If you ever find yourself in a room full of writers, you’re going to want to be taken seriously. Truth is: You don’t have to break out that deep analysis of “Slaughterhouse Five,” or have all of Shakespeare’s sonnets memorized. All you really need to know are some really fantastic pieces of journalism. From classic to contemporary, take a look at ten of the greats that are sure to impress any wordsmith. Feel free to break out fancy scotch and cigars while you’re at it, since you’re going to be considered a legend.
Why it’s Great: You might not be proud of how much you love causing trouble on Grand Theft Auto, but Tom Bissell’s taste for trouble led him into a world of full-blown addiction. No seriously, the guy became so GTA-addled, that his life started to become extremely comparable to the corrupt plot line of the game. You’ll be able to put the fear of God into any future tech-writer.
The Hook: “Soon I was walking into the night, handing hundreds of dollars in cash to a Russian man whose name I did not even know, waiting in alleys for him to come back—which he always did, though I never fully expected him to—and retreating home to my Xbox, GTA IV, to the electrifying solitude of my mind at play in an anarchic digital world.”
2. “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is it a Crime?” by Gene Weingarten
Why it’s Great: This one reads like an episode of Law and Order. It’s fast, full of emotion and will make you question your own moral code. Whip this story out for the crime-connoisseur of the group. If he hasn’t read it, he’ll thank you after he does.
The Hook: “When a hospital emergency room nurse described how the defendant had behaved after the police first brought him in, she wept. He was virtually catatonic, she remembered, his eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth, locked away in some unfathomable private torment.”
Why it’s Great: Everyone hates being stereotyped. Everyone loves good music. This personal essay has it all, and since Douglas talks a lot about the struggle between the two in his youth, it’s super relatable to us college kids. After reading this, your mind will feel twice as open, and your heart twice as warm. Share it with the serious Wall Street Journal or The Economist-type. You know who I’m talking about, those guys who should replace their stock investments with a good story every once in a while.
The Hook: “Imagine a kid who had never paid attention to guitar music flipping the channel to MTV and hearing the beginning of Nirvana’s breakthrough single— those four sloppy, imprecise chords that always, especially upon first listen, sounded like they were leading to something gloriously cacophonous.”
Why it’s Great: This series reads like the type of movie that hits so hard, you know it will sweep awards like a broom. You’ll basically feel like you followed the subjects around with a boom mic for months after reading, and the tear-jerking stories will stay with you. Please the Roger Ebert of the group with this Pulitzer-prize winner.
The Hook: “Michael is 17 and gay, though his mother still cries and asks, ‘Are you sure?’ He’s pretty sure. He’s just not sure how to be gay in rural Oklahoma.”
Why it’s Great: Benedict Arnold has nothing on Adam Gadahn: the first man to be convicted of treason in the U.S. in over a half-century. This tale of a heavy-metal-obsessed-teen-turned-terrorist moves from zero to sixty pretty quickly, and is chock full of those dark corners that will keep any reader guessing. If you know anybody obsessed with sensational TV-news stories, this will keep them glued for hours.
The Hook: “‘An Invitation to Islam’ allowed Americans to observe Gadahn at length. For nearly , he urged the people of the United States to discard their myriad religious and political beliefs, adopt an uncompromising form of Islam, and ‘join the winning side’.”
Why it’s Great: If you’re a novice with sports, but a lover of words, you’ll love this look at famous tennis player, Roger Federer. It might also inspire you to pick up a racket, and serve this one to your one polar-opposite friend who loves sports, but hates reading. Go forth and create your common ground.
The Hook: “It was like something out of The Matrix. I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.”
Why it’s Great: After you’re done his piece on Roger Federer, double your dose of David Foster Wallace by continuing onto “Host.” This quintessential piece follows a night in the life of John Ziegler, late night radio host, and concocter of ridiculous and politically-incorrect opinions. Gift this one to that person who will flout their NPR passion, but whose guilty pleasure might involve something a little more reminiscent of Howard Stern.
The Hook: “‘We’re not perfect, we suck a lot of the time, but we are better as a people, as a culture, and as a society than they are, and we need to recognize that, so that we can possibly begin to deal with the evil we are facing.’”
Why it’s Great: Ever want to go back to the times when your biggest issue was not winning a board game? Then, you’ve found your time capsule through this story of 10-year-old, Colin Duffy. It is a Sunday morning read meant to be enjoyed over a cup of coffee on a nice day. Give this to somebody who just needs to relax and take it down a notch.
The Hook: “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks. We would wear shorts, big sneakers, and long, baggy T-shirts depicting famous athletes, every single day, even in the winter.”
Why it’s Great: While you may be familiar with the premise already because of the film, Hunter S. Thompson’s writing is the real star of the show. This piece of journalism doesn’t read like an article, and yes, the facts are a little fuzzy. But it’s full of dialogue and action, and there’s a reason it made it all the way to Hollywood. Discuss this at length with your edgy-writer friends; they will love you for it.
The Hook: “The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.”
Why it’s Great: Fun fact: Gay Talese never spoke a word to Frank Sinatra, and yet wrote a profile on him. The even more fun fact: It turned out to be one of the greatest stories Talese ever penned. By the time you get to the end of this, you’ll feel like Frank Sinatra was a part of your everyday life, even though he was most likely dead before you hit kindergarten. Plus, the scenes Talese includes will transport you right back to the time they actually happened. Consider this timeless classic your crowd-pleaser.
The Hook: “As Sinatra sang these words, though he has sung them hundreds and hundreds of times in the past, it was suddenly obvious to everyone in the studio that something quite special must be going on inside the man, because something quite special was coming out. He was singing now, cold or no cold, with power and warmth…”