I’ve recently been catching up on some reading and was completely gobsmacked (is this really a word? If it isn’t, it should be) by a recent issue of The New Yorker, specifically the Feb. 17-24, 2014 edition. If you care about good writing on almost any subject, and better still if you care about lot of good writing on a variety of subjects, get hold of it. In this one magazine, thinner than most Eddie Bauer catalogues, were (i) a fascinating, balanced study of Attorney General Eric Holder by Jeffery Toobin; (ii) a poignant, funny, devastating, utterly lucid piece about being 93 years old by the redoubtable Roger Angell; (iii) an entertaining profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History and star of the new “Cosmos” series on Fox; (iv) a challenging and remarkably erudite philosophical rumination by Adam Gopnik (whom I foolishly think of as that guy who writes a lot about living in Paris) on the nature of religious faith in an atheistic age; (v) a cruel but seemingly fair review of the movie “The Monuments Men,” by David Denby; and, just for good measure (vi) a long, touching remembrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, viewed entirely through the prism of his many movie roles, by Anthony Lane (no matter how foolishly one dies, one could do worse than to have such informed attention directed so keenly at what you’d spent most of your short life doing).
And that’s just the stuff I read! There was also a piece on Turkish TV (hmm?), a short story by some Scandinavian author that I couldn’t bear to read (but then I avoid fiction in The New Yorker as an almost religious matter, perhaps out of sheer unadulterated envy, or a long Ann Beatty hangover), some random short reviews of books whose titles told me unequivocally that I had no interest in them, and the usual comprehensive survey of stuff going on in Gotham. I only skimmed the piece on the “Financial Page” about the death of branding, though I suspect it was insightful too. And the cartoons were having a good week. Not a bad outing for one of the aging granddaddies of print media in its post-Tina Brown epoch. As John Leonard, patron saint of the personal essay, once wrote, “Some excellence came to our house the other day.” And so it did to ours, delivered by our scary postman.
Ok, it’s The New Yorker – it’s supposed to be good. At its $7.99 cover price (which no one ever pays except some zeitgeist-starved desperado at a newsstand — and why not an even eight bucks, by the way?), it’s not cheap, but I defy you to find so much worthwhile reading in one spot anywhere else. I’m sure they save all the good bits for this, their leap-month anniversary issue, but my God, what an amazing slush pile. Gobsmacked, that’s me.
I once had a humor piece rejected by The New Yorker “despite its considerable merit,” to quote the email that seemed to have been composed by an actual human. It was one of the proudest moments of my writing life. “Despite His Considerable Merit” would work well on my tombstone, I think.