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.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 3, 2012 Issue

Book reviews are, for me, the ultimate brain candy. I gobble them up like chocolates. This week’s issue of the magazine contains a delicious piece – Joanna Kavenna’s “Things Fall Apart,” a review of Enrique Vila-Matas’s novel Dublinesque. I like it because (1) it reverses the usual book review structure, moving from a wide-angle overview of Vila-Matas’s oeuvre to a tight close-up of his latest novel; (2) it features a wonderful simile (“Reading a Vilas-Matas novel is like watching someone weave a beautiful tapestry with one hand while unraveling it just as expertly with the other”); (3) it shows Vila-Matas as a Joycean celebrant of quotidian life (“each small incident, if one knows how to read it … has a wondrous quality”). Kavenna’s piece has kindled my interest in Vila-Matas, a writer new to me. That’s a prime indicator of an effective review.

Postscript: Also included in this week’s issue are two Talk stories that went straight into my personal “Talk of the Town” anthology: Rebecca Mead’s “Right-Hand Man” and Lizzie Widdicombe’s “Rush.” Mead’s piece wonderfully captures the brusque, unsentimental, Front Page-like interaction between Mayor Bloomberg and his press secretary, Stu Loeser on the occasion of Loeser’s leaving his job to start his own consulting company. The sardonic dialogue is quite funny, especially Bloomberg’s crack about “the cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.” Mead shows she has an excellent ear for such lines. 

Widdicombe’s piece is a kinetic account of her experiences accompanying a bike messenger named Austin Horse as he makes his rounds through crazy Manhattan traffic. (In typical Talk fashion, Widdicombe refers to herself in the third person, as Horse’s “guest.”) I particularly liked the part where she has to yell at some people to get out of the way (“On Fifth Avenue, an armored vehicle blocked the bus lane, and his guest found herself bellowing, “Coming through!” Pedestrians gawked. “You’re picking it up,” Horse said, and continued on to Saks Direct, on West Twenty-fourth Street, where he waited for an elevator, covered in sweat”). “Rush” is a delightful piece. I enjoyed it immensely.

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