BY MARC VELASQUEZ
[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here.]
I couldn’t come up with a theme. Should I take that as a sign that I’m bad at this column writing thing? Perhaps, but I have such a hodgepodge of selections this month that I couldn’t find a single common thread.
I tried a cheesy “Giving thanks” theme that seemed nice and timely, but how can one be thankful about police officers shooting a 7-year-old while a reality TV crew filmed footage? When I realized that I’d chosen quite a few profiles (the filet mignon of magazine writing), I thought about highlighting only those. But that meant leaving out some of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a while. So I’ve decided to run themeless instead. If you can find a common thread, let me know.
Rolling Stone Does It Again
I’m a big fan of profiles. To write them well, a writer has to spend a significant amount of time getting to know the subject, either face-to-face or through creative means of research. But well-written profiles are powerful pieces of journalism. Take, for instance, this recent profile of coal mogul, Don Blankenship—a self made millionaire, champion of mountaintop removal, and first-rate jackass. In a surprise move a week after the article ran, Blankenship retired from his post, and the world is now a better place (sort of like a real-life Freedom, for you Franzen fans).
Vermont Style Death Race
First, go to this website: YouMayDie.com
Are you back? How much time did you spend over there? Did you watch the videos? Did you look up some others on YouTube? I lost half a day to that url after coming across it in a magazine article. I can barely run down the block (I have a bad back, and I love fried food, so back off) but I’m fascinated by anyone for whom a triathlon is too blasé. At one point, for a brief moment, I fancied myself ballsy enough to try the Death Race. But there’s barbed wire involved, and repeated mountain running, and I don’t think there is anyone in my life who would be willing to run along side me in order to hand-feed the gross amounts of granola I would require for sustenance. Luckily, Mark Jenkins participated in it on assignment for Outside Magazine. I’ll settle for the article he wrote and the YouTube videos.
Sir, Baby Mama, Sir
Those who know me might be surprised to learn that I read Glamour. Not the actual hard copy, as I’d be embarrassed to be seen holding a magazine whose pages smell from ten feet away, and whose cover advertises “The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Great Hair.” No, in the comfort of my own room, sometimes with the door locked, I peruse the magazine’s online archives. Truthfully, I’m not that ashamed of my clandestine lurking; Glamour won the 2010 National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year. And while most of the content is style-and-beauty swill, there always seems to be at least one tasty morsel of good journalism. For example, I dare you not to be intrigued by this fact: an unusually high number of surrogate mothers are army wives. You want to know why, don’t you? Read away.
The Caps’ Little Lamb Girl
The best profiles try to cover all aspects of their subjects, especially hidden and likable sides. To do this, a writer must find a way to connect with his or her subject. An example is this profile of Russian hockey superman Alex Ovechkin. The writer, Michael Idov, gains unique access through a common language, and by meeting with Ovechkin in his home city. You can learn a lot from this article, too, like how to pick up telochki when in Moscow, or that the word ovechkin is Russian for little female lamb (that should give Pittsburgh fans some fuel for the Winter Classic.)
Man, Detroit. Right?
Did you know Detroit was once a contender to host an Olympics? Here’s a pretty sobering look at the Motor City which opens with the death of a 7-year-old as cops and a reality-TV crew burst into her apartment. It’s part memoir, part journalism. If you read only one article I suggest, it should be this one.
The Dark Knight Was a Newsy
My roommate and I had a fairly heated argument about whether this article was actually good. It’s a “profile” of Christian Bale. The problem is that Bale will only allow interviews about him to be in the question-and-answer format. I like Q&As, but it’s not the type of magazine copy I like to highlight in this column. In this instance, though, the writer found a clever way around Bale’s rules, and I admire him for his creativity. My roommate, however, maintains that the writer’s interjections are trite. He’s probably right, but I’m leaving it on my list because it’s my list. Also, it contains the quote of the month:
BALE: And Chris Farley was just phenomenal. Beverly Hills Ninja will always remain one of my tops.
ESQUIRE: Now you’re lying.
BALE: I have watched that movie. One time I sat down and watched it two nights in a row, and cried with laughter both times. The guy just was a phenomenon, and is missed dearly in my household.
I didn’t think anybody, other than me, respected that movie.
From The Archives
Disclaimer: the article I am about to suggest is from the Playboy archives. 1970s Playboy. You know, when thick bush was all the rage. So unless you are in a place where it is safe to get a face full of femme fur, don’t click the link!
This is one of my favorite profiles of all time. (You might need a plugin. Also, despite the warning above, the link should open to a caricature of Charles Bronson’s face on a bulldog’s body. It makes sense in the context of the article.) It’s about the enigmatic Charles Bronson at the height of his popularity. And it’s written by Harry Crews, who is one of my favorite writers. Get to a safe place, read it, then do yourself a favor and track down a copy of Crews’s Blood And Grits. You wont be sorry.
Suggestions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org