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.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My First "New Yorker"

I bought my first New Yorker – the March 1, 1976 issue – at Atlantic News in Halifax. I remember the circumstances. I was twenty-four years old. I’d quit university and was working as a gas jockey at the Spring Garden Road Esso. After work one evening, I decided to drop into Atlantic News and check out the magazine section. Perhaps I was looking for a new Esquire. At that time, I was an Esquire fan. But on this occasion it was The New Yorker that caught my eye. Its cover showed a strange scene, a ladder-carrying mob storming a towering statueless plinth. I leafed through it. What dense, strange type! No photos, no illustrations. Perusing its contents, I stumbled on this sentence: “On his last night of leave, Wednesday, September 3, 1969, Michael Eugene Mullen worked until ten o’clock on his family’s farm – a hundred-and-twenty-acre tract five miles northwest of La Porte City, in Black Hawk County, Iowa.” It was the kind of Hemingwayesque sentence I relished (still do) – concrete, hard-edged, factual. It was the opening line of the first installment of C. D. B. Bryan’s Vietnam War chronicle “Friendly Fire.” I bought the issue (75¢), took it home, and read “Friendly Fire – I” straight through in one sitting. It struck me as brilliant. I bought the next two issues, devouring “Friendly Fire – II” and “Friendly Fire – III” (the final installment). In the process, I discovered another arresting aspect of the magazine – Pauline Kael’s movie reviews. I found her avid, urgent, irreverent style thrilling. From that time on, I was hooked on The New Yorker – what’s turned out to be a thirty-nine-year addiction with no end in sight. If anything, it’s getting more intense.

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