Friday, February 15, 2008

To whom it may concern: Thanks, guys

[Editor's note: May also be of general interest to other readers.]

Let's assume you were the recipient of a twelve-month gift subscription to the New Yorker. What would you do with it? You would read it. Every week. From cover to cover. If you had the time. Which you don't. Here are my suggestions.

Elizabeth Kolbert's writings on climate change are compelling (and frequently distressing) and must be read. Likewise, Michael Specter's pieces on the outer limits of science and research. I would also recommend you always read: Anthony Lane's film reviews and longer-form criticism; anything by Bill Buford, who seems to have found his calling in writing about food (although, like me, he has the annoying habit of throwing parenthetical comments into every other sentence); Seymour Hersh's skating of the thin line between conspiracy theory and How Things Really Are in the murky world of American foreign policy; anything by its team of excellent foreign correspondents, particularly the editor, David Remnick, Jon Lee Anderson, Steve Coll and George Packer (who seems to have developed a second life writing on the US election - and writing well about it, too); and anything by David Sedaris.

It is an election year, after all, so there will be quite a lot about that, most of which will be out of date by the time the magazine has travelled all the way to Australia (most such pieces are available online as soon as they come out, which is the better way to take them in). But there will likely be long-form profiles of the two candidates, whomever they may be, which would be worth reading. If you had the time.

Let's say you are a two-doctor couple: the magazine carries a lot of writing about medicine, particularly the moral and ethical aspects of practice, which you may be interested in; I can't say whether the fact that it is a general-interest magazine means it would be talking down to you.

Let's say you have a particular interest in music: you would do well to read classical music correspondent Alex Ross and pop music writer Sasha Frere Jones (who also maintains not one but two excellent weblogs). Everyone seems to hate SFJ, mainly, I suspect, because he has probably the best job in the world. Also in the arts sphere, I always enjoy Calvin Tompkins' profiles of artists.

What you will look at every week is the cartoons. Don't ignore the other art, either, from the cover inwards: there are often contributions from comic book artists such as Seth, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, and others, including the wonderful Jacques de Loustal, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard McGuire (who also is/was a member of Liquid Liquid, but you knew that). If you are really lucky, at some point during the life of your subscription the magazine will run one of its infrequent three-page strips by R and Aline Crumb.

As for the fiction, you're on your own, really, although obviously you must read anything by Alice Munro and William Trevor.

And one final tip: what the New Yorker has the enviable ability to do is to run articles on a topic that appears on its face to be of marginal-to-none-whatsoever interest, only for you to discover that it is the most interesting thing you have ever read. Over the last few months, for instance, there have been fascinating pieces on: the demolition of a building in lower Manhattan; the creation of a global seed bank; the harvesting of cocoa beans; a classical-music hoax; and shenanigans in the Italian olive-oil industry.