Every year when my subscription renewal to The New Yorker comes up, I engage in a short debate with myself as to whether to send them a check or just be done with the damned bourgeois, self-satisfied, always verging on being too tired for its own good, monocultural thing. After all, every library I get within 200 feet of subscribes to it, the articles now frequently seem to tread well-worn ground and are far less intellectually ranging than they were during the Gottlieb years (I will never forget Sacks's riveting discussion of Tourette's syndrome, which led me and my coworkers to act out some of the passages, or the remarkable account of Richard Evans Schultes' strange botanical genius that made me rue I hadn't taken a course with him, though I don't even think I ever once heard his name mentioned once during my college years), the poems are often dreadful (no more poems about pets/flowers/suburban kitchens/pets and flowers in suburban kitchens/dead parents as apparitions in suburban kitchens, etc. please) and rarely by a person of color or an out homosexual (without either of whom New York would be, well, a giant Schenectady), the stories often read like truncated novel chapters (though I did think Bolaño's "Gomez Palacios" was amazing, and Alice Munro and Haruki Murakami are never less than brilliant), Malcolm Gladwell and Alex Ross and David Denby and John Updike make me want to scream and Seymour Hersh and Susan Orlean don't publish enough in there, and they once held poems of mine for weeks (months) and the poetry editor even claimed to my agent that she was taking them with her on vacation, and I believed that one, but of course I never heard anything back, I didn't even get one of those small, rectangular, polite rejection slips that Tina Brown's legions used to send out (though I always liked the respectfully curt and cruel ones from George Plimpton's The Paris Review the best), and the billionaire-rich Newhouses don't need my money anyhow....and then I think, maybe there'll be a disorienting little piece by Hilton Als (like the brilliant one he wrote about André Leon Talley that deserved a magazine award or at least to be wheatpasted or framed in places where people who thought that conformity had totally taken over could glance up at it and be reassured), or they'll publish a Kevin Young or Carl Phillips poem, or a story by some person I've never heard of that makes me say "I've got to read more by this person," or I'll learn about the arcane history of some system or region or type of cultural proces, and then I'll tell myself that it's not that costly, especially if I get lucky and receive one of those professional discounts (for the lone piece I wrote in Out ten years ago and had to beg and cajole to get paid for)....
This week is a trove. In addition to a Talk of the Town section devoted completely to the Hurricane Katrina and President Katrina tragedies and a Q&A on the topic with Nicholas Lemann, Brahmin Frances Fitzgerald pins an interesting article on Brown University's president, Ruth Simmons, and her establishment of a committee to study that university's founders' roles in the slave trade. Jeffrey Toobin explores Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy's passion for foreign/international law (a fact that sends the Christianist right wingers into paroxysms of derangement). David Grann looks at the career of the ageless Ricky Henderson, whom I think may still be hitting jaw-dropping lead-off home runs around a field just a few miles from where I'm typing this. There's an Ann Beattie story I haven't read, but I plan to; she is one writer my graduate fiction students tend to loathe, though maybe it's just the particular stories by her I've tended to assign; and three poems by someone named Martha Serpas, but I have not looked at the contributor's page to see who she is, nor devoted more than a cursory glance to any of them (and none leapt out at me). There are also pieces by Malcolm Gladwell (!), as well as by David Denby (!!), and John Updike (!!!). Denby's resume of Susan Sontag's film criticism and practice is critical without being nasty (though he gets in some barbs), but I confess that now that Susan Sontag has died, I am interested in reading anything about her life and art; and Updike, who often makes me wretch, pens a snappish but praiseworthy review of a new novel, "The March," by one of my favorite writers, E.L. Doctorow, which makes me want to read Doctorow's new novel even more. No Ross blabbing on about classical music and tossing in his usual barbs against Schoenberg, for a change, and no Joan Acocella, whom I'll never forgive for her trashing of Bill T. Jones, based on faulty aestheticist premises (though get her to discuss Kant and Pater and Wilde together and I'll give you a dollar). At least I think it was Acocella.
Quote of the day/month/year/millennium from the "liberal" media: "They are so poor, and they are so black..." -- Wolf Blitzer, CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Thursday, September 1, 2005