What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 21, 2011 Issue

Mmm, my favorite themed New Yorker, The Food Issue, is here. I love the Wayne Thiebaud “Turkey Dinner” cover. Thiebaud lays on the paint in such delicious thick strokes that I almost want to eat it. John Seabrook’s piece about the SweeTango apple (“Crunch”) is excellent. I particularly liked its last paragraph:

I bought as many SweeTangos as I could carry, walked out onto Broadway, and stood on the sidewalk with an apple in my hand, my fingers not quite encircling its girth, feeling the chill of the Fairway basement in the center of my palm. I stared at the skin, and the lenticels gazed indifferently back at me, as I contemplated man’s long and sometimes discordant relationship with this fruit. Then I set my teeth on its skin, and crunched.

That “feeling the chill of the Fairway basement in the center of my palm” is inspired!

Lauren Collins’s “The King’s Meal” brims with inspired lines (e.g., “‘The only way you can eat like a king is to eat like a king,’ Meltonville had said, liberating a gleaming ladle , part of Hampton Court’s collection, from its bubble-wrap cocoon”).

I smiled and chuckled my way through Calvin Trillin’s wonderful “My Repertoire.” At one point, I read a passage out loud to my daughter, and we both laughed. Here’s the passage:

One of my sons-in-law was not crazy about my salmon hash – I won’t say which one; that sort of thing will come out in good time at the reading of the will – but just about everybody else seemed to like it.

I like the boots that René Redzepi is wearing in the vivid photo by Alfredo Cáliz that illustrates Jane Kramer’s superb “The Food At Our Feet.” When I say “superb,” I’m referring to the second half of the piece. The first part, concerning Kramer’s preparation for her foraging excursion with Redzepi, didn’t grab me. It contains too much information about her “distinguished” friends and their bourgeois surroundings. But at the point where Kramer writes, “I met Redzepi at Noma early the following afternoon,” her piece really takes off. I savored Kramer’s beautiful long lines. For example:

But, at the moment, the food he cherishes is cabbage – from the big, pale cabbages that he slices and steams, at home, in a knob of butter and a half inch of his wife’s leftover tea, to the tiny, vividly green-leaved wild cabbages that sit in pots, basking in ultraviolet light, on a steel counter in the middle of one of Noma’s upstairs kitchens, waiting for the day they’re ready to be wrapped with their stems around a sliver of pike perch and served to customers on a beautiful stoneware plate, between a green verbena sauce and a butter-and-fish-bone foam.

Kelefa Sanneh's "Sacred Grounds" is factually interesting. But in terms of style, it suffers from the same weakness that afflicts all his pieces - an impersonal, almost godlike objectivity that leaves me cold. I much prefer the subjective approach in which the writer establishes his or her presence in the material.

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