Best Of 2021: Reach Six Souls

On the last day of a long year, we re-recommend some of the writing that stuck with us long after we read it. You can also see some of our favourite facts and books from the year gone by here.

The Depths She’ll Reach

Xan Rice | Long Lead | 18th November 2021

Freediving is less a skill and more of a state of mind. "Divers don’t just need strength, flexibility, and extraordinary breath-hold ability, but also calmness, maturity, and self-knowledge. If they try too much, too soon, they are likely to burn out — or worse." The extraordinary athlete profiled here is like "milk in the water"; there is seemingly no limit to how deep she can go (7,291 words)

How To Survive A Six-Mile Fall

Dan Koeppel | Popular Mechanics | 14th February 2021

When you fall from from an aeroplane flying at 35,000 feet you will probably lose consciousness briefly due to lack of oxygen. When you come round, spread your arms and legs to increase air resistance, and pray there is something yielding on or close to the ground. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned free-fallers. Trees tend to skewer them. "Snow? Absolutely. Swamps? Awesome" (2,060 words)

How To Sell Your Soul To Satan

Anonymous | Hasty Reader | 1st May 2021

Satire with a sting in the tail. "Now that the terms have been agreed, and the blood has dried, what can you expect from your new working relationship with Mr. Satan? Devils are surprisingly good contract partners. They always respect the contract to the letter and uphold their part of the bargain. If they promised you wealth, fame and knowledge, that’s what you’ll get" (2,700 words)

The Traveller And His Baggage

Alan Bellows | Damn Interesting | 3rd June 2021

A French doctor continues his practice in Nazi-occupied Paris. Word spreads that he runs an underground railroad which can get Jews, résistants and deserters out of France. Dozens of Parisians "disappear into the network". The Gestapo swoops. But things are not as they seem. To say even one word more would spoil the story, a blockbuster collage of wartime noir and grand guignol (10,900 words )

The Plague Legends

Emily Urquhart | Guernica | 1st December 2021

Folklorist's account of reading Black Death era legends about pestilence during a pandemic. "You could call my research mythological doom scrolling: the grimmer the legend, the more sated I am. I go to bed only once I’ve read the worst, most appalling pestilence tale I can find." The "Amabie", a prophesying Japanese mermaid, comes to embody the "fear and ordinariness" of this time (3,478 words)

Desperately Seeking Sebald

Lauren Oyler | Harper's | 15th November 2021

Corrective to the overwhelmingly positive critical consensus on the work of W.G. Sebald. Mostly overlooked in Germany, in recent years the Anglophone literary sphere has canonised this transplanted writer of "haunted", genre-less books. Visiting Sebald's hometown and musing on the "German temperament", the reviewer remains firm in her personal dislike for his writing (5,200 words)

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