Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My New Yorker Year

In a moment of madness in late July I decided that the thing I really needed in my life was a subscription to the New Yorker magazine. I first came across The New Yorker in Belfast Central Library in the 1980's and I worked my through the magazine from the 30's onwards. There's a lot of crap but a lot of good stuff in the early New Yorkers from the usual suspects: Thurber, EB White etc to lesser known writers and consistenly funny cartoons. When Pauline Kael and Woody Allen et alia came on board the magazine was firing on all cylinders. I've picked up the New Yorker now and again in bookstores or when it's been lying around someone's house or occasionally I've bought it for a long aeroplane ride but it's never got its hooks into me the way it does with some people. Why I suddenly felt the need to subscribe back in July is a mystery to me now. Perhaps it was nostalgia for the 7 years I spent living in New York or perhaps it was nostalgia for all those years reading the mag in Belfast Central Library. Who knows? It doesn't matter. I ordered the damn thing and I waited for it to come.
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The first issue I got was August 9th. I read the contents and it looked interesting. A piece by David Sedaris on flying and another by Nicholson Baker on video games. I like both those gentlemen and in the hands of the New Yorker's famous editing team they were bound to turn out something brilliant. They did not. Sedaris complained that Americans dressed badly when they flew and got upset when their flight was delayed. That was his whole bit. It wasn't funny or insightful or even bad, it was just bleh. The Baker piece on video games was in the voice of a grumpy old man complaining about the lack of depth to video games. I thought it was a parody at first but it just went on and on like that. He didn't even like Assassins' Creed which is a great video game. The rest of that issue was all filler.
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The next New Yorker I got was a double issue Aug 16 & 23. It was only 10 pages longer than the Aug 9 issue which felt like a bit of scam from the getgo (cue Woody Allen joke "this is terrible and the portions are so small"). I couldn't find a single interesting article in this issue. I was hopeful for John Lee Anderson's take on Iran (I read his biography of Che) but it wasn't very focused or interesting at all. Tony Lane reviewed The Expendables and complained about the lack of irony and wondered where Van Damme was (I assume rhetorically because the Van Damme-Stallone split has been well documented). I dropped this issue in the bath and it's all stuck together now but I don't feel the urge to mount a restoration attempt.
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The last issue I got was August 30. This was the one that really annoyed me. The New Yorker is aimed principally at two groups of people: ageing Jews living in Florida and wannabe hipsters. Unfortunately it seems that the current editor is trying to increase the wannabe hipster demographic, which can be the only explanation for Adam Gopnik's piece on Winston Churchill. "Kids, listen up, there was this Churchill dude who, like, saved the world or something," was basically the tenor of his article. He'd read a couple of biographies, done no interviews or original research of any kind and produced a piss poor Churchill bio that was so shallow it felt like a script for the History Channel. There was also an article by Oliver Sacks about the same things he always writes about and finally a David Denby film review of Eat Pray Love that was actually pretty good.
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So far my New Yorker year has begun badly, but I've only read the August material (BTW where the hell are my September mags?!) when everyone's away and the magazine was probably put together by the interns so I'm not despairing just yet. (Incidentally, the picture is the great Saul Steinberg View From 9th Avenue cover from the 70's. Nowadays the New Yorker costs $5.99 an issue.)