August 4th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews the July 21st New Yorker

I hear there’s been much anger over the cover of the July 21st New Yorker, which is a satire of the way certain right-wing American media elements caricature Barak and Michelle Obama as Muslim extremists. Yeah, I didn’t get it at first either—I didn’t even recognize who was being depicted, and didn’t much about it at all. After the joke was, at length explained to me, I didn’t think it was very funny, and certainly not interesting or incendiary enough to be worth the negative reaction it’s gotten (Fred agrees with me, which always makes me feel smart). But everybody has an off-day, judgement-wise, no one got hurt and, as Mr. Obama says, “that’s why we have the First Amendment.”

But I love the New Yorker a lot, so when they disappoint me I do feel sad. But really, when I’m sad, reading the New Yorker is a good distraction. So I read the issue as a distraction from the cover, and I was no longer disappointed.

In the most direct counterpoint to the cover is Ryan Lizza’s 18-page The Political Scene profile of Obama, “Making It: Where Barak Obama learned to be a pol.” There were some interesting anecdotes about his early years as a community organizer in Chicago, and his later-early years forming and breaking alliances in local and state politics. Obama doesn’t always come off looking like a saint, which apparently is a surprise to some people, but really, I sort of knew he wasn’t Marty McFly, tumbling into the race for the most powerful political office in the world by accident. And, well, I think that’s better if he’s going to *get* the most powerful office in the world and then do something effective and good with it.

“Making It,” I should say, was *wicked* boring: a clothes-line narrative strung with endless detail. I read it all–18 pages of city council meetings is not too much to ask for someone I’d vote for if I could—but really, not much effort was made as concision, or interest: didn’t the candidate ever tell a *joke*?

Much better: a fun and accessible Annals of Science piece on physics’s outsider artist Garrett Lisi, Patricia Marx on shopping in Shanghai, and Yoni Brenner’s “Fourteen Passive-Aggressive Appetizers” (“6. For a taste of the U.K., fry up mini-servings of fish-and-chips. Take it to the next evel by wrapping them in small pieces of newspaper, which, oddly enough, all seem to be printed with unfavorable reviews of Jeff’s novel”).

Best of all is the short-story “Yurt” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. This story, about an elementary-school teacher who leaves her teaching post for Yemen and returns a year later, refreshed and pregnant, is very funny and very wise in the ways of late twenties thinking which, deep though my love is for the New Yorker, is wisdom I’ve often longed for in it’s pages. I was very glad to learn that the narrator—and really central character—of this piece will have her own book come fall, *The Miss Hempel Chronicle*.

So we see, as usual, that you can’t judge anything by its cover though really, of course people do. And knowing that they do, we should still work pretty hard on those damn covers.

Anyone perfect must be lying

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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