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, March 22, 2018

March 19, 2018 Issue

“The architects Louise Harpman and Scott Specht began collecting takeout-coffee lids when they were in college, in the nineteen-eighties, and continued the practice as graduate students at Yale.” So begins Anna Russell’s excellent Talk story “Caffeinated,” in this week’s issue. Reading it, I instantly thought of Robert Sullivan. In his great Cross Country (2006), Sullivan chronicles, among other things, his fascination with plastic coffee lids. At one point, he says,

Plastic coffee lids represent an area in the cross-country world where stream-lined uniformity has not yet prevailed – they are the last vestiges of differentiation. I don’t like to think that we would ever be a one-lid nation, though that day may come.

He even mentions Louise Harpman and Scott Specht:

In their seminal essay on lid design, Louise Harpman and Scott Specht, two lid collectors, identified what they called the “pucker” as the next developmental step in the to-go lid: a plastic lid with a hole, the hole being in that portion of the lid that is constructed in an elevated, mountain-range-like shape.

Russell’s piece tells about some fieldwork Specht and Harpman conducted recently in SoHo. They visit a number of cafés, including Lafayette, La Colombe, Think Coffee, and Gasoline Alley. Russell writes,

In Think Coffee, a man in a blazer, holding two hot drinks, waited while the pair examined the dimples on the compostable lids. “Decaf, cream, and black—that’s all,” Specht said.

“Caffeinated” artfully conveys Specht and Harpman’s crazy world of coffee lid collecting. I enjoyed it immensely.

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