Introduction

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 Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 26, 2013 Issue


Of the many pleasures of this week’s New Yorker – Christian Felber’s photograph of my favorite jazz singer, Cécile McLorin Salvant; Shauna Lyon’s description of The Elm’s petits fours (“crazy-good smoky chocolate-chip blondies”); Simone Massoni’s delightful, frilly, concentrated, high-kicking “On The Horizon” illustration for Jean Renoir’s French Cancan; David Remnick’s brilliant use of a journal-entry-style sentence (“Early on a summer morning in the Jordanian desert, driving along an empty road toward the Syrian border”), to open his excellent “City of the Lost”; Ken Auletta’s witty “Bloomberg thinks of himself as a team player, as long as it’s his team,” in his absorbing “After Bloomberg”; the gorgeous, vital ending of Meghan O’Rourke’s memorable “What’s Wrong With Me?” (“And I remember being so lost in the sun and the dog’s joy and my pleasure in these hours of freedom that I had no sense that I lived in a body, except as a thing that could feel the sun and the wind and the dog’s cold nose”) – the most piquant is Ian Frazier’s superb Talk story, “By the Numbers,” about a New York City urban garden study. I love the way this piece unfolds - nine deft paragraphs, each a marvel of compressed specificity (like a Bruegel drawing), the whole combining a delightful assortment of details (tattoo of a New York City harbor map, “forty-foot-long telescoping carbon-graphite pole,” striped T-shirt, blue watering can, garlic, devil’s trumpet) and quotes (“From the start, we wanted no spreadsheets, no clipboards, no people standing with clickers at the garden entrances,” “And each garden is different, each has its own creation myth, its own characters,” “There are chickens in urban gardens now!”), sensuously ending with a cucumber crunch. Inspired!

Postscript: Meghan O’Rourke, in her “What’s Wrong with Me?,” mentions three aunts: “At Christmas, I had lunch with three of my mother’s sisters – humorous, unself-pitying Irish-American women in their fifties – at my grandmother’s condo on the Jersey Shore.” Reading this, I think, Hey, I believe I’ve met these remarkable women before. Aren’t they the ones with red nails who are “always laughing and doing their hair up pretty / sharing lipstick and shoes and new juice diets,” and who did “jackknives off the diving board / after school” in O’Rourke’s wonderful poem “My Aunts” [The New Yorker, July 20, 2009]? I believe they are. It’s great to meet them again. They appear to be in good spirits, even though at least two of them suffer painful afflictions. O’Rourke mirrors off their “humorous, unself-pitying” attitude. In “What’s Wrong with Me?,” she writes, “I thought about my aunts, and the matter-of-fact way they lived with their illnesses – as something to deal with, but not something to fuss over. In order to become well, I would have to temper my own fanatical pursuit of wellness.”

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