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The New Yorker: September 30, 2013

2 Oct

Breaking Bad is kind of a cool thing to put on the cover, but combining it with a Syria commentary is dumb. Like, is it supposed to be funny? Hard to take it too seriously as political discourse when you start adding TV characters.

The paleo running thing kind of grabbed me. In that running actually barefoot seems crazy. Without any of the little sandal things you always see joggers wearing now. The big thing is that it forces you to strike with the balls of your feet, which is supposed to be biomechanically superior. I tried that in my (pretty minimalist) running shoes this week and it feels unnatural. Hard to do for more than several strides. And I don’t think I could run barefoot in my neighborhood. There is a LOT of broken glass on my usual routes. Shoutout to East Oakland.

My note on the Harry Dean Stanton piece: looking up guys like him on imdb is fun. He’s been in a lot of notable movies/TV shows in the last ten years. And also shows like Bonanza, The Untouchables, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Amazing.

I liked Xan Rice’s Letter from Somalia. Somalia seems like a fascinating place. I’d rather see TNY run recurring reports from there than Syria etc.

Cora Frazier’s had some good S&M (this is my funny new Shouts & Murmurs abbreviation) pieces of late. This was about as it gets in the “series of statements that connect into a comedy piece” genre. I also liked the illustration.

I am almost incredulous about Josh Eells’s report on Las Vegas dance club DJs. How can they be so popular? Maybe this is just an indication of how profoundly not fun I am, but going to Vegas to party at an 8,000-capacity dance club playing dubstep sounds like just about the least fun thing in the world to me. More evidence that people are terrible, I suppose.

Dexter Filkins deserves note for his tightly put-together, well-reported piece about the Iranian operative controlling Syria. I say this every time TNY runs a Middle East report, but it’s just so depressing. The main takeaway is that the more the US is involved in anything, the more fucked up it gets. The secondary takeaway is that essentially no one in the US government has any kind of clue what’s going on over there or how to effectively advance US interests.

Ariel Levy’s profile of gay marriage plaintiff Edith Windsor was pretty standard stuff. The highlight was the picture of her late spouse in Suriname wearing a pith helmet at a jaunty angle. One for the ages. I wish someone in my family was in a picture that cool so I could hang it on the wall.

Really good one this week from Joshua Ferris. The formal gimmick isn’t that new or noteworthy. I’d even say that to use something like that you really need to be on point otherwise it looks amateurish. His execution of it was just about flawless. The strength of the story is the way he was able to capture how fragile the emotional harmony of a relationship can be. His structure added to that and was the cherry on top.

I’m always excited to see Louis Menand in the TOC. He was terrific as always this week.

The main thing I took away from Anthony Lane’s Rush review is that he seems to know more about the characters than Ron Howard does. This bit introducing the racing storyline needs to be quoted in full:

Never was battle joined with more fury than in 1976, when the outcome was decided in the final minutes of the final race, and settled by a single point. In the words of Tom Rubython, whose timidly titled book, “In the Name of Glory: 1976, the Greatest Ever Sporting Duel,” covers the same ground as the film, “No Hollywood screenwriter could have scripted such an ending or described the human drama of such a dramatic season.” That sound you hear is the nibbling of an author’s fingernails, as he waits for a producer to call.

The best.

“Bread torn into little pieces” on page 32. HA. Taco at a burrito fight is also funny. Page 68. Special note to the waves on page 80. I wish there were more weird cartoons like that.

Caption contest entry
“Cool robe!”

The New Yorker: September 23, 2013

25 Sep

OK. This is the big week. The big redesign. I’m going to start with a special redesign review and then do the regular review.

I might have missed some things. My opinions might change over time. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything and everything in this section.

I didn’t notice any change to the main font, although I didn’t look closely. I’ll reserve judgment, I guess. There is a new secondary font. I don’t think I like it. It’s very appealing within the new design. Bold and clean. I think a lot of that is a factor of novelty. Once that wears off, I think it’ll look out of place and I’ll start wishing for it to disappear.

There are places with two columns now. And places with four. Some places with one, even. It makes sense sometimes (Tables for Two, Briefly Noted). Otherwise, it seems like change for its own sake and doesn’t have much of point. This is the kind of lazy “how can we make the magazine look different?” idea that should never have gotten past the brainstorming stage.

Table of Contents*
I don’t like that they did away with the department listings. That’s just as helpful in the TOC as it is in the pages of the magazine. It often gives you a better idea of what a piece is about than the title and brief description. Minus.

*TNY was once famous for not having a TOC at all (see also: The Mail). The things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same over time are pretty remarkable. Go to your local library and scan through the bound archives. It’s a good time, I promise.Especially if you have a particular thing to look for.

The two columns now cover the whole page instead of using the traditional three-column layout and saving one of them for ads. Plus the new font and the contribution in red instead of the contributor’s name. I suppose the new bold font makes the name stand out enough in black. It looks bold and clean I guess. That’s not really what I’m looking for in TNY though. I like displacing the ads from the page. Neutral.

The Mail
Vastly expanded. I never read letters to the editor. What a waste of time. Minus.

Goings On About Town
This is the most noticeably different section. Mostly for the better. Less cluttered, more features/artwork. Also four columns instead of three. Plus.

Talk of the Town
Comment and The Financial Page have two columns now instead of three. I guess the point is to distinguish and highlight them from the rest of Talk. I think that’s a bad idea. The Financial Page already has the box, and if they want to differentiate Comment, they should just make it a separate section. I’d be in favor of scrapping it altogether myself. Minus.

The story title and author are now incorporated into the illustration. This is a great idea. Like a little book cover. Sometimes the illustrations seem arbitrary or a little too on-the-nose. Hopefully this will allow for some more creativity. This is the best change. Plus.

Briefly Noted
Instead of having two standard columns, the blurbs are now a single double-width column, with all four books in line, with thumbnails of their covers. Looks much better this way. Plus.

Regularly Scheduled Programming
This might be brief. I just wrote in excess of 500 whole words about the redesign and I’m getting tired.

I like it. I’m warming a bit to these multiple-panel treatments. This one is cute and the colors are really used well. The smaller drawings are perfect with no coloration, but the blocks give it some pop from distance.

The MOMA/Magritte review was notable for its mention of Super Magritte, which reimagines his paintings as NES pixel art, and wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped. Still cool though.

The piece about the 2001 soundtrack was the best kind of blurb. I’m not going to go see the NY Philharmonic play the soundtrack live along with the movie, but reading about it gave me a couple interesting nuggets about the movie and the composers involved. Bravo.

The best Talk piece was about An-My Lê taking photos of Coast Guard recruits. Artists interacting with the military bureaucracy is a funny situation.

I should mention here that this is the Style Issue, and all of these are vaguely style-related. Not my favorite theme issue.

Janet Malcolm’s profile of Eileen Fisher seemed very Janet Malcolmy to me. The meta ruminating on interviewing profile subjects and such. Although I haven’t read enough of her stuff to say that with any authority. I should read more. She’s a true heavy hitter.* Heavy enough to have her own Slate Completist feature.** And everyone should read The Journalist and the Murderer.

*Perhaps due to her no doubt excellent undergraduate education at the University of Michigan.

**Kind of depressing to read. Alice Gregory’s subhead is “I’m in awe of her.” So, she feels far below Janet Malcolm. Well I feel very far below Alice Gregory. In truth, I’m not even on the spectrum that those two are on. Speaking of spectrums, if Janet Malcolm is full blown autism and Alice Gregory is Asperger’s syndrome, then I’m the most popular kid from your high school.

Lizzie Widdicombe’s brutal takedown of the guy behind Bleacher Report and Bustle was very fun to read. Christ he sounds terrible. A quote: “You remember what you were wearing three days ago? Just so you know, most guys don’t remember what they’re wearing right now.” Just so you know, most guys aren’t douchebag morons like you.

I spent most of my time while reading Calvin Tomkins’s profile of Black Architect David Adjaye thinking about Chelsea Peretti. I hope for your sake that you know why. She is hilarious. Truly one of the greats.

This was really good. An engaging setup, some nice little details, then the stakes change out of nowhere. But Tessa Hadley still kept the same tone and feel. Didn’t try to do too much in such a short piece. Liked this one a lot.

Pankaj Mishra’s book review had some good stuff about one of those huge chapters of world history that most Americans know nothing about. Nixon and Kissinger sure were shitty people, huh.

I’m kind of amazed at the vitriol and contempt oozing out of every Salinger review I’ve read. Sounds like I can probably skip it. And hey, since I’m a TNY subscriber, I can go read some of his old stories in the archives instead. Good for me.

Two notable style ads in this, the Style Issue. First, Michelle Williams for Louis Vuitton on the inside front cover. Sold. If I’m ever rich and have a girlfriend, I’ll buy her a LV handbag. Does Michelle Williams endorse any other products I can buy? Second is James Franco for Gucci sunglasses on the back cover. I truly do not understand spending hundreds of dollars on sunglasses. There is not an explanation that makes sense to me.

No Edward Steed this week. Boo. The Duchamp thing on page 70 was OK. The caption is really what makes it.

Caption contest entry
“Well, this is certainly a new take on the desert island cartoon.”

The New Yorker: September 16, 2013

18 Sep

Not into this one. I assume it’s a commentary on Manhattan real estate and moving to the suburbs and such. Don’t care. That’s a dumb thing to comment about. And if it’s something else and I missed it then whatever. Time to step the cover game up. They’ve been very subpar.

First I want to mention the redesign that’s apparently happening next week. I’m glad someone at TNY has been reading and took my advice. You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to it. Note that I do NOT approve of any change to the font. That’s distressing to read. More next week. Three quintessential Talk pieces this week. A rich Korean guy who is trying to make it as a knuckleballer, shipping pieces of a giant bronze sculpture on flatbeds and installing them in Brooklyn, and an off-Broadway theater making a performance solely out of Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions. Plus a well-explained economics piece by James Surowiecki. And a fairly standard Comment from George Packer. This might be the Platonic ideal of Talk of the Town as it exists in 2013.

I was excited to see Flannery O’Connor’s name in the Table of Contents this week. TNY always gets first dibs on newly-discovered work from dead famous writers. Not so excited when it came time to read it. It’s a collection of prayers from Ms. O’Connor’s journal as a young writer. I didn’t get anything out of it. Maybe if you’re not familiar with religion in America or how prayer fits into it there could be some interest. It wasn’t that revealing about Ms. O’Connor’s writing or personal life. It mostly served to remind me why I stopped going to church and to reassure me that I made the right decision.

New trend in mental illness: paranoid delusions that you’re the star of a reality show. It’s called the Truman Show delusion. The article does a good job explaining how delusions in schizophrenics are culturally-based and how that does and doesn’t impact the treatment of the disease. Andrew Marantz uses a case study of a guy from Ohio to illustrate how the delusion works. Crazy stuff is always happening in Ohio. I would not want to live there.

Ryan Lizza always brings it. A very lengthy summary of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. I try to avoid politics in all facets of my life, but I appreciate the level of detail and information in Mr. Lizza’s reporting. I feel like I have a good understanding of the issue when I’m done reading. That’s surprisingly rare in political reporting.

I like Tad Friend. He’s a good writer, and he always seems to find interesting people and topics to write about. His Bryan Cranston profile was fairly standard for a TNY profile. I enjoyed it. The most interesting thing to me was the abundance of Breaking Bad spoilers it contained. Not just old spoilers, but new, last week’s episode spoilers. With no warnings! I’m not opposed to that, but it totally flies in the face of our new SPOILER ALERT culture. I wonder if there was any editorial discussion about it. I get the feeling that anything about Breaking Bad TNY might publish online would have warnings. I guess the feeling is that anyone reading a Bryan Cranston profile either a) is caught up on the show, b) never plans to watch the show, or c) knows better than to read a lengthy piece about its star. I know I have avoided any and all writing about TV shows I like that I’m behind on.

A very engaging story this week from Tahar Ben Jelloun. I know I’ve said I wish there were fewer in-translation selections in the magazine, but this one was good. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t see the ending coming. In retrospect it was pretty obvious. Oh well. I suppose you could say that the ending turns it into a piece of propaganda or politics or something. I’d be interested to hear someone smart talk about that, but I think that subject is a little beyond me.

I like when they put the movie reviews first instead of last. Gives Anthony Lane a little room to spread out. I wish they’d do it more often. Hard to think of two more different movies to review. Wadjda and Riddick. Guess which one I’m interested in?

David Denby back with another non-review movie piece. A review of recent books detailing how Hollywood related to Germany and Hitler in the 30s. One of those short pieces that’s interesting mainly as a microcosm of a larger issue. No one really wants to remember how many powerful people in America felt pretty good about Hitler until 1941.

Talking about Generations and media and how the new Generation is changing everything and they need to be catered to etc. has been a tired media trope for my whole life. It’s a dumb topic and I don’t care about it. That’s my feeling about this new TV network for Millennials and any and all media reactions to it.

Edward Steed on page 77. His drawings are just funny, that’s all there is to it. I can’t even explain why this one is so good. Just the facial expressions and the guy on the left stirring the pot… he’s great.

Caption contest entry
“Larry, quit whining or you’re fired.”

The New Yorker: September 9, 2013

11 Sep

Trying to grade the cover every week is getting frustrating. They’re sometimes so great. The should usually be great. But they’re not for some reason. This one’s OK I suppose. It would work better as a cartoon in the magazine. That’s a good indication that maybe it shouldn’t be the cover.

Fall preview in Goings On. I like these, it gives some needed, if artificial, structure to the section. It too frequently feels scattered. Skimming through every week raises another question: why devote two pages every week to movie blurbs that have already been published? Repeating blurbs for several weeks seems like a dumb waste of space.

Umami Burger featured in Tables for Two. That’s one feature I never read, but I read this since Umami Burger is a chain and not a local place. Let me tell you a story about Umami Burger. There’s one in Oakland that opened not too long ago. Their prices are ludicrous, but I was sort of curious, so I thought I’d check it out. I went the week it opened. I walked in alone at maybe 2:30. There were a few people at the bar and a couple people at tables. The restaurant was 15% or so full. The hostess greeted me, handed me a menu, and told me to sit anywhere. I sat at a table by the window. I glanced at the menu and decided what to order. I looked around for a waiter. Didn’t see one. Which surprised me, because there were at least a dozen Umami Burger employees on the premises. More employees than customers, easily. I looked around for a little while and then pulled out an issue of TNY to read. I wasn’t in a hurry. Eventually a waiter walked by me to bring the check to the woman sitting at the next table. The two of them got into an involved conversation about schools or something. The waiter left the table and quickly walked right past me while I tried to make eye contact with him. He disappeared into the back. That was sort of off-putting. But no big deal, like I said I wasn’t in a hurry. I read a little more, looked around a little more, and saw no more sign of that waiter or any other waiter. At this point I had been sitting at the table for at least ten minutes. No one had brought me water or said anything to me or looked at me or acknowledged me in any way. I’ll repeat here that there were more Umami Burger employees in the restaurant than customers. So I got up and walked out. The hostess didn’t notice me leaving; she was busy talking to another Umami Burger employee. FUCK Umami Burger. p.s. A cheeseburger, fries, and Coke there will cost you more than $20.

I enjoyed the Talk piece about the High Bridge. I’d like to read a longer feature about it. It’s a more interesting topic than the other things in the magazine this week.

David Finkel’s piece about PTSD in war veteran’s was fine in the abstract. I don’t get the point. This is a topic that has been covered in great detail in a great many places. This was a short essay that didn’t really add anything to my understanding of the issue. I doubt it added to anyone’s understanding of the issue. I don’t know. It was an interesting portrait of the featured veteran and his wife, but if that was the focus, there needed to be more about them and their relationship. It was torn between that and describing therapeutic interventions for PTSD. It’s not really possible to cover one of those things satisfactorily in five pages, let alone both.

Sharks in New England is an interesting topic. Alec Wilkinson’s piece about them had some good moments. Descriptions of shark fishing, what happens when a shark is caught, etc. Reading it I found myself more interested in the science questions that weren’t really addressed. I guess the point is maybe that those questions don’t have ready answers and that’s why scientists are trying to track the sharks. The ocean ecosystem in the North Atlantic, or in general, is an interesting topic. Especially as it relates to humans. Fishing etc. One of the most memorable passages in Moby-Dick for the modern reader is when Hawthorne earnestly asserts that he doesn’t think that any human intervention could meaningfully impact the enormous right whale population in the North Atlantic. This is a whale that is now essentially extinct in the North Atlantic. And yet the great white shark population there is apparently booming. (As much as an endangered species can boom). Lots of mysteries out there.

Profiling an actor is always risky. It’s hard for them to explain their jobs without sounding pretentious. That said, Claire Danes sounds like the world’s most pretentious person. Wow.

I was very interested in the issues raised by the NYU piece. Those issues are all fundamentally about what the mission of a university should be. My gut feeling is that colleges should be focused on the students on their campuses. There are a lot of universities out there; I don’t see the point of opening satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi. But it’s something worth exploring. It will be interesting to see what college looks like a generation from now. It might look a lot different. In the world of elite private colleges, at least, it’s hard to see how that would be bad.

A very short story in translation from Dorthe Nors. I think I whiffed on this one. I wish there were fewer translated stories in the magazine. There have been quite a lot lately and they always seem to be missing a little something.

Malcolm Gladwell shows up doing Malcolm Gladwell things. I agree with most of his points about doping in sports, but his style is getting really tiresome. His purposely misleading arguments, the intellectually dishonest way he sets up comparisons, his oversimplicity. Enough. And he didn’t say anything that I hadn’t seen written by sports bloggers years ago.

Woodrow Wilson is a president that should be more famous. I think in conservative circles he’s famous as the purported originator of everything that’s wrong about America, from women’s suffrage on down. He deserves actual notice and study. Not because he was necessarily great, but because he had an unusual path in politics, had a lot of new ideas, and because of his personal life. His first wife died while he was in office. He remarried and then had a major stroke. He was incapacitated. His second wife essentially did his job from the seclusion of the White House. No one knew about it. Can you imagine Barack Obama having a major stroke, not leaving the White House for several weeks, and not telling anyone what had happened?

Adam Gopnik’s book review about the value of neuroscience was a good illustration of how little we know about how the brain works. It seems almost foolish to take a side in the argument when there’s so little actual certainty about anything. It almost seems antithetical to what being a scientist is about.

Edward Steed on page 79 was the standout. He’s becoming my favorite of the regular cartoonists.

Caption contest entry
“Can you tell me how to get to the library?”

The New Yorker: September 2, 2013

4 Sep

As a general rule I’m against words in cover illustrations, but this one incorporated them as well as it can be done. The sidebar, the spilled ice cream, the simplicity of the colors. Really appealing. The tree branch creeping in from the right side was a nice addition.

By far the most notable thing in Goings On was a movie blurb. TNY will occasionally blurb repertory films that are being screened in NYC. This week one was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Usually there will be a newly-written blurb, whether it’s in the featured space or not. This week TNY did something I haven’t seen before–they used the original Pauline Kael blurb from 1982. With no fanfare, just presented as always with –Pauline Kael at the end. I think this is brilliant. It’s a perfect way to plumb the magazine’s history without being obvious or masturbatory about it. And this magazine has a history like few others, especially when it comes to noteworthy contributors like Ms. Kael.

The other notable movie blurb is another oldie, but with a new blurb from Richard Brody. Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s playing in NYC this week. Can this happen without everyone in attendance making Seinfeld jokes? If you were going, would you have dinner at a Chinese restaurant beforehand? Mr. Brody didn’t provide any guidance. It would have been a nice touch if he had dropped in a little wink.

The closer from Steve Coll’s Comment about government leak prosecutions:

If nothing else, Holder would demonstrate to the world that the Obama Administration perceives the difference between a professional reporter’s dissenting acceptance of the rule of law and the rejection, by Assange and Snowden, of American law’s essential reliability.

I try not to be political or controversial, but wow. If Mr. Coll thinks American law in 2013 is “essentially reliable” he’s a goddamned moron.

A couple pretty blah short pieces about panda bears and a new Indian political party. I guess I’m not as fascinated as most people by pandas. And I thought the India piece barely scratched the surface. It could have been a lot longer and more detailed. I don’t think using one reformer as an entry point worked very well; the interesting parts of the story seem much larger than him.

The Novak Djokovic profile was kind of bland. Not necessarily because of the subject, but because of the approach. I think to make this kind of profile work, you just have to assume that the audience has a prior understanding and working knowledge of tennis and the current pro tennis scene. Otherwise you get bogged down in a lot of boring exposition and dumbing down of details. That’s what happened here. Write it like you’re submitting to Grantland or whatever and accept that some percentage of readers won’t get it and won’t read it. Or don’t bother.

I hadn’t thought about the issues raised by the MSNBC story. I think the fundamental problem is if you’re targeting liberals, you can’t sustain a news channel without an election or other big overarching thing happening. I think a lot of MSNBC’s target audience prefers the Stewart/Colbert approach. That is, making fun of conservatives without trying to be too serious or weighty. And you can’t do comedy on a news channel.

Big name this week. Robert Coover with a rather dense piece of Serious Fiction. A much more difficult read than your average short story. I felt like I missed some things, so I read the interview on That was a little helpful. I’d need to read the story again to have a solid opinion on it. I’m probably not going to do that.

The best part of Joan Acocella’s dance review was the accompanying picture. Full page, B&W, it really popped.

Last week we had a double-dip from David Denby, this week from Anthony Lane. An art review of an early photographer. I loved some of the little technical details. I’d like to know more about that. Turns out I didn’t learn everything in Basic Photo class in 9th grade. Mr. Lane’s my favorite movie critic, and his non-movie pieces are always a bit jarring. Something longer and more put-together is such a different kind of writing than a weekly movie review. He has a book of collected writings, I should check it out.

I like when Sasha Frere-Jones writes about offbeat new music. I don’t have very many sources for new music. Julia Holter this week. I listened to some of her stuff. I’m not smart enough to have intelligent opinions about intelligent music but I liked what I heard. Mr. Frere-Jones had the highlight of the week with his description of Ms. Holter: “She looks like an Eastern European novelist who is ten years away from receiving a major prize.” Ha. Shoutout to Ms. Holter by the way for briefly attending the University of Michigan. Sounds like she was there at the same time as me. Julia! We should have been friends!

Waterfowl on page 50 was the best. Farley Katz.

Caption contest entry
“Oh come on Steve, you just threw one there yesterday.”

The New Yorker: August 26, 2013

28 Aug

Similar in a lot of ways to the most recent cover. Simple and summery. This one is better. Green is better than yellow, and there’s the tree in the middle to break up the color monotony. Sort of a van Gogh tree, with the big impasto strokes. I like it.

Apparently in London all of the skyscrapers have nicknames. The shard, the cheesegrater, the gherkin. I endorse that wholeheartedly. The clash between modern architecture and history in old European cities is something I’d like to read more about. I’m generally pro-modernity, but it seems like a complicated issue.

Some well-explained common sense from James Surowiecki about luxury goods pricing and lobster. Apparently wholesale lobster prices are way down, which would make this a good time to take a trip to Maine. My family went on a trip to Boston and Maine when I was in high school. The Maine coast is a fun drive. Would be even more fun with cheap lobster at all the lobster shacks.

I liked the report from Alec Wilkinson about an art forger who donates his fakes to museums, who often don’t realize they’re fakes. The meat of the issue was unfortunately glossed over. That is, to what extent does our enjoyment of art depend on its authenticity/provenance? If a museum has a copy of a Mary Cassatt, and I can’t distinguish between the copy and the original, does it matter? Is it legitimate to enjoy a copy? If it is legitimate, what is the value of a skilled reproduction? A lithograph? A poster? If it isn’t legitimate, why not? I’d lean to “not legitimate” in the case of forgeries. A lot of the appeal of an art museum to me is that it’s also a kind of history museum. It seems important to maintain the integrity of that history.

A plus plus to this week’s Shouts & Murmurs. A lot less jokey than usual. This felt like it could have worked as a fiction entry with some lengthening. It could have had a little bit of a Shirley Jackson feel with some darkening and some narrative adjustment. As it is, it worked almost perfectly as a short humor piece.

I’m going to try to stay away from eye-rolling about Meghan O’Rourke’s piece about suffering from an auto-immune disorder. I thought the comparison she made between herself and her aunts with similar health problems at the end was instructive. More people should think of illness like the aunts do. It’s also good to have an occasional reminder like this that our understanding of the human body/brain/nervous system/etc. is a lot more limited than we like to think.

Ken Auletta is good, but his Michael Bloomberg was sort of blah. Not a lot of new ground to cover with the guy, frankly. An informative enough summary for those of us who don’t keep up with NYC politics.

The Jordan refugee camp piece surprised me. David Remnick is a good writer. Sometimes the Middle East stuff gets tiresome for me, but this was fast-paced and had just enough hard info stuff to keep it away from human-interest territory.

Serviceable I guess. It’s hard to evaluate stories like this translated from Chinese. It’s so obvious while reading that a lot of the language gets lost. English translations of Chinese/Japanese always have such a distinct feel. I would almost rather see a literal translation with a ton of footnotes, especially for something this short. That would be an interesting read for sure.

I spend a lot of time criticizing David Denby. I don’t think he’s a good movie critic. He does occasionally write longer pieces, like this week’s book review of Ava Gardner biographies. He’s much better at this kind of writing. He should be doing it full time instead of inflicting his opinions of new releases on us.

A notable Briefly Noted blurb this week about a new memoir by David Foster Wallace’s wife Karen Green. I hadn’t heard about this book, but the blurb makes me not want to read it. I say this as someone who has read three different posthumous books about DFW. I’ve heard reference to some extreme fans who have tried to get their hands on his autopsy report and such. That holds absolutely no interest to me, and the blurb makes it sound like this book gets into some pretty grisly territory. I don’t know how much of the book is about the suicide, but that’s not for me. Maybe someday.

A pretty effusive review of the new Earl Sweatshirt album by Sasha Frere-Jones. He fits in comparisons to Ghostface and Nas in one paragraph. I’m listening to it now, Earl definitely has a way with words. He has tracks from The Neptunes, Alchemist, and RZA, but most of it’s self-produced. Not my favorite producer. A little too cute with the drums. A little to simple with the samples. He does keep it pretty grimy, which I appreciate. I think the Nas/Ghost comparisons are interesting because even if you don’t think he’s up to that standard lyrically (and I don’t), he’d definitely sound better over the kinds of tracks those guys had in the mid 90s. RZA definitely stands out here. Earl would kill it with Premier, Pete Rock, et al. He even sounds a little like GURU if you twist your ears a bit. And shoutout to Earl for bringing back “gully”. A long-underappreciated adjective.

I don’t think I’m going to see The Butler. Too many Forrest Gump comparisons. Sounds like an apt one from my understanding of the movie. I do not like Forrest Gump. The Presidential stunt casting sounds… interesting. I’ll admit I’m curious about that. Also kind of curious about Lovelace but I think I already missed it in the theater. Maybe both of them on Netflix next year. And Mr. Denby sounded downright reasonable this week. Maybe his book review rubbed off onto his movie review.

Meh. It’s been a bad run for cartoons lately.

Caption contest entry
“God damn it Gary you look at my wife again and I’ll really get angry.”

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.”