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 Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins 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.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

July 31, 2017 Issue

Notes on this week’s issue:

1. Ben Taub, in his superb “We Have No Choice” (The New Yorker, April 10, 2017), followed the ordeal of a Nigerian teen-ager trying to reach Europe via a vast people-smuggling network of forced labor and sex work. It ended in a migrant camp on the outskirts of Messina, Sicily. Now, in “The Wrong Man,” Taub continues his brilliant reporting on the refugee crisis, this time focusing on the overzealous prosecution of an Eritrean man whom Sicilian prosecutors wrongly believe to be a kingpin of East African human smuggling. The piece takes us deep inside the corrupt Sicilian justice system, showing prosecutors twisting and misinterpreting the evidence. Taub is a digger; he writes the kind of first-person experiential journalism I relish (e.g., “One afternoon in Palermo, I had lunch with Francesco Viviano, a sixty-eight-year-old Sicilian investigative reporter who says that he has been wiretapped, searched, or interrogated by the authorities ‘eighty or ninety times’ ”). “We Have No Choice” is his masterpiece; “The Wrong Man” is a close second.

2. I’m indebted to Louis Menand for pointing out, in his “The Defense of Poetry,” that Michael Robbins’s new book, Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, contains an “admiring chapter” on Pauline Kael. Kael’s writing is, for me, a touchstone. After I read what Robbins has to say about her, I’ll post my response here.

3. My favorite sentence in this week’s issue is Peter Schjeldahl’s “Cradled in a hammock the other day, I couldn’t imagine anywhere in the world I would rather be, tracking subtle variations in the changing slides: for example, a matchbook first closed, then open, then burning, then, finally, burned” (“Full Immersion”). 

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