The New Yorker: June 3, 2013

5 Jun

I think I’m kind of getting into a groove writing these. Or maybe it’s a rut. I doubt these are very interesting for anyone to read. I think I’ll start trying to find more places to riff, using TNY pieces as jumping-off points for my trademark wit and interesting anecdotes.

Cover
I like this illustration style, but I don’t really get it. Is it a joke? Commentary? Whatever. I like the covers that work as standalone art pieces. More of those please.

Front
I like when Goings on About Town has blurbs about old movies or art, because those are the two things they blurb that I could conceivably experience even though I don’t live in New York. It’s also nice to see third-string film critic Richard Brody get a few words in here and there. So kudos for the note about 1947’s Pursued, which maybe I’ll see some day.

I liked Lizzie Widdicombe’s Talk piece about the upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson movie. Apparently it takes place at the Google campus in Mountain View. To me it made both the movie and Google sound really unappealing. The thing about a “hipster dad” magazine based in Brooklyn functioned similarly. Lots of people involved who sound really terrible. The Colin Quinn mini-profile was not what I expected. I’ve never been a big fan. Mostly because he followed Norm MacDonald hosting Weekend Update, and he just couldn’t compare. He’s trying to make a TV comedy about immigration, which this makes sound interesting. Always glad to see Tad Friend show up. He’s good. You might recall my fondness for his article about a Manhattan Craigslist real estate scammer last week. He’s good. Plus, Tad might be America’s WASPiest name, so there’s just something New Yorkery about him.

Middle
Alex Halberstadt checks in with one of TNY’s signature short-ish entertainment industry profiles. The signature is that they’re all about New York-based people who aren’t that famous or are famous in an obscure part of the entertainment field. The subject is Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. It was fine, I suppose. I’ve never been into Sonic Youth. They were one of those bands in the early-mid 90s that I sort of knew about and knew that people liked, but they were never on the radio and I didn’t know anyone who owned any of their albums so I don’t think I ever actually listened to their music. Most of my knowledge about them comes from the episode of The Simpsons where Homer joins the Lollapalooza freak show.

David Sedaris’s TNY appearances give me mixed feelings. He is very funny and I like his writing a lot. But. To me, reading his stories just doesn’t match up to listening to them. I’ve listened to the audio version of most of his books and I’ve been on a pretty serious This American Life trip lately. Just feels like there’s something missing on the page. He has the cadences and rhythms of performing so perfect that sometimes he comes off more as a live performer than a writer. I don’t know if that’s a criticism or a compliment. As far as the actual story goes, it was funny, although it’s too bad that Mr. Sedaris no longer lives in France. His stories about language barriers and cultural differences there were some of his best work.

The two pieces of serious reportage this week were of the run-of-the-mill sort. Both were interesting and readable, but neither seemed that memorable. I did like Nicholas Schmidle’s dual-profile kind of structure. Worked really well. Reminded me of John McPhee, mostly because he’s kind of famous for that kind of thing and he’s been writing a series for this very magazine about writing and he had a really terrific installment about structure. The other thing was about professional mountain climbers and an incident on Mount Everest. That’s kind of a played topic. I haven’t read anything worthwhile about modern Everest climbing that isn’t also in Into Thin Air. Plus the only mountaineering stories that get published in general-interest venues are Everest-related. No more Everest for awhile everybody. Thanks.

Fiction
Short work by Akhil Sharma. Not that memorable honestly. Great title though. We Didn’t Really Like Him. Seems like there’s been a lot of South Asian stuff in the magazine lately. I wonder if the fiction department thinks about geography when they’re picking stories. “OK, we just had something set in Japan. How about India? When was the last time we had something South American?”

Back
I’m really excited about Jill Lepore’s book review. It’s a biography of Robert Ripley (of Believe It Or Not! fame). It doesn’t sound like a very interesting book, but the way she wrote the review was unexpected and kind of great. She looked at Ripley and the book about him through the lens of a TNY profile of him from 1940. 10/10 idea. Reading old TNY profiles/reporting is something I love. Most of the old heavyweights have collections out there somewhere. Some of it’s famous (Lillian Ross on Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote on Marlon Brando, etc.), some of it isn’t. A lot of it’s very fun to read. Maybe I have a different idea of fun reading than most people.

The blurb about Butterfly People exemplifies the best of Briefly Noted. I’m never going to read that book but the paragraph about it was a fun little chunk of info about lepidopterology. It even mentioned Vladimir Nabakov, which I think is mandatory for anyone discussing lepidopterists.

Interesting to see the review of the new HBO Liberace movie handled by Emily Nussbaum of the TV beat instead of one of the movie guys. What’s the difference between a TV movie and a theater movie from a review standpoint?

Here’s how Anthony Lane ended his review of Fast & Furious 6:

To cap it all, Chris Bridges, otherwise known as Ludacris, who plays the tech expert, announced that the film’s release on May 24th would coincide with that of his new ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ mix tape. If that isn’t a loyal tribute, I don’t know what is.

Cartoons
Tie stripe update: incorrect on page 39, but correct on page 43. Eternal shame for Joe Dator. Celebratory parade for William Haefeli.

Caption contest entry
“Honey, why don’t you go down and see what it is?”

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