The Best Stories I Read in 2015

I told myself I’d read 15 books in 2015. I ended up only reading 10, mostly because I took a novels course in the spring. I felt a little bad after not meeting the goal of the only New Year’s resolution I made this year.

But I’d like to think I made up for it in the articles and various other forms of writing that I read, though they weren’t in book form. To be a better writer, you need to read a lot, and this year I kept up with the news and read those things that for too long have sat unread on my bookmarks list.

2015 was also the year I became addicted to Medium, the blogging platform that lets anyone tell their story. This year, I often found myself spending way too much time browsing this site, finding stories of all kinds — some inspiring, some clever, some heartbreaking.

I know a story has resonated with me when I’ve done more than bookmark it. I’ll send it to my family and friends and then bring it up in conversation, asking if they’ve read it. These are the stories that I think about from time to time, the ones that stay with me, the ones that inspire me to be a better writer.

Here are a few stories that really resonated with me this year.

  1. “A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future” by Amy Harmon

This was probably my favorite piece of the year, and an incredible piece of science journalism. It tells the story of Kim Suozzi, who died of cancer at age 23. Her last wish was to have her brain preserved, with the help of her boyfriend Josh. This story has everything for me: a clear explanation of the science behind it, a discussion of the ethics surrounding the issue, as well as anecdotes that drew me in.

It was impossible to know on that cloudless Arizona morning in January 2013 which fragments of Kim’s identity might survive, if any. Would she remember their first, fumbling kiss in his dorm room five years earlier? Their private jokes and dumb arguments? The seizure, the surgery, the fancy neuroscience fellowship she had to turn down?

More than memories, Josh, then 24, wished for the crude procedure to salvage whatever synapses gave rise to her dry, generous humor, compelled her to greet every cat she saw with a high-pitched “helllooo,” and inspired her to write him poems.

2. “The Really Big One” by Kathryn Schulz

One of the best and most highly acclaimed pieces of long form journalism of the year. You should take the time to sit down and be totally drawn into this story that explains the inevitable earthquake that is coming to the Pacific Northwest, and includes stuff like this:

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

3. “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans Try to Save One Another” by Dave Philipps

We know there is a high suicide rate for veterans returning from duty, but do we know what this is like, or how they feel? This story begins to tell what that might be like.

“When the suicides started, I felt angry,” Matt Havniear, a onetime lance corporal who carried a rocket launcher in the war, said in a phone interview from Oregon. “The next few, I would just be confused and sad. Then at about the 10th, I started feeling as if it was inevitable — that it is going to get us all and there is nothing we could do to stop it.”

4. “Split Image” by Kate Fagan

Everyone was talking about this story when it was published in May, and for good reason. I couldn’t stop reading this incredibly well-written piece about Madison Holleran, a college athlete who took her own life after struggling in college, a life that contrasted what her social media accounts portrayed. Not only did I feel like I knew Madison, but I thought about what this story can say about the larger problems regarding social media in general, and thought about how everyone, no matter how picture perfect their Facebook posts are, may be fighting their own personal battle.

A little over a year before she died, Madison posted on Instagram a snapshot of a quote from Seventeen magazine:

“Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult.”

The image had been put through a filter.

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