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Cognoscenti’s most-read stories of all time

Since 2012, Cognoscenti has published 4,800 pieces by some 1,100 authors. From Hillary Clinton’s shimmy to the case for cohousing, these are our 15 most-read pieces of all time. (Getty Images)
Since 2012, Cognoscenti has published 4,800 pieces by some 1,100 authors. From Hillary Clinton’s shimmy to the case for cohousing, these are our 15 most-read pieces of all time. (Getty Images)

How do you measure a decade of work?

“In daylights, in sunsets / In midnights, in cups of coffee”? as Jonathan Larson wrote.

For Cog, which published its very first piece on July 5, 2012, the answer might be in Red Sox World Series wins. Or presidential elections covered, Supreme Court nominations witnessed, Taylor Swift albums released, natural disasters survived.

There’s no one perfect way to sum up a decade. So, in this final post celebrating Cog's 10th anniversary, we’re relying on one of the starkest metrics in media: the sheer number of readers, audience favorites.

That’s what you’ll see below — our 15 most-read pieces of all time.

In this list, you’ll see reflected some of the biggest stories and themes from the last 10 years: the ongoing conversation about race in America; our reckoning with a global pandemic; the continued fight over women’s bodies (and women in politics); the enduring power of friendship; humans’ deep desire for community; stories of grief; and hope.

Sometimes our seasons of life are colored by the books and shows and music we’re consuming at the time. My time in Washington D.C., for example, is inextricably linked to my love for “The Wire.” I can’t think of my favorite vacation ever — a pre-kids trip to Greece with my husband — without thinking of Annie Dillard. I nursed my infant twin girls to many, many hours of “Parenthood.”

For me, this fall — which has included lots of reflection on Cognoscenti, what we’ve built and what the future holds — will forever be linked to Pamela Adlon’s show “Better Things.” The FX show didn’t draw “Game Of Thrones”-size audiences, not even close, but it was critically acclaimed, even in this era of HBO spectacle blockbusters. I love its intimate and authentic portrayal of family life. I love that it’s a pure articulation of Pamela Adlon’s creative vision — as the seasons progress, it feels more and more like she is unafraid of making a thing that is telegraphed directly from her heart and brain. There’s something affirming about witnessing someone so bravely allowing us to see their true selves.

A New York Times piece reviewing the show’s fifth and final season includes this line: “To care about someone, in ‘Better Things,’ is to see them honestly — even unsparingly — but also to exalt them. You help them find their light.”

In Cog’s own way, in our own little corner of the internet, I hope we’re doing something similar for our readers, listeners and writers.

Thanks for spending time with us these last 10 years.

-- Cloe Axelson


1. My Wife Died Of An Asthma Attack. If She'd Known About 'Peak Week,' She Might Have Survived

The third week of September is dangerous for asthma sufferers. It's when germs and allergens come together to make breathing particularly difficult. If only Peter DeMarco's wife Laura had known. (September 18, 2019)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Julio Cortez/AP)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Julio Cortez/AP)

2. Hillary Clinton's Shimmy Said It All

At the first debate, it became abundantly clear that Clinton stands a very good chance of becoming the first woman president. Joanna Weiss writes that is worthy of a little dance of joy. (September 27, 2016)

3. In The Company Of Women: The Pandemic Void Only My Girlfriends Can Fill

It would be terribly unfair and unwise to expect my male partner and young daughter to fill the enormous void regular contact with my girlfriends provides, writes Nicole Rodgers. (February 11, 2021)

The author and his son (Courtesy)
The author, Calvin Hennick, and his son. (Courtesy)

4. My Wife Is Black. My Son Is Biracial. But White Supremacy Lives Inside Me

To protect my son and other Black children, we must do the work of stamping out white supremacy where it lives: in our systems, and in ourselves, writes Calvin Hennick. (June 22, 2020)

5. 'I Promise. I Promise.' You Can't Cheat A Pandemic

We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse, writes Jonathan Smith. This is not an opinion. This is the unforgiving math. (April 3, 2020)

6. The Case For Cohousing: Where Responsibilities Are Shared And Life Is A Little Less Lonely

I live in a cohousing community, writes Ben Brock Johnson, and not only is it far from weird, I think it should be a lot more common. It’s like living amidst a brain trust, a flash mob, a grounds crew and a therapy group. (October 9, 2019)

“Today” show co-hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry at the “Today” show 60th anniversary celebration in 2012 in New York. (Evan Agostini/AP)
“Today” show co-hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry at the “Today” show 60th anniversary celebration in 2012 in New York. (Evan Agostini/AP)

7. At 'Today,' Ann Curry Wasn't The Problem — But She Could Be A Great Solution

NBC was right to fire Matt Lauer, but wrong to dump Curry. Now is the network's chance to right its wrong, writes Eileen McNamara. (November 30, 2017)

8. Comprehensive Social Distancing Is Difficult And Necessary. Here's How To Keep Your Family Safe

Here are some steps you can start taking now to keep your family safe and do your part to avoid a worsening crisis, writes Dr. Asaf Bitton. (March 14, 2020)

9. A Dual Degree From Oxford. A Medical Degree From Harvard. Neither Protected Me From Racism 

Frequent subtle and less-subtle messages betray the assumption that I’m lacking in smarts, untrustworthy or even a threat, writes Tafadzwa Muguwe. (June 18, 2020)

The White House is seen before sunrise, in Washington, Saturday, March 23, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)
The White House is seen before sunrise, in Washington, Saturday, March 23, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)

10. Don't Lose Hope. Be A Fanatical Optimist Instead

There is plenty of cause for despair, and rage, at the acquittal of Donald Trump, writes Steve Almond, but there is also cause for hope. (February 5, 2020)

11. Sure, Kate Middleton Looks Great — But Let’s Talk About What Giving Birth Really Does To Women’s Bodies

By focusing so much on the Duchess's flawless appearance, writes Cloe Axelson, we are distracted from the real trauma that is childbirth. (April 30, 2018)

12. I Have A Presumed Case Of COVID-19. This Is What The Past 10 Days Have Been Like 

I don't know for sure if I have the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, writes Kat Powers. But I do know that I feel miserable. (March 26, 2020)

No destination, no text, no drink, writes Shane Snowdon, is worth knowing that you have killed another human. Pictured: A "ghost bike" is placed in memory of Marcia Deihl, who was killed in a crash in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 11, 2015. (Rachel Zimmerman/WBUR)
No destination, no text, no drink, writes Shane Snowdon, is worth knowing that you have killed another human. Pictured: A "ghost bike" is placed in memory of Marcia Deihl, who was killed in a crash in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 11, 2015. (Rachel Zimmerman/WBUR)

13. 20 Years Ago, I Accidentally Struck And Killed A Cyclist

No destination, no text, no drink, writes Shane Snowdon, is worth knowing that you have killed another human. (March 7, 2017)

14. 'Stay Strong' and Other Useless Drivel We Tell The Grieving

Author Megan Devine discovered our culture's unwillingness to acknowledge grief after her partner died suddenly in 2009. (March 7, 2018)

Joni Mitchell posed in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972 (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns via Getty Images)
Joni Mitchell posed in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972 (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns via Getty Images)

15. Why 'A Case Of You' Is The Best Love Song Of All Time 

Joni Mitchell’s songs remain my lifelong companion, my provocations, my speed bumps, my streetlights, writes Julie Wittes Schlack, in this essay about the artist's 1971 classic, "A Case of You."  (February 12, 2021)

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Related:

Cloe Axelson Twitter Senior Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.

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Kathleen Burge Twitter Editor
Kathleen Burge is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.

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Sara Shukla Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Sara Shukla is a writer with work in Cognoscenti and LA Review of Books.

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