Best of 2012: Longform Writing About The NY Region

New York's magazines and newspapers cover the world, but they also produce great journalism about the tri-state region. Eddie Robinson spoke with Brian Lehrer Show producer Jody Avirgan, who moonlights as a contributing editor at Longform. Below are his eight ten picks for the best 2012 nonfiction about our community.

For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks.


The Truth About the World Trade Center

Scott Raab | Esquire | September 2012

A look back at the decade-long twists and turns at the World Trade Center site.

Poor George Pataki: Never the brightest bulb in the chandelier, he once had hoped that the rebuilding might lead him to the White House. So it was understandable that he might be feeling proud — maybe even a little wistful — at last year's ceremony. The dignitaries are assembled by the stage, waiting for Obama and Bush, when one of them overhears Pataki say to Cuomo, "Isn't this a great day? Just beautiful — and look how this has all turned out." And Andrew Cuomo says to Pataki, "This is the biggest waste of money anybody's ever seen. Who would have ever spent this money? If we'd known what this was going to be like, nobody would have ever done this."



The Strange Fate of Kim's Video

David Graeber | Triple Canopy | Dec 2010

Why New York's weirdest video collection was shipped to Sicily, and what happened next.

The closing of a video store is not news. With Web streaming, the vanishing DVD sales market, and Netflix, it's an inevitability. Usually, the fate of the physical videos after the store's closing isn't news, either. Maybe there's a dollar sale. Maybe employees smuggle home the dead stock. The customers adapt. They find another video store. They use BitTorrent and YouPorn.

This is how it happens. If you've ever had a video-store membership, this has probably happened to you.

This is not how it happened with Mondo Kim's.



Unlocked: Inside New Jersey's Halfway Houses

Sam Dolnick | The New York Times | June 2012

A three-part investigative series.

New Jersey officials have called these large facilities an innovative example of privatization and have promoted the approach all the way to the Obama White House.

Yet with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked, according to a 10-month investigation by The New York Times.

Perhaps the most unsettling sign of the chaos within is inmates’ ease in getting out.



Jersey Boys

Jeffrey Goldberg | The Atlantic | July 2012

Governor Christie and The Boss: A tale of unrequited love.

Christie rolls his eyes. “He feels guilty,” he says. “He feels guilty that he has so much money, and he thinks it’s all a zero-sum game: in order to get poor people more money, it has to be taken away from the rich. I don’t mean to get all serious, but this is what I was trying to say at the Reagan Library”—a reference to the speech, delivered last year at Nancy Reagan’s invitation, that thrilled Republicans looking for an electoral savior. In the speech, Christie criticized President Obama for “telling those who are scared and struggling that the only way their lives can get better is to diminish the success of others” and “insisting that we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American dream.”

He wants to talk more—but then Springsteen rips into “Candy’s Room.” Christie grabs an imaginary mic and begins shouting.



The Land That Time and Money Forgot

Mark Jacobson | New York | Sept 2012

New York City's NYCHA homes fight for survival.

Still,the projects persist. People get up and go to work. Some run gray-market “plate lunch” and beauty parlors out of their apartments. Disability and public-assistance checks keep coming. Why that is—why the projects were built here in such numbers and continue to house as many people as they do, how the developments moved from a source of municipal pride to an invisible society people would rather forget exists, is a key story of the city, as unique to New York as the Statue of Liberty and why people cross against traffic.



I Used To Love Her, But I Had To Flee Her: On Leaving New York

Cord Jefferson | Gawker | July 2012

A writer gives up on New York and finds happiness in - gasp! - LA.

When I moved out of New York, I knew at the time that it was the best decision for my career and pocketbook. Only now have I come to realize how important leaving was for my sanity, as well. Not that I was afflicted with claustrophobia or exhaustion or any of the pseudo-ailments with which so many hypochondriac New Yorkers diagnose themselves. Rather, I'd deliberately forgotten that life outside New York is just as pure and valid as life inside New York, which is a hazard of the City just the same as street crime, and one that's far more prevalent.



Reason to Love New York: Because Red Hook Wouldn't Let Red Hook Go Under

Matthew Shaer | New York Magazine | December 2012

A neighborhood rallies together after Sandy.

Chavez, an amateur boxer and a counterman at F&M Bagels on Van Brunt Street, considered evacuating, but how? Red Hook was at this hour an island separated from the rest of the city by the surging sea. Then the doors above him were swinging wide, first one apartment and then another—strangers welcoming the whole crew inside, pit bull and all.



The Cranky Wisdom of Peter Kaplan

Nathan Heller | The New Republic | September 2012

The legendary editor starts a new chapter.

Also—and this is the last thing that he thinks I ought to know—the car is extremely low on fuel and may run out of gas at any moment.

“OK, we’re about to make the choice,” he says as we approach the last turnoff in Manhattan. “Left to gas, right to”—the eyebrows rise—“who knows what.”

We go right. As we idle at the stoplight, Kaplan takes up his Caro ruminations again, but drops them midsentence as a panhandler with stringy hair and baggy clothes approaches to ask for money.

“Oh, come on, lady, don’t make me do this!” Kaplan complains with an air of easy defeat. He carries a wallet, but most of his cash is stuffed haphazardly into his khakis, which means that in order to pay for anything, he must literally empty his pockets onto the nearest surface and root through the detritus. At the moment, he is sifting through a mass of crumpled paper, old receipts, and money he’s shoveled into his lap. The panhandler looks on. “God, I don’t have a single!” he exclaims. “All right, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” Finally, he finds a dollar bill, and the window comes down. “There ya go. There ya go!”



The House That Hova Built

(h/t Rachel Sklar for the suggestion)

Zadie Smith | The New York Times | September 2012

On Jay-Z becoming the voice -- and the business -- of the city.

Jay-Z likes clarity: “I think all those things need to really declare themselves a bit more clearly. Because when you just say that ‘the 1 percent is that,’ that’s not true. Yeah, the 1 percent that’s robbing people, and deceiving people, these fixed mortgages and all these things, and then taking their home away from them, that’s criminal, that’s bad. Not being an entrepreneur. This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”

It’s so weird watching rappers becoming elder statesmen. I’m out for presidents to represent me. Well, now they do — and not only on dollar bills. Heavy responsibility lands on the shoulders of these unacknowledged legislators whose poetry is only, after all, four decades young. Jay-Z’s ready for it.



After Sandy, A Great and Complex City Reveals Traumas New and Old

(h/t Rachel Sklar for the suggestion)

Glynnis Macnicol | Capital New York | November 2012

An on-the-ground account of a city recovering, neighborhood by neighborhood, any way it can.

While I was unpacking a garbage bag full of blankets one woman arrived with her daughter, who appeared to have Down syndrome, and asked if she could take two blankets instead of one. The feeling that I, or any of the volunteers, were somehow believed to be in charge of dictating what rations these families struggling in the cold could get struck me suddenly, and was obscene. I told her to take what she wanted. We left before the sun went down.


Brian Lehrer Show producer Jody Avirgan is also a contributing editor to Is there a story that we missed? Comment below or .

And be sure to check out lots more great stories in the Longform archives.