Best American Magazine Writing 2002


A treasury of great magazine pieces drawn from the winners of and finalists for the prestigious National Magazine Awards

In the world of magazines, no recognition is more highly coveted than an "Ellie," the National Magazine Award presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors. This is the magazine equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Nominees and winners are chosen by hundreds of editors, educators, and art directors from more than a ...

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A treasury of great magazine pieces drawn from the winners of and finalists for the prestigious National Magazine Awards

In the world of magazines, no recognition is more highly coveted than an "Ellie," the National Magazine Award presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors. This is the magazine equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Nominees and winners are chosen by hundreds of editors, educators, and art directors from more than a thousand submissions. These selections are among the very best of those.

The Best American Magazine Writing anthology puts between the covers of a single book some of the most outstanding writing by some of the most eminent writers in this country.

"My Father's Brain"
Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker

"The Crash of EgyptAir 990"
William Langewiesche, The Atlantic Monthly

"Inside the Battle at Qala-i-Jangi"
Alex Perry, Time Magazine

"Dr. Daedalus"
Lauren Slater, Harper's Magazine

"Salt Chic"
Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue

"Playing God on No Sleep"
Anna Quindlen, Newsweek

"Sullivan's Travels"
Michael Wolff, New York Magazine

Anne Fadiman, The American Scholar

And much more! Brilliant and illuminating, this book is for anyone who appreciates magazine writing and journalism at their highest level.

The American Society of Magazine Editors is the professional organization for editors of consumer magazines that are edited, published, and sold in the United States. It sponsors the National Magazine Awards in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The "Ellie" awards-the magazine equivalent of newspaper reporting's Pulitzers-are granted annually by the American Society of Magazine Editors to celebrate excellence in a variety of genres of magazine writing: reporting, features, profiles, commentary, criticism and fiction. Thus this third annual volume, which reprints some 19 finalist or winning entries, covers a remarkable range of topics and modes of treatment. Tom Junod's "Gone," about three Americans kidnapped in the Ecuadorian jungle, is a nail-biting cliffhanger and suggests miniseries possibilities, while Anne Fadiman's account of moving from the city to the country seems endlessly re-readable, embodying the essay form at its timeless best. Some of the pieces, like Mark Levine's "Killing Libby," an account of asbestos contamination, suggest future book-length treatment, while others, such as Jonathan Franzen's "My Father's Brain," have already been incorporated into other works (i.e., The Corrections). The most topical entries-e.g., William Langewiesche's depiction of the 1999 crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, Alex Perry's account of fighting in Afghanistan, Amy Wallace's profile of Variety editor Peter Bart, and Ken Auletta's study of Ted Turner-seem dated, while some more obscure entries-e.g., Lauren Slater's profile of a plastic surgeon, Steve Rushin's analysis of German drag racing, and Caitlin Flanagan's "Confessions of a Prep School College Counselor"-remain fresh and piquant. E.L. Doctorow's story about a murderous widow, the only fiction entry here, is a gem. While the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker and Esquire are predictably well represented, even constant readers of these magazines will appreciate having some of their best pieces in a more lasting format. Agent, David McCormick. (On sale Oct. 15) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060515720
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/15/2002
  • Series: Best American Magazine Writing Series
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.15 (d)

First Chapter


Tom Junod


The first American they met when they came out of the jungle? That's easy. It was a shrink. Of course it was. They spent 141 days with guns stuck up their asses. They were in dire and sweltering and abject captivity. They ate practically nothing but cat food and rice unless the occasional rat or snake happened by. They all lost significant percentages of their own precious mass, starting with body fat and eating into muscle. They all grew these huge, luxuriant beards. They had pieces of their flesh rotting away. They itched to the point of insanity. They all stunk to high heaven. Who else is going to meet them but the fellow dispatched to make them feel better about themselves? Who else is going to meet them -- in Ecuador, of all places! -- but the American hired to preach what they, as Americans, presumably were dying to hear, which was that healing and closure were just around the corner? Luckily, they didn't have to talk to him if they didn't want to. Luckily, they got to go home, to the little town of Gold Hill, Oregon, before they met with the counseling profession. When they got there, they couldn't tie their shoes; they found themselves getting lost on streets they had known most of their lives; they had to go to doctors because of the weird microbial shit that was still crawlingly alive inside of them; they found themselves crying when they looked at the sky and crying when they watched television and crying for no good reason at all; they were scared to be alone in the woods; and finally they looked around at the homes whose memory had sustained them against the punishing vagaries of time and distanceand said to themselves the dread, unspeakable words: I don't even belong here. And you know what? The shrinks weren't too bad, once you got to know them. They tried hard. But you know what else? You know the shrinks' own secret? They were just like everybody else. They just wanted to know what happened, because they hadn't been there. They just wanted to hear the story. They just wanted to know what it was like.

* * *

But what was it like? Well, the thing was, they were all from the same town, the same company -- Erickson Air-Crane Inc., of Central Point, Oregon -- and they all went through the same basic experience, but it was very different for all three of them. Arnie Alford was very emotional about it. Jason Weber was very angry. And Steve Derry -- well, Steve was like someone who looks into the terrible teeming heart of all existence and then has to behold that image whenever he looks at anything else.

What was it like for Arnie? The short answer is that it was like the episode with the gusano, because the episode with the gusano was when they all realized not only that they were in the jungle but that the jungle was somehow in them. Gusano means "worm," by the way. They were nine days in, nine days of the eventual 141. They were kidnapped on October 12, 2000, plucked in the wee hours from the clearing in the Ecuadoran jungle where they worked on Erickson's helicopters. They had been marched through the jungle at gunpoint. They slept on the ground until nine days in, when they were given some material for hammocks. That first night in his hammock, Arnie felt something nail him in the back of the neck, more like a slap than a bite. He figured he got stung and that whatever stung him left its stinger in. He tried to squeeze it out, but it wasn't going anywhere. Then it began swelling up. Then it grew into a lump on his neck. Then, after about a month, the lump began to move. He showed it to his captors, this band of self styled guerrillas who called themselves "the ninjas of the jungle' " Ali, gusano, they said. The head ninja, the commandant, who was nothing but a freaking witch doctor, tried to fashion some sort of jungle remedy by blowing the smoke of his constant cigarette into a piece of gauze, then applying the gauze to Arnie's neck. When that didn't work, he just blew smoke directly into the lump, and when that didn't work, well, the commandant just squeezed as hard as he could, until finally this creature popped out, writhing on his finger, two knuckles long and alive. And that's what the kidnapping was like for Arnie Alford, if only because out of all the hostages -- all eight of them -- Arnie had, shall we say, the most symbiotic relationship with the jungle, and because it was through Arnie's poor trespassed person that the whole terrible situation revealed an almost miraculous capacity for getting worse.

Steve Derry? What was it like for Steve? Well, Steve is the quietest of all the guys from Gold Hill -- he rarely greets the most outrageous or unexpected turn of fortune with anything more than "I'll be darned" -- but also the funniest, so when you ask him, say, what monkey tastes like, he'll pause a few beats, and then answer in his Oregon deadpan, "Monkey," and then start laughing, a laugh so infectiously bitter and sardonic that it sounds almost sinister. But that's what captivity was like for Steve: It was like the taste of monkey. It was nonpareil. It was sui generis. He's an outdoorsman, Steve is, a hunter and fisherman, and he was used to spending long stretches of time alone in the splendor of nature, but he saw and heard shit in that jungle that he had never heard or seen before, and hopes never to hear or see again. A sloth, for example: He had the chance to see it close up, because the ninjas shook it down from its branch, then beat it to death, right in front of the hostages, as a display of their power. Then they ate it for dinner. It tasted like ... sloth.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2002. Copyright © by Patricia Hermes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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