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 Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins 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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March 5, 2012 Issue

We’re only in March, but Nick Paumgarten has already written what’s sure to be one of the year’s best pieces. I’m referring to his great “The Ring and the Bear” (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012). The question is can he score two hits in a row? Alas, the answer is no. His “Magic Mountain,” in this week’s issue, is damn near unstomachable. It’s about his attendance at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. So intolerable is it, so full of wealthy, élite, globe-trotting, class-conscious, status-seeking, full-of-themselves windbags, pedants, and egotists (mostly male) that I had to force myself to keep reading. When I came to the sentence “The stratification begins with badges,” I closed the magazine and went for a walk. I finished the thing later, persisting only because it’s by Paumgarten, one of my favorites. Over the years, his writing has taken me on some memorable excursions, e.g., Inwood Hill Park (“The Mannahatta Project,” The New Yorker, October 1, 2007), Governors Island (“Useless Beauty,” The New Yorker, October 31, 2009). But this Davos trip – what a bummer!

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