BEST HACK (1998)
For several years now, Karlen has covered his home state for the New York Times, and his most distinguished achievement might be 1995's "Greetings From MINNESOBER," a deep and contemplative look at the 12-step culture of our fly-over state. A year later, he impressed the hometown crowd with "If the Shoe (Snowshoe?) Fits, Well...", another ambitious and impeccably researched essay on the state's profound discomfort with the stereotypes in the movie Fargo: "Calvin Trillin once termed this kind of Midwestern sensitivity 'rube-o-phobia'--the paranoia of common folk who believe the world regards them as hicks," Karlen wrote. Now, City Pages has never been accused of being a booster for the home team (check out the other 51 issues of the year), but Karlen, a writer who returned to our Republic of Tundrastan after an abortive freelance career in New York, need not manufacture a fictional provincialism for out-of-towners--especially when a more nuanced and insidious one already exists. Still, these are quibbles from the past, and we would be remiss not to celebrate the most recent examples of excellence from our finest literary son: namely, his co-author credit for Jen-X: Jenny McCarthy's Open Book. It is the following phrase which clinched Karlen's win in this category: "Minutes before I walked uninvited into Playboy magazine headquarters for the interview that would change my life..."