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, September 20, 2016

My Igloolik "New Yorker"

One of the most memorable days of my life began with The New Yorker. September 14, 2003, 6:30 a.m., I laid in bed at the Igloolik Hotel in Igloolik, Nunavut, reading Robert Gottlieb’s absorbing “The Years With Thurber” (The New Yorker, September 8, 2003). Near the end of the piece, Gottlieb quotes Thurber: “People are not funny; they are vicious and horrible—and so is life.” On that cheery note, I rose, dressed, and headed for the dining room for coffee. Shortly afterwards, my friend George Qulaut appeared and invited me to go seal hunting with him. We went out in George’s big freighter canoe. Foxe Basin brimmed with ice floes. George got a harp, a ring, and a bearded seal – the Inuit equivalent of hitting for the cycle. Late in the afternoon, we stopped at an ice pan – multiyear ice, George called it. It contained an aqua-colored pool. George scooped water from it and made tea on his Coleman stove. While we were there, we heard what sounded like a hissing air hose - psssssssss. George said it was a bowhead. We looked and looked. Suddenly, about twenty feet away, the glistening black back of a bowhead calf emerged from the water. It was visible for only a few seconds, and then it disappeared. George said its mother was likely nearby. We thought we could hear her breathing. We looked for her, but didn’t see her. We headed back to Igloolik. “This is the sad part of the journey,” George said. But I didn’t feel sad. I was elated. It had been a wonderful day. Thurber was wrong. 

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