In this week’s New Yorker

April 5, 2014

There’s some fine reporting by Evan Osnos on West Virginia’s environmental crisis, George Packer on recent examples of war literature, and Emily Nussbaum on Norman Lear and his impact on TV. But nothing beats “Elicitation,” John McPhee’s essay on the craft of reporting, specifically of conducting interviews. I associate McPhee exclusively with long and, frankly, boring New Yorker pieces (a three-part series on sand!), but he was a staff writer at Time magazine writing about entertainment in the 1960s, and his reminiscences here include succinct and fascinating portraits of Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maggie Smith (the last three on the set of The V.I.P.’s), along with a well-placed dig at Truman Capote.

Here’s a choice passage about Taylor: “In comparison with a great many of the actresses I had met in my years of writing about show business, she was not even half full of herself. She seemed curious, sophisticated, and unpretentious, and compared with people I had known in universities she seemed to have been particularly well educated. From childhood forward, she was tutored in the cafeteria at M-G-M.”

And, of course, another great Roz Chast cartoon:

27-year itch cartoon

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