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 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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

April 17, 2017, Issue


I see in the “Briefly Noted” review of Richard Holmes’s new book, The Long Pursuit, in this week’s issue, that Holmes “swears by what he calls the ‘Footsteps principle,’ which entails going everywhere that ‘the subject had ever lived or worked, or travelled or dreamed.’ ” Reading this, I recalled Geoff Dyer, in Granta’s recent “Journeys” issue, describing travel writing that follows “in the footsteps of …” as “the literary equivalent of package tours in which destination and experience are so thoroughly predetermined that one is reluctant to make a booking.” I’m curious what Dyer would make of Holmes’s “Footsteps principle.” It seems to me that The Long Pursuit is worthy of more than just a “Briefly Noted” review. I wish The New Yorker would ask Dyer to review it. He’s a superb critic. He’d be an excellent sub for James Wood.

Other notes on this week’s issue:


1. The Maureen Gallace painting, “Sandy Road” (2003), in “Goings On About Town,” brought to mind Peter Schjeldahl’s wonderful “America at the Edges” (The New Yorker, October 19, 2015), in which he describes Gallace’s art:

Gallace’s means are narrow: she employs uniformly quick, daubed brushwork and colors kept to a mid-range of tones that makes whites jump out. Her end is description, not of how things look but of how they seem. What is a breaking ocean wave like? Gallace answers with stabs of creamy off-white and gray-blue shadow. It’s her best guess, as is the specific blue of the sky on the given day. In one picture, single blue strokes approximate tidal pools. Elsewhere, a slight touch of green in the sea hints at fathomless deeps. Qualities of light, too, feel gamely speculative. (To me, they tend to evoke morning hours, when the visible world, well rested, has something almost eager about it.) The houses often lack doors and windows. Gallace is plainly shy of anyone or anything that might even seem to return her gaze. She conveys a vulnerable aloneness wholly given over to absorption in appearances. Looking at the paintings, I feel that I am always just beginning to look.

2. The William Mebane photograph, illustrating Jiayang Fan’s delectable “Tables For Two: Tim Ho Wan,” is one of his finest. I’m a Mebane fan. His photo for Silvia Killingsworth’s “Tables For Two: Babu Ji” was #6 on my “Best of 2016: Photos.” His “Tim Ho Van” is sure to be a candidate for “Best of 2017.”

3. I find “Bar Tab” drink descriptions irresistible. There’s a dandy in David Kortava’s “Bar Tab: Skinny Dennis”:  “If you are going to stay and drink, Willie’s Frozen Coffee—a decadent caffeine-and-whiskey sludge named for Willie Nelson—is a must.”


Postscript: I want to add that Richard Holmes’s Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985) is, for me, a touchstone, particularly the first section, titled “1964: Travels,” in which he tells how his youthful journeys through the Cévennes, following the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, led him towards biography.

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