Shocking, inspiring and utterly absorbing; 2014's most powerful and provocative longreads

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How many times have you read something so absorbing online that you forgot to pretend to be working when the boss walked past? Or something so eye-opening you could barely wait to send the link to friends and start discussing your reactions?

In this digital age, it's easy to denounce our online consumption, claiming it shortens attention spans, engenders ill-informed bursts of outrage petering out as quickly as they bloom, that we can only digest picture-led information and pithy conclusions no more than 140 characters in length.

Yet 2014 has yielded some fantastic, compelling and extraordinary longreads, to make you laugh, cry, despair and rejoice. In no particular order, here are 17 of the best we've come across this year for your reading pleasure. With your annual abundance of sofa downtime coming up over the festive period, better bookmark this now and prepare to be rude to house guests. You've got a lot to get through.

1. Miss American Dream

Kicking off our longread picks is this feature, centred on Britney Spears' Las Vegas residency. Providing much more than a glimpse into the life of a pop star, it's more a study of the life of one of the biggest pop stars ever - beyond the Britney the public believe they know. Taffy Brodesser-Akner also doles out some candid snapshots of the strange neon-lit world of the world's betting capital.

2. Against Cool Girl Feminism

This, for the New Statesman, is an intriguing look at 'Cool Girl Feminism' by Sarah Ditum, who is honest about being a former subscriber to something she now sees as destructive.

3. The Reykjavik Confessions

We also highly recommend you take some time out for this from the BBC. Told in an innovative, immersive way, The Reykjavik Confessions tells the remarkable story of two murders and the people who confessed to them, despite being unable to remember anything about them.

4. Frank Sidebottom: the true story of the man behind the mask

Ahead of the 2014 film Frank, starring Michael Fassbender, Jon Ronson reminisces about his time in a band with the eccentric, real-life inspiration for the story, Frank Sidebottom. Chris Sievey created Frank [pictured above] and sometimes confused the boundary between the fictional character and the real person behind the huge papier-mache head. This delightful and completely bizarre tale of a man larger than life brushing celebrity, but never quite making it big before dying virtually penniless is fascinating.

5. The Reckoning

It's hard to believe it was only two years ago that Adam Lanza horrified the world when he fatally shot 27 people, including his mother and 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, before turning the gun on himself. His father, Peter, left bewildered and desperate by his son's actions, discusses Adam's upbringing and his own search for answers.

6. 'I feel so lucky that I survived'

Lou Harrand was blissfully happy on Christmas Day 2004, newly married and enjoying her honeymoon with her husband. Just 24 hours later, she was fighting for her life - she tells Stylist about being caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand and dealing with the terror that's stayed with her to this day.

7. Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet

Amanda Hess' essay discussing how it feels to be female and online struck a chord with many and ignited a debate. As the justice system begins to wrap its head round the relatively new issue of harassment via social media, having faced death and rape threats herself, she writes about the sexist abuse directed at women on the Internet, how widespread the problem is and how often it's disregarded.

8. A Rape on Campus

It's also worth making time for this piece by Rolling Stone. At a time when universities in the U.S. are increasingly under the spotlight for the way on-campus sexual assault is handled, this was published concerning an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. While some discredited the account, others believe the furore around the story highlights issues with the treatment and perception of those who report rape. The magazine has both the original story and a later statement on its website.

9. The Face Behind Bitcoin

In a curious encounter, Leah McGrath Goodman tracked down the "obsessively secretive" Satoshi Nakamoto to question him about creating popular digital currency Bitcoin. He called the police.

10. The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit

GQ managed to interview a 47-year-old man who at the age of 20, went to live in the woods. He stole to eat, slept in an unheated tent in a freezing part of the world and struggled to speak when first caught for theft. Eventually deigning to communicate with the journalist, his story is an extraordinary one.

11. My Grandma the Poisoner

There's not that much to explain about this astonishing account on Vice, detailing how the writer came to realise his grandmother was poisoning people. It's exactly what it sounds like. Read it.

12. Who is Amanda Knox?

Journalist Simon Hattenstone has been speaking with Amanda Knox since 2009 - two years after her British housemate Meredith Kercher was killed in the home they shared in Italy. Amanda was initially found guilty, before the verdict was overturned in 2011 and she returned home to Seattle. Since then, in her absence, the Italian courts once again convicted her of the murder, though she maintains her innocence. In a series of interviews, she discusses her time in prison, the effect on her life and why she initially confessed.

13. How Michelle Knight Survived

Another interview by the same writer is also compelling - the horrifying yet hopeful account of Michelle Knight's experience being held captive for 11 years in the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro, alongside two other women.

14. An Open Letter To My Daughter's Stepmom

Blogger Candice Curry wrote an open letter to her daughter's stepmother that quickly went viral, thanks to its uplifting description of the often difficult situation of co-parenting.

15. Sixty-Nine Days

In Chile in 2010, 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days following an accident that blocked their way out. An estimated 1 billion people watched their eventual rescue worldwide. This piece for the New Yorker is the striking inside story.

16. Life, After

In this piece, reporter Miles O'Brien - who had to have his arm amputated in February - openly discusses coming to terms with suddenly becoming disabled.

17. Lena Interviews Lena: Trolling, Hos and Therapy

And last but in no way least, one of the most talked about names of late thanks to her hugely successful TV show Girls, Lena Dunham is no stranger to an interview or 70. That's why Stylist asked her to interview herself. The results, as you'll see, involve discussing whether her parents hate her, why people on the Internet seem to hate her, but thankfully - thanks to near lifelong therapy - not hating herself.

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Stylist Team