Further reading: Best of 2021, Part One: Readers’ Picks

Like its predecessor, 2021 may not have been the year that any of us hoped. But amidst the bad, the broken, and the baffling, our writers sought and succeeded to chronicle all that and more: the joy of discovering something new (or old), the catharsis of a grief well observed, the unending weariness of the rest of it.

Here, our writers present the piece that was their favorite of the year, listed below in order of publication day, along with a sentence or two describing why they thought this piece represented their best of 2021.

Is It the Supply Chain, or Is Mercury in Retrograde? | Julianna Knot
You decide to call your grandparents, who tell you that not being able to get extra sauce packets at Chick-fil-A is evidence of America’s decline as a superpower.

How the Cheese Used to Get Made | Christina Ribbens
This one was just fun—it prompted some deeper, existential questions but I chose to avoid answering those and, to quote myself, just be “unselfconsciously jazzed.”

Our Actual Lives | Ansley Kelly
This theme keeps coming around, circling my days, and always feels important on the step of a new year.

Our Insecurities, As Told to Spotify | Comfort Sampong
I’m proud of my commitment to a wild vision of a piece constructed entirely from Spotify playlist titles, and of how the resulting collective vulnerability creates a shelter for readers, including myself.

Unmoored | Alex Johnson
My heart, shabby and unruly, is on complete display in this piece, and I’m proud of how I encapsulated my current engagement with faith. Plus who doesn’t love another “Footprints in the Sand” rendition?

The Muddy Clarity of Suspension | Ben Orlebeke
I don’t know if it was my best necessarily, but it was different for me and let me talk about something I usually keep to myself.

It Kindly Stopped for Me | Susannah Boersma
I think I did a good job of capturing a widely shared experience without coming up with a “solution” to magically solve the difficulty of mourning.

Epiphany and After | Josh Parks
I wrote this on a cross-country car ride, feeling incapable of writing about the Capitol insurrection but powerless to think of anything else. The final product feels right.

What If Nobody Is Out There | Gwyneth Findlay
I’ve become more invested in various aspects of astronomy and cosmology this year, but I’m still hung up on the question of our cosmic consequence.

I Was Wrong About Taylor Swift | Philip Rienstra
This piece was my audition piece and I worked very hard on it, plus it’s about music so it combines my two main interests (or at least my two majors).

Final Rest | Klaas Walhout
I feel I was concise and direct, wrote from a perspective of gratitude, and that this comes through to the reader.

Ghost of Days Unlived | Olivia Harre
Writing this piece allowed me to put words to something I ruminate over a lot—how would my life be different if I made other choices—and I was encouraged to see it resonated with other people too.

In the Dirt | Courtney Zonnefeld
I’ve wanted to write about gardening for ages, and I’m deeply proud of how this piece’s imagery and structure grew (heh) out of my personal history, current experiences, and reading habits.

Leave Women Alone: Some Opinions On Pregnancy | Katie Van Zanen
Writing this was cathartic for me, and I was delighted to see it felt cathartic for others as well! Every time I read a panicked news article about the declining birth rate, reproductive rights battles, or the rising costs of raising children I think about this piece and its readers. May all their nosy relatives advocate for affordable childcare policies instead.

Between Me and God | Laura Sheppard Song
The words in this piece had been brewing in me for over a decade, and I’m proud to have been able to write them in a way that let others into my story and invited them to share theirs.

Retrospect | Ben DeVries
Aside from being, I think, one of my stronger posts this year, this essay provided the occasion to have a conversation with my grandparents about family and history that I’d been meaning to have for years now.

Signs of Spring | Lillie Spakman
The God I know is not always the one I see reflected in the Church, but he is certainly big enough to sit with me in my doubts, fears, and perpetually unanswered questions; I would like to think this piece reflects that.

The Pessimist’s Guide to the Graduate Seminar | Chad Westra
I genuinely had fun writing this piece and it reminded me not to take myself too seriously in grad school.

Tell the Bees | Emily Joy Stroble
This piece expressed a particularly meaningful time in the last year, a time when I was experiencing a lot of change. From the comments and reactions, I think others must have felt the resonance of this piece, too. In the end, we write to be read. So, sharing this story in community made the piece more meaningful.

Remembering New England | Kayleigh Fongers
Among other revelations, writing this piece reminded me of who I am and also who I hope to be.

Neon Sea Creatures and the In-Between | Mitchell Barbee
I spent five years trying to bring this idea to life and was proud to finally complete it.

In Defense of Brutalism | Joshua Polanski
Brutalism rocks!

Lewis Sagacity for the Subastral Sojourner | Natasha (Strydhorst) Unsworth
Reluctant as I’ve been to share personal experiences in my writing (I am an academic, after all, and journalism school is particularly strict on this point), I’ve learned (from the same school) that narratives are the most memorable of communications, and this one has even been cathartic, which is why it’s my favorite: it had an effect on me as writer, and could perhaps affect another as reader.

Worse Angels | Annaka Koster
They never told me in grad school how many absurd stories I collect working in a library. This one has an extra special place in my heart thanks to the coworker who told me that she showed this piece to her husband to give him a sense of what her job is like, to which he responded, “Wait, that’s a true story?”

In Defense of YA | Anna Jeffries VanZytveld
I really put some vim and vigor into this one, and I do adore critical theory as much as I adore YA.

Voicemails | Jon Gorter
I loved writing this article; it had me re-listening to some heartwarming voicemails and remembering how lucky I am to have the family I do.

Live to Tell the Tale | Kyric Koning
Last time I did this I also picked my January piece, so continuing in that vein I like to start matters evocatively, and this piece encourages people to confront vulnerability and reflect on darker, intimate, and personal themes (which we could all use a little more of, honestly).

x-s | Cotter Koopman
I love hearing why people are drawn to their hobbies or fixations, whether or not it’s deep to them. This one of mine has grown since, but this explainer still rings true to me. I’m stitching LED displays now, and I’m in season 6 of TNG!

The Heresy of U.S. Exceptionalism | Katerina Parsons


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