Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Novella Each Week, The New Yorker Is Heavier Reading Than Most Can Handle.

The Good: Exceptional writing, Amusing cartoons, Up-to-date Arts listings for New York City
The Bad: I'm not so wild about the poetry, Oddly (but subtly) addy
The Basics: An almost perfect magazine, The New Yorker is strangely addy but otherwise is a remarkably weekly read...for those who have the time to get through it!

There is an educated class that has two things the bulk of working class people lack: free time and money. This class of people has tastes that are no more refined than those of poor people; they can simply afford higher quality food on a more regular basis (i.e. poor people like things that taste good, too, they seldom have the opportunity to enjoy the best tasting foods by quality). This class also has the time to appreciate the art and literature of the day, whereas most people who work the forty hour workweek, do not. I mention this at the outset of my review of The New Yorker because it is only with leisure time and intelligence that one might make it through an issue of The New Yorker in a week before the next one arrives.

The New Yorker is a magazine of art, literature, and politics that is published weekly (more or less) and is widely regarded as the magazine for the literate and educated. But honestly, unless one has extensive time to plod through the magazine each week, they are likely to find that the issues pile up quickly. I used to subscribe to The New Yorker, back in the days when I was only writing novels and running for Congress. I suppose I could subscribe again now, save that funds are lacking and I would rather use my time to create more works, as opposed to read the works of others. But for those looking for a good read consistently, The New Yorker cannot be beat on the newsstands.

For the purpose of this review, I used the "December 25, 2006 / January 1, 2007" issue of The New Yorker as it was the only one I had kicking around at the time. This was the Winter Fiction Issue and is a little longer than the standard issue. It, however, possesses the trademark high diction and dense pages of the standard issues of The New Yorker. The New Yorker is a magazine for people with incredible educations and it uses a level of vocabulary that most individuals today no longer use. That said, a great way for high school students to beef up their vocabulary is a subscription to The New Yorker.

The New Yorker is not solely focused on New York, by any means. Despite what its title suggests, only one or two sections are usually devoted to arts and culture in New York City. Still, those of us in Upstate New York are still quite able to enjoy it. It was only when I sat down to review the magazine, though, that I was forced to consider what I did not like about it. The first aspect I find less impressive about The New Yorker is that it is surprisingly addy. Known more for its pages of dense typeface for stories and articles, the issue I used for review (which was 154 pages) included forty-seven full pages of advertisements, not including the back cover (front and back) and inside front cover. While this might not seem like many, over half the remaining pages had column ads taking up one of the three print columns! This is a lot of advertisements for a literary magazine.

The only other real gripe I have against The New Yorker is the poetry. Poetry is like any other form of communication; it is supposed to communicate an idea, be it an emotion, experience or story. The poetry published in The New Yorker almost universally read like the rejects from the School Of e.e. Cummings Wannabes. In other words, the poetry published is much more often about doing avant garde things with language and form as opposed to actually saying something that can be deciphered.

That said, the rest of the magazine is gold. The New Yorker is packed with information, fiction and reviews and they tend to all be written with educated readers in mind. After several pages of advertisements and the Table of Contents, each issue features a "Contributors" page, where the writers whose works are featured in the issue are given a paragraph of description to promote their other works. These mini-credentials offer readers the chance to find other writing by the featured authors and, occasionally, confirm the identity of the author (yes, the Steve Martin featured occasionally is THE Steve Martin, the comedian!). This page is followed by pages with the usual letters from readers and The New Yorker frequently publishes letter rebutting or contradicting previously published articles.

The letters section is followed by about twenty pages of current events in the theaters and clubs around New York City. This allows those who live in New York City to make plans on where to go, what to do and gives them a good idea of who they will see there.

"The Talk Of The Town" section follows with staff writers at The New Yorker contributing comments on current politics (domestic and foreign), notes on endeavors by contemporary authors, odd notes from around New York City, and financial notes. Here The New Yorker is unabashedly liberal, representing well the dominant population of New York City. The contributions favor civil rights for all, ethnic and gender diversity, though they are definitely supporters of capitalism over socialism. This is expressed through a published appreciation of the benefits of having capital.

The issue I reviewed included a Personal History, a biography of a immigrant to New York City. The biography explores the relationship between a son and his father, while wrestling with a conflict of faith. The writing is sharp and poignant without ever becoming schmaltzy.

The Personal History was followed by five short stories, which are not short by any means. The magazine publishes a wide variety of short stories, most by well-established writers who have had novels published. The short stories vary in subject, from relationships to travel stories. There are seldom stories that are fantastical in any way; these are considered modern literature stories and tend to be more about people interacting. Still, The New Yorker has trends they seem to follow and while I subscribed, the stories tended to be largely nihilistic and little actually happened in them (yet, surprisingly, they never published one of mine). The short stories are almost always amazing, though and most readers will want a dictionary near them when they read them.

Interspersed throughout the short stories are artistic photographs and comics by staff writers or photographers who are big in the New York City art scene. Given that many people will not get to the galleries when many of the works are on display, this can be an amazing resource for readers and those who appreciate visual art. And the comics are funny, though they tend to be a dry wit as opposed to laugh out loud funny.

The final pages of the magazine are relegated to reviews. The critics at The New Yorker represent the views of high society, so they seldom like the blockbuster movies, popular fiction and anything remotely considered popular music. The reviews, though, tend to be good reads that put every play, compact disc, artist, movie and book in a historical context with a broader view of how the work fits into the overall medium the art appears in.

The New Yorker is a good read, but it is dense for those with time constraints. Still, that should not stop more Americans from subscribing; if everyone read The New Yorker even if they did not agree with what was written, the debates would be raised and the level of discourse would be higher. That could only enhance the culture of the United States.

For other magazines reviewed by me, please check out my take on:
The Progressive Populist
Star Trek Magazine


For other magazine or book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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