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 Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 23, 2015 Issue


Kathryn Schulz’s "Writers in the Storm," in this week’s issue, tracks what she calls “the over-all decline of weather in literature.” She writes, “While meteorology was advancing, then, the role of weather in literature began to decline.” This doesn’t mesh with my own reading experience. My favorite books brim with weather:

The first snowstorm blew in from the north, and crows crossed the sky before it like thrown black socks. [Ian Frazier, Great Plains, 1989]

The day was growing overcast, and we walked out of the woods and headed toward the Meadowlands despite Victor’s misgivings. [Robert Sullivan, The Meadowlands, 1998]

Woke up in brilliant sunshine in the shaking train, going through the Rocky Mountain Trench, as it is called, a long straight fault valley on the west slopes, with snow ranges on either side, an area where they were building a road in 1960 – but still no road. [Edward Hoagland, Notes from the Century Before, 1969]

The Arctic sun – penetrating, intense – seems not so much to shine as to strike. [John McPhee, Coming into the Country, 1977]

On sunny, crystal clear mornings in the fall, when it is possible to see into the water, he gets in one of his boats and rows out into the flats and catches some river shrimp. [Joseph Mitchell, The Bottom of the Harbor, 1959]

Afternoon light, clinging to the land, seemed to flee to the snowy sky as twilight drew on. [Verlyn Klinkenborg, Making Hay, 1986]

The wind is steady out of the east, a strong breeze of maybe thirty to thirty-five. [Anthony Bailey, The Outer Banks, 1989]

The cabin emerges silently up ahead in the blowing snow as the storm closes in. [Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams, 1986]

The rising sun shot hard, bright beams straight down the canyon east to west, bleeding in a muscular heat. [Sallie Tisdale, Stepping Westward, 1991]

But the boat was safe here, displaced from the world in its cocoon of fog, and I was glad to stay. [Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau, 1999]

My list could go on and on. Schulz’s theory is too sweeping; her definition of literature is too narrow. She fails to consider the many splendid nature and travel books in which weather is central.

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