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.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mid-Year Top Ten (2014)

July is here - time for my annual Mid-Year Top Ten. I like making this list. It helps me take stock of my New Yorker reading experience. Valley fever, Barack Obama, a nautical nightmare, nuclear fusion, Muslim Brotherhood court cases, Berlin techno, horseshoe crabs, Stonehenge, life aboard an aircraft carrier, extreme cavers, Soylent, Ukraine, William S. Burroughs, archeophonists, emotional memory – these are just some of the fascinating subjects covered so far this year. The payoff has been immense reading pleasure. From a rich mid-year harvest, here are the pieces I’ve most enjoyed.

Fact Pieces

1. Ian Frazier’s “Blue Bloods” (April 14, 2014)
2. Tad Friend’s “Thicker Than Water” (February 10, 2014)
3. Burkhard Bilger’s “In Deep” (April 21, 2014)   
4. Raffi Khatchadourian’s “A Star in a Bottle” (March 3, 2014)
5. Nick Paumgarten’s “Berlin Nights” (March 24, 2014)
6. Lizzie Widdicombe’s “The End of Food” (May 12, 2014)
7. David Remnick’s “Going the Distance” (January 27, 2014)
8. Laura Miller’s “Romancing the Stones” (April 21, 2014)
9. Peter Hessler’s “Revolution On Trial” (March 10, 2014)
10. Keith Gessen’s “Waiting for War” (May 12, 2014)

Critical Pieces

1. Peter Schjeldahl’s “The Outlaw” (February 3, 2014)
2. James Wood’s “The World As We Know It” (May 19, 2014)
3. James Wood’s “The Punished Land” (June 23, 2013)
4. Dan Chiasson’s “Mother Tongue” (June 2, 2014)
5. Christine Smallwood’s “Ghosts in the Stacks” (June 9 & 16, 2014)
6. Jill Lepore’s “Away From My Desk” (May 12, 2014)
7. Joanna Biggs’s “We” (January 27, 2014)
8. Alex Ross’s “Blockbuster” (June 23, 2014)
9. Anthony Lane’s “Road Trips” (May 12, 2014)
10. Judith Thurman’s “Dressing Up” (May 5, 2014)

Best Talk Story

Sophie Brickman’s “Say Cheese” (January 6, 2014)

Best Short Story

Roddy Doyle, “Box Sets” (April 14, 2014)

Best Poem

Justin Quinn’s “Recession Song” (April 28, 2014)

Best Blog Post

Casey N. Cep’s “A Thousand Words: Writing From Photographs” (February 26, 2014)

Best Cover

Bruce McCall, “Polar Bears on Fifth Avenue” (January 13, 2014)

Best Issue

April 21, 2014 (The Journeys Issue), containing three enormously enjoyable pieces – Laura Miller’s “Romancing the Stones,” Geoff Dyer’s “Shipmates” (which just missed making my Top Ten), and Burkhard Bilger’s “In Deep”

Best Illustration

Riccardo Vecchio’s wallpaper-and-naked-old-ladies illustration for Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s “The Fugitive” (May 12, 2014) (see above artwork)

Best Photograph

Grant Cornett’s portrait of Jason Mleczko, illustrating Tad Friend’s brilliant “Thicker Than Water” (February 1o, 2014)

Best Sentence

If you feel like eating a carrot-and-black-trumpet-mushroom salad with your second tequila cocktail, you’re in luck, and perhaps it’s the right call—the windows frame an obnoxiously bright Equinox gym, where Lululemoners reading Us Weekly on the elliptical pedal through the night in silent rebuke. - Amelia Lester, “Bar Tab: Wallflower” (March 31, 2014)

Best Paragraph

The third huge wave came early and from a new angle, surging toward their port stern. With no time to turn into it, Jason shouted, “Hold on!,” and pinned the throttle to outrun it. But at the Shallow Spot there was no deeper water to escape to. The wave caught them from behind and lifted them until they were surfing its face. They hung there for five seconds – their port gunwale tilting overhead, the Yamaha outboard whirring in the air – as if time were taking a breath. Jason still believed that they’d shoot the barrel and make it out. Then the starboard gunwale hit sand, and with fantastic power the wave lifted the boat and hurled it onto the sandbar upside down. All that was visible of Jabb from above was a strip of maroon-painted hull.Tad Friend, “Thicker Than Water” (February 10, 2014)

Best Description

Armed with an ant’s perspective and a technology titan’s resources, Myhrvold captures the swirling magma of a blueberry’s interior and the translucent reptilian juice sacs of a grapefruit.Sophie Brickman, “Say Cheese” (January 6, 2014)

Most Memorable Image

When I climbed up on the riprap wall, I saw throngs of stranded horseshoe crabs lying in the interstices among the rocks. The carnage stretched into the distance and had a major-battlefield air, reminiscent of the Mathew Brady photograph of the dead at the Sunken Road at Sharpsburg. Some of the horseshoe crabs seemed to be moving feebly. The ones on the road had evidently managed to make it past the rocks.Ian Frazier, “Blue Bloods” (April 14, 2014)

Most Inspired Detail

When the other bird-watchers called back, the ring tones were birdcalls.Ian Frazier, “Blue Bloods” (April 14, 2014)

Credit: The above artwork is Riccardo Vecchio’s illustration for Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s “The Fugitive” (The New Yorker, May 12, 2014).

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