The New Yorker: August 12 & 19, 2013

14 Aug

This is a summer double issue, and the cover is a very summery drawing. I like it. Maybe a little too yellow. But maybe not. It would probably get tiresome if it were hung on my wall or something, but it isn’t. Having a short shelf life makes for some freedom with this kind of thing I think.

Cool drawing of El-P and Killer Mike. I remember being in college and staying up late to see the Deep Space 9MM video on MTV2. Just knowing who El-P was made me feel like the coolest kid on the block. Now his picture is in TNY. His most recent album earned a review from Sasha Frere-Jones too. And Atmosphere was on Letterman and RJD2 made the Mad Men theme song. Wild. Although I always hoped one of those guys would get actually famous/popular, which never really happened.

Short Talk piece about Lake Bell. She’s been around the media a lot recently. She has a new movie about voice-overs. Most of what I’ve seen is use of the movie to have a lot of discussion about “sexy baby voice” and vocal fry and sexism and such. It’s an interesting topic. Ms. Bell is opposed to sexy baby voice. I think it’s a more complicated issue than most people seem to think. 30 Rock of all things had an episode kind of about this topic a few years ago that I thought dealt with it in a serious way.

The thing about a guy putting up signs commemorating the geography of rap lyrics was a missed opportunity. This seems like a terrific topic for something longer. Hip-hop as oral history or something. I think it functions that way in New York, which is unique. Maybe it’s just that I’ve listened to a lot more of rappers from New York, but that city feels so much more alive in lyrics than LA or Oakland or wherever. Maybe NYC is the only city with a critical mass of talent to make it feel that way. The paragraph about Phife Dawg’s old neighbor was a perfect little Talk moment.

I was excited to see a piece about fastpitch softball in the Table of Contents. I’ve spent a little time in the world of elite softball, and it’s an interesting sport. It’s like Little League played at a really advanced level. It can be fun to watch, although there is a major structural problem: the best pitchers are essentially unhittable. I don’t know what the fix is. This story did a good job of capturing the fun involved in hanging out with softball players, being in the dugout, etc. I always enjoyed it. Shoutout to Cat Osterman, who got some play here and is still apparently dominating pro softball. She was a brief peripheral acquaintance of mine once.

Medical mystery stories are always fun. Hey, someone should make a TV show about medical mysteries! It could feature a brilliant doctor who plays by his own rules.

Sarah Stillman’s Reporter at Large about civil forfeiture was excellent. This is the kind of thing that should be a national scandal. I don’t think I have anything new to add to any discussion of issues of law enforcement and prosecution. My opinion? Police ain’t nothing but a gang.

The main issue in Paige Williams’s piece about “vernacular” art was totally glossed over. That issue is, of course, how fucked up the world of professional art is. Money, galleries, museum curators, etc. It kind of reminds me of college sports. That is, a bunch of blowhards pretending to uphold some dumb standard of how things work or should be in the name of “keeping things pure” (read: protecting the status quo*) when their only real motivation is to make money. And how all parties with any power use it to prevent anyone else from getting paid. This essay in n+1 from Alice Gregory about being a Sotheby’s employee is the best illustration of the whole sordid situation that I’ve read recently.

*And they have elaborate (and idiotic) philosophies about why the status quo needs protecting.

I totally did not get this week’s story from Zadie Smith. I’ve read White Teeth and some of her other stories and essays. I like what I’ve read a lot. This seemed like a big departure. I’d like to read NW. Maybe I will sometime. I saw a pretty girl reading it at a bus stop in San Francisco last fall. I had just read the review of the book in The Atlantic. I totally should have struck up a conversation. She probably would have been captivated by my brilliant literary insights. OK this concludes my personal anecdote about NW.

Robert Gottlieb’s book review about the history of Farrar, Straus & Giroux was awesome. Mr. Gottlieb has been the editor-in-chief of both Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf, as well as the editor of TNY itself.* Lots of inside baseball, lots of gossip. Not the kind of thing I could enjoy for an entire book, but I definitely enjoyed for the length of an essay about the book. This is the best thing about TNY book reviews.

*Read this highly entertaining piece about his editorship at The Awl. Highly entertaining.


Caption contest entry
“Well, Morris, I see you forgot to stop at the store.”

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