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, February 24, 2014

February 17 & 24, 2014 Issue

William Strunk’s advice to “Make the paragraph the unit of composition” (Elements of Style, 1972) is undoubtedly right. But, for me, reading’s deepest pleasure is sourced in the colors, contours and textures of artfully crafted sentences. This week’s issue contains two gems. The first is from Amelia Lester’s “Tables For Two” piece on the Empire Diner:

Young families, their tabletops littered with sippy cups and mezcal cocktails, tend to finish their meal by attacking the Platonic ideal of the banana split, all wet walnuts and melting Neapolitan ice cream.

What a mélange of delightful, surprising ingredients! I particularly like the incongruous juxtaposition of “sippy cups” and “mezcal cocktails.” And the combination of abstraction (“Platonic ideal”) with specificity (“banana split, all wet walnuts and melting Neapolitan ice cream”) is ravishing. The whole thing is like a gorgeous Rauschenberg – Washington’s Golden Egg, say, or Monogram. I’m glad to have read it.

The other line that caught my eye is in Roger Angell’s wonderful “This Old Man”:

I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window.

The analogy between blogging and making (and launching) a paper airplane is brilliant. It exactly expresses the “ease and freedom of the form” that I feel when I post an item here. Praise of blogging by a master writer like Angell is inspiring.

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