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, April 1, 2017

Granta's Great "Journeys" Issue

I’m enjoying the hell out of Granta’s “Journeys” issue (Winter 2017). It poses the question, “Is travel writing dead?” and provides responses from thirteen writers, including New Yorker contributors Geoff Dyer and Samanth Subramanian.

Subramanian, in his reply, calls travel writing “the most fundamental kind of literary work.” I agree, especially if a broad definition of the genre is adopted, e.g., Bill Buford’s “pre-eminently a narrative told in the first person, authenticated by lived experience” (“Editorial,” Granta 10: Travel Writing, 1983).

One of the most interesting responses is Colin Thubron’s. He says travel writing contains a vital ingredient that computer programs like Google Earth can't substitute for, namely, “experience on the ground, the traveller’s raw intimacy with the sensuous texture of place: its smells and tastes, its street life and conversation.”

That’s what I hunger for, not just in travel writing, but in all writing – “experience on the ground,” “raw intimacy with the sensuous texture of place.” Classic New Yorker examples of it are John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country” (June 13, 20 & 27, 1977) and Ian Frazier’s “Great Plains” (February 13, 20 & 27, 1989).  

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