The New Yorker, a magazine, has just opened its Internet "archives" (dating back to 2007) as a readers' jubilee in advance of its upcoming move to the world of paywalled journalism, three months hence. So much New Yorker to muck around in! So many words! So many stories! So many stories with so many words in them!
Not every New Yorker article can be written by David Grann or Jane Mayer* (*famous New Yorker writers of long stories), unfortunately. Despite the magazine being, debatably, preëminent in the modern world, many of its articles are duds. This does not stop people from admiring them.
So while readers upon readers (or: aspiring New Yorker writers upon aspiring New Yorker writers) share their favorite New Yorker #longreads, let's pause to consider the New Yorker in full: its parallel bounty of boring, misconceived, or solipsistic pieces—hubristic pieces, above all—seemingly written for the sheer therapeutic purposes of the author; or from celebrity vanity; or because some combination of writerly aura and institutional self-regard made it impossible for anyone to say no. Uncalled-for personal essays, specious trend pieces, deep dives into the shallows. Various crimes of white men against reporting.
With the back catalog open, let the light shine on these ten terrible acts of journalism, so that they may be recognized and remembered.
10. "A Box of Puppies: Canine Cravings," Lena Dunham
In which Lena Dunham reveals a personal point of view exactly like the personal point of view she is revealing in every other outlet and medium.
"I haven't been grocery shopping in more than a year. Currently, my refrigerator contains old yogurt, old vinegar, and whatever kind of medicines you're told to keep cold (usually prescribed for your vagina). I am one step away from doing that awful rom-com thing where a New York City working woman with limited space but unlimited pluck fills her oven with sweaters and shoes."
Living in New York City, aka the Big Apple, aka New Jack City, can be difficult. "There's a sucker born every minute," P.T. Barnum did not say. And this story, about some protracted New York City real estate hell, is by suckers, for suckers. Basic moral: If an apartment in Chelsea with eleven-foot ceilings, West Elm furniture and Hermès accoutrement is offered what seems like a bargain price, it's probably a scam. But you know who loves stories about how dumb New Yorkers are? Other New Yorkers. Also, people from California.
"So Douglas put down $14,950 for three months plus a security deposit. 'I felt very confident doing this, because I'd reverse-Googled his phone number, and it led to his photography Web site. And because I wrote my own lease, which had a lot of protections built in. And because, like every New Yorker, I thought, I'm so sophisticated.'"
8. "Semi-Charmed Life: The Twentysomethings Are All Right," Nathan Heller
The Millennial generation is fine, according to one Ivy League graduate who went to Iceland.
"My sense of the scale of the world, and its speed, changed that night, and I carry the memory with me today the way some people carry amulets or worry stones: a reminder that there is always an Iceland to return to, a place where, in an unexplored city in the wee hours just south of the Arctic Circle, strangers are dancing and the seemingly impossible isn't. I was twenty-two, but I think of this as when my twenties actually began."
7. "Her Again: The Unstoppable Scarlett Johansson," Anthony Lane
It can sometimes be hard for male journalists to write about women, especially objectively attractive women, because they have nice boobs and faces and lips and stuff. Anthony Lane, movie critic, got a little lost in his task of writing about actress Johansson, it seemed, during his drive-by interview with her. Maybe the editors got distracted, too, so they overlooked the fact that Lane had gotten such an incredibly meager publicity-ration of actual human-to-human conversation with the person he was writing about.
A selection of Lane's quiet observations:
"Johansson appears to speak to us through a stream of invisible smoke."
"Eight Legged Freaks" (2002), which really was about giant arachnids, was, to her admirers, a backward step, or a sideways scuttle and crawl; but I have a weakness for the movie, not least for the moment in which Johansson, wearing a bath towel, greets a spider the size of a jeep"
"Then came the laugh: dry and dirty, as if this were a drama class and her task was to play a Martini."
"She is a form of alien, landed or stranded among us, and acquiring human males not for sex or friendship but for the serial harvesting of their meat"
"There was one scene, at a champagne reception in a Spanish art gallery, where Johansson was, indeed, gilded to behold. She seemed to be made from champagne."
"There is no getting away from Johansson, and that is how her uncountable fans, female as well as male, would like it to be forever."
There's no getting close to her, either.
6. "Walking Alive: Don't Stop Moving," Susan Orlean
How do you have it all? How do you have a family, a job AND time to exercise? There are only 24 hours in a day! In this classic New Yorker-style "it's-a-trend-not-really" piece, Susan Orlean reports on the nefarious trend of sitting down and why you should get a treadmill desk so you can walk all day, constantly burn calories and live FOREVER!!!!!!!!
"On the other hand, I was always a bit of a seeker when it came to desk chairs."
5. "A Desert Encounter," John Updike
The New Yorker is a magazine for writers, writerly writers of wonderful words. These writers write with pens, using their hands to move the pens and their brains to control what their hands and thus the pens do. They are the Great Chroniclers of Life and Letters. Their names will hang weighty on the pages of the New Yorker long after they are buried beneath this dusky earth of ours, as long as there is anything article-shaped of theirs left to publish. Thus this twilight dispatch from John Updike, in which the literary colossus loses his hat.
"My sense of triumph when my wife and I agreed that the job had been completed was marred by a mysterious circumstance: my hat had disappeared."
4. "Bread and Women: Two Muses, One Loaf," Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik loves France. He lived there! He also likes to cook. Every morning he asks his children what they would like to eat that night for dinner: salmon or, perhaps, capon? But apparently Gopnik did not know you could bake fancy breads from France and other cultures. So he got his mom to teach him how to bake them. A fine anecdote, maybe, to tell a friend or a therapist. But in this case he wrote about it for the New Yorker, a magazine.
"I thought of the bread I loved to eat. There was the big, round pain Poilâne at the bakery in Paris, sour and stiff and yet yielding to the bite; Montreal bagels, sweet and sesame-rich; and real croissants, feathery and not too buttery. Could you really make these things?"
3. "How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rule," Malcolm Gladwell
Ideas! If you have few enough of them, and they're sufficiently unrelated to one another, you might be ready to make a book proposal. If you're Malcolm Gladwell. If you're Gladwell, you can publish your book proposal in a national magazine. Here, MDG explains basketball through… the Bible? Listen, you can learn anything if you do it for 10,000 hours. Wasn't the most talented college basketball team of the 1990s, properly speaking, a bunch of underdogs? Why hasn't ketchup ever changed? Haven't you ever wondered about anything, you incurious philistine? Malcolm Gladwell has, and he has the specious data to back it up.
"David's victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact."
2. "Farther Away: "Robinson Crusoe," David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude," Jonathan Franzen
How David Foster Wallace's death was about me, by Jonathan Franzen.
"To deserve the death sentence he'd passed on himself, the execution of the sentence had to be deeply injurious to someone. To prove once and for all that he truly didn't deserve to be loved, it was necessary to betray as hideously as possible those who loved him best, by killing himself at home and making them firsthand witnesses to his act. And the same was true of suicide as a career move, which was the kind of adulation-craving calculation that he loathed in himself and would deny (if he thought he could get away with it) that he was conscious of making, and would then (if you called him on it) laughingly or wincingly admit that, yeah, O.K., he was indeed capable of making."
1. "We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two," David Remnick
Why did David Remnick get to write a 16,000-word fan letter to Bruce Springsteen? Because he's ... the Boss!
"[Springsteen] is the rare man of sixty-two who is not shy about showing his ass—an ass finely sausaged into a pair of alarmingly tight black jeans—to twenty thousand paying customers."
BONUS! The best and weirdest piece:
So, this was probably a difficult profile to write, given that Eileen Fisher, tunic maker of note, comes off as a strange, cold, macrobiotic robot in a kimono. But Janet (everyone goes by first names in the profile, so we'll call her Janet here) is hyperbolic in her Janet-ness. It's obvious Janet really wanted to profile Eileen, as she loves her Eileen sweater. But Eileen cannot really function in the modern world, and no editor wants to kill a Janet piece, so this is as much a profile of Janet as it is Eileen. God bless Janet, who brings as much rigor to a profile of a weirdo fashion designer as of any other asshole. Good job Janet. Keep asking the tough questions of the world's kimono designers. Bring the bitches down.
"(Eileen knows how to wear scarves the way women in Paris know how to wear them and American women almost touchingly don't.)"
[Image by Jim Cooke]