The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See,” by Michael Finkel,, March 1, 2011
Beth Dreher, Senior Editor: “I loved this profile of the quietly amazing life of Daniel Kish, a blind man who, among other things, navigates in the wilderness alone and rides his mountain bike fearlessly using a method more familiar to bats than humans. His trick? He clicks his tongue and uses the faint echo to identify objects around him. Through his foundation, World Access for the Blind, he’s teaching other blind people to take control of their surroundings. This interesting and inspiring piece is a must-read.”

7. “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer, by John Branch, the New York Times, December 3, 4, 5, 2011 (three-part series)
David Noonan, National Affairs Editor: “Without question the best journalism I read this year was this three-part series in the New York Times abut NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died last spring at age 28. Extraordinary reporting, exceptional story-telling. A heart-breaking and infuriating tale about the true cost of our obsession with big-time sports. I posted it on Facebook and I’m replying to all because I want as many people as possible to read it. It’s an example of our profession at its best.”

Robert Newman, Creative Director: “You don’t have to be a hockey or even a sports fan to be engrossed and moved by this powerful and sad tale of Derek Boogaard, once the most feared “enforcer” in the National Hockey League, who died of fight-related injuries at the age of 28. The story follows Boogaard from his childhood in Canada, through his glory days in the NHL, to his physical and mental deterioration from brain damage suffered from his many brutal on-ice fights. It’s the most fascinating, in-depth, all-around well-written story I’ve read in ages.”

8. “The Girl From Trail’s End,” by Kathy Dobie,, September 2011
Barbara O’Dair: “This harrowing tale of a young girl at the center of a front-page gang rape outside Houston last year is beautifully and affectingly rendered by Dobie, with incisive portraits of the girl’s family and her classmates, and with details that speak legions about the life of a lost child.”

9. “The Knock at the Door,” by Jennifer Gonnerman, New York magazine, September 11, 2011
Courtenay Smith, Executive Editor: “Last year, I found myself riveted by the story of Chereece Bell and Damon Adams, social workers who were arrested after a child in their caseload was found starved to death by her family–the first arrest of its kind, where the social workers, as well as the parents, were arrested. I’m one of many New Yorkers who reads the annual headlines about children who die because of neglect and abuse and asks,” How could this happen??” Well, this article tells you (and it’s not what you think). I was drawn to the story of big-hearted workers who are doing their best in impossible circumstances—and who paid a terrible price for a gut decision that turned out to be wrong. This article is ultimately about justice, injustice, and what it takes to protect children from the worst human behavior.”

10. “Mommy is an Alcoholic,” Nancy Ramsey, Redbook, October 2011
Kirsten Rohrs Schmitt, Assistant Research Editor: “This article is a best read for 2011 because it broaches one of the last taboo topics on a very personal level. The alcoholic mothers profiled are all bloggers, but none of them were posting about their addiction. One by one they came out of the closet to write about their drinking, making connections with each other as addicts and moms, as well as dealing with their issues with their families.”

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