Posts Tagged ‘janet malcolm’

In this week’s New Yorker

June 27, 2014

The single most noteworthy sentence in this week’s issue comes early in Jeffrey Toobin’s long, must-read profile of loathsome Texas senator Ted Cruz, who has spent an insane amount of time attempting (sometimes singlehandedly) to repeal “every blessed word” of the Affordable Care Act: “Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.” Could anything make this smug bastard more despicable?

ted cruz

Another remarkable sentence flies quickly by in John Colapinto’s profile (“Shy and Mighty” — great headline) of the xx, the British quietcore trio whose songs are written and sung by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (below, center and right), whose aural and onstage intimacy suggests that of current or former lovers: “Another defining aspect of the xx’s music — the tamped-down eroticism of the singers’ entwined voices — was also unintended, since both are gay.” Huh. I didn’t see that coming. Makes me love them all the more.

the xx
Aside from those pieces, Nathan Heller’s long profile of filmmaker Richard Linklater is worth reading, along with the always entertaining David Sedaris’s essay, “Stepping Out,” about his obsession with Fitbit.

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The New Yorker has had some stellar issues lately. Last week’s, for instance (July 23, 2014), had four very different, all fantastic feature stories:

* Jill Lepore’s “The Disruption Machine,” a meticulous takedown of of the current valorization of disruption as a business ideal, based on her close reading of the book that preached the gospel of innovation, Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma;

* Nick Paumgarten’s hilarious and intimate profile — “Id Girls” (another great headline) — of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the creators of the Comedy Central hit series Broad City, for which Paumgarten got an astonishing amount of reportorial access, a quality his article shares with…

* the great Janet Malcolm’s “The Book Refuge,” a family portrait of the women who run the Argosy Bookstore, the antiquarian bookseller on 57th Street; and

* Sarah Stillman’s long, sad, infuriating article “Get Out of Jail, Inc.,” about how the so-called “alternatives to incarceration” industry preys on the poorest Americans, exorting vast sums of money for offenses like driving with expired license plates or an unpaid parking ticket.

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The issue before that, the Summer Fiction: Love Stories double-issue (June 9 & 16), was noteworthy for me primarily for Margaret Talbot’s “The Teen Whisperer,” a superb profile of young-adult novelist John Green, completely unknown to me but now strangely prominent on my radar, to the point where I’m actually curious to see the movie based on his big hit, The Fault in Our Stars (which, weirdly, shows up fleetingly in season 2 of Orange Is the New Black).

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In this week’s New Yorker

September 22, 2013

new yorker goings on cover
The Style Issue contains a bunch of stories in a row that I found engrossing, often to my surprise:

bryan goldberg
Lizzie Widdicombe on Bryan Goldberg, a cocky young entrepreneur (above) who is launching an online magazine for women, Bustle.com, that he hopes becomes as popular and financially successful as his sports site, Bleacher Report, was with men;

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* Calvin Tomkins on David Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British architect (above) who is designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, which made him sound so appealing that I ordered his book of photographs of the architecture of African capitals;

* Rebecca Mead on Andrew Rosen, the schlubby founder of the fashion company Theory, a profile that doubles as a succinct history of the garment district;

eileen fisher
and a fascinating profile of modest but chic women’s clothing designer Eileen Fisher by Janet Malcolm. Fisher is a smart feminist who runs her company according to principles of non-hierarchical management and simple Buddhist kindness, and Malcolm plays a strange game with her of pretending not to understand the language she uses to describe how the business runs. Her language is slightly vague not not jargonistic, and it’s curious to watch Malcolm play dumb in print. But she is one of the New Yorker’s shrewdest veteran writers who is very open with her subjects about the duty of journalists to betray the people they write about, so I suppose it’s part of her strategy. On the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, editor-in-chief David Remnick’s Letter from the Archive acknowledges that readers may be surprised to see Malcolm writing about a fashion designer. But Remnick also reminds us that she wrote the shopping column, On and off the Avenue, for a while. He steers Malcom fans to a couple of other surprising profiles from years past, “The Window Washer” and “A Girl of the Zeitgeist” (a memorable story about Ingrid Sischy, then-editor of Artforum, in which the august New Yorker published the word “asshole” for the first time, in a direct quote). Remnick also mentions Katie Roiphe’s Paris Review interview with Malcolm, which I have bookmarked to read very soon.

The New Yorker has done a major redesign, especially in the front of the book. I’m not sure I like it, and the iPad app is very buggy. But I’m prepared to wait and see how it shakes out over the next weeks and months.

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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

April 30, 2010


Those who need a reason to renew — or begin — their admiration of Janet Malcolm (above) as a writer are directed to her report in this week’s New Yorker on a murder trial, “Iphigenia in Forest Hills.” The teaser on the newsstand cover captures the heart of the story: “The shooting of Daniel Malakov in front of his four-year-old daughter stunned a tight-knit Queens community. But when his wife stood trial for ordering the hit, the courtroom didn’t hear about the shocking injustice behind the crime.” But you have to read the entire piece to appreciate the multitudinous layers of Malcolm’s mastery: her scrupulous attention to the use of words, her simple yet deep explication of the occupations journalist and trial lawyer, her unerring journalistic objectivity and yet her unapologetic subjectivity (she tells you she doesn’t think the wife was guilty of hiring an assassin, and why), her fastidious laying out of all the facts in the case in such a way that, paradoxically, preserve several crucial mysteries.

Also in the magazine: a very thoughtful review by Hilton Als of the revival of La Cage aux Folles and Sondheim on Sondheim.

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