So the New Yorker has discovered a writer named Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. It published a short story of his, "The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea," in its Oct. 26 issue. A promising new writer, the kind the magazine used to publish in its literary heyday? No, just this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. It appears to be the first time one of his stories made it into the magazine. It only took the Nobel to get him in there.
My point is that the New Yorker used to break new ground in the arts; now it just spots trends. Under editor David Reminick, it excels in journalism, but in cultural matters, the magazine just plows previously farmed turf.
Music writer Alex Ross has carved a shining career as a best-seller and grant winner for his reworking of dead composers' lives in his collection of magazine essays, "The Rest is Noise." My solidly informed musical expert points out that Ross' work is "fine," but conventional. "He never advances the subject."
Spotting a successful trend to follow is the New Yorker's lightweight contributor Adam Gopnik, a pleasant-enough writer with nothing new to say. He's taking Ross' approach to British writers by re-reading the multiple biographies of G.K. Chesterton and John Stuart Mill, then offering his Reader's Digest condensed version. Ostensibly, his examination of Chesterton was to focus on his strange little novel, "The Man Who Was Thursday," but instead he railed at the writer's anti-Semitism. I'm a lukewarm reader of "The Man Who Was Thursday," and was hoping for a new take on it. Instead, I learned that Chesterton was a big beer drinker and had it in for Jews. We needn't hold the thirst for ale against him, but Chesteron's ugly bigotry, something he shared with many other close-minded writers of that unpleasant era, was not evident in his pre-World War I novel. I will skip Gopnik on Mill, I think.
Another NY'er reader wonders what happened to literary critic James Wood who has been less than energetic in his contributions. He does review Jose Saramago's "Death With Interruptions" in the Oct. 26 issue, but we're still awaiting a steady contribution of criticism from the unadventurous critic.
Trend-spotting and following is the stock in trade of the magazine's former editor, Tina Brown, who needed the whiff of celebrity and gossip like Dracula needed blood to function. Sure, she shook up the New Yorker, but perhaps limited its cultural focus by emphasizing fads and buzzes.The magazine became a pre-digital version of Twitter.
Brown, who offered an off-the-cuff and uninspired chat about her "pal," Princess Diana, that drew more than the usual catnaps from the audience at the Heinz Lectures last month, has emulated Adrianna Huffington's successful move to the Internet.
She's trendy, so climbing aboard the same Web train as Huffington was neither original nor unexpected. Her site, "The Daily Beast," seems little more than a glitzier presentation of the Huffington Post.
What was she thinking?
Since I tried a brief occupation this year as a kind of newspaper Nelson, the "Simpsons'" character who snickers at mistakes by pointing them out in several new books, I have learned that authors call their misstatements of facts "typos" rather than slip-ups.
So, what do you call this pratfall: "In despair, (Hemingway) returned to his birthplace, Idaho." Huh?
Tell the folks in Oak Park, Ill., who have preserved his family home as a museum including the bedroom where he came into the world in 1899.
It's a flub of Marlene Wagman-Geller in her account of author dedications, "Once Again to Zelda" (Perigee, $16.95). In it, she purports to explain why individuals were singled out by writers in their books. This one goes back into the pile.
Book publicist's quote of the day:
"In the midst of our politcal and economic uncertainty, readers seem to be finding comfort in 'cute'. . ., " says Laura Adams, senior publicist for Gotham Books, publisher of "I Can Has Cheezeburger: A LOLcat Colleckshun" and "Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World." The titles have made several best-seller lists.
She suggests that if I thought these would make a "purr-fect" trend piece, she could hook me up with the authors. I'll leave the trends to Tina Brown, although I admit the cover photo of the late Dewey is cute.
Instead, I've renamed my feline companion "Joe the Cat" for the duration of the election campaign, trusting in his judgment more than a sometime plumber from Toledo with tax issues of his own.