Who am I kidding? I’ll be doing my reading at the laundromat. (Image: carolita johnson)
Well, someone pinched my Fiction Issue. And then someone bought me David Remnick’s “Reporting: writings from The New Yorker,” at the Spring Books Party at the Housing Works Used Books CafÃ© the other night. I haven’t had a spare subway moment to read anything else since. So this weekend reader is going to introduce you, if you haven’t already met, to David Remnick.
But first, let me introduce you to Paul, the bra salesman I ran into today, who I knew from my days fitting at Warnaco. He asked me how the cartoon business was treating me, and I asked him if he hadn’t seen my last cartoon a couple of weeks ago. He said, “Nah, I don’t read The New Yorker, it’s too high-brow for a guy like me.” I’ve double-checked my copy of Reporting, and found that the only high-brow aspect of it is it’s connection to The New Yorker (which, well, people do think is high-brow).
And maybe TNY is a bit high-brow. But Remnick’s essays are a smooth read, with only the occasional need for a dictionary (always worth it), and written in a style that I can only compare to a long drink of water. Hardly a hitch, you just keep reading, because it’s easier to keep reading than to stop. If you doubt me, just give it a try. The only reason I’m insisting is because on the subway today, I found myself wishing the history books I barely read in High School had been as easy and pleasurable to read as the articles in this book. I might have learned something about History! Or at least wanted to learn something! Click on the link at the end of this post for a sample.
Reporting is a compilation of essays Remnick has written for The New Yorker over the years, starting, in the first section, with the recent past, with the second section appearing to be a “best of” of previous years, and the third section being devoted to his boxing articles, which seems appropriately situated at the end, mirroring the way the sports appears at the end of the nightly news on TV.
The first section, for anyone who reads The New Yorker regularly, is an experience akin to watching your favorite old movies on video. If you ever wanted to read those articles again and couldn’t remember which issue they were in, or were so buried in unread issues that they were impossible to find, Reporting is where you’ll be able to savour “The Wilderness Campaign: Al Gore” again. It came out not long after Al appeared on Saturday Night Live, in which his self-effacing sense of humor and lack of self-consciousness (or shame, for that matter) frankly blew my mind. Once content to vote for him on the basis of competence (rather than personality), Al’s appearance on SNL is possibly the one thing he did to endear himself to me as a human being and make me wonder, “who is this man?” Remnick’s piece on him is a sparkling portrait of a man who none of us particularly wanted to know before.
A good chaser to the Al Gore piece is, of course, “The Masochism Campaign: Tony Blair.” I wondered why it didn’t appear immediately after the Al Gore piece, but perhaps that would’ve been too obvious, a little too neat, like wearing matching shoes and handbag (which I’d never do). Also, the Mrs. Graham article, an education for people of my generation who took the Pentagon Papers and Watergate for granted (or as a bit of pop culture), as well as an education for anyone who ever thought being a woman before the seventies was an excuse for anything, also works well to clean your palate and prepare you for Tony. You’ll need it. Tony’s portrait is excruciating, not because it’s particularly unmerciful, but because just observing the truth seems to be cruel enough. “The punishment is daily and takes many forms.” And that’s all there is to it. There’s no exaggeration, no need for it. Is there any need to embellish the sound of fingernails being dragged across a blackboard? Read it and realize how lucky you are not to be Tony Blair.
It made me want to return to “Mrs. Graham,” and I did. For some reason I’d missed “Mrs. Graham,” (possibly having snubbed the magazine for one week for not containing one of my cartoons?) After the deaths of Wendy Wasserstein and Betty Friedan this year, Katherine Graham’s personal history (so well put in her autobiography, “Personal History,” is the story of a woman’s coming of age in middle age, after breaking out of the “little woman” mold she hadn’t realized had shaped her till the Washington Post was deposited into her inexperienced hands. Her autobiography, cited often in the piece, is the expression of a woman who understood her limits and her challenges, and apparently blames no one but herself for being duped by the preconceptions and expectations imposed on her by society. She seems to have prefered to admit her error rather than bitch about the unfairness of it all, and I don’t believe I saw the word “feminist” in the piece (correct me if I’m wrong). And if I’m not wrong I’m glad of it. Mrs. Graham was a human being that anyone, man or woman, would not do badly to emulate.
I’m still in the middle of the Post-Imperial Blues: Vladimir Putin, in which I’m learning all about the news that I didn’t pay attention to during the last part of the last century. And I’ll tell you my secret to this ignorant bliss. When I was about eleven, I saw a hostage get shot on TV. I’d thought I was watching a movie, but then the anchorman came on and apologized to the family of the shot hostage, followed by the “You heard it here first” and station identification. I was so disgusted that I swore not to watch the news ever again. And I didn’t. I only started watching the news again when I came back to the USA. To see what everyone was believing. When everyone says the same things, and talks about the same news, you have to see for yourself where they’re getting their information.
For years I only got my news from watching muppet, or French cartoonist’s versions of it. “Les Guignols de l’Info,“ “Spitting Image,” SNL’s “Weekend Update” were all I watched. I eventually dipped into the newspapers, and got hooked on the AP website for a while, but nothing beats a Remnick article to bring history, the history that’s going on around you right now, into limpid focus.
For a sample, click here: All Things Considered (NPR)