Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 2009 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan 5770
By Paul Greenberg
Why would anyone write "it goes without saying" if it really did? As in: "It goes without saying that Afghans have had enough of violence." --
And why do I still subscribe to The New Yorker? Invincible hope? It's certainly not expectation. It's because the cartoons are still the best. It's because the covers can still intrigue.
It's because The New Yorker is still a kind of social barometer, accurately reflecting the current state of the culture: pathetic, juvenile, with-it and fraudulent in the main. Yet on occasion a stunning surprise will burst out of the usual clouds of fadtalk.
Now and then there's a piece so good in the magazine you wouldn't want to miss it. I can't think of one offhand, or even after some thought, but surely one will appear. We live in hope, or maybe just blind faith. More often there's an article so bad you wouldn't want to miss it. You stare at it in disbelief, the way you can't help but look at a car wreck by the side of the road.
The literary crash is usually the work of
Why do I still still glance at every issue of The New Yorker? Force of habit? Maybe just to see how the mighty have fallen, and wonder at what
Or maybe I flip through the pages out of duty, because checking out the current New Yorker is … tradition! Reader loyalty is a wondrous thing. I depend on it myself.
Why does The New Yorker still intrigue? The ads, for one thing. They're a sure guide to what passes for life among the monied. Pitches for psychiatric hospitals alternate with those for overpriced geegaws. Those for the mental clinics seem to talk the way people on the Upper East Side do -- in sporadic italics: "Unparalleled psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Unsurpassed discretion and service." (sic)
My favorite ad? "BOOKSBYTHEFOOT.COM/ Dozens of styles for Interior Designers and Book Lovers, starting at
What keeps hope alive for little magazines like The New Yorker? Or little magazines unlike The New Yorker? Such as my favorite, The New Criterion, this era's version of Partisan Review for the culturally conservative, who scarcely comprise a mass market. And who take a perverse pride in being a small minority.
Yet there was a time when books celebrating the idea of a cultural elite were best-sellers --
Well, only in the America of the past, the America of the Reader's Digest, the earnest America of visiting lecturers appearing at the municipal auditorium as part of some cultural uplift series. I miss middlebrow culture; it took ideas and their propagation seriously.
Why thumb through The New Yorker when it has fallen to such low estate? Maybe because of a vague hope that somewhere between the covers there'll be the kind of lapidary short story so perfect, so elegant, so without any purpose but beauty and pain, that it will bring back a time when you first read Updike or Nabokov or Cheever or
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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