Sunday, October 26, 2014

The New Yorker and endless fascination

Over the last couple of months, I've two of three chapters in John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid, and I've also been making my way through Peter Hessler's Strange Stones.  McPhee is in many ways the archetypal New Yorker writer, and Hessler studied under him at Princeton, before going on to become the New Yorker's correspondent in Beijing, and now in Cairo.  Regular readers will recall my lavish praise of Hessler's three books written in China.

But reading a bunch of articles that were originally published in the New Yorker (as is the case for both of the books I'm reading now) is really dragging me back into the zone of that magazine, so everpresent around our house, but which I have largely been avoiding for some many years in favor of reading actual books.  The problem with both the McPhee, the Hessler, and with so many other articles published in the magazine, is that they really do embody the worldview so famously skewered by Saul Steinberg in his 1976 cover.  All the articles are really very similar in some fundamental way.  They tell us that "Here is this adventure, this person, this episode in history, this facet of world experience, so quirky, so fascinating.  We have laid it our for you in well-turned prose, in a readily consumable unit, that can be gotten through while riding a commuter train, or enjoying a capuccino, or perhaps a nice pinot noir.  When you have done reading it, you can go discuss it with your peers over dim sum or gaspacho or perhaps while running around the reservoir.  And then, you can stack it in a corner in the attic so your children can find it."

In the end, it's all the same, all experience is boiled down for the global New Yorker.


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