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, February 20, 2015

5th Anniversary

The New Yorker & Me is five years old today. To celebrate, I want to single out a few highlights. My first post, dated February 20, 2010, was a review of the February 8, 2010, New Yorker. That’s the one with the great Ana Juan cover – nine pampered pooches swaddled in winter garb - called “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The issue contains, among other notable items, John McPhee’s brilliant "The Patch," a personal history piece that ingeniously and movingly blends pickerel fishing with McPhee’s hospital visit with his dying father.

My most popular post – the one that’s received the most page views – is a review of the April 19, 2010, “Journeys” issue, perhaps the best New Yorker to appear in the past five years. In my post, I compare reading it to “gobbling up (say) five bowls of Haagen Dazs dulce de leche ice cream, one right after the other.” The issue features three superb pieces: Elif Batuman’s "The Memory Kitchen"; Lauren Collins’s "Angle of Vision"; and Burkhard Bilger’s "Towheads." Looking at my review, I see that I focused mainly on Batuman’s and Collins’s articles. Bilger’s “Towheads,” a “Reporter At Large” piece about the far-flung adventures of a tugboating family, deserves greater consideration. Someday I’ll get to it, maybe as part of a broader “Burkhard Bilger Retrospective.”

Speaking of Bilger, his great "The Egg Men" (The New Yorker, September 5, 2005) is the subject of an appreciation I posted on January 30, 2011 (see here). Of all my posts, I found it to be the most satisfying to write. It concludes, “Reading ‘The Egg Men,’ I experience double bliss: the subject is tremendously interesting and the writing is intensely pleasurable.”

I think my most negative post was my response to Richard Brody’s " 'Shoah' at Twenty Five" (, December 7, 2010), in which he came perilously close to calling Pauline Kael’s "Shoah" review anti-Semitic. Brody said, “Pauline Kael’s misunderstandings of Shoah are so grotesque as to seem willful.” In my post, I noted that Kael faced this type of criticism back in 1985 when she wrote the piece. Borrowing a line from Craig Seligman’s defense of Kael, in his Sontag & Kael (2004), I called Brody’s charge “an accusation of astonishing coarseness.” But Brody is such a thrillingly passionate, stylish writer, I couldn’t stay cross at him for long. And he’s helped his own case by occasionally including one or more of Kael’s classic capsule reviews in his “Goings On About Town” movie column.

Kael’s writing is, for me, a touchstone. In the “Author’s Note” of her wonderful Deeper Into Movies (1973), she says that she writes “because I love trying to figure out what I think about what I feel and why.” Right there is the rationale for why I write this blog – to get at the many ways The New Yorker affords me such supreme pleasure.

And now to conclude, I’m going to pretend for a moment that I live in New York City. I’m imagining myself dropping into Nitecap for one of those Key Lime Fizzes with a candle suspended in its froth that Jiayang Fan wrote about so vividly in "Bar Tab" a few weeks ago. I want to propose a toast: Here’s to the greatest magazine in the world, a constant source of pleasure in my life – New Yorker without end, Amen!

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