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, August 1, 2014

July 28, 2014 Issue

Reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s amusing account of her family’s “experience in Stone Age eating” (“Stone Soup,” in this week’s issue), I inwardly cheered when she finally delivered her dismissal of the kooky “pre-agricultural” diet: “From an environmental standpoint, paleo’s ‘Let them eat steak’ approach is a disaster.” “Yes!” I wanted to shout. And it’s a disaster from another, more basic standpoint, too – the pleasure of good eating. Kolbert quotes David Perlmutter as saying that “sandwiches are not just hard on the digestive system; they wreak havoc on the mind.” I read that it disbelief. Just the words “Schwartz’s smoked meat on rye” make me drool like a Saint Bernard. I love sandwiches.  And I love reading about people who love sandwiches. See, for example, Calvin Trillin’s delectable “New Grub Streets” (The New Yorker, September 3, 2001):

It was on the way home from one of those rambles that I stopped my bike on East Broadway and Forsyth, where street vendors were selling several unfamiliar items. What caught my eye was a sandwich, tightly wrapped in clear plastic. It consisted of an ordinary Western-style bun – what I assume the Chinese would refer to with some word that translates literally as “the sort of bread foreign devils eat” – and something green peeking out of the middle. I risked a dollar for a taste. Inside the bun was a chopped vegetable that have been bok choy or mustard greens, flavored with something that tasted like horseradish. I loved it. Whenever I was in Chinatown during the next few weeks, I’d pick up a few greens sandwiches and hand them out when I got back to the Village, like trophies from an adventure abroad. When a recipient of my largesse gobbled up the sandwich with great enthusiasm, I beamed with pride. When someone took a couple of bites, thanked me with elaborate courtesy, and carefully folded the plastic around the remains, I made an instantaneous diagnosis: wooden palate syndrome. It turns out that you don’t have to known what’s in a sandwich to feel proprietary about it.

Wooden palate syndrome – a perfect diagnosis for David Perlmutter.

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