Posts Tagged ‘anthony lane’

In this week’s New Yorker

April 26, 2013

Another week of exemplary reporting. Editor-in-chief David Remnick literally overnight called on his years of experience reporting from Russia to post on the magazine’s website his amazingly thorough, thoughtful, deep Talk of the Town piece on the Tsarnaev brothers and the Chechen culture they came from.

With his typically tenacious reporting and dry-eyed scrutiny, William Finnegan reports (“The Deportation Machine”) the horrific story of Mark Lyttle, a 35-year-old biracial mentally ill American citizen from North Carolina, who  — through a series of bureaucratic mishaps that even Kafka might have considered far-fetched — was deported, shoved across the Mexican border with three dollars in his pocket, and forced to spend four months wandering (sometimes on foot) through Central America until the American Embassy in Guatemala contacted his family and sent him home. Except that he was arrested at the airport in Atlanta under the assumption that his newly issued passport was a fake.

Then there’s Luke Mogelson’s “Letter from Aleppo,” a soul-wrenching dispatch from the bloody midst of Syria’s raggedy civil war. Mogelson’s piece focuses on the people who have assumed the task of burying the corpses that get pulled out of the River Queiq that runs through Syria’s largest city (234 in recent months) and the heavily-traveled bridge on which Syrian Army snipers shoot commuters “in order to bait rebel fighters and would-be rescuers,” except that most of the victims turn out to be women, children, and old men who can’t run fast enough to escape.

I confess that after reading Finnegan’s and Mogelson’s pieces, I was relieved to turn the page and read Ian Parker’s profile of filmmaker Noah Baumbach.

Also in the issue: excellent piece about writing by echt New Yorker staffer John McPhee, who makes a case for the dictionary being a writer’s best friend; a portfolio of pieces (including “Onlookers,” below) by photographer Roger Ballen, whose images fueled Die Antwood’s stunning music video “I Fink U Freeky”; and a column in the Current Cinema department that reminds me that the way to brighten anyone’s day is to read aloud Anthony Lane’s movie reviews out loud.

bollen onlookers

In this week’s New Yorker

July 3, 2012


Not the most exciting issue in recent history. I’m not sure why, but I read every word of Dexter Filkins’ depressing forecast of Afghanistan after American troops pull out, Mavis Gallant’s diaries from May and June of 1950 (when the 28-year-old writer sat around in Spain working on a novel and starving while waiting for checks to arrive from selling two stories to The New Yorker), Nathan Heller’s openly snarky feature on the TED talk phenomenon, Anthony Lane’s hilarious review of The Amazing Spider-Man, and enough of Emily Nussbaum’s rave review of the new season of Louie to know that I can’t wait to see it. Joel Stein’s Shouts & Murmurs piece takes a dubious cliche of a joke idea (the pretentious waiter-spiel) and makes something pretty funny out of it.

But I’d like to take a moment to point out the almost ridiculously hip and knowing, expertly succinct good writing that shows up in the New Yorker’s music listings. Prime example:

Glasslands Gallery
289 Kent Ave., between S. 1st and S. 2nd Sts., Brooklyn, N.Y. (No phone) — TJ Cowgill is the heavily tattooed founder and creative director of Actual Pain, a voguish Seattle clothing label that fuses urban streetwear aesthetics with vaguely pagan symbols: upside-down crosses, pentagrams, or any non-threateningly occultish emblem that will force a reaction from the wearers’ parents. Cowgill also leads two bands, the death-metal outfit Book of Black Earth and King Dude, a slightly more accessible (though similarly bleak) neo-folk solo project, which is here on July 5. Opening for Cowgill, with his brand of stark, haunting Americana, is Røsenkøpf, a promising local trio that layers screeching, wounded vocals atop cold, industrial electronica.”

Almost sounds like a parody itself, doesn’t it?

In this week’s New Yorker

January 22, 2012

Another stellar batch of cartoons!


Along with fine reporting by Ariel Levy on Callista Gingrich, Steve Coll on “Looking for Mullah Omar,” and William Finnegan, who traveled to Madagascar with club and restaurant superstar Eric Goode to observe his passion for saving rare breeds of tortoise. The latter piece is a real vocabulary expander; I picked up “chelonian,” “gular scute,” and “opuntia cactus.” Lots of astonishing tortoise lore: “Chelonians actually predate many dinosaurs. They have been lumbering around for more than two hundred million years, and have changed very little in all that time. Nobody knows how long individual plowshares live. Captain James Cook took away a radiated tortoise, the plowshare’s closest relative, and gave it to the King of Tonga, in 1777. It died in 1966.” And the next time there’s a lull in conversation over dinner, try telling your guests “Endoscopic turtle sexing will not become common practice in Madagascar any time soon.”

Poet Donald Hall contributes a poignant Personal History essay on aging, “Out the Window,” and Anthony Lane applies his characteristically droll erudition to reviewing Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “The movie unfolds in a modern setting, and in modern dress. This will obviously be disappointing to any Gerard Butler fans who hoped to see their man reprise his majestic outfit from 300, which consisted of helmet, cloak, and pull-up Spartan diaper.” And whichever poetry editor has been slipping lyrics by pop songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon into the magazine has now added to the list Leonard Cohen. As usual, the lyric doesn’t fly so well on the page, but on the website you can scroll down and hear the track “Going Home” from Cohen’s forthcoming album, Old Ideas, hotly anticipated by me.

In this week’s New Yorker

September 24, 2011

This week’s Style Issue is one of those exceptional issues, stuffed with goodies, that reminds me why I revere this magazine. The writing is so excellent that the magazine frequently serves as a writing manual. This issue alone has five exemplary non-fiction reporting stories that are marvels of fine prose that I would hand out to students if I were teaching a writing class.


Take, for instance, the lead of David Owen’s “Survival of the Fitted”: “On my first day in Colombia, two women in an old Toyota drove me to an industrial park on the outskirts of Bogota. There, in a building that from the outside looked like a warehouse, the man I’d come to interview — early forties, black hair, not tall — shot me in the abdomen with a .38-calibre revolver.”  The story is about bulletproof couture, and it’s vintage David Owen, who has made a name for himself by focusing on fascinating and unpredictable array of little-scrutinized pockets of contemporary culture. His writing style is both crisply journalistic and full of facts but also endearingly droll. For instance, he discusses cultural differences in armored clothing, which cultures have to deal with knife attacks more than gun attacks, and casually mentions that “Most ammunition used by soldiers…goes right through the kinds of bulletproof material that are worn by cops and recording artists.”

I’d never heard of Daphne Guinness and wouldn’t have thought I would be interested in reading about an eccentric aristocratic fashionista, but Rebecca Mead is such a good writer that I never lost interest in reading her engrossing story about this creature who clomps through the world in crazy designer shoes without heels, who was a close friend and customer of the late Alexander McQueen, and whose grandmother was Diana Mitford. Mitford, Mead reminds readers, married Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists, at the home of Joseph Goebbels. Among the wedding guests was Adolf Hitler, with whom Diana’s sister Unity was very close. Mead reports: “When [World War II] broke out, Diana spent three years in London’s Holloway prison. ‘She told me she read a lot of Racine,’ Guinness said. Meanwhile, when Britain declared war on Germany, Unity Mitford short herself in the head. ‘Why didn’t Unity shoot Hitler instead of herself?’ Guinness said. ‘Then we’d be descended from heroes instead of villains.’ “


Whenever this annual issue rolls around, I always think to myself, “I don’t care about fashion,” and I don’t really. But again I could not resist reading every word of Susan Orlean’s profile of Jean Paul Gaultier (above). Among the exotic creatures we meet in this story are Donna and Meghan Spears, who own a designer boutique called Consortium, in Oklahoma City, and Gaultier is the best-selling designer in the store. “I admitted to the Spearses that I wouldn’t have guessed that Gaultier had many fans in Oklahoma, but Donna said, ‘Oklahoma City is much more progressive than people think. In our target market, everyone has more than one home, more than one airplane. In the past, everyone went to Dallas or Aspen or La Jolla to shop. Now they come to us. At the end of the season, we never have any Gaultier left.’ ” Plus — and I guess this is a generational thing — I never get tired of noticing how matter-of-factly fashion writers for the New Yorker and the New York Times (most of them women) write about the personal lives of famous designers (most of them gay men). There was a time when gay private lives were just never mentioned in the pages of these magazines. Just saying.

There are also two emotionally affecting gay life stories mentioned in passing in Peter Hessler’s terrific article “Dr. Don,” which focuses on a small-town pharmacist in a hippie-dippie utopian enclave in southwestern Colorado, a world I would never have imagined or known about before reading this story.

Anytime Janet Malcolm writes something for the New Yorker, you know that inevitably she will find some way of referencing some awkward complicated relationship between the journalist and her subject, and that does indeed show up halfway through her profile/essay about German photographer Thomas Struth, whose portrait of the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh she dissects meticulously. I also learned from her the typically German compound expression Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means “comes to terms with the past.”

Hilton Als has been thinking a lot about Stephen Sondheim recently. His Critic-at-Large piece about Diane Paulus’s new production of Porgy and Bess carefully and thoughtfully rebuts Sondheim’s now-famous letter disparaging the remarks Paulus and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks made about the Gershwin opera in a New York Times Arts & Leisure story several weeks ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, he sides with Paulus and Parks in their revisionist take on Porgy and Bess and ever-so-gently trashes Sondheim for championing DuBose Heyward. That doesn’t stop Als from also writing a beautifully considered review of the current Broadway revival of Follies.

I also liked Jenny Diski’s piece on the history of shoplifting and Anthony Lane’s review of Drive. And, of course, there’s always Roz Chast:

In this week’s New Yorker

July 6, 2011

The article that most grabbed me was “A Woman’s Place,” Ken Auletta’s profile of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. It’s a fascinating portrait of a really smart, successful manager (Sandberg is credited for making Facebook financially profitable for the first time) and of a new kind of businesswoman. I love the basic attitude she brings to both women and men, employees and colleagues: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Sandberg is a protege of Larry Summers, her professor when she majored in economics at Harvard. I was struck by this passage: “At her Phi Beta Kappa induction, there were separate ceremonies for men and women. At hers, a woman gave a speech called ‘Feeling Like a Fraud.’ During the talk, Sandberg looked around the room and saw people nodding. ‘I thought it was the best speech I’d ever heard,’ she recalls. ‘I felt like that my whole life.’ At every stage of her time in school, Sandberg thought, I really fooled them. There was ‘zero chance,’ she concluded, that the men in the other room felt the same.” Actually, in my experience, PLENTY of men live with the exact same existential experience, which has even been named “impostor syndrome.”

Speaking of management styles, there’s also this cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan:

I haven’t finished Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s short story, “Aphrodisiac,” but I look forward to it. Something else I look forward to reading is Rob Young’s book Electric Eden, of which there’s a short unsigned review in the New Yorker. It’s a study of the quirky British pop-folkies that proliferated in the late ’60s and early ’70s such as Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. Can I just say, though, that this book starts by focusing on Vashti Bunyan, whom historical revisionism has given prominence — but I was around back then and listened avidly to all this music, and I never heard of Bunyan until a few years ago when “freak-folkie” Devendra Banhart cited her as an influence. Clearly, she was around but had nowhere near the profile of people like the late great Sandy Denny. Just sayin’.

I will never watch the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but I loved reading Anthony Lane’s review of it. Among other things, I learned that the cast of this cretinous movie includes John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich, “hardly the first to burnish their status, and please their accountants, by putting a hand to the Transformers plow,” Lane notes. He also says,”The real [Buzz] Aldrin, now eighty-one, shows up int he film, to make nice to Optimus Prime — the toughest and most pompous of the Autobots. These, despite sounding like a new range of self-applying diapers, are well-intentioned metal dunderheads, residing here on Earth, and promising, ‘The day will never come when we forsake this planet and its people.’ Oh, God. Never?”

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