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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Mid-Year Top Ten 2015

“Aesthetic hierarchies,” James Wood says, in his great The Nearest Thing to Life, “are fluid, personal, eccentric, always subject to revision, and quite possibly a bit incoherent.” Yes, and they’re also fun. I enjoy evaluating The New Yorker. This time each year, I pause, look back over the past six months, and pick my favorite pieces. Here then is my Mid-Year Top Ten 2015.


1. David Owen’s “Where the River Runs Dry” (May 25, 2015)
2. Ian Parker’s “The Shape of Things to Come” (February 23 & March 2, 2015)
3. Raffi Khatchadourian, “A Century of Silence” (January 5, 2015)
4. Jill Lepore’s “The Cobweb” (January 26, 2015)
5. Rivka Galchen’s “Weather Underground” (April 13, 2015)
6. Dana Goodyear’s “The Dying Sea” (May 4, 2015)
7. Rebecca Mead’s “Sole Cycle” (March 23, 2015)
8. Luke Mogelson’s “When the Fever Breaks” (January 19, 2015)
9. Jane Kramer’s “The Demolition Man” (June 29, 2015)
10. William Finnegan's “Tears of the Sun” (April 20, 2015)


1. James Wood’s “Look Again” (February 23 & March 2, 2015)
2. Dan Chiasson’s “Out of This World” (April 13, 2015)
3. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Moving Pictures” (March 16, 2015)
4. James Wood’s “Circling the Subject” (May 4, 2015
5. Alex Ross’s “Eyes and Ears” (February 9, 2015)
6. Dan Chiasson’s “Beautiful Lies” (March 30, 2015)
7. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Native Soil” (May 25, 2015)
8. James Wood’s “Story of My Life” (June 22, 2015)
9. Dan Chiasson’s “American Snipper” (June 1, 2015)
10. Anthony Lane’s “High Gear” (May 25, 2015)

Talk of the Town

1. Mark Singer’s “All-Nighter” (May 11, 2015)
2. Ian Frazier’s “Russophilia” (February 16, 2015)
3. Lizzie Widdicombe’s “Air Bus” (June 1, 2015)
4. Nick Paumgarten’s “Hut!” (June 22, 2015)
5. Dana Goodyear’s “Life With Father” (June 29, 2015)
6. Sarah Larson’s “Cinephiles” (January 19, 2015)
7. Nick Paumgarten’s “Life Without Audience” (June 1, 2015)
8. John Seabrook’s “Free” (February 2, 2015)
9. Emma Allen’s “Landlord” (June 29, 2015)
10. Alec Wilkinson’s “Hands” (June 29, 2015)

Best Short Story

Louise Erdrich’s “The Flower” (June 29, 2015)

Best Poem

C. K. Williams, “Hog” (February 23, 2015)

Best Blog Post

Jiayang Fan, “Searching for America with General Tso” (“Cultural Comment,”, March 12, 2015)

Best Illustration

Riccardo Vecchio’s illustration for Jane Kramer’s “The Demolition Man” (June 29, 2015) (see above)

Best Photo

Ian Allen’s portrait of Chastity Belt for “Goings On About Town” (May 25, 2015)

Best Cover

Mark Ulriksen’s “Baseball Ballet” (April 27, 2015)

Best Issue

May 25, 2015, containing, among its many pleasures, David Owen’s superb “Where the River Runs Dry,” three first-rate reviews (Anthony Lane’s “High Gear,” James Wood’s “All Her Children,” and Peter Schjeldahl’s “Native Soil”), and Ian Allen’s ravishing, color-drenched “Goings On About Town” photo of the band Chastity Belt.

Best Sentence

Or does it refer to stuff that’s really, really hard to follow, especially when certain brainiacs insist on reading their turgid prose in a monotone that makes us doubt our very existence, because, Jesus, why doesn’t this guy in the gray turtleneck occasionally look up and, you know, smile? – Mark Singer, “All-Nighter” (May 11, 2015)

Best Paragraph

I went farther into the church, making a list of the things that the people of Diyarbakir had left there. Dried scraps of bread. Automotive carpeting. An old shoe. A fragment of a transistor radio. Corrugated plastic, some of it burned. Where the main altar had been, there was a fire pit; among the ashes, a wrapper for a candy called Coco Fino and empty cans of Efes beer. A rusted wire. Coils of shit. In the inset of a wall, someone had arranged several stones in a neat line. Hundreds of daisies reached upward. And as the sun descended behind the high city walls the smell of grilled meat drifted over from nearby homes, and the sound of children playing began to fill the streets. A ball was kicked and it hit the side of a building and bounced. Some boys clambered over the wall that surrounded the church. Women left their kitchens, and climbed to their roofs to collect carpets that had been put out to air. TVs wired to satellite dishes came on, filling spare rooms with their ethereal glow. All of Diyarbakir, it seemed, except the church, drifted forward in time. Overhead, a flock of common swifts darted and circled among the old stone arches. Their black wings arced like boomerangs as they swooped through the ruins—above the piles of earth, the weeds and the wildflowers, all the trash—and their movements were ceaseless, careless, as if unweighted by anything. – Raffi Khatchadourian, “A Century of Silence” (January 5, 2015)

Best Description

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.Rebecca Mead, “Sole Cycle” (March 23, 2015)

Most Memorable Image

The helicopter made its shuddering descent. Legs shook; sippy cups spilled. Marcy said, “Wow! I love this part!” The pilot yelled, “Touchdown!”Lizzie Widdicombe, “Air Bus” (June 1, 2015)

Most Inspired Detail

When undone, scarves with modernistic prints sent out gusts of international perfume.Ian Frazier, “Russophilia” (February 16, 2015)

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