Introduction

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 23, 2015 Issue


The piece in this week’s issue (“The Style Issue”) that I enjoyed most is Rebecca Mead’s "Sole Cycle." It’s about the fashion makeover of the Birkenstock. The variety of ways in which the basic Birkenstock design has been tweaked without changing its “foot bed” (“You must not change the foot bed,” says Birkenstock director of product and design, Rudy Haslbeck) is fascinating: “a Boston mule made from textured velvet in crimson or gold, inspired by a Persian-lamb coat that Haslbeck had discovered in a flea market”; an Arizona sandal with a “rose-gold leather foot bed and an upper made from pinkish-peach tweed threaded with iridescent silver” that “looked as if it had been cut from the sleeve of a Chanel jacket”; another Arizona sandal, in black leather, “lined in sapphire-blue shearling”; “a whimsical pair of mauve high-top boots with a white sneaker bottom”; a women’s lace-up boot in burnished brown leather and lined with shearling.”

“Sole Cycle” has a sturdy foot bed of its own, consisting of three “visits”: one to Neustadt, Germany, where Birkenstock’s “campus” is located; one to a Birkenstock factory outside Gorlitz, Germany (“When I visited the factory, it smelled as pungent as a bakery, redolent with the scent of cooking latex and cork”); and one to Las Vegas to attend FN Platform, “a three-day trade show that bills itself as ‘The Global Showcase for Branded Footwear,’ ” in which Birkenstock has a booth. All three are marvelous, yielding delicious, tactile word combos, e.g., “After I examined a prototype of knee-high socks in a textured oatmeal yarn, I was shown a tube of four-ply cream-colored cashmere, like a luxurious cable sweater for an indulged dachshund.” My favorite part is the campus showroom visit, in which Mead tries on the lace-up boot. She writes, “Haslbeck suggested that I try on the lace-up boot, and I slipped my bare foot into it. With the warmth and softness of the fur, and the cradling comfort of the foot bed, it felt wonderful. I think I may have gasped.”

In its artful blend of subjective specifics, sensuous description, and delectable word assemblages, “Sole Cycle” is just about perfect. I enjoyed it immensely.

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