Summer Reading Series X: One-of-a-Kind Stories

Sometime on Saturday the Earth’s equatorial plane will appear to tilt away from the sun and welcome its rays more southward, signaling the autumnal equinox for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Which means the summer of our Reading Series is about to end. We close with a National Magazine Award category known as One-of-a-Kind, stories particularly unique within the magazine craft.

And, if you have read all thirty award-winning stories we anthologized in our online reading series this season, congratulations! You’ve clearly had a fulfilling summer and you’re ready for the leaves to change!

1.Adrift on the Nileby Paul Wilson in The Walrus (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2011)
A year and a half later, what began in Tahrir Square in Cairo (after it began in Tunisia) seems not yet to have run its full course. Paul Wilson was there when the new liberation movement erupted in Egypt in 2011, and while demonstrations across the Arab world are once again dominating headlines, this National Magazine Award-winning story is worth revisiting, especially given the author’s keens senses of place, scale and history.

“And so began a hair-raising dash through the traffic swirling around Tahrir Square, Phillip always a few paces ahead of me. It was Friday, and another large demonstration had taken place that afternoon; now it was evening, the crowd had thinned, and the atmosphere was more relaxed. A line of skinny kids who looked about twelve years old filed by to the rhythmic beating of an oil drum. Their faces were painted red, white, and black—the colours of the Egyptian flag. ‘Welcome!’ ” [Read more]

2.The Lizard, the Catacombs & the Clockby Sean Michaels in Brick (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2010)
The intoxicating story of the underground labyrinths of Paris and the cataphiles who spelunk within them, Sean Michaels explores one of the more mysterious sides of the world’s most-visited city.

Parisians call it a gruyère. For hundreds of years, the catacombs under the city have been a conduit, sanctuary, and birthplace for its secrets. The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables’ Jean Valjean both haunted these tunnels, striking students descended in 1968, as did patriots during the Second World War. The Nazis visited too, building a bunker in the maze below the 6th arrondissement. [Read more]

3.Driving Mary Seigelby Chris Koentges in Swerve (Silver, One-of-a-Kind, 2008)
Chris Koentges is a three-time winner in this category and any of his pieces is worth a good long look, but this story in particular is topical since it recounts the author’s trip across the United States of America in the summer and fall of 2008, trying to figure out what made its ordinary citizens so hopeful about a presidential candidate named Barack Obama.

“From an SUV, someone yelled ‘Obama guy.’ I pretended to ignore it, waiting for the lights to change. ‘Hey, Obama guy!’ There was this goading Phillip Seymour Hoffman inflection, and this similar kind of concentration in his face. He had flown in from L.A. because Southern Florida—the battleground—was what he wanted to remember 50 years from now. He spoke about watching the 2000 election on TV, about the fact that he and I simply being here was enough to break the karmic loop.” [Read more]

Keep reading! The National Magazine Awards digital archive is open all year long: magazine-awards.com/archive. Or get it in eBook form for your iPad.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry | Best Short Feature | Arts & Entertainment | Profiles

Photograph of Tahrir Square courtesy Roger LeMoyne

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