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.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 15, 2017, Issue


For me, the most enjoyable piece in this week’s issue is Nick Paumgarten’s Talk of the Town story, “Bong Show,” describing an exhibit at apexart, in Tribeca, called “Outlaw Glass,” – “a showcase of glass pipes and bongs, handmade by master lampworkers for the purpose of smoking marijuana in various forms.” Paumgarten reports,

There were four large vitrines, each about the size of a coffin and populated by an array of flamboyant, filigreed apparatuses, lurid plumbing in many colors and forms—dragons, skulls, krakens—which one might find either fetching or hideous, depending upon one’s taste for velvet heavy-metal posters and airbrushed landscapes on vans. No question, the craftsmanship was humbling. Delicate leaves and lace, tubes within tubes, ghouls embedded inside chambers like ships in bottles. One object widely admired by the other lampworkers was a pea-green monster truck with big black tires and flames exuding from six tailpipes—every inch of it glass.

That “Delicate leaves and lace, tubes within tubes, ghouls embedded inside chambers like ships in bottles” is superb!

Paumgarten’s piece slightly reminds me of John Updike’s great Talk story “Old and Precious” (The New Yorker, March 30, 1957; included in his 1965 collection Assorted Prose), in which he attends the Thirteenth Annual National Antique Show held in the “not undingy basement” of Madison Square Gardens and notes some of the items on display:

Staffordshire inkwells, Baccarat chandeliers, hurricane lamps, crystal bobêches, Japanese netsukes, doré bronze candelabra, Zuñi necklaces, Bohemian tankards, vellum music sheets, bisque clocks, Basque jugs, and specimens of dragware, creamware, queen’s ware, stoneware, pearlware, and colored, cut, blown, pressed, and authentic milk glass.

Updike liked to quote William Carlos Williams’s “No ideas but in things.” I think he would’ve relished that “pea-green monster truck with big black tires and flames exuding from six tailpipes—every inch of it glass,” in Paumgarten’s wonderful piece. I certainly did.

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