Posts Tagged ‘john mcphee’

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

In this week’s New Yorker

April 26, 2013

Another week of exemplary reporting. Editor-in-chief David Remnick literally overnight called on his years of experience reporting from Russia to post on the magazine’s website his amazingly thorough, thoughtful, deep Talk of the Town piece on the Tsarnaev brothers and the Chechen culture they came from.

With his typically tenacious reporting and dry-eyed scrutiny, William Finnegan reports (“The Deportation Machine”) the horrific story of Mark Lyttle, a 35-year-old biracial mentally ill American citizen from North Carolina, who  — through a series of bureaucratic mishaps that even Kafka might have considered far-fetched — was deported, shoved across the Mexican border with three dollars in his pocket, and forced to spend four months wandering (sometimes on foot) through Central America until the American Embassy in Guatemala contacted his family and sent him home. Except that he was arrested at the airport in Atlanta under the assumption that his newly issued passport was a fake.

Then there’s Luke Mogelson’s “Letter from Aleppo,” a soul-wrenching dispatch from the bloody midst of Syria’s raggedy civil war. Mogelson’s piece focuses on the people who have assumed the task of burying the corpses that get pulled out of the River Queiq that runs through Syria’s largest city (234 in recent months) and the heavily-traveled bridge on which Syrian Army snipers shoot commuters “in order to bait rebel fighters and would-be rescuers,” except that most of the victims turn out to be women, children, and old men who can’t run fast enough to escape.

I confess that after reading Finnegan’s and Mogelson’s pieces, I was relieved to turn the page and read Ian Parker’s profile of filmmaker Noah Baumbach.

Also in the issue: excellent piece about writing by echt New Yorker staffer John McPhee, who makes a case for the dictionary being a writer’s best friend; a portfolio of pieces (including “Onlookers,” below) by photographer Roger Ballen, whose images fueled Die Antwood’s stunning music video “I Fink U Freeky”; and a column in the Current Cinema department that reminds me that the way to brighten anyone’s day is to read aloud Anthony Lane’s movie reviews out loud.

bollen onlookers

Quote of the day: WRITING

April 25, 2013

WRITING

You are working on a first draft and small wonder you’re unhappy. If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer.

— John McPhee

John_McPhee

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

June 28, 2012

Quirky fun issue that centers on four very detailed fact pieces: Patricia Marx on scavenger hunt mania at the University of Chicago; John McPhee gleefully cycling into print a long string of obscenity-laden passages that previous editors (including the famously squeamish Mister Shawn) deemed “not for us,” including a bravura extended account by McPhee of what goes on at a stud farm; William Finnegan making sense while writing about the ultra-complicated interplay of drugs and politics in Guadelajara; and Calvin Tomkin masterfully profiling Nick Serota, director of the Tate Modern museum in London. Louis Menand also contributes a very fine piece on the art of writing biographies of James Joyce. (See Quote of the Day.)

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