A few good things I read this year

by Heather Vandenengel

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The year’s nearly done and I crossed off the only two things I had written on a “Bucket List” two years ago, which was to drink moonshine and run the Big Sur Half Marathon, so I guess my work is done here.

And now I will add to the flood of year-end lists with a short one of a few of my favorite longreads and essays that I read in the last year. I was looking back at my Pocket and bookmarks and didn’t seem to have as many stories that gripped me or blew me away as much as last year, but I did spend a lot of time going back to a few essays.

On Self Respect | Joan Didion | Vogue

I think I read this for the first time this year, and if not, I definitely thought about it a lot throughout the year. She nails it throughout (minus the slightly racist bit in the middle), but the last two paragraphs are my favorite.

“To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.”

“To assign unanswered letters their proper weight” reverberated in my head often, if only to get over abandoned email threads, but y’know, deeper stuff too.

Who Is Su | Dan P. Lee | New York

This article is fascinating for a lot of reasons, but I never got over one thing: that one second you can be standing in the kitchen making macaroni and cheese and the next a ceiling fan hits you on the head and when you wake up your memory of yourself and your life is obliterated. Life is wild.

Confessions of a Mortician | Eric Puchner | Matter

I think about death a lot in the sense that is definitely a thing that is going to happen to us all one day, but not as much about the practicalities of it. This profile of Caleb Wilde, a sixth-generation funeral director who wants people to think about death and funerals, is full of the practicalities. It’s squirm-inducing and sad, but hey, that’s life (or lackthereof). It’s also full of lines like, “When I got to Parkesburg, a town of 3,637 people — all of whom would die someday — Caleb was waiting by a van, looking sprightly and well-dressed.”

The Art of Arrival | Rebecca Solnit | Orion

I wrote about this essay earlier this year, and I keep on returning to it because Rebecca Solnit is a baller who can write to break your heart.

“But there are many kinds of travel, many reasons to move. Sometimes you travel so that the process of becoming that is your inner life has an external correlative in your movement across space. You may not know how to save your soul, but you know how to put one foot in front of another. You may not know the way to stop being so furious you can hardly sleep, but you can buy a road map of the American West.”

And here’s a short list of other year-end and otherwise reading lists:

The Rotten and the Sublime: A Reading List of Fermentation (The kimchi story was my favorite.)

The Year’s 15 Best Longform Food Stories (Would also add this one.)

10 of the Best ‘Dear Sugar’ Advice Columns (And I should add that I probably thought about or re-read more Dear Sugar columns than anything else this year.)

Women Who Travel Alone: A Reading List

Aaand finally here’s a playlist of songs I’ve been listening to on repeat at the end of the year.