A couple of weeks ago, I spoke of one of my usual airport purchases: Scientific American. Well, there’s another mag I often buy in airports, and that one is The New Yorker, proving that I’m not only a pretentious twit, but that I’m a stereotyped pretentious twit. I guess I can live with that.
My most recent moment of weakness came in September of 2017 (see cover above) but, as you can see, I’m reviewing it over a year later. Just like my scientific American, the reason for that is that I only read the first few articles, the ones that are time-based such as concert dates and the like, before tossing the mag onto by To-Be-Read pile, which is a beast about a year in height.
Of course, once I got to the mag, the concert dates were no longer relevant, and many of the theater reviews referred to shows I could no longer watch, but I read through them again anyway. The reason for this is that I’m always fascinated by The New Yorker’s combination of two things: an appreciation for the finer things in life such as symphony orchestras and the breathtaking capacity to discuss run-of-the-mill stuff in terms that makes you think they belong among the finer things in life. As an example of this latter trend, it’s impossible to tell whether a couple of the lesser-known bands they talk about are just a bunch of friends who’ve been practicing in a garage and sound like it or the second coming of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I spend this time on the social news at the beginning of the magazine because that sums up the whole attitude perfectly. It’s a local section that doesn’t feel local: you get the idea that the writers truly feel that a concert happening in a bar in New York needs to have a global audience, but it’s also an exercise in discussing everything, regardless of relative quality or banality, in the most exquisite language possible.
Of course, 95% of the people who pick up a copy of the mag will fall into one of two groups: those who shake their head in disgust at the pretentious nature of the writing, and those who think that reading it will somehow “improve” them (some of the latter group may be right, so I encourage them to keep trying).
For the five percent remaining, this one is a guilty pleasure. We know what the editors are doing, and yet we love the magazine anyway. We can take the pretentiousness, or leave it aside to read less opaque prose, but whenever we do come back, we find it charming. I like to think that a lot of the readers of Classically Educated are the same way (although I often hope they don’t think we’re in any way pretentious twits…).
A final note for the fiction section, which, as you can imagine, I always read with particular attention. The story in this one was well written… but I always seem to buy the editions with the suburban angst and sorrow. Where are the great, bold stories of yore? I guess they’re gone to wherever the bold men and women of yore have been laid to rest–after all, the fiction does reflect the readership, or at least it should.
Anyhow, if you’ve never picked up a copy of The New Yorker and read it cover to cover, you owe it to yourself to do so. Even an old copy bought used is a good bet.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer based in Buenos Aires. His literary heroes include Borges, Wodehouse and Asimov, and if you can reconcile those three, you are a better psychologist than he is. His short fiction has been collected in Virtuoso and Other Stories, and you can check it out here.