Posts Tagged ‘peter hessler’

In this week’s New Yorker

July 20, 2013

new yorker 7-22 cover
Three major reporting stories dominate: Rachel Louise Snyder’s very detailed, very upsetting, very informative article, “A Raised Hand,” about domestic violence and a tool that social service agencies have developed to successfully gauge the level of risk for lethal attacks by deranged partners (mostly husbands); “The Beach Builders,” John Seabrook’s fascinating story about how the Jersey Shore has been repeatedly repaired after storm damage, most recently after Hurricane Sandy; and Peter Hessler’s Letter from Cairo, which really helped me figure out how to understand the ouster of President Morsi and the current state of affairs in Egypt and educated me about Tamarrod, the inspiring ad hoc grass-roots political movement that managed to oust Morsi with phenomenal speed. Hessler’s lengthy report capitalizes on little glimpses I’ve absorbed — reading in an email recently about how the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to shut down Egypt’s opera houses and ballet companies — and accompanies George Packer’s lead editorial, which succinctly encapsulates the existential crisis that Egyptian politics faces. “The core political problem in Egypt,” writes Packer, “is one that almost always arises from years of dictatorship: a culture of suspicion and confrontation, a mentality of winner-take-all. Islamists and secular-minded Egyptians regard one another as obstacles to power, not as legitimate players in a complex game that requires inclusion and consensus…Nothing good will come of the overthrow of Morsi’s bad government if Egypt’s next transition doesn’t find a place for all of the country’s legitimate factions.”

 

In this week’s New Yorker

January 11, 2013

new yorker jan 14

No earth-shattering pieces in this issue, but still several stories that engrossed me from beginning to end:

* Peter Hessler’s “Letter from Cairo,” which describes the many way that the Muslim Brotherhood has betrayed its promises and generated a lot of distrust and opposition among Egyptian citizens after the ouster of Mubarak;

egypt photo by moises saman

* the ever-amusing Patricia Marx’s consumer report on Taskrabbit and similar apps that allow you to outsource mundane tasks;

* Rachel Aviv’s substantial and thought-provoking article, “The Science of Sex Abuse,” that focuses on laws that treat possession of child pornography as crimes equivalent to molesting children, keeping men in prison under civil commitment provisions who have never acted on their fantasies of sex with underage humans;

* John McPhee’s essay on structure, in “The Writing Life” — I’m not a big McPhee fan (who has time for a 90,000 word piece about sand?) but I was delighted to know that there are times when even he finds himself squirming on the floor in tears unable to get going with a writing task;

* “Semi-Charmed Life,” Nathan Heller’s essay about several books about contemporary twentysomethings, which ultimately I found annoying; and

* Joan Acocella’s essay about St. Francis of Assisi, triggered by two recent books about him. Acocella’s choices of subject frequently surprise me, and her plain, direct, commonsense style often cracks me up. “Francis was very ill,” she writes, for the last six years of his life. “He returned from Egypt not just with malaria but with trachoma, a searingly painful eye infection. Also, it is said, he vomited blood, which suggests a gastric ulcer. When he finally allowed himself to be examined, the doctor decided to cauterize Francis’s face from the jaw to the temple, to stop the discharge from his eyes. ..The treatment did no good, so it was decided to pierce his eardrums. That had no effect, either. This part of the story is very hard to read.”

soulmate cartoon
I’ve recently subscribed to the New Yorker Out Loud podcast, which turns out to be a great way to hear what various New Yorker writers and editors sound like. Rachel Aviv, for instance, is this week’s guest. You can subscribe via the iTunes Store.

witchcraft cartoon

 

In this week’s New Yorker

December 20, 2011


The issue starts off right with a fabulous seasonal cartoon by Danny Shanahan, closely followed by this amazing illustration by Kristina Collontes for the music listing of a show at Glasslands Gallery: “Tokyo’s Trippple Nippples, fronted by Yuka Nippple, Qrea Nippple, and Naabe Nippple, powers through overcaffeinated electronic art rock, but the music is almost secondary to the group’s outrageous appearance: they’re dressed as giant mammary glands, spewing milk, and have often swathed themselves in mud, feathers, or old spaghetti. Neat freaks may want to stay home.”


(Speaking of illustrations: did you see the amazing creation by David Plunkert that accompanied composer John Adams’ intriguing review of Richard Rhodes’ book Hedy’s Folly, about how “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood” helped design sophisticated weapons systems with George Antheil??? But I digress….)


The double-issue is devoted to World Changers, and the subject ranges wildly from how thieves are handled at a mosque in Tahrir Square (Peter Hessler’s “The Mosque on the Square”) to the austere music and wild life of 16th century Italian composer Don Carlo Gesualdo (Alex Ross’s “Prince of Darkness”). But the most compelling read is “The Civil Archipelago,” the long, well-sourced, knowledgeable Letter from Moscow written by David Remnick, the New Yorker‘s editor-in-chief and, I must acknowledge, a real culture hero of mine, for the way he has maintained if not exceeded the magazine’s high standards of journalistic excellence. (Read, by the way, his blog post about the Republicans and gay rights.)

There are also terrific critical columns by Joan Acocella, writing about Alvin Ailey, and Hilton Als, exercising his usual, admirable, self-given freedom to transcend conventional theater criticism while writing about David Adjmi’s play Elective Affinities.

Oh, also interesting to learn from Abby Aguirre’s Talk of the Town piece that Occupy Wall Street has, in three months’ of existence, acquired $650,873.59 in donations.)

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:

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