The Wonderful Mystique of Magazines
Dan Baum says: "The New Yorker, while a very good magazine, is just a magazine."
I'm not quite sure that's true. The thing is, anything that you see up close and, heaven forbid, participate in, loses much of its sheen. At least to my experience.
Of course, I'm not much of a fan of The New Yorker as a magazine. Who has the time? It's long, man, and, as my co-worker put it today, "they just shoot those things at you." Bap-bap-bap-bap, like it's coming out of an assault rifle. Content-wise, I actually prefer The Atlantic. I love The Atlantic. It must be true: a Facebook status of mine several days ago was something like: "the fact that the Atlantic is providing so much free online content is as mind boggling as it is schedule disrupting." Like, I don't even have to pay for the damned thing anymore, so I don't feel guilty that I read all the Coates and Fallows and maybe skip some of the other stuff.
But I digress. Back to the point.
I like The New Yorker fine, especially those rare occasions that I get my hands on the fiction issue. But its real resonance to me is as a character of sorts: a mythical institution. A subject of fiction and non-fiction. And even personal fiction.
About 7-8 years ago, Heather ordered a book from this discount catalog. "About Town" by Ben Yagoda. The origins of The New Yorker. I picked it up reluctantly, hoping for at least an anecdote of a favorite author. I ended up devouring it, everything from the Algonquin Round Table to William Shawn to Joseph Mitchell to Tina Brown. Etc. The vibrancy and wit and humor and slapdash beginnings and cultural impact . . . This look behind the curtain cemented the magazine -- both this specific one and magazines as a whole -- as primary points of interest for me. I read "Bright Lights, Big City," to get the nuggets of an insider's view within the fiction. I read the collected works of the aforementioned Mr. Mitchell, as well as John Cheever and a bunch of the others mentioned in "About Town."
And then, on one weird day in San Francisco, I met an ex-stripper at a bar that claimed to be David Remnick's daughter (not that I asked) and told me the inside scoop on the Las Vegas topless scene. It was a hell of an interesting afternoon.
Cut to about a month ago. After having our stuff in storage for about a year, Heather unpacked all the books and put them on the shelves. "About Town" kept staring at me. But I really didn't have time to read it. Or, rather, I maintained my position of late: since I read and write all day for work, the last thing my brain wants to do when I get home is read anything long-form. Pathetic, yes. So I stuck with blog entries, comic books, and Twitter feeds.
Yes, Twitter feeds. I was led somehow to Dan Baum's Twit-story on how he left The New Yorker a few years back. Fascinating reading -- again, the magazine as a character/antagonist captured my fancy. As did a little of the bitching/fallout that followed Mr. Baum's airing of the mildly soiled. And when all that died down, I picked up "About Town," and started reading it once again.
And it's still a really good story. Even if sorta true.
I work at a magazine; I'm the Web editor, and I arrived at this position sort of, as my mother might put it, "by way of China." The job started about a year and a quarter ago -- around the time the 'About Town' and all my books were in boxes. And the view from the inside has been interesting and educational. But I can't imagine anyone outside would find even our most amusing characters and trying situations and occasional triumphs half as interesting as Mr. Baum's recent "war stories."
Partly because Mr. Baum seems to be a highly talented individual. And partly because The New Yorker, even to casual fans like me, is hardly "just a magazine."