Introduction

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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Best of 2011





Okay, here we go. I’ve got a stack of New Yorkers here – all from 2011. Flipping through them triggers countless memories of blissful reading. My project today is to sort through this rich harvest and choose what I consider to be the ten best factual pieces and the ten best critical pieces. How do I decide? It’s easy. I just look through each issue and pick out the articles containing the most starred and underlined passages. Who did the starring and underlining? Me. When I read, I mark passages that strike me as noteworthy for one reason or another. So, that’s my method. I realize it’s not very scientific, but it works for me. I know you can hardly wait to see my choices, so here they are:

TOP TEN FACT PIECES

1. Ian Frazier, “The March of the Strandbeests” (September 5, 2011).
2. Elif Batuman, “The View from the Stands (March 7, 2011)
3. Ian Frazier, “Back to the Harbor” (March 21, 2011)
4. Burkhard Bilger, “The Great Oasis” (December 19 & 26, 2011)
5. Lauren Collins, “The King’s Meal” (November 21, 2011)
6. Geoff Dyer, “Poles Apart” (April 18, 2011)
7. D. T. Max, “Her Way” (November 7, 2011)
8. Emily Eakin, “Celluloid Hero” (October 31, 2011)
9. Janet Malcolm, “Depth of Field” (September 26, 2011)
10. Mike Peed, “We Have No Bananas” (January 10, 2011)

Looking over the above list, I see a few common traits: the pieces are about travel, food, nature, or art; they appeal to the senses; they contain inspired writing.

Now for my “top ten” critical pieces. I hope this list doesn’t insult the magazine’s dance, theatre, music, and movie critics. They’re all great writers; it’s just that their fields of interest aren’t quite mine. On the other hand, I love books and art. I devour James Wood’s and Peter Schjeldahl’s every word and hunger for more. That’s why their names dominate the following list:

TOP TEN CRITICAL PIECES

1. James Wood, “The Arrival of Enigmas” (February 28, 2011)
2. Peter Schjeldahl, “Haarlem Shuffle” (August 8, 2011)
3. James Wood, “Cabin Fever” (September 5, 2011)
4. Peter Schjeldahl, “Long Faces” (March 7, 2011)
5. James Wood, “Reality Testing” (October 31, 2011)
6. Peter Schjeldahl, “Inside Story” (May 2, 2011)
7. Peter Schjeldahl, “Artists and Writers” (January 31, 2011)
8. Dan Chiasson, “Southern Discomfort” (January 3, 2011)
9. John Lahr, “Bluebird of Unhappiness” (October 31, 2011)
10. Joan Acocella, “From Bad Beginnings” (May 16, 2011)

There you have it - another great New Yorker year come and gone. I take this opportunity to thank the editors and staff for all the pleasure they’ve given me. They do an incredible job. Each issue is a distinctive, intricate, wonderful work of art.

Credit: The above artwork, by Olimpia Zagnoli and Emanuela Ligabue, appears in The New Yorker (December 19 & 26, 2011), as an illustration for "A Year's Reading."

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