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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Robert Macfarlane's "The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web"

Illustration by Enzo Pérès-Labourdette 
I’m pleased to see that has posted a Robert Macfarlane piece (“The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web,” August 7, 2016). Macfarlane’s writing brims with the kind of active, specific, vibrant, subjective, journalistic notation I relish (e.g., from his superb The Old Ways, “Out and on we walked, barefoot over and into the mirror-world. I glanced back at the coast. The air was grainy and flickering, like an old newsreel”; “Mid-morning departure, Stornoway harbor, which is also known as the Hoil: hints of oil, hints of hooley. Sound of boatslip, reek of diesel. Broad Bay’s wake through the harbor – a tugged line through the fuel slicks on the water’s surface, our keel slurring petrol-rainbows”). 

The post, a report on a study of “dazzlingly complex and collaborative” underground fungal networks being conducted by a young plant scientist named Merlin Sheldrake, contains this wonderful passage:

We stopped to eat in a dry part of the forest, on rising ground amid old pines. Sheldrake had brought two mangoes and a spinach tart. He drank beer, I drank water, and the pine roots snaked and interlaced around us. 

That “and the pine roots snaked and interlaced around us” is very fine. To my knowledge, “The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web” is Macfarlane’s first New Yorker piece. I hope it’s the first of many.

Credit: The above illustration by Enzo Pérès-Labourdette is from Robert Macfarlane’s “The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web” (“Elements,”, August 7, 2016).

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