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my new yorker problem
the magazine as cruel mistress
by fred goodridge

One day when I was in high school, my mother found me reading a copy of The New Yorker magazine I’d found on the subway. Mom, obviously tickled by her precocious, punk-ass child's interest in such a thing, got me a subscription that Christmas, and renewed it every year, without fail, until her death last December. Thanks to this maternal devotion, I have been a continuous subscriber to this mastodon for 30 years, since my junior year of high school.

“The Magazine”, as the Olympian New Yorker editors call it, is the bane of my intellectual existence, equal parts pleasure and pain, comfort and annoyance, enlightenment and obfuscation.

I have known The New Yorker (should the “The” be capitalized? Should there even be a “The”?) longer than anything or anyone in my life, with the exception of my father and sisters. It has followed me from high school to college to grad school, through the student ghettos of Boston to the People’s Republic of Cambridge, finally winding its way into Boston’s suburbs and exurbs. It has survived life’s happiness and despair: marriages, children, deaths, job changes, middle age. Through it all, no matter what shape I’m in, there it is, every week. And that's the first problem. It comes every week.

My sense of dread upon getting the mail each Tuesday intensifies every year. My compulsion to read every issue at least 80% of the way through (including the listings section) would keep a psychoanalyst busy for countless sessions. There are always piles of them in different rooms of the house at different times. During particularly busy or indolent cycles of life, my living room takes on the cachet of the Collyer Brothers’ front parlor. All I need is about 30 cats and poor hygiene and I’m all set.

Sometimes I look at all the unread or “saved” issues and, in a fleeting moment of rationality, decide it’s time to do something. I’ve tried everything: Determinacy: "This Sunday, I will spend the afternoon catching up on my New Yorkers." Strategy: "Wednesday night of every week will be read-the-New-Yorker night." Self-doubt: “I’ve been reading this rag for 30 years and I’m still not on the staff.” Self-loathing: “Look at all these things! I can’t even read one of these a week! I’m just a bum.” Nothing works.

It gets worse: I can't bear to throw them away once I've read them - I do eventually, but with the greatest effort. Of course, when I read an interesting article, it makes me want to read more about the subject (Recovered Memory Syndrome, anyone?), and I end up consumed in hours of guilt-ridden knowledge gluttony. I won't even mention the phase of my life (long ago, thank God) when I actually cut cartoons, reviews, and articles out of old New Yorkers and saved them in manila file folders, thinking I'd refer to them again one day...

Why has this happened to me? Is it the hopeless urbanity of The Magazine’s aesthetic? The eclectic subject matter of The Articles (recently: leeching in modern medicine, the absinthe craze, AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, Nazi gangs in U.S. prisons)? The on-spot reviews of theatre, art, architecture, books, film? The Fiction? The editorial errors culled from the world’s press (“MAN RESCUED FROM ELEPHANT BUTTE,” read one recent headline in New Mexico)? Or “The Talk of the Town,” whose New York-is-the-center-of-the-universe outlook on what’s happening is alternately maddening and utterly valid (New York is the Capital of Earth, after all). Yes, it is all of these things, plus the silken feel of the costly, glossy paper, the always timely, often beautiful, sometimes funny, and never dull cover art, and the cartoons. Of course, the cartoons.

Thankfully, Mom had sent in the renewal for 2006 before she died. Now that she’s no longer subscribing for me, I have an entire year to make the decision: do I continue to subscribe myself, and prolong my misery (sic), or let it go and possibly miss something? What to do? Oh, well, I suppose she could have found me reading a copy of the New York Post...


“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." [Dr. Johnson] Writer, raconteur, philologist, father, cinéaste, no-good peacenik, media idiot. Spent a good many years waiting to be recognized for my great genius. Still waiting.

more about fred goodridge


jael mchenry
3.20.06 @ 3:52p

It's the unnecessary umlauts over repeated vowels (preeminent, coordinate) that make you want to read so obsessively. They're fascinating!

brian anderson
3.20.06 @ 4:30p

A truly geeky language person would point out that the mark over the second o in "coordinate" is actually a diaeresis, although it looks exactly the same as an umlaut.

This language person would also go on to point out that the Chicago Manual of Style would call the publication in question "the New Yorker," keeping "the" uncapitalized and in roman type.

The New Yorker is kind of like Winesburg, Ohio. It's somehow universal by its very provinciality.

fred goodridge
3.20.06 @ 5:12p

No argument from this quarter on either of the above observations. The New Yorker (does beginning a sentence with The Magazine's title rid us of the "the" dilemma?) has one literary convention that drives me absolutely berzerk: its insistence that all numbers (with the exception of dates, thank God) be written out as words. Example: We might write, "The U.S. Defense budget in fiscal year 2004 was $401.3 billion." In the New Yorker, you'd read, "The U.S. Defense budget in fiscal year 2004 was four hundred one billion, three hundred million dollars." In an article about economics or science, this can be deadly...



tracey kelley
3.20.06 @ 9:10p

Actually, if the official titling of the publication includes the "the" then the "the" is capped along with the rest of it. Since The New Yorker calls itself that, the "the" remains.

I love The New Yorker but holy cow, I suffer the same problem with the monthly Smithsonian - I'm a year behind, so there's no way I'd subscribe to anything that's weekly.


michelle von euw
4.6.06 @ 12:23a

I've found myself in a weird predicament re: my New Yorkers -- I've been skipping the fiction. The original reason I read the magazine in the first place, and instead, I'm reading about Kashmir and the sex life of orchids and the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race and militias on Long Island. The fiction (unless it's Alice Munro or Zadie Smith or Aleksander Hemon, and even he's iffy now) has lost all interest for me. Instead, I greedily devour any article on architecture.

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