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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Best of 2015: Reporting

Here are my favorite fact pieces of 2015 (with a choice quote from each selection in brackets):

1. Ben McGrath, "The Wayfarer," December 14, 2015. (“A few of the bridges over the canal were so low that he had to lean back and retract his chin, sliding underneath, as though into an MRI scanner, while cars rolled overhead.”)

2. Nick Paumgarten, "Life Is Rescues," November 9, 2015. (“I wandered out into the rain and then into the kitchen tent. On a row of plastic hangers someone had hung the team’s bananas. Each hanger held two bunches. I stood looking at this, in admiration and wonder. Iceland.”)

3. Ian Frazier, "Bronx Dreams," December 7, 2015. (“Fifty kids in zombie makeup zombied to ‘Thriller,’ two middle-school actors did the scene in which Othello strangles Desdemona, a girl named Massire Camara recited a poem about the death of her uncle that is now on YouTube, and a stage full of elementary-age students in a step-dance group called the Bengal Tigers, from P.S. 55, did a routine with stomping, clapping, and chanting that bounced the audience out of its seats.”)

4. William Finnegan, "Off Diamond Head," June 1, 2015. (“Hands folded under my chin, I drifted. A bruise-colored cloud hung over Koko Head. A transistor radio twanged on a seawall where a Hawaiian family picnicked on the sand. The sun-warmed shallow water had a strange boiled-vegetable taste. The moment was immense, still, glittering, mundane. I tried to fix each of its parts in memory. I did not consider, even in passing, that I had a choice when it came to surfing. My enchantment would take me where it chose.”)

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

6. David Owen, "Where the River Runs Dry," May 25, 2015. (“Our pilot, David Kunkel, asked me to retrieve his oxygen bottle from under my seat, and when I handed it to him he gripped the plastic breathing tube with his teeth and opened the valve.”)

7. Dana Goodyear, "A New Leaf," November 2, 2015. (“We waded into the water and put our flippers and masks on. I ducked my head under and gazed. Two years ago, it was rocks and urchins. Now kelp was everywhere, ochre-colored, thirty feet tall, flailing like tube dancers outside a car wash.”)

8. Ian Parker, "The Shape of Things to Come," February 23 & March 2, 2015. (“Ive’s aesthetic is not austere: one could think of the work done here as a reticent man’s idea of exuberance, with rapture expressed in the magnetic click of a power adapter.”)

9. Jill Lepore, "Joe Gould's Teeth," July 27, 2015. (“ ‘Joe Gould’s Secret’ is a defense of invention. Mitchell took something that wasn’t beautiful, the sorry fate of a broken man, and made it beautiful—a fable about art. ‘Joe Gould’s Secret’ is the best story many people have ever read. Its truth is, in a Keatsian sense, its beauty; its beauty, truth.”)

10. Elif Batuman, "The Big Dig," August 31, 2015. (“In a shed nearby, a noisy filtration machine was chugging its way through approximately two thousand sacks of Byzantine and Neolithic dirt.”)

Credit: The above photo, by Victor Schrager, is from Ben McGrath’s "The Wayfarer," The New Yorker, December 14, 2015.

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