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 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.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mid-Year Top Ten (2016): Reporting Pieces


Photo by Benjamin Lowy



















Time to pause, look back, and take stock of my 2016 New Yorker reading experience thus far. As ever, pleasure is my guide. The reporting pieces that afforded me the most pleasure are:

1. Jonathan Franzen’s "The End of the End of the World," May 23, 2016 (“Although the colony was everywhere smeared with nitric-smelling shit, and the doomed orphan chicks were a piteous sight, I was already glad I’d come.”)

2. Carolyn Kormann, "The Tasting-Menu Initiative," April 4, 2016 (“Carola Quispé, a former Gustu student, aimed the gun into a glass of foamy pink liquid and topped it off with smoke, then added a coca-leaf garnish. ‘It’s made with papa-pinta-boca-infused singani, lime juice, and egg whites, balanced with palo santo syrup,’ she said. It felt like drinking incense.”)

3. Andrew O’Hagan, "Imaginary Spaces," March 28, 2016 (“The set was a living organism, emitting turmoil and images of chaos: when an old piano was played, its discordancy seemed to echo through the language; when Cumberbatch, as Hamlet, feigned madness, or became mad, the portraits on the walls seemed to glower at him.”)

4. Dana Goodyear, "Mezcal Sunrise," April 4, 2016 (“She poured some into a jícara, the dried hull of a fruit, often used to serve mezcal, and offered it to me. It was tangy and slick, like a dirty Martini, with a whiff of neat’s-foot oil.”)

5. Ben Lerner, "The Custodians," January 11, 2016 [“In Kline’s work, I discover (or at least I project) vulnerability as well as technophilia: rather than producing works that can be shattered or lost, he is sending blueprints into the future.”]

6. Ian Frazier, "The Bag Bill," May 2, 2016 (“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.”)

7. Tad Friend, "Holding the T," January 18, 2015 (“These friendships are usually squash-specific: we play, postmortem a bit, then part. But they’re stamped by the pleasure of jamming together, of collaborating on a jubilant rag of hissing strings, percussive splats, sneaker squeaks, and winded grunts.”)

8. Dexter Filkins, "The End of Ice," April 4, 2016 (“Chhota Shigri—six miles long and shaped like a branching piece of ginger—is considered one of the Himalayas’ most accessible glaciers, but our way across was a rickety gondola, an open cage reminiscent of a shopping cart, which runs on a cable over the Chandra. With one of the porters working a pulley, we climbed in and rode across, one by one, while fifty feet below the river rushed through gigantic boulders.”)

9. Judith Thurman, "The Empire's New Clothes," March 21, 2016 (“Her appliqués mushroom magically on the slope of a skirt. A mermaid gown that Charles James might have made for Gypsy Rose Lee is crossbred with a Ming vase; a cascade of ruffles evokes the waterfall in a brush-painted landscape.”)

10. Jill Lepore, "The Party Crashers," February 22, 2016 (“With our phones in our hands and our eyes on our phones, each of us is a reporter, each a photographer, unedited and ill judged, chatting, snapping, tweeting, and posting, yikking and yakking. At some point, does each of us become a party of one?”)

Honorable Mentions: Patricia Marx, “In Search of Forty Winks” (February 8 & 15, 2016); Lizzie Widdicombe, “Barbie Boy” (March 21, 2016); Lauren Collins, “Come to the Fair” (April 4, 2016); James Lasdun, “Alone in the Alps” (April 11, 2016); Gay Talese, “The Voyeur’s Motel” (April 11, 2016); Rachel Aviv, “The Cost of Caring” (April 11, 2016); Elizabeth Kolbert, “Unnatural Selection” (April 18, 2016); Ariel Levy, “Beautiful Monsters” (April 18, 2016); Lauren Collins, “The Model American” (May 9, 2016); Lizzie Widdicombe, “Happy Together” (May 16, 2016); Raffi Katchadourian, “The Unseen” (June 20, 2016).

Tomorrow, I’ll post my favorite critical pieces.

Credit: The above photo, by Benjamin Lowy, is from Carolyn Kormann’s “The Tasting-Menu Initiative” (The New Yorker, April 4, 2016).

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