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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Best of 2015: Talk

Here are my favorite “Talk of the Town” stories of 2015 (with a choice quote from each selection in brackets):

1. Mark Singer, "All-Nighter," May 11, 2015. (“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?”)

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

3. Nick Paumgarten, "Hut!," June 22, 2015. (“They flew on the tide, the city sparkling by.”)

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

5. Nick Paumgarten, "Amerks," October 5, 2015. (“Dutton, eighty-two, had a brush cut, a firm jawline, and teeth that looked suspiciously like replacements for a set scattered on a frozen pond.”)

6. Ian Frazier, "Amo, Amas," August 3, 2015. (“Languages and facts flew like sparks from a grindstone and skidded bluely onto the board.”)

7. Sarah Larson, "Cinephiles," January 19, 2015. (“The waitress brought Murray two rum-and-water options. He took one and said, of the other, ‘You give that to the kids at the orphanage.’ ”)

8. Lauren Collins, "Birds-Eye View," July 6, 2015. (“Out on the runway, a queue was forming: a Middle East Airlines A320, bound for Beirut; a KLM 737, heading back to Amsterdam; the state aircraft of the United Arab Emirates, a private 747, half snow goose, half tapir, its snout sniffing the sky.”)

9. Alec Wilkinson, "Hands," June 29, 2015. (“When Elfman arrived, he said that he began collecting when he was travelling the world after graduating from high school. ‘I was in Bamako, Mali, and I bought a standing, smiling skeleton carved from a single piece of bone, probably an elephant bone,’ he said. ‘There was a guy in the market with three of them. I negotiated for a day, with breaks for lunch.’ ”)

10. John Seabrook, "Free," February 2, 2015. (“Tagaq, who is thirty-nine and has jet-black hair and a girlish face, had removed her sealskin boots and was sitting barefoot on the floor of the Diker Pavilion, a large oval space on the museum’s ground level.”)

Credit: The above portrait of Tanya Tagaq, by Tom Bachtell, is from John Seabrook's "Free," The New Yorker, February 2, 2015.

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