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.

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4 & 11, 2012 Issue

One thing I’ve learned from writing this blog is that The New Yorker never lets me down. No matter how uninteresting its contents may first appear, a closer look always yields at least a pearl or two of reading bliss. This week’s Science Fiction Issue is a case in point. Monsters, zombies, humanoids, and aliens aren’t my cup of tea. I was dispiritedly paging through the magazine, thinking this issue might be the first about which I had absolutely nothing good to say, when I came to Colson Whitehead’s “A Psychotronic Childhood.” The first line (“Growing up on the Upper East Side in the nineteen-seventies, I was a bit of a shut-in”) hooked me. I immediately read the piece straight through, and enjoyed it immensely. It helped that I’d previously read Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York (2003), which features one of the catchiest, coolest opening sentences I’ve ever read (“I’m here because I was born here and thus ruined for anywhere else, but I don’t know about you”). Encountering Whitehead in the Science Fiction Issue was like discovering an old friend in a roomful of intimidating strangers. Tucked within the pages containing “A Psychotronic Childhood” is a one-page piece titled “Olds Rocket 88, 1950” by William Gibson. My eyes strayed to it, lighting on this delightful construction: “The zeitgeist was chewy with space-flavored nuggets, morsels of futuristic design, precursors of a Tomorrow whose confident glow was visible beyond the horizon of all that was less wonderful, provided one had eyes to see it.” Provided one had eyes to see it. Thank goodness, I had eyes to see Gibson’s piece. It’s whetted my appetite for more Gibson, a writer whose work was, before now, unknown to me. I’m considering reading one of his novels. For me, that's a big step. I much prefer fact to fantasy. 

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