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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

November 7, 2016, Issue

Oh no, not another opera-buffa billionaire. One just got elected President. Now, in this week’s New Yorker, there’s a piece (Jiayang Fan’s “The Emperor’s New Museum”) about a guy who paid a hundred and seventy million dollars for a Modigliani. Do I really want to read this? I was one sentence into the thing and about to bail, when I encountered this:

We had just sat down in his office at the Long Museum West, one of two privately run art museums that he has opened in the city, when his face contorted and a sneeze of atomic force burst out, unhindered by tissue or hand. Liu unself-consciously wiped himself down with a Kleenex, cleared his sinuses copiously, and balled up the tissue, placing it on a glass coffee table between us.

That “his face contorted and a sneeze of atomic force burst out, unhindered by tissue or hand” made me smile. I was hooked. I read the rest of the piece straight through. As it turned out, that atomic sneeze was the most vivid moment in the piece. It was the highlight. And that’s okay. I felt lucky to get that. Pauline Kael, in her great “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” wrote, “When you’re young the odds are very good that you’ll find something to enjoy in almost any movie. But as you grow more experienced, the odds change.” The same applies to reading The New Yorker.  

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