Readers of The Nervous Breakdown did a tremendous job these last two weeks distilling the impressive harvest of what was a vintage year of TNB to five stand-out drafts; the final quintet, I submit, is, as they phrase it at the better MFA programs, pretty fucking good.

At the risk of making the many worthy writers of the many superlative pieces not included herein feel bad, I’d like to, in my capacity as senior editor, submit my own list of my eleven favorite posts of 2011.

A few caveats:

— These are presented in alphabetical order by title, and I’m not including interviews, book reviews, or excerpts

— Although I tried, I didn’t read every single post, and there’s probably great stuff that escaped my attention

— I wrote this two weeks ago, so anything posted in that time period wasn’t eligible (I’m talking to you, Gary Socquet)

Here goes:


“Ask the Dust, Vol. 29,” J. Angelus Dust

That the weekly rants of TNB’s enigmatic “literary advice columnist” (whatever that means)—not to mention his comment-replies, as filtered through that headset-wearing object of Jonathan Evison’s fascination that is Fabian—were a consistent highlight of 2011 is, I think (and to borrow a word from The Dust’s John Holmesian lexis) axiomatic.  I’m singling out this installment because I think the phrase “up to the hilt in Rachel Uchitel” is the single funniest line to ever appear on these hallowed pages.


“DC Metro,” Sean Beaudoin

Spare, economical piece that proves Sean had a lot more fun in Fugazi-era Washington than I ever did.  Memo to Mr. Bode-When: write a fucking memoir already.  Or a novel along these lines.  Please.  Just do it.


“Earthquake,” Zara Potts

Powerful, powerful stuff.  Wasn’t it nicer when Zara wrote about broken hearts rather than broken cities?  Wasn’t it just.


“Just a Simigary,” Steve Sparshott

Arguably the best post of the year, a master class in how to reveal devastating information—in this case, the cause of Sparshott’s disability—in an avalanche of humor.  A wonderful piece of writing.


“Light My Fire,” Robin Antalek

Written way back in January, the ending of this gem of a memoir piece about a creepy crank caller still gives me chills.


“The Lion and the Mouse,” Gina Frangello

Gina has written four pieces about her father.  These are four of the best pieces in the annals of TNB.  John Frangello makes that Shit My Dad Says guy look like a cliché wrapped in a leaf of nebbish.  A cent’anni!


“Love and Surrender in a Likeable World,” Elizabeth Eslami

Evenhanded and much more dispassionate than I could ever be when discussing the author of The Corrections, Eslami takes on Jonathan Franzen, who has traded in Facebook for A Birdwatcher’s Guide to North America.


“Our Sexy Bodies are Being Undervalued!”, Zoe Zolbrod

I love when Zoe writes about parenting.  I love when she writes about gender issues.  I love when she writes about sex vis a vis our culture.  I love when she’s funny.  This one has all four.


“Possible Title,” Brad Listi

My first two thoughts when I started reading this: 1) Save it, Brad!  Don’t blow this great stuff on a series of web posts!  This is a book, dude!, and, 2) Wow, David Shields’s head just exploded.  Of course, 1) If it’s a book, Brad will publish it himself, so no harm no foul, and 2) Like Kourtney Kardashian’s second pregnancy, said cranial explosion was bound to happen eventually; it was only a matter of time. It’s easy to forget that Helmsman Listi is a really good writer; this extended post serves as a reminder that, like that Hair Club For Men guy, Brad’s not just the founding editor, he’s also a contributor.


“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” D.R. Haney

A worthy winner, and the only post that ever compelled me to write a 1,000-word comment.


 “A Year’s Worth of Awesome Life-Affirming Facebook Status Updates from an Illiterate Alcoholic Who Bullied Me Back in Junior High,” Justin Benton

I’m a big Justin Benton fan.  Not sure how he does it, but he always manages to find some new angle, some new topic to write about (the decline of rollerblading, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, porn star Amazon wish lists) that never would have occurred to me.  Now that Brad has let the cat out of the proverbial bag that he and Justin are working on a book, I can publicly state that I’m really, really, really looking forward to it.

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GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

72 responses to “This One Goes to Eleven: My 11 Favorite Posts of ’11”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Well done, Greg. I too loved Sean’s “DC Metro” but going back and trying to remember everything was rough going. I completely missed Robin’s post, so this was as much a reading guide as a commemoration of fine writing.

  2. Ah! Snubbed again!

    Although I don’t actually recall writing anything this year beside my piece on the Royal Wedding… I suppose my only option now is to either brutally murder the other TNBers, and then write a heartbreaking prison memoir…

    And I think even then it would be exceptionally difficult to best my fellow Englishman, Steve. As numerous school reports have mine have read in the past I ‘must try harder next year…’

    • Don Mitchell says:

      How about “not working to full potential?”

    • Greg Olear says:

      Jedi, that one was tied for twelfth place.

      And Don, oh shit, was the one about the nuke from 2011? See, this is hard!

      • I can live with that.

        To be honest I still find it somewhat baffling that my writing appears alongside some of this stuff.

        Don’s nuke piece feels like a long time ago, although it was up on the ‘guess the writer’ feature fairly recently. It certainly remains one of my absolute favourites.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        “Nuclear Families” is from 2010, and I think it’s my own favorite also.

        But I admire all of Greg’s selections, although maybe Sean’s the most — because it triggered every imaginable “oh shit how would I get out of that one” response in me. Every one. The feeling of impending doom as the party got started in that house, oh yeah. I did enjoy all the others, but Sean’s rocked me.

  3. Gary Socquet says:

    I dig every last one of those essays, Greg, and I greatly appreciate the mention. Not for nothing, but in four years of college I never once turned an assignment in on time, so missing a cut-off is familiar territory. It’s one of the two things for which I’m modestly famous.

  4. In an ideal vote, I would have selected these pieces you mentioned and Leslie Jamison’s “Rehearsals” and Emily Rapp’s “There is a Monster at the End of This Book” and any piece by JMB or Litsa Dremousis. And if there were comment thread awards, I’d cast in for Becky, Gloria and several others. Plus, Sean Beautiful Duane’s self-interview early this year. Choosing is a conundrum.

  5. Yes, it’s been a great year for TNB. Comments died down for a bit, but have returned, and the quality of posts never seemed to leave. “Just a Simigary” is one for the ages. If TNB ever puts out an anthology of the best of the best of whatever, that one couldn’t go overlooked.

    • I propose a TNB ‘Best of British’ anthology… We could all write essays on various ways in which to prepare and consume offal…

      • You know, that’s not an offal idea…

      • Years ago in Frankfurt I ate a dish containing so many different organs I christened it The Slaughterhouse Five. I left some of the mashed spud and sauerkraut, that stuff’s a bit gross.

        • That reminds me of one of my favourite moments in Fraiser, where Martin forgives Niles after he purchases ‘The Slaughterhouse Five’. ‘Well, they don’t make a slaughter house four…’ (or something like that).

          I like German food. It is remarkably similar to British food in places. And they do a good steak…

          • Oh no! I just Googled “Frazier slaughterhouse” – it was a gift basket containing five kinds of meat! I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it…but maybe I did, and I Chegwinned (Chegwon?) the joke.

            • It’s too late now— I’ve already filed a plagiarism claim on NBC’s behalf, and submitted the relevant evidence…

              In stand up there is a slight issue around ‘parallel thinking’ i.e. two comics coming up with the same joke. I mean it’s really basic wordplay, and I don’t think it would be impossible, in this case, to claim you thought of it independently. You speak English, you’re familiar with Vonnegut, and you’ve got a lot of meat in your plate… all the ingredients for hilarity are already there…

              Cheggers strays away from that arguement not only by wholesale theft, but then admitting his theft and telling everyone to bugger off. Which is, in it’s own strange way, almost admirable. I don’t think for a moment that you can be compared to everybody’s favourite nude gameshow host…

              Incidentally, I’m very much enjoying the increasing number of comments I’m exchanging with you and David which have absolutely no reference points to the largely American comment community…

    • Thanks David! I’ve been surprised by the positive reception for Simigary; it’s long, rambling, mildly experimental…and questionably-titled.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Greg, thank you for including my piece on your list. I was so happy to be included in the top five and and am just as happy to find myself on your list! Thank you. It was a truly strange piece to write. It just flew out of me a day after I fled the earthquake ravaged city. I think it was my way of making some sense out of an absolutely chaotic and terrifying event. Looking back on it (the piece) I see phrases I wish I’d reworked and sentences I would like to change, but even now- as I read it again, it takes me back to those awful, awful moments. The city itself is still in need of help. It looks nothing like the city I grew up in. I find it heartbreaking to see and one day soon I will write about it again. Meantime, my heart is happier than its ever been! So much so, that it’s hard to find the words. Here’s to 2012 and no more broken anything…
    Oh, and I loved all those pieces too… I’m so glad you mentioned DC Metro. It was a stand out. Totes (my homage to Kim Kardashian just for you!)

  7. Gloria says:

    Greg, I agree wholeheartedly with these picks. Sparshott, Listi, and The Dust were definitely snubbed.

  8. Thank you, Mr. Olear–from my father, too . . . that is if he had any idea I had ever written about him at all, which would no doubt send him into a coronary of embarrassment, which isn’t a good thing when you’re 90, so thank Christ he’s never touched a computer and that my mom knows how to keep a secret like nobody’s business.

    Some very fine pieces on this list! Hey, I know it’s 2 months away but I’m getting SO excited to see you at AWP! Have a great winter break with the fam. xx.

  9. D.R. Haney says:

    I would’ve thought you would name this piece “Olear’s Eleven.”

    As I told you on the phone, I can’t remember the third of the three pieces I nominated. I made up a list, not unlike this one, and I remember most of the titles, I think, and I remember voting for two of them, but I can’t remember the third. I do remember all of the interview posts I voted for, though.

    Thanks for the inclusion here. I was never sure that anyone had read that piece beyond those who commented. You know, it was long, and it concerned movies that many people may not have seen, and I thought some might view it as elitist or argumentative or somesuch. So it really was nice that…but as I’m potentially veering into Sally Field territory, I should shut up.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Movies people haven’t seen? Like “Star Wars”? Ha!

      You’re right; Olear’s Eleven is a better title. Damn it all.

      I have caught your grippe, BTW. This is Day Three of Not Eating Food. All I want for Christmas is a proper meal.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        On top of the grippe, which has taken a long time to go away (I’m still sneezing and coughing, and my voice hasn’t entirely returned), I’ve had food poisoning for the last two days. I’m now trying to introduce food back into my system. Every bite and spoonful feels like it may lead to a potential upchuck.

        • My voice sounds very strange at present. I don’t like to gripe in the face of more severe suffering, but I do have rather crippling throat ailment that makes breathing quite painful. My voice louds like the ‘comedy’ voice breaking you see on TV sometimes. I sound ridiculous…

          I am however grateful that I can at least eat.

          I wish you both the speediest of speey recoveries.

    • Olear’s Eleven? I love it.

  10. pixy says:

    dear greg:

    i love and agree with this post. all of it.
    i like how it’s a super-TNB-y post about super TNB posts.

    that’s all.


  11. zoe zolbrod says:

    I’m bleary-eye computer tired, but I that didn’t stop me from reading every post on this list that passed me by. And I’m thrilled to be included as one of the eleven. Thank you, Greg.

    Two posts that have really stuck with me and that I haven’t seen rounded up are Gloria’s “Sodom and Gomorrah” and one called “The Polish Lover,” or something like that, by someone named, maybe, Siri…. Bleary eyed. But I can still recall images and feelings from those two posts. There’s so much good stuff here it boggles the mind and hinders the workday, that’s for sure.

    • Yes, Siri Zernand Müller is another contributor whose posts should be revisited, “The Polish Lover” and “Good News” in particular.

      Likewise your post, Zoe, on the Penn State scandal, though I have a hometurf bias.

    • Greg Olear says:

      If it weren’t this one, it would have been another. You were a shoe-in for sure. (Although the one you wrote for my blog is my favorite!).

      Yes, yes, so much good stuff. These lists, I don’t know…

  12. Hey — I’m honored to be here among some of my fave posts of 2011! New Year’s Resolution: get back to regular posting at TNB! I miss it here!

  13. Dana says:

    Well done, Greg.

    Of course even while refreshing myself on these pieces, I remembered other pieces by Gloria, Quenby, Simon, Erika, Joe, Irene, etc etc etc. I want to give everyone a prize! Everything for everyone, everywhere! God bless us everyone.

  14. Dana says:

    YES! JMB! He had some terrific stuff, and Jeffrey Pillow on being a new papa. Darci and Stacie. I just love it here. If TNBu had recipes and more pictures I probably could stop surfing the net entirely.

  15. Whoa. OK. Gosh, crikey, thank you Greg and everyone else. I only manage to read a tiny percentage of the vast quantity of quality writing that appears here; of the twenty browser tabs I have open, ten are TNB pages – eight “To read”s and two “To comment”s. So I’m only just catching up with Gina and Sean’s monsterpieces, among others.

    Of the stories I managed to read this year, my favourite was Joe Daly’s “Tobin”, a fantastic piece of family history. I’m glad he scored big with his Duff interview.

  16. rob roberge says:

    Great list, Greg! Some I’ve already had the pleasure of reading most–the rest, I suspect, will save me later today while sneaking off to a back room to read them to avoid the rage and bile of my incredibly angry drunken father in law. Who hates the world. And likes the world just a little more than me.

    Thanks for the great job–Greg-and everyone on the list.

    • rob roberge says:

      Meaning, he hates me more than he hates the rest of the world…not that I hate the world more…sloppy…but no one hates like Angry Drunk Dad. It would be difficult to reach his level.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Hey, thanks so much for including my Franzen piece, Greg! Or “Los Angeles Times bestselling author,” which is how I generally refer to you. It’s a huge honor to be in such fine company.

    By the way, this marks the first and probably last time anyone has described me as “evenhanded.” I plan on milking that for all it’s worth. 🙂

    Happy holidays!

  18. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Thanks for the tip on the Gary Socquet piece. Also, I bought your book at my local bookstore on the boardwalk, where it was prominently displayed. I was pretty stoked about that. It’s a small shop and they have great taste.

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