We spend most of our time online. And while sometimes that makes us wonder if we are wasting our lives and/or ruining our eyes, other times we come across writing that is so wonderful—intelligent, provocative, heartbreaking, hilarious, groundbreaking, illuminating—that we become newly invigorated about our profession of choice, and excited about working in a time when the need for important writing is at an all-time high and matched only by the very real desire for such work.
Here, then, are the 25 online pieces that most stood out to us this year. They represent a cross section of writing on the internet; some are articles made possible by months of on-the-ground reporting, others are moving essays on topics ranging from the end of a pregnancy to embracing and flaunting a body that society suggests be hidden; there's an irreverent look at the most useless but frequently used cooking spice and a piece about how the patriarchy affects the office thermostat. Many could be described as think pieces, absolutely none are hot takes. All are worth reading, and all serve as yet another reminder that, no matter what else happened this year, at least there were good things to read.
"On Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' and Maternal Ambivalence" by Jasmine Sanders for Lenny Letter
A young woman's experience with a complicated end to a complicated pregnancy is intertwined with a beautiful meditation on one of Toni Morrison's most powerful novels, this essay is all you need to know that Sanders is a writer to watch.
"Ivanka Trump's Terrible Book Helps Explain the Trump Family Ethos" by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker
Tolentino took on the unenviable task of reading Ivanka Trump's execrable 2009 book, The Trump Card, but we're happy she did it. Tolentino's takedown of said book is essential because it exposes the mythos surrounding Ivanka, the idea that she is somehow less dangerous than her father, and reveals the uncomfortable truth about the first First Daughter who is also a First Lady, namely, that she "portrays all of her advantages as handicaps" in an effort to get ahead and turn a profit.
"Issue 5: The Time Machine" by Helen Rosner for TinyLetter
This was undoubtedly the year of the TinyLetter, and Rosner's (titled, hilariously, as Helen: A Handbasket) is one of our favorites. This specific edition of it though blew our minds, introducing us, as it did, to the glories of Gene Kelly's butt and the intricacies of the Brigadoon Effect. I won't explain it here. Read for yourself.
"The Tyranny of the Office Blanket" by Laura Marsh for Elle
We won't lie: We are constantly freezing at work. And we've always been looking for someone or something to blame it on. Now, thanks to Laura Marsh's smart look at the different ways in which women have historically been and continue to be marginalized in the workspace, we know what precisely is responsible for us having to swaddle ourselves in blankets and shawls like literal babies: patriarchy. And it's well past time for it to crumble.
Madison is one of the most reliably hilarious and incisive cultural critics writing now (his Twitter feed is a gift, and his Delete Your Account column is a must-read). This close look at Donald Trump's persona and personality via a marathon viewing of every season of The Apprentice is a fascinating look at the culturally sanctioned making of a monster.
"What Goes Through Your Mind: On Nice Parties and Casual Racism" by Nicole Chung for The Toast
Chung tackles an uncomfortable, important topic in this essay, namely, the infuriating reality of "the social pressure [put] on people of color to keep the peace, not get mad, just make sure everyone keeps having a nice time." Chung confronts this issue with clarity and intelligence; this is an essential piece to read, think about, and recommend whenever someone talks about the importance of having empathy for people who have long benefitted from our white supremacy based society. Because your empathy primarily revolves around white people (especially those who voted for Trump), you're doing it wrong.
"What Normalization Means" by Hua Hsu for The New Yorker
In the days following Trump's election, a rush to normalize the bigoted, misogynist behavior of the President-elect took hold. Hsu elegantly wrote not only about the danger to normalize Trump, but also about the fact that many of Trump's attitudes and actions have been both implicitly and explicitly accepted for years in American society—particularly when it comes to marginalized communities.
"Tacky" by Margaret Eby for Midnight Breakfast
Eby writes beautifully about her embrace of "tacky" style and her rebellion against the ways in which our culture tries to silence women who do not fall into its restrictive aesthetic standards. Eby also celebrates the wonderfully tacky people and things—think Dolly Parton, John Waters, leopard print, rhinestones—which make our world a more fun and sparkly place.
"Writing While Black" by Morgan Jerkins for Literary Hub
Jerkins grapples with the issues surrounding her experience as a black woman writer in the still overwhelmingly white media and publishing world; she explains the struggles inherent to combatting stereotypes and cliches as she tells her story and the responsibility she feels to tell that story the right way.
"The Loneliest Job in Cinema: On Film's Friendless Female Sex Workers" by Alana Massey for Hazlitt
Massey's look at the all too often unjust portrayals of female sex workers focuses on the fact that they are rarely ever shown as having friends or anything resembling a positive and supportive community. Massey explains why this is both false and "particularly cruel" and points to the ways that this stands at odds with reality in a truly illuminating and empowering piece.
"A Year of Kristen Stewart Giving the World the Middle Finger" by Dayna Evans for The Cut
If there's one piece of online writing that NYLON is sad it didn't publish this year, this is it.
"On Zika and Abortion" by Moira Donegan for n+1
In all the conversation surrounding the Zika epidemic, the topic of pregnancy and birth defects were a primary focus, but there were surprisingly (and dismayingly) few discussions centering around abortion. Thankfully, this was rectified by Donegan in n+1 where the impact of denying women access to comprehensive healthcare—whether in times of epidemic or not—was thoroughly evaluated to devastating effect.
"Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick. Gypsy Wanted Her Mom to Be Murdered" by Michelle Dean for BuzzFeed
Holy shit, this is one of the craziest true crime stories we've ever read. It involves Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, creepy Facebook status updates, and Hurricane Katrina. It's easily one of the darkest and most fascinating real-life narratives of the year, and Dean's masterful reporting is matched only by her ability to keep readers on the very edge of their seats.
"Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America" by Lauren Duca for Teen Vogue
That this excellent piece excoriating the gaslighting techniques which President-elect uses upon the American people was published by Teen Vogue surprised lots of people. It shouldn't have. Women-centered publications—including young women-centered ones—consistently do good, smart work on a variety of topics. Duca's article stands out though for so precisely pinpointing just how surreal our current political reality is, and how Trump is employing control tactics used by men on women for ages.
"The Vast Bay Leaf Conspiracy" by Kelly Conaboy for The Awl
Genuinely the funniest and most accurate piece of food writing we read all year. Get Conaboy a James Beard award. Get her all of them. #BanBayLeaf
"The Best Thanksgiving Drink Doesn't Have Any Alcohol In It" by Caity Weaver for GQ
Weaver is a genius. This is apparent to anyone who has read her profiles of Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber, or her incredible Best Restaurant in the World series for Gawker. But those profiles are not online-exclusive, and the Gawker work was not done in 2016. Thus we are recommending this still exceptional piece explaining why soda is the best thing to drink with your family over the holidays.
"Christine Who Fed the Hungry" by Emily Gould for The New Yorker
Gould's piece is a beautiful look at the way people enter and exit each other's lives; it's an exquisite rendering of the impact we have upon one another, a moving tribute to a friend, and a meditation on the process of mourning and loss.
"Is God a White Racist?" by Doreen St. Felix for MTV
St. Felix is an essential writer, for our times, yes, but really for any time. She elucidates complex social and cultural issues and brings fierce intelligence and a wealth of knowledge on a vast range of topics to all that she does. With this essay, St. Felix references black theology and historic racism to grapple with our current political and social reality.
"Standing Up to Sexual Assault and Harassment in L.A.'s Comedy Scene" by Katie J.M. Baker for BuzzFeed
Much of this year's most important reporting was done by Baker, from her profile on Juanita Broadrrick to her work on the Stanford rape case, but we think this piece she wrote on the accusations of sexual assault that tore about Los Angeles' comedy scene this year is of particular note, addressing, as it does, so many eternally relevant and pressing social topics.
"A Year in Reading" by Kevin Nguyen for The Millions
The Millions "A Year in Reading" series is always home to a wealth of great writing, most of it in the service of recommending great books. But we were blown away by Nguyen's entry, in which he took to task the publishing and literary world—a world which is overwhelmingly full of white people—for being a little too proud of themselves for their "wokeness." It's smart, sharp writing that serves as a necessary launchpad to a conversation that might already exist, but that rarely gets spoken in loud enough voices.
"Interview with a Woman Who Recently Had an Abortion at 32 Weeks" by Jia Tolentino for Jezebel
In a time when abortion rights are being incrementally chipped away, this important interview will put the issue in a whole new perspective. It highlights just how important it is for women to have control over their own bodies and access to viable health care options.
"Autocracy: Rules for Survival" by Masha Gessen for New York Review of Books Daily
Gessen knows what it is to live under an autocratic regime and thus her rules for survival should be taken seriously. This was written but a couple days after Trump's election, and while we highly recommend printing it out and hanging it on your refrigerator for the duration of the next four years, we also have to say that rule number four, in particular, is pretty easy to remember no matter what: "Stay angry." Will do!
"Bluebeard" by Dayna Tortorici for n+1
Senior editor for esteemed literary and culture journal n+1, Tortorici is a writer whose every work we pretty much devour. We've particularly loved her writing on cultishly adored, famously reclusive Italian author Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym), and so, of course, we turned to Tortorici this summer when Ferrante's true identity was unmasked. In "Bluebeard," Tortorici doesn't disappoint, explaining exactly why this unmasking was a betrayal of a woman's right to privacy, and how it reflected a larger society-wide refusal to let women craft narratives for themselves—without the input of men.
"I Thought I Was Done with Gay Pride Parades. This Year Was Different." by Tyler Coates for Esquire
The mass murder at Florida's Pulse nightclub is what this essay hinges upon, as Coates relates his experience one weekend in early June, as he went from participating in and enjoying (if somewhat reluctantly) Pride festivities to entering a state of profound mourning after hearing about the massacre. Coates beautifully conveys what it is that the queer community longs for, what it is they have worked so hard to build, and how it felt to have it all torn away in the course of a few hours: "Here's the only thing that queer people, on every part on the spectrum, want and hope for: to feel safe"
"Confessions of a Former Former Fat Kid" by Isaac Fitzgerald for BuzzFeed
Fitzgerald's piece, in which he relays the roller-coaster ride of emotions he's had concerning his body image, is notable for a few reasons. One is that it's rare for this type of body image-based essay to be written by a man, but another is that it is written with an honesty at once both brutal and empathic; it contains a palpable humanity and delivers the kind of truth we all need to hear in order to learn to be kinder, to others and to ourselves. Because as Fitzgerald acknowledges, "When it comes to body-image issues, we are all in our own personal hells."