Here's an interesting exercise designed to while away the dog days of August. Kevin Kelly at the Cool Tools website has assembled a list of the "best magazine articles ever" (by which he means "long-form" pieces), and is soliciting suggestions from readers. Though Kelly's list goes all the way back to Hazlitt, who more or less invented the form, and includes pieces by English writers such as James Fenton and Louis de Bernières, it is preponderantly American in focus. Parochialism is no doubt partly to blame for that, but it is also true that the Americans do the long form so much better than anyone else -- or at least that they have more opportunities to practice it, for there are simply more venues available in the US for this sort of thing than anywhere else.
Kelly has settled on a top seven, based on the number of times articles have been recommended.
1. David Foster Wallace, "Federer as Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play magazine, 20 August, 2006.
2. David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, August 2004.
3. Neal Stephenson, "Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet." Wired, December 1996.
4. Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966.
5. Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Esquire, October 1971.
6. Jon Krakauer, "Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost his Way in the Wilds." Outside Magazine, January 1993.
7. Edward Jay Epstein, "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" Atlantic Magazine, February 1982.
No surprise to see David Foster Wallace well-represented in that list. Indeed, much of his journalism -- most of it collected in two essential volumes (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster) -- will probably outlast his novels (if not his short stories).