And so the Feb. 9 & 16 anniversary issue -- one of several annual double issues -- is as good a specimen as any to take the pulse of what has often been considered the nation's greatest magazine. The dramatic ascendancy of Tina Brown to the editor's desk in the early 1990s ushered in changes such as more timely articles and color photography, changes that can still be seen under current editor David Remnick. And yet the 2009 New Yorker still has an awful lot in common with the 1925 New Yorker: great writing, great reporting, great artwork.
The list of writers published inthe magazine reads like The Norton Anthology of American Literature. (In fact, many of the pieces in that text were first presented to the world in the pages of The New Yorker.) And good writing is one thing that hasn't changed.
Take this issue. For other magazines, it's almost unfair to be compared to a publication that includes a memorial tribute to John Updike in his own words --16 full pages of those words, spanning 1955 to 2008. Here's Updike marveling on "the give of a girl's waist" and Updike reflecting two weeks after the JFK assassination and Updike immortalizing Ted Williams' final home run at Fenway. It's as good an output as any produced by a single author and a single periodical. But then it's no accident that one of the greatest modern American men of letters found his home at The New Yorker.
But even without such a lengthy spread dedicated to a literary heavyweight, there is plenty of other excellent stuff here:
And then there are the infamous New Yorker cartoons, which I've always felt have a Baskin-Robbins quality to them: You may not go for all of them, but there's got to be something in there you like. And that's truer now than ever. One can't imagine the magazine's Old Guard signing off on Page 85: A bathrobed couple sit at a table with coffee and a laptop as she informs him, "I was going to wake you up with oral sex this morning, but you looked like you could use the extra sleep."
So in an age when magazines are fighting for their very survival and print itself is under fire, is The New Yorker finally becoming as dated as the top-hatted Eustace Tilly? Perhaps that question should be inverted somehow to ask if great writing, great reporting, and great artwork are becoming dated. For now, as before, The New Yorker is the very best at delivering all three.
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