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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016: Reporting

Photo by Jamie Hawkesworth

Here are my favorite New Yorker reporting pieces of 2016 (with a choice quote from each in brackets):

1. Dana Goodyear, “The Earth Mover,” August 29, 2016 (“He walked over to the kissing point and got down on his knees. He blew some fine dirt from the joint and ran a finger through the dust. His silver cross hung down. The picture was: artist, archeologist, supplicant, looking at an entrance to the underworld”).

2. Tad Friend, “Holding the T,” January 18, 2016 (“I sent him on a long scavenger hunt, then decoyed him in for a backhand drop and flicked it crosscourt into open space. At 9–10, I thumped a series of forehand rails and then whipped a crosscourt by him. Another crosscourt got me a game ball at 12–11, and a backhand volley, a perfect nick at the perfect time, closed it out”).

3. Nick Paumgarten, “The Country Restaurant,” August 29, 2016 (“Baehrel has concocted a canny fulfillment of a particular foodie fantasy: an eccentric hermit wrings strange masterpieces from the woods and his scrabbly back yard. The extreme locavore, pure of spade and larder. The toughest ticket in town. Stir in opacity, inaccessibility, and exclusivity, then powder it with lichen: It’s delicious. You can’t get enough. You can’t even get in”).

4. Janet Malcolm, “The Performance Artist,” September 5, 2016 (“She had come to tame the beast of a piece, this half-naked woman in sadistic high heels. Take that, and that, Beethoven!”).

5. Ian Frazier, “Patina,” September 19, 2016 (“When you have Statue of Liberty green on the brain, you see it all around you, especially on infrastructure. Being aware of the color somehow makes the city’s bindings and conduits and linkages stand out as if they’d been injected with radioactive dye. When you look for the color, the city becomes an electric train set you’re assembling with your eyes”).

6. Hilton Als, “Dark Rooms,” July 4, 2016 (“She had no interest in trying to show who they were under the feathers and the fantasy: she was in love with the bravery of their self-creation, their otherness”).

7. Jonathan Franzen, “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”).

8. Jill Lepore, “The War and the Roses,” August 8 & 15, 2016 [“Either they were willing to have Trump speak in their stead (“I am your voice”), the very definition of a dictator, or else they wanted to speak for themselves, because the system was rigged, because the establishment could not be trusted, or because no one, no one, could understand them, their true, particular, Instagram selves”].

9. 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”).

10. Elizabeth Kolbert, “A Song of Ice,” October 24, 2016 (“One iceberg reminded me of an airplane hangar, another of the Guggenheim Museum. There was a sphinx, a pagoda, and a battleship; a barn, a silo, and the Sydney Opera House”).

Honorable Mention: Tom Kizzia, “The New Harpoon,” September 12, 2016.

Credit: The above photograph, by Jamie Hawkesworth, is from Dana Goodyear’s “The Earth Mover” (The New Yorker, August 29, 2016).

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