Today’s proposition: pick up a copy of The Best American Magazine Writing 2009

Tonight you’ll find me curled up on a couch with a glass of wine and my new favourite thing, a collection of the finest 2009 examples of the magazine article, spread out page after page (no clicks required) in that most lush, tangible of forms: the book. I bought this book 90% because it looked interesting and 10% because I’d look sophisticated reading it on the morning train (OK, make that more like 80:20).

Also, with all this talk of print dying — and Crikey’s very own newspaper death watch page filling up fast — there’s something cockles-of-the-heart-warming about supporting good old print media. The articles in TBAMW 2009 are drawn from the winners and finalists of magazine writing’s version of the Oscars, the National Magazine Awards, or “Ellies”. And boy, are they good.

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I’m still dipping in and out of the book, but so far I’ve been particularly captivated by two very different tales of burdened genius. David Lipsky’s piece for Rolling Stone on the life of David Foster Wallace is a sad and lyrical portrait, with the black dog always nipping at the writer’s heels and ultimately consuming him. Writes Lipsky: “his life was a map that ends at the wrong destination.”

Papa, by Sean Flynn (which originally appeared in GQ), tackles life after death, specifically, the death of James Brown — and the people and destruction he left in his wake. The basic premise: if you live life like a drug-addled “sex machine”, your death will turn even the most simple five-page Last Will & Testament into a schemozzle. In fact, Brown sired so many kids that, in one of the article’s more surreal episodes, Brown’s genetically verified daughter, LaRhonda, chats through her idea for a TV reality show where contestants proclaiming to be Brown’s kids can gather on an island and, week by week, line up to be tested. If the DNA proves they’re not true blood, the wannabes are booted off the island:  “Papa’s got a brand new bag. Now get your things and get outta here.”

The back end of TBAMW 2009, meanwhile, is a handy resource, a guide to all of the articles nominated for Ellies for 2009, so if there’s an article you’re interested in and it’s not in the book, chances are you can Google it and find it online. Hmmm.

Details: Available from many reputable Australian bookshops, priced about $24.95

Each day, Crikey writers will suggest one thing to do for the night ahead, once you’ve clocked off from work and free time beckons. It might be a TV show to download, plonk to drink or an after-dark cemetery tour, but if we’re suggesting it, we’d like to think it’s a certified boredom killer. Got a Daily Proposition of your own? Email

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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