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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 2, 2016 Issue

I can’t look at a bag in a tree without thinking of Ian Frazier. That means I think of Frazier a lot, because there are a lot of bags in trees. I never used to notice them. Only after I read his three great “Bags In Trees” pieces in his 2005 collection Gone to New York did I become conscious of them. Since then I see their annoying presence everywhere. I frequently pick them out of ditches and off bushes and accessible tree branches. And when I see them fluttering in high branches where I can’t reach them, I find myself wishing I had one of those nifty bag snaggers that Frazier and his friend Tim McClelland invented (see Frazier’s brilliant "Bags In Trees: A Retrospective").

Reading this week’s New Yorker, I see that Frazier is still tangled up with the bags-in-trees problem. In a terrific piece titled "The Bag Bill," he writes about a lawyer, Jennie Romer, who specializes in plastic-bag law, and who is currently pushing for the passage of a bill called Intro 209A that will impose a fee on plastic bags in New York City. In my favorite part of the piece, Frazier describes accompanying Romer and members of a group from the West 80s Neighborhood Association on a sort of bag-snagging tutorial. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Scheppke, an employee of the Littoral Society, successfully snagged a bag, and Cheryl Sussman, a retired accountant who cleans up trash on the Far Rockaway beaches by herself as a hobby, got one, too. A member of the group took a bag from a tree in the Broadway median strip while standing almost on top of a guy on a bench who did not lift his eyes from his crossword puzzle. Elmore, the pro, then dazzled everybody by extracting a noxious blue plastic drop cloth from a sidewalk callery-pear tree in about half a second.

That last line is inspired! I enjoyed “The Bag Bill” immensely. I hope Intro 209A passes.

Postscript: Three other excellent pieces in this week’s issue are Jiayang Fan’s "Tables For Two: MáLà Project" (“When an adventurous first-timer pointed to the unfamiliar item rooster’s XXX, the handsome Uighur waiter deadpanned, ‘Chicken testicles, ma’am. One order?’ ”), McKenna Stayner’s "Bar Tab: Sycamore" (“The crawlers, finishing a hot whiskey cider that tasted like the dregs of an overly honeyed tea, passed through a teensy smokers’ patio and into the booze-soaked main bar, attracted by a glowing yellow counter, its surface like the cracked crust of a crème brûlée”), and Peter Schjeldahl’s "Insurance Man," a review of Paul Mariani’s The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens (“He came slowly to a mastery of language, form, and style that revealed a mind like a solar system, with abstract ideas orbiting a radiant lyricism”).

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