My Favorite Essays and Short Fiction of 2014

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Happy New Year!

If your attention span, like mine, has diminished considerably over the last year, consider these brilliant essays and pieces of short fiction. (My own essay is not on my list, but shameless plug here.) A fraction of the time to read, just as satisfying. As with all my lists, these are my favorite pieces I read this year, not necessarily published this year, although this is the most current list of all. Thanks, the Internet!

10. “The Man Who Invented the Calendar” by BJ Novak (2013) via The New Yorker
I’m cheating here because I read this last year, but Novak’s short story collection, One More Thing, was published in early 2014 and contains this brilliant short as well as the provocative story “Sophia” about a man who purchases a sex robot and gets more than he bargains for.

9. I Remember by Joe Brainard (1970)
I Remember is a small book, 167 pages of statements all beginning with “I remember.” Joe Brainard was born in 1941. He was a painter and artist, and this little book is an art piece itself. His memories are an assortment of pop culture (“I remember ‘Love Me Tender,'” “I remember the Liz-Eddit-Debbie scandal”) to food (“I remember ‘Payday’ candy bars and eating the peanuts off first then eating the center part,” “I remember ‘Spam.'”) and sexuality (“I remember getting erections in school and the bell rings and how handy zipper notebooks were,” “I remember jerking off to sexual fantasies involving John Kerr. And Montgomery Clift.”)

8. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (2014)
All the essays in the Love & Sex portion of this book are worth a look. I wanted to call my eventual essay collection “Not That Kind of Gay” but now I’m afraid it would be gimmicky.

7. “The Twilight of the Indoor Mall” by Mike Nagel (2014) via The Awl
Dying shopping malls are like whale carcasses decaying in the middle of cities. Nagel explores the corpse of one near Dallas. Remember the scene in Gone Girl when Amy Dunne buys a gun from a drug dealer in an abandoned mall? This mall will be that mall by the end of 2015.

6. “Naked and Unafraid: Baring Witness at a Christian Nudist Festival” by Adam Weinstein (2014) via Gawker
I never imagined the words “nudist” and “Christian” would go together. “My face bowed, penitent and hopeful, I focus chiefly on how bumpy the follicles on my scrotum look when smushed against a white towel. Christ changes your perspective.”

5. “Miss American Dream: How Britney Spears went to Vegas and became a feminist role model. No, really.” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2014) via Matter
Perfectly captures the spectacle of Spears, Vegas, and Spears in Vegas, and includes maybe my favorite paragraph of 2014:

The sun rose and descended over the Strip, quickly, like it does in a reality show, on sped-up film. Some dancers who were also gymnasts and contortionists rehearsed over and over for hours on the revolving platform, doing everything from a sexy schoolgirl-uniformed “…Baby One More Time” to a fire-breathing “Circus.” The wind blew even harder, and some in the audience paused their gum chewing to express to the security guards that perhaps it was dangerous for these dancers, and of course, Britney, to perform on top of the structure. Everyone seemed quite worried, but also there was nothing else to talk about. A young woman who had slowly gotten drunker and drunker over the past hour thanks to a double Eiffel Tower of frozen drink said, “Where the hell is that bitch?”

4. “The Devil’s Bait” by Leslie Jamison (2013) via Harper’s
Also included in Jamison’s collection The Empathy Exams, “The Devil’s Bait” explores the legitimacy of Morgellons disease and how all pain, whether “real” or “imagined”, is, well, painful.

3. “Gravy Boat: My Week on the High Seas with Paula Deen and Friends” by Caity Weaver (2014) via Gawker
Weaver takes the best cruise since that time David Foster Wallace went on one without Paula Deen. Filed to: Biscuits and Crazy. It was a good year for Caity who also spent more time at a TGI Friday’s eating cheese sticks in one day than I’ve spent there cumulative in my entire life.

2. “That Time I Took the Bus and Everything was Great” by Nathan Deuel (2014) via Gawker
Deuel proves that you don’t have to write about cynicism and misery and pain to make a compelling story. Refreshingly sunny and happy and delightful. Totally unlike me.

1. If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan van Meter (2012)
Van Meter writes beautifully about little things, creating loving sepia-toned snapshots of childhood. Gorgeous reflections. My tiny review cannot do it justice.

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