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, July 24, 2012

July 23, 2012 Issue

“No ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams wrote, introducing his long poem Paterson. I enjoy writing that follows this dictum. This week’s New Yorker brims with things, e.g., Charlie Watts’s “carefully cut gray suit, a violet shirt, and brown tasseled loafers” (Alec Wilkinson’s “Tag Team”), the “old bicycle sprouting bundles of bamboo fishing baskets” on display in a museum in Hanoi’s old market district (Jane Kramer’s “A Reporter at Odds”), the torturous Apollon’s Wheels barbell that caused Brian Shaw to “tweak” his left biceps at this year’s Arnold Strongman Classic (Burkhard Bilger’s “The Strongest Man in the World”), and the intimidating “field hockey stick, decorated with bright racing stripes” wielded by Brigadier Mahana Bashir, commander of an S.P.L.A. training camp in the Nuba Mountains (Jon Lee Anderson’s “A History of Violence”). My favorite “thing” in this week’s issue is the unbroken white clay pipe with the “irregular tooth marks” at the base of the stem that the conceptual landscape artist Matthew Jensen found “half buried near a park trail in Riverdale.” It’s mentioned in Ian Frazier’s dandy little Talk story about Jensen (“Lost and Found”). Looking at those tooth marks sparks Frazier’s imagination, inspiring him to write this wonderful line: “Suddenly, the face of the snaggletoothed smoker seemed to materialize, the café faded out, and a landscape of old New York sprang up magically all around.” 

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