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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 25, 2013 Issue

Dogs, hip-hop, punk, opera, TV, “failure memoir,” paranoid billionaire – at first glance, the contents of the March 25th New Yorker appear most unappetizing. But there’s always something in every issue – a line of sharp description, a piquant observation, a pungent detail – to appreciate. This week’s issue is no exception. I enjoyed William Finnegan’s “The Miner’s Daughter” for its description of Port Hedland (“Ancient-looking, iron-covered conveyor belts lattice the badlands”; “Bulk-carrier ships hunker like squared-off stadiums beyond the evaporation ponds”). And Anthony Lane’s review of Spring Breakers contains a line that went straight into my personal anthology of great New Yorker questions: “Who, you want to ask, can possibly be the magus behind this bacchanal – this forthright sucking of Popsicles, this spume of beer hosed across bare flesh, this char-grilled day?”

What, you may ask, are some of the other “great New Yorker questions” in my collection? Here are three:

To the palate of a traveling Martian – which would be more acceptable, a pink-icinged Pop-Tart with raspberry filling (cold) or the fat gob from behind a caribou’s eye? – John McPhee, “The Encircled River – I” (The New Yorker, May 2, 1977)

How radical can you be in a town where the locals shop in leopard-skin bikinis at 4P.M.? – Sasha Frere-Jones, “Critic’s Notebook: South For Winter” (The New Yorker, March 20, 2006)

But does the nation's capital of artisanal bitters really need another nostalgia-soaked outpost for herb muddling? - Andrea K. Scott, “Tables For Two: Maison Premiere” (The New Yorker, September 26, 2011)

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