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.

Monday, July 3, 2017


A couple of nights ago, Lorna and I attended the Canada Day celebrations in Charlottetown’s Victoria Park. Rowan, our two-year-old grandson, came with us. I stood, holding him in my arms, as round after round of spectacular fireworks were launched. Rowan gazed up at the explosions of luminous red, green, and gold glitter. He was smiling. At one point, he said, “I want to eat them,” reached out, grabbed an imaginary handful of sparkles, and popped them in his mouth.

Rowan’s appetitive response to fireworks reminded me of Peter Schjeldahl’s passion for Fourth of July bottle-rocketing, which he’s expressed in two wonderful pieces – “Fireworks” (in his 1990 collection, The 7 Days Art Columns 1988-1990) and “The Pyro-American in Me” (, July 3, 2016). In the latter piece, he likens fireworks to music. He writes,

My personal pleasure required the most physical practical sequencing: fulminant jazz, call it—without, incidentally, the kitsch of musical accompaniment. Fireworks are music. (Our valley made for richly satisfying echoes.) Professionals obsess, preciously, about the beauty of their shells. But fireworks can’t help but be beautiful. I cared far less for quality than for quantity. With fireworks, more than enough is wonderful. Apropos more than that, words fail.

Another memorable New Yorker piece on fireworks is Adam Gopnik’s “French Fireworks” (, July 15, 2009), an account of his attendance at Paris’s Fête Nationale. He describes the lighting of the Eiffel Tower (“By manipulating this projected image of the tower, overlaid on the thing itself, the designers managed to make it seem to spin, disassemble, paint itself red, white, and blue, turn into a psychedelic sixties-style monument complete with Day-Glo flowers, and, in the end, actually shake its hips”) and the fireworks that went with it (“And all this was accompanied by uninterrupted and achingly loud fireworks, particularly heavy on the pure-gold and amber end of the spectrum, and with gas jets at the tower’s center flaring at high moments of emotion”). Gopnik ends his piece by noting, “There are some things that only government can do well: alpine uniforms, health care, and fireworks displays would seem to be three of them.”

I don’t know about alpine uniforms, but with respect to health care and fireworks, I totally agree.

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