Thursday, April 09, 2009

Recent (to me) New Yorker Winners

I'm almost caught up. I mean, by the next issue I read Obama will be elected. As EK says, it shows the true nature of timeless journalism. It also shows that I'm way behind, and that the New Yorker comes too often, and that I try to read too many things at once. And, that my new discovery of Netflix on the computer is really bad for my intellectual health.

Anyway, as I catch up, I figure what better time than to share some recent favorites. Some are typical New Yorker length, some are short. They're all worth reading, if you have time and inclination.

Louis Menand writes a short, incisive, and not really book review-ish, book review, of a book called "Txting: the Gr8 Db8". Since Crystal is sort of the author's version of a Renaissance Man (he's written 100 books), I think Menand's take is probably more interesting. The article, which you'll read in less time than you'll spend reading my dumbed down summary, is about the linguistics of texting. Two main appeals of texting according to Menand: speed and avoiding face to face contact. While this is so true, and I'm like, damn, I like this old dude, on the other hand, texting is everything I hate about cell phones- the reason I resisted for so long. Read it. See if it rings true.

The next article is actually the very next article in the October 20, 2008 issue. (See, I'm almost caught up, right?) Elizabeth Kolbert reviews a new book about Emily Post, but as in all New Yorker articles, she does a whole lot more than that. I never quite know how much of the information comes from the book itself or from hours and hours of outside research. Immaterial to this discussion. About an hour before I read this article, I was having a discussion with a friend about the lack of manners, or more, the irrelevance of manners today. Who cares if I put my elbows on the table? If I cross my ankles or my knees? Do parents even teach this shit anymore? And if they do, why? And where did this stuff go, and why? While Kolbert doesn't answer it all, the discussion of Post's life, and why she became the matron of manners is relevant to that discussion, and opens up a host of questions about class, race, gender, and where we are today.

Another Elizabeth Kolbert book review that has really kept me thinking since July, when it was published, ok, more like February when I read it, is about lawns. They're wasteful, they're a sign of class and a way for people to look down on others (and complain about urban blight, my favorite topic), and they're seen as "just how it is":

The lawn today is nearly ubiquitous. Its spread has given rise to an entire industry, or, really, complex of industries—Americans spend an estimated forty billion dollars each year on grass—and to the academic discipline of turf management, degrees in which can now be obtained from, among other schools, the University of Massachusetts and Ohio State. The lawn has become so much a part of the suburban landscape that it is difficult to see it as something that had to be invented.

Kolbert is an enviro-guru. She'll deconstruct the lawn and it's meaning for you and you'll never quite look at grass, or the people out their watering it, the same way.

This last one, Suffering Souls, by John Seabrook, well, I just liked it. Seabrook delves into pyschopaths and the debates in the psych world about the existence of psychopaths (not listed in the DSM-IV). Creepy, scary, fascinating. If you like that kind of stuff.