Posts Tagged ‘joan acocella’

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

October 23, 2011

The central feature is a long, absorbing profile by Ken Auletta of Jill Abramson (above, photographed by Mary Ellen Mark), the first female executive editor of the New York Times. I admire her and wish her well, and the article told me lots of things I didn’t know. (Among other things, she’s exactly my age and was at Harvard while I was at Boston University.)

David Sedaris’s “Personal History” piece about his travails as a boyhood swimmer and his unsuccessful attempts to ever get his father’s approving attention is funny and stinging, typical for Sedaris. (And if you’re a subscriber, you can hear him read the piece aloud on your app.) And John Lahr’s review of The Mountaintop and We Live Here  served the purpose of confirming my suspicions and convincing me that I don’t need to see those plays.


I also appreciated this “Critic’s Notebook” by Joan Acocella, brief enough to quote in full:

“Press releases and reviews are always telling us how our savviest artists ‘deconstruct’ the things of the past: take them apart and reveal their wrong, wrong assumptions. In fact, when today’s artists do adaptations of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or Martha Graham, it’s usually not because they scorn those old favorites but because they cherish them. Modernism was a harsh, puritanical movement. Times have changed, under postmodernism. Actually,w e should probably thank something more specific, the gay art movement of the nineteen-sixties forward. In a world blasted beige by modernism, Charles Ludlam, John Waters, and Jack Smith gave magenta back to us. But all reforms get absorbed, and John Kelly is a product of such synthesis. His 1988 dance-theatre work ‘Find My Way Home,’ which will be revived at New York Live Arts Oct. 21-29, is a modern take on Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’ There is no ‘deconstruction’ here: no knowing-better. The piece is a tribute to Gluck, and a serious essay on how it is to lose the thing you loved.”

In this week’s New Yorker

October 16, 2011

Travelling abroad for two weeks, I finally got used to and even learned to like reading The New Yorker on my iPad. I don’t think it’s just because I was on vacation and had plenty of time to read that I found these last two issues to be really strong anthologies of articles. The most recent issue was chock full of good stuff, starting with Barry Blitt’s wonderful cover illustration of Steve Jobs checking in with the concierge at the ultimate Genius Bar.


And it continues with Nicholson Baker’s lovely tribute to the guy responsible for “being able to carry several kinds of infinity around in your shirt pocket” and the device Baker describes as “this brilliant, slip-sliding rectangle of private joy.”

Adam Gopnik contributes an illuminating salute to The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s book I’ve heard about, never read, and never knew that the great cartoonist Jules Feiffer had anything to do with. Adam Kirsch, writing about H.G. Wells, reveals him to be a bad writer but a prodigious fornicator (a similar conclusion reached by Joan Acocella in her piece the previous week about Georges Simenon). James Wood’s essay on Alan Hollinghurst manages to be admiring and respectful while mercilessly exposing the novelist’s tics and careless repetitions. The publication of a long-lost Eugene O’Neill one-act reminds me of everything I hate about O’Neill — the bloated, unnecessary stage directions and the corny, outlandish attempts at reproducing dialect.

The center of the issue contains three smart, riveting, vastly different fact pieces. Michael Specter reports on how Portugal treats heroin addiction as a medical issue rather than criminal activity. Tad Friend’s story about Andrew Stanton, Pixar’s star screenwriter-director, reveals lots of good moviemaking detail. “He read and reread Lajos Egri’s ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing,’ which taught him to distill movies to one crisp sentence before making them. For Finding Nemo it was ‘Fear denies a good father from being one,’ and for Wall-E  ‘Love conquers all programming.’ ”

Best of all is Evan Osnos’s long, detailed, scary “Letter from Fukushima,” which recounts every step of how workers at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station dealt with the dangerous destruction to the plant by the tsunami in March. Besides dropping in some fascinating geeky tidbits (nuclear workers willing to jump in and jump out of high-dose conditions are nicknamed dose fodder, glow boys, and gamma sponges), the article traces a few half-forgotten pockets of Japan’s nuclear history. I was only dimly aware of the impact on Japan of US hydrogen bomb testing in the Bikini Atoll. Osnos reports: “The ordeal caused a panic in Japan; a petition against further hydrogen-bomb tests secured the signature of one in every three citizens. it was the start of what became known as Japan’s ‘nuclear allergy.’ In less than a year, Japanese filmmakers had released Godzilla, about a creature mutated by American atomic weapons. ‘Mankind had created the Bomb,’ the film’s producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said of his monster, ‘and now nature was going to take revenge.’ Godzilla’s radioactive breath and low-budget special effects were campy to the reset of the world but not to the Japanese, who watched the film in silence and left in tears.”

The previous week’s issue (cover date October 10) had a similar trio of quirky business articles at its core — Joshua Davis on the inventor of the currency of the future, the bitcoin; Akash Kapur’s “The Shandy,” about a cow broker in India; and Calvin Trillin’s droll coverage of duelling jewellers in Toronto’s cash-for-gold business. I couldn’t care less about Taylor Swift but read every word of Lizzie Widdicombe’s thorough profile of her. (Okay, I was on a bus Florence to Siena.) But if there are only a couple of must-reads in the issue, one is very long (Jane Mayer’s report on villainous Art Pope, one of the major funders of all the worst right-wing Republicans coming down the pike) and one is very short (Patti Smith’s memoir about shoplifting the World Book Encyclopedia and getting caught).

In this week’s New Yorker

June 20, 2011

I had the luxury today of sitting on my veranda for several hours this afternoon reading the entire issue of the New Yorker the day it arrived in the mail.  Unprecedented! A slightly guilty pleasure but a reward to myself after a period of many days hard work without a break.

Some good stuff I might have skipped on a busier weekday: Rebecca Mead’s profile of Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who’s building an American art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas; Joan Acocella’s profile of American Ballet Theater’s new artistic director, the Russian emigre Alexei Ratmansky, whose work I now feel compelled to check out; and Adam Gopnik’s personal essay about taking drawing lessons, a humbling experience for a seasoned art critic.

And then there’s Alice Munro’s short story, “Gravel,” as deft and light-handed and remarkable as any Munro story (with the ultra-casual introduction of the central character’s lesbianism a typical Munro touch). I would love to know which editor matches up the New Yorker’s fiction with the photographs that illustrate them — it’s almost always a mysterious and perfect selection.

And Margaret Talbot’s commentary in Talk of the Town, in contrast to most of the media whirl, speaks sensibly about l’affaire Anthony Weiner: “If you were Anthony Weiner’s wife, you’d have your own concerns. But if you were his constituent, and thought he was doing a good job representing you, maybe you’d just as soon ignore his Internet amusements. That’s different from saying that what a politician does in private is never our business. It’s more a tacit acceptance that some of the qualities that launch people into public office—self-regard bordering on narcissism, risk-taking—can also launch them into risks of a more personal kind, and that this doesn’t inevitably reflect on their ability to govern. Maybe it’s an acknowledgment that sometimes there are more important things to talk about. “

In this week’s New Yorker, and the week before, and…

February 6, 2011

OK, so I got a little behind digesting my favorite magazine and passing along links. I had a busy January. I’ve been a little cranky about all the snarky commentary about Spiderman — Turn Off the Dark, but I have to say I did find the cover of the January 17 issue pretty funny, and everything Joan Rivers said to Julie Taymor, as reported by Patrick Healy in today’s Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times. A lot of people, including rumblings from the esteemed Times, have been acting like it’s some heinous crime against humanity for STOTD to be playing weeks, even months of previews without getting reviewed. But I don’t get what the BFD is. Theatergoers who bought tickets thinking the show would be finished and have been reviewed already can always ask for their money back. Meanwhile, because of all the publicity, anybody who sees the show nowadays has tremendous bragging rights, especially if the show has to stop to fix some technical glitch or if somebody gets hurt. (Dancers get hurt every day of the week, but nobody ever gets self-righteous about how dangerous New York City Ballet is for its performers.) Maybe the show is crappy. But I’d rather wait til the artists making it say it’s done before judging it. Then the gloves are off.

Going back a few weeks: the New Yorker has been providing great fodder for all kinds of geeks and obsessives lately. Daniel Mendelsohn’s story on the Vatican Library gives bibliophiles and scholars a satisfying peek at that inner sanctum. I’ve never heard of the designer Tomas Maier but enjoyed reading John Colapinto’s profile of this hunky guy. I just noticed that the striking photo that ran with the story is by famed painter/artist Robert Longo. (I’m also struck by how thorough matter-of-fact both the New Yorker and the Times are these days in writing about subjects who are gay and their domestic partnerships.) In the same issue, Jeffrey Toobin wrote a thorough and sad story about a young prosecutor whose participation in the case against Alaska congressman Ted Stevens ended tragically. And David Denby wrote a lively piece about Joan Crawford.

The following week, another juicy issue with Mike Peed’s fascinating reported article on bananas, how they’re bred, and the disease that is threatening the world supply of this beloved fruit (well, beloved by me and everyone else except Roz Chast), Ian Buruma on how Belgium threatens to implode, Evan Osnos on psychoanalysis in China, and Joan Acocella — hilarious as ever — on the strange saga of best-selling mediocre author Stieg Larsson, who died before even his first novel came out.

Last week forced me again to spend several hours reading absorbing articles on subjects I didn’t know interested me: the evolution of theories about preventing food allergies in children (by Jerome Groopman), the science of crowd control (John Seabrook, who details the weird and distressing story of how a 6’5″, 485-pound stockroom employee was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart on Long Island on Black Friday, 2008), and the monster-making imagination of Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth and other arty horror films (profiled by Daniel Zalewski, whose article provides the only glimpse we will ever see of what would have been del Toro’s take on Tolkein’s The Hobbit). And then there’s Joan Acocella again, writing another hilarious and trenchant essay about another excellent, underappreciated writer and one of my faves, J. R. Ackerley — note again the astonishing bounty of details about his (rather pitiful) homo sex life.

Plus, the cartoons.

and

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