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 Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. 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

Year In Review: One Last Caress


Illustration by Bendik Kaltenborn














Readers of this blog may wonder what this year-end flurry of lists – the best of this, the best of that – is all about. I sometimes wonder myself. I think it’s a way for me to prolong the pleasure of these wonderful pieces. The truth is I’m not yet ready to let them go. Yes, I’m looking forward to next year’s run. But I’m also fondly looking back at the many pieces that have afforded me such bliss. In a way, these lists are a last caress before bidding them adieu. But let’s not get too morose. I can always retrieve them from the New Yorker archive any time I want to.

And now I find my listing impulse is not yet exhausted. I want to make one more – a final inventory of 2016 New Yorker reading pleasure. Here goes.

Best Reporting Piece: Dana Goodyear’s “The Earth Mover,” August 29, 2016.

Best Critical Piece: James Wood’s “Scrutiny,” December 12, 2016.

Best “Talk of the Town” Piece: Laura Parker’s “Bee’s Knees,” March 21, 2016.

Best “Goings On About Town” Piece: Nicolas Niarchos’s “Bar Tab: Berlin,” February 8 & 15, 2016.

Best Illustration: Bendik Kaltenborn’s “Thundercat,” for Matthew Trammell’s “Night Life: Rock Bottom,” June 6 & 13, 2016.

Best Photograph: Pari Dukovic’s “Yuja Wang,” for Janet Malcolm’s “The Performance Artist,” September 5, 2016.

Best Short Story: Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Gender Studies,” August 29, 2016 (“Their eyes meet—she’s perhaps three per cent less hammered than she was down in the lobby, though still hammered enough not to worry about her drunkenness wearing off anytime soon—and at first he says nothing. Then, so seriously that his words almost incite in her a genuine emotion, he says, ‘You’re pretty’ ”).

Best Poem: Julie Bruck’s “Blue Heron, Walking,” August 29, 2016 (“these outsized / apprehenders of grasses and stone, snatchers of mouse and vole, / these mindless magnificents that any time now will trail / their risen bird like useless bits of leather”).

Best Blog Post: Lev Mendes’s “Philip Larkin’s Life Behind the Camera” (“Page-Turner,” January 29, 2016) (“Photography, like poetry, may have simply provided him a way of noticing and preserving”).

Best Cover: J. J. Sempé’s “Waves,” for the August 29, 2016, issue.



















Best Issue: April 4, 2016 – The Food and Travel Issue, containing “Lauren Collins’s “Come to the Fair,” Dana Goodyear’s “Mezcal Sunrise,” Carolyn Kormann’s “The Tasting-Menu Initiative,” and Dexter Filkins’s “The End of Ice” – all excellent.

Now, a few images from my 2016 New Yorker reading experience, in no particular order, montage-style:

TEN-FOOT-TALL BALD EAGLE: “I went to see a ten-foot-tall American bald eagle, made entirely out of red-white-and-blue Duck Brand duct tape, on display in a parking lot.” [Jill Lepore, “The War and the Roses,” August 8 & 15, 2016]

SURFBOARD WITH SKELETON: “Hanging just above the front door is a yellow surfboard with a skeleton clinging to it, bony limbs locked around the board for better purchase.” [Talia Levin, “Bar Tab: Otto’s Shrunken Head Tiki Bar & Lounge,” December 12, 2016]

SILVER ADIDAS WITH WINGS: “At ground level, herds of strange footwear scurried around: silver Adidas sneakers with wings sprouting from the ankles, fuzzy ones with tails and tiger stripes, high-tops with green Teddy bears for tongues.” [Lizzie Widdicombe, “Barbie Boy,” March 21, 2016]

MERMAID GOWN: “Her appliqués mushroom magically on the slope of a skirt. A mermaid gown that Charles James might have made for Gypsy Rose Lee is crossbred with a Ming vase; a cascade of ruffles evokes the waterfall in a brush-painted landscape.” [Judith Thurman, “The Empire’s New Clothes,” March 21, 2016]

SEBRIGHT CHICKENS: “The Sebrights were crazy-beautiful: proud-looking, with jutting breasts, each of their silver-white feathers edged in black, as though someone had outlined them with a Sharpie.” [Lauren Collins, “Come to the Fair,” April 4, 2016]

FLAME TREES: “Lipstick-red flame trees were in bloom, and the air was filled with the intoxicating smell of gasoline.” [Dana Goodyear, “Mezcal Sunrise,” April 4, 2016]

TEN-FOOT-LONG ICICLES: (“Pressing ourselves against the interior walls and shimmying along the narrow banks of the rushing water, we worked our way into a vaulting palace of ice, where ten-foot-long icicles hung from the ceiling like giant fishhooks. Underneath the roar, you could hear the drip of melting ice.” [Dexter Filkins, “The End of Ice,” April 4, 2016]

SOVIET-ERA TRACTOR: “A Soviet-era tractor, spindly and goggle-eyed, gleamed within the shadows of a stone barn.” [James Lasdun, “Alone in the Alps,” April 11, 2016]

GOLDEN SKELETON ON BLUE HORSE: “Walk downhill along the path that leads away from the Sphinx, and you are confronted by a voluptuous golden skeleton—Death—riding a blue horse over a mirrored green sea, from which disembodied arms stretch up to cling to the world of the living.” [Ariel Levy, “Beautiful Monsters,” April 18, 2016]

CALLERY-PEAR TREE: “Elmore, the pro, then dazzled everybody by extracting a noxious blue plastic drop cloth from a sidewalk callery-pear tree in about half a second.” [Ian Frazier, “The Bag Bill,” May 2, 2016]

SKIN BOAT CONFERENCE TABLE: “At the headquarters, a three-story building near the ocean in Barrow, a whaling skin boat provides the center support for a glass-topped boardroom table.” [Tom Kizzia, “The New Harpoon,” September 12, 2016]

VOLKSWAGON KARMANN GHIA: “a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, its hood and trunk popped open, like an upturned deerstalker cap” [Jill Lepore, “Esmé in Neverland,” November 21, 2016]

DANGLING NECKTIE: “Despite an insistent voice in my head telling me to look away, I continued to observe, bending my head farther down for a closer view. As I did so, I failed to notice that my necktie had slipped down through the slats of the louvred screen and was dangling into the motel room within a few yards of the woman’s head.” [Gay Talese, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” April 11, 2016]

WHALE-LIVER MEMBRANE: “ ‘We believe if you follow these rituals, the animals will always come to us,’ Oomittuk said, as he pulled a drum made of whale-liver membrane from a carrying case.” [Tom Kizzia, "The New Harpoon," Septmber 12, 2016]

ORANGE MASON JAR WITH CREAM CLOUD: “The delicious budino arrives in a small orange Mason jar with a cloud of cream.” [Jiayang Fan, “Tables For Two: Covina,” July 25, 2016]

PORCELAIN DOLL BEER TAPS: “The taps are porcelain doll heads, which stare like angelic witnesses to the evening’s festivities.” [Becky Cooper, “Bar Tab: Yours Sincerely,” June 6 & 13, 2016]

RICKETY GONDOLA: “Chhota Shigri—six miles long and shaped like a branching piece of ginger—is considered one of the Himalayas’ most accessible glaciers, but our way across was a rickety gondola, an open cage reminiscent of a shopping cart, which runs on a cable over the Chandra. With one of the porters working a pulley, we climbed in and rode across, one by one, while fifty feet below the river rushed through gigantic boulders.” [Dexter Filkins, “The End of Ice,” April 4, 2016]

GOLDEN BANANA PEEL: “A lamp whose base is a golden banana peel suggests a knowing wink. [GOAT, April 25, 2016]

SCARECROW OWL DECOYS: “Wherever you go, scarecrow owl decoys solemnly watch over you from the shelves above.” [David Kortava, "Bar Tab: The Owl Farm," November 14, 2016]

STAG BLADDERS: “He had just urged an audience of Silesian farmers to fertilize their fields with cow intestines stuffed with chamomile blossoms, and stag bladders filled with yarrow root (stag bladders being ‘almost an image of the cosmos’). [Burkhard Bilger, “Ghost Stories, September 12, 2016]

And on that pungent note, I’ll end. Thank you New Yorker for another magnificent year of reading pleasure.

Credit: The above illustration, by Bendik Kaltenborn, is from “Above & Beyond” (The New Yorker, January 25, 2016).

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