In all the time I have had a subscription to the New Yorker, I have never been caught up with it. I am one of those poor souls who must read everything that he is given. Even in an issue that I have no interest in, I always at least try to read the fiction entry.
This is unfortunate, as the fiction entry is often the weakest part. Many of the short stories they publish are toss offs by famous authors. This is not to say there are not gems from time to time, but in general my efforts to read the New Yorker’s fiction have not been rewarded.
But nobody I know gets the New Yorker for the fiction. They get it for the articles, honest. As I paged through one of the many backlogged issues, I started reading, and found myself unable to get past the style. Anyone who’s read more than a page of the New Yorker might not think about the style, but they know it. There are certain, often nationally known, writers who are often allowed to keep their own style. Sedaris never has to change his phrasing, but if you’ve read the reportage, and not the reminiscences, you might even be able to evoke the particular style of the New Yorker.
I’ve read a fair share of pages at this point, and I’ve come to think of it a certain way. It is the style of a reporter who never got over the desire to write a novel. When you read them, you feel like you and the reporter are on a deck somewhere, maybe with a julep in hand, as they describe their travels. The troubles of whatever far off country are incidental to the characters building and travelogue. This may be why so many of the New Yorker’s articles are about the famous dead.
I can never shake the feeling that I’m supposed to remember the name of whoever wrote their latest article about… oh, we’ll say Sarajevo. I’m supposed to be savoring the quince blossoms as much of the news, the writer’s ability to paint the scene. It feels like the news as a short story, which I’m sure is their intent.
One that particularly struck me happened a while ago. I still remember it, which should tell you something, as it was a profile of Abbas, who’s been stuck in a sink hole of terminal irrelevance for a while now. In this article, some six hundred words were used to profile a Palestinian fighter. These six hundred words lead into his quote, which was, I suppose, the reason he made it into the article. He was asked if he wanted to stop fighting. He said, “of course.”
The watery nature of this pseudo revelation, and the six hundred words that were used to prepare it, astounded me at the time. Had my last two minutes or so been wasted? Couldn’t that have been done in two sentences? Didn’t I already know that he would want to stop fighting, but on his terms?
These articles, when about something I’m interested in, are always entertaining enough. I still read them, but as I read them, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off reading something meatier about the subject. There used to be a drive in middle America for self betterment. I don’t know that it’s exactly alive and well, or misdirected, or what, but I feel like the New Yorker is trying to promote that. Which is why it’s so frustrating to me when they seem to have articles that are more travelogue than history lesson and more anecdote than news. Often I walk away from the articles feeling like the lesson I was supposed to take away was: “They’re people, just like us.” With articles of the length they give out? I would hope it could go a little deeper.