The New Yorker

It comes after the groundhog searches for his shadow and before pitchers and catchers report for major league spring training, but it's an annual ritual in its own right. Just about every year at this time, Eustace Tilly -- that dandified dude with the monocle and the butterfly -- lends his portside profile for the cover of The New Yorker. The magazine's mascot first appeared on the inaugural issue way back in 1925, yet he doesn't appear anachronistic even with a UPC code stamped on his right bicep and an advertising fold-out for a Toyota Prius hiding behind the cover's flap.

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:

  • In "Checkpoints," John McPhee holds forth on the mysteries of fact-checking, and even explains to the public-at-large what TK means.
  • Steven Millhauser's brief but searing short story "The Invasion from Outer Space" resonates with post-9/11 angst.
  • There's hard-hitting reporting, too, with George Packer's "The Ponzi State," which details the strange proliferation of get-rich-quick schemes in Florida.

    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.


    Published by: Condé Nast

    Frequency: 47 times per year




  • 4 comments about "The New Yorker".
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    1. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, February 20, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.

      Great writing yourself, sir. Very funny.

      I used to read it all of the time when traveling and your article reminds me to get me/us a subscription down here in Florida AND since my wife is from NY, I'm sure she'll appreciate the late Valentine's gift.

      Thanks for a good chuckle and I've always liked almost everything about The New Yorker. With intelligent marketing, they will remain, whether we're reading it online, on our kindle machine or our mobile communicator.

      WE expect to continue to receive the intelligence that has been communicated by The New Yorker for years; it's just maybe in a different way. Hopefully, it won't be 'hard work' for them to figure it all out. Thanks for your efforts.

    2. Tim Mccormick from McCormick Fields, February 20, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

      We, the devoted, have witnessed The New Yorker
      deftly define our visual and literary awakening in
      weekly doses. With subtle wit and assertive curiosity
      the publishers have cast a pleasant bait that has
      fed millions of hungry minds. Some---how the publication
      has shaped intellect without appearing overtly staid or intellectual. Their creative hunters and gatherers have instilled fresh insights into subjects that could have been dreadfully dull. That is a gift. Thank You for praising my favorite publication.

    3. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, February 21, 2009 at 1:24 p.m.

      Great review. I thoroughly enjoy the magazine (even when some of its lengthy articles challenge my limited attention span). The biggest compliment I can pay to a magazine is when I choose to pay for a subscription rather than request it as a comp and The New Yorker is one of the few that have this distinction.

      Regarding its cartoons, I'm also occasionally taken aback by some of them (but I still get a good chuckle). FYUI, two books, Rejection Collection 1 and 2 show cartoon submissions from The New Yorker's staff of cartoonists that were turned down. Quite a few of them seem so innocent compared to some that have actually run.

    4. Grace Koh, September 25, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.

      phenomenal review.


      after years of loyal subscription, my final issue will be coming next month as i continue to tighten the purse strings. although i will say...when once i had 5-7 regular pubs in circulation in my home (for as long as i can recall), this is the only one i carried through in 2009. hooray for magnificent reads.

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