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.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 16, 2013 Issue

Maybe I’m just in a pre-Christmas funk, but I find this week’s New Yorker remarkably uninspiring. Maybe it’s the price of those spicy Red Snappers at The King Cole that turned me off. Sixty dollars for two of them, according to Shauna Lyon’s “Bar Tab.” Obscene! Or maybe it’s the dull prospect of plowing through two pieces on Washington politics (Evan Osnos’s “Strong Vanilla” and “Ryan Lizza’s “State of Deception”). Do I want to read about Cuvier’s proof of extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Lost World, Part One”) or “The mystery surrounding a copy of Galileo’s pivotal treatise” (Nicholas Schmidle’s “A Very Rare Book”) or what happens when God first unleashes Satan on Job (Joan Acocella’s “Misery”) or Britney Spears’s latest career move (Sasha Frere-Jones’s “Brit Pop”)? No, no, no, and definitely no. I’ve got better things to do, like shovel the snow from in front of the woodshed door. But there’s always a bit of nourishment in every New Yorker, no matter how unpromising its contents may first appear. This week, I found it in David Denby’s marvelous “Grand Scam,” a review of David O. Russell’s American Hustler. In a parenthesis worthy of the Master herself (Hail Kael!), Denby writes, “In a dizzying touch, suits hanging on a garment conveyor whirl past them as they kiss.” Ah, the surreal reality of that garment conveyor! I love it. Thank you, Mr. Denby. With one sentence, you breathe life into a moribund New Yorker.  

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