In this week’s New Yorker

February 6, 2016

elif batuman illo by anna parini
You know me, I’m a huge fan of the New Yorker. But in the current anniversary issue, there’s a Personal History essay, “Cover Story” by Elif Batuman, that really captivated me so much that I’d like to convene a salon to read it aloud and discuss it. Batuman is a young (38-year-old) writer who grew up in a non-religious Turkish family. Her parents benefited from Ataturk’s establishment of a secular Turkish Republic. While living in Istanbul reporting for the New Yorker, in 2011 Batuman traveled to a rural area in southeastern Anatolia to report on an archaeological site. She found the locals unfriendly to an English-speaking non-religious woman. Then one day by chance she wore a hijab (head scarf) all day long, and her experience changed dramatically, which led her to consider a series of deep, profound, searching questions about meaning, purpose, journalism, religion, and freedom. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Elsewhere in the issue:

  • charming Talk of the Town pieces about Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and magician/collector/author Ricky Jay;
  • “The Bouvier Affair,” a long riveting report by Sam Knight about the hidden-in-plain-sight world of high-end art storage and the intersection of dealers, collectors, artists, and the people who handle framing, transporting, and storing artwork for Russian oligarchs and other one-percenters;
  • “Putin’s Dragon,” Joshua Yaffa’s piece about the ruler of Chechnya that I had to force myself to finish reading because it was important but also sickening and infuriating;
  • “Forced Out,” a sad compelling story by Matthew Desmond about eviction as a way of life in a poor Milwaukee neighborhood;
  • Hilton Als’s deft Critic at Large essay about hip-hop DJ/producer Madlib; and
  • James Wood’s intriguing review of two new novels by gay American expats in Europe, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You and Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland.

There are also a couple of big duds in the issue. Patricia Marx, the often-droll shopping correspondent, writes about high-tech sleep gadgets in a way that shows off her quippiness but doesn’t actually convey anything that would be helpful to someone looking for effective sleep aids. And despite his status as a fiction superstar these days, George Saunders left me cold with his story “Mother’s Day.”

I’ve been gobbling up every episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour, the hour-long podcast hosted by editor-in-chief David Remnick — nonstop good stuff. I can’t believe how much I’m looking forward to next week’s show, which focuses on Laura Poitras (the exceptional documentary filmmaker whose art show, “Astro Noise,” just opened at the Whitney Museum) and the local jazz players whom David Bowie hired to play on his final album, Blackstar.

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