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, July 1, 2013

Mid-Year Top Ten (2013)

Every year around this time, I like to pause, look back, and take stock of my New Yorker reading experience. I regard the yield from this year’s first six months with appreciation and awe. Such an abundance of pleasurable, memorable writing! Such a variety of subjects, settings, and circumstances! Here from this rich harvest is my “Mid-Year Top Ten (2013)”:

Fact Pieces
  1. Ben McGrath’s “The White Wall” (April 22, 2013)
  2. Lizzie Widdicombe’s “The Bad-Boy Brand” (April 8, 2013)
  3. Nicholas Schmidle’s “In the Crosshairs” (June 3, 2013)
  4. Dexter Filkins’s “After Syria” (February 23, 2013)
  5. Ian Frazier’s “The Toll” (February 11 & 18, 2013)
  6. David Owen’s “Notes from Underground” (March 18, 2013)
  7. Joseph Mitchell’s “Street Life” (February 11 & 18, 2013)
  8. Nick Paumgarten’s “The Manic Mountain” (June 3, 2013)
  9. Adam Gopnik’s “Music to Your Ears” (January 28, 2013)
  10. John McPhee’s “Structure” (January 14, 2013)
Critical Pieces
  1. James Wood’s “Youth In Revolt” (April 8, 2013)
  2. Nathan Heller’s “Semi-Charmed Life” (January 14, 2013)
  3. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Shapes of Things” (January 7, 2013)
  4. James Wood’s “Women on the Verge” (January 21, 2013)
  5. Thomas Mallon’s “Wag the Dog” (February 4, 2013)
  6. David Denby’s “Commitments” (April 15, 2013)
  7. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Heaven On Earth” (March 4, 2013)
  8. Anthony Lane’s “Fun in the Sun” (March 25, 2013)
  9. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Flower Power” (March 18, 2003)
  10. Dan Chiasson’s “End of the Line” (April 15, 2013)
Best Talk Story: Sarah Stillman’s “Up in the Air” (April 8, 2013)

Best Poem: Debra Nystrom’s “Pronghorn” (May 13, 2013)

Best Blog Post: Nathan Heller’s “Hello Laptop, My Old Friend” (Page-Turner,, January 18, 2013)

Best Cover: Mark Ulriksen’s “Hitting Forty” (April 8, 2013)

Best Issue: April 8, 2013, with its great Mark Ulriksen cover, two excellent Talk stories (Sarah Stillman’s “Up in the Air” and Mark Singer’s “Thar She Blows”), three terrific features (Jeremy Denk’s “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” Hisham Matar’s “The Return,” Lizzie Widdicombe’s “The Bad-Boy Brand”), and James Wood’s superb book review, “Youth In Revolt” 

Best Illustration: Bendik Kaltenborn’s “Lebowski Fest,” “Goings On About Town,” April 22, 2013 (see above artwork)

Best Photograph: Gabrielle Stabile’s “Paddling on the East River with the North Brooklyn Boat Club” (“Goings On About Town,” April 8, 2013)

Best Sentence: “Standing in a soggy no man’s forest near a beach, with invasive Japanese honeysuckle and bittersweet and greenbrier vines dragging down the trees, and shreds of plastic bags in the branches, and a dirty snow of Styrofoam crumbs on the ground, and heaps of hurricane detritus strewn promiscuously, and fierce phragmites reeds springing up all over, I saw the landscape of the new hot world to come.” (Ian Frazier, “The Toll,” February 11 & 18, 2013)

Best Paragraph: “‘I didn’t really think he was telling the truth,’ Laura told me. ‘And he’s, like, “Are you and Gaines in Hell with me?” And I was, like, “No, we’re not in Hell.” And he was, like, “Well, do you think I can get to Oklahoma?” And I was, like, “Oklahoma? What’s in Oklahoma?” And he’s, like, “Well, if I can get to Oklahoma, I can get out of this.” And I was, like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I think you’re telling me a story. Don’t lie to me. Tell me what happened.” And at this point we’re almost to the front door, and so we walked outside, and when we walked outside I thought I was gonna throw up on myself, because here’s this truck that I know he could never afford. The tires alone were expensive. That’s the first thing I saw—these giant, big knobby tires on this pickup truck.’” (Nicholas Schmidle, “In the Crosshairs,” June 3, 2013)

Best Description: “At Wadi Naim, three miles from the Israeli border, a vast Hezbollah bunker complex is hidden in a valley wall, camouflaged by limestone and bush. It’s invisible from the road, two hundred feet below, invisible from the air, invisible even to the visitor standing on top of it. The only way to find it is by using G.P.S. programmed with the precise coordinates. Under a foot of dirt and rubble is a trap door, and a ladder leading down to the main tunnel. Inside, the only sign of life was a colony of black bats, dangling silently from the ceiling. Startled by my entry, they dropped down, then glided up the shaft toward the light.” (Dexter Filkins, “After Syria, April 23, 2013)

Most Memorable Image: “We took a water taxi through the canals, past crumbling buildings and water-stained walls, and arrived at San Marco just as the floodwaters were rising. The area was swarming with tourists, and a narrow pathway of raised wooden planks was threaded precariously through the square. As the waters rose, the tourists crossed the square on the planks, shuffling in a long, two-person-wide line, like animals boarding Noah’s Ark.” (Lizzie Widdicombe, “The Bad-Boy Brand,” April 8, 2013)

Most Inspired Detail: Dallas Seavey’s dogsled, constructed from “sawed-off Easton hockey sticks” (Ben McGrath’s “The White Wall,” April 22, 2013)

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