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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Mid-Year Top Ten (2016): Talk & GOAT


Illustration by Bendik Kaltenborn











So far, this year’s crop of Talk of the Town stories his yielded only five favorites:

1. Laura Parker, "Bee's Knees," March 21, 2016 (“She dunked the bee in a tiny bottle containing her special blend of ‘bee shampoo’: a few drops of archival soap and deionized water. She held the bottle up to the light and gave it a firm swirl. One of No. 1’s legs fell off. ‘She’s old, she’s tired—she’s falling apart,’ Doering said.”)

2. Ian Frazier, "Connected," January 25, 2016 (“By design, the Link has no flat surfaces on which you can leave, say, an almost-empty Pabst bottle in a wrinkled paper bag. These Superman booths still have the little shelf beside the phone and always will. Their small privacy will still vibrate, occasionally, with the old lonesome pay-phone emotions of our former lives. The Links, savvier about human entanglements, will not.”)

3. Eric Lach, "Fire Starter," January 18, 2016 (“Hickory will make a house smell like a ski lodge. Cherry is prized for the way it crackles and pops in a fireplace.”)

4. Mark Singer, "Sleight of No Hands," February 8 & 15, 2016 [“Somehow—Jay’s biography, though it comes as close as any source to explaining the how of how, still leaves a reader at the intersection of belief and disbelief—he did magic (specialty: cups-and-balls), played several instruments (dulcimer, trumpet, flute), trick-shot with pistols, demonstrated exquisite ball control at skittles, danced the hornpipe on his leather-encased stumps, married four times, and sired fourteen children (proof, as Jay noted in Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, of ‘one fully operative appendage’).”]

5. Lauren Collins, "Dog's Dinner," February 8 & 15, 2016 (“The proprietor of the café—belly, suspenders, glasses on a cord—sidled up to the table.”)

And now here are my “Top Ten” choices from my favorite section of the magazine – Goings On About Town:

1. Becky Cooper, "Yours Sincerely," “Bar Tab,” June 6 & 13, 2016 (“The taps are porcelain doll heads, which stare like angelic witnesses to the evening’s festivities.”)

2. Michael Sragow, "Movies: Sam Peckinpah's The Deadly Companions," April 4, 2016 (“Wills makes a terrific mangy villain; he sweats corruption through his buffalo-fur coat.”)

3. Jiayang Fan, “Tables For Two: MáLà Project,” May 2, 2016 (“When an adventurous first-timer pointed to the unfamiliar item rooster’s XXX, the handsome Uighur waiter deadpanned, ‘Chicken testicles, ma’am. One order?’ ”)

4. McKenna Stayner, “Bar Tab: Sycamore,” May 2, 2016 (“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.”)

5. “Art: Mark Lyon,” June 6 & 13, 2016 [“Lyon photographs landscapes in upstate New York while standing inside the bays of self-service car washes, boxlike spaces that supply the images with ready-made frames (graced by the occasional hose). The views—gas-station pumps, strip malls, a swatch of unnaturally green lawn—are transformed by Lyon’s keen eye. He works in daylight and darkness alike, regardless of weather, as fog, rain, and falling snow turn the everyday oddly magical.”]

6. Becky Cooper, “Tables For Two: Bar Omar,” June 20, 2016 (“Shatter the shell of blistered sugar into pieces that look like stained glass and try not to smile.”)

7.  Richard Brody, “Movies: Howard Hawkes’s Hatari!,” March 21, 2016 (“A woman-hunting elephant provides a Freudian jolt, set to Henry Mancini’s jaunty music, and Red Buttons is moving as a Brooklyn cabdriver in exile whose heart does a U-turn.”)

8. Peter Schjeldahl, “In the Ink,” April 11, 2016 (“Shapes and atmospheres loom in whites and textured grays from Stygian blackness: sculpted light, with a muscular feel.”)

9. Nicolas Niarchos, “Bar Tab: Berlin,” February 8 & 15, 2016 (“At the bottom of the stairs, in a barrel-vaulted watering hole, long lines of people waited for the bathroom from whence burst ebullient gaggles of young women and a madly coughing guy in a Thrasher hat.”)

10. Matthew Trammell, “Rock Bottom,” June 6 & 13, 2016 (“If Bruner’s lifelong craft as a bassist buries him in the low end, his voice beams goldenrod from a crack in the ceiling.”)

Honorable Mentions: Amelia Lester, “Tables For Two: Lowlife,” January 18, 2016; Jiayang Fan, “Bar Tab: Mother’s Ruin,” January 25, 2016; Shauna Lyon, “Tables For Two: Llama Inn,” February 8 & 15, 2016; Emma Allen, “Bar Tab: Flowers for All Occasions,” February 22, 2016; Richard Brody, “Movies: Rebel in Disguise,” May 16, 2016; Richard Brody, “Movies: The Day He Arrives,” June 6 & 13, 2016; Jiayang Fan, “Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong,” “Tables For Two,” June 6 & 13, 2016.

Credit: The above illustration, by Bendik Kaltenborn, is from Matthew Trammell's "Rock Bottom" (The New Yorker, June 6 & 13, 2016). 

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