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Everybody and The New
A smart, instructive history of the worlds
most mythologized magazine.
By Peter Conn
ABOUT TOWN: The New Yorker and the World
By Ben Yagoda G91.
New York: Scribner, 2000.
480 pp., $30.00.
Once upon a timethe time in question was
1975, on the occasion of The New Yorkers 50th anniversarycritic
John Leonard called it the weekly magazine most educated Americans
grew up on. Whether or not that was an overstatement a quarter-century
ago, it is not a claim anybody would make today. The New Yorker
remains a widely read and prestigious publication, but its editors and
writers can no longer take its audience, or its authority, for granted.
Revenues keep going down, and the average age of the readers keeps going
up. Surrounded by the noise of MTV on the one side, and the high-class
musings of the New York Review of Books on the other, The
New Yorker has spent a good deal of time, energy and money over
the past decade trying to re-define or even re-invent itself.
than any American magazine, The New Yorker is haunted by its
own storied past, shadowed by the gloomy conviction that its best days
are gone. The magazine flourished at a time when reading mattered, and
reading The New Yorker conferred membership in a savvy, select
and even slightly glamorous society.
all myths of a golden age, this one is no more than part true, but even
that part is impressive. What began in the 1920s as a humor magazine,
at first indistinguishable from a dozen competitors, was fairly rapidly
transformed into an icon of literary culture. Under the guidance of
founding editor Harold Ross, then for over four decades under the legendary
William Shawn, The New Yorker published an outsized share of
the best short fiction and reporting produced in the United States.
the magazines early years, John OHara published his best work here,
as did Irwin Shaw and James Thurber. Later, The New Yorkers
regular contributors included Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, Peter
Taylor, Donald Barthelme, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Jamaica Kincaid
and Ann Beattie. Individual stories have become classics, among them
John Cheevers The Enormous Radio, Shirley Jacksons The Lottery,
and J. D. Salingers For EsmÈ, With Love and Squalor.
the fiction was memorable, the non-fiction was often indispensable.
E.B. White, one of the finest prose writers of the mid-century, joined
the magazine shortly after its first issue. For decades, Whites Notes
and Comment section opened each weeks issue, and its wonderfully controlled
rhythms, its uncanny reproduction of the spoken word, and above all
its unflappably ironic tone, became The New Yorkers signature
style. As personalities, White and Harold Ross were utterly unlike,
but they shared a passion for precision and a commitment to getting
the facts right.
combination of good writing and disciplined curiosity led, in the years
after World War II, to a series of long essays that attracted instant
and universal attention; all of them have remained required reading
to this day.
first was John Herseys Hiroshima, which took up the entire August
31, 1946 issuean unprecedented allocation of space. Based on interviews
and first-hand observations, Hersey presented a scrupulously detailed,
anguished reconstruction of the atomic bombing from the point of view
of a half-dozen survivors. The issue sold out within hours; the New
York Times and Herald-Tribune wrote admiring editorials;
both ABC and the BBC presented complete, uninterrupted readings in national
radio broadcasts in the U.S. and U.K., respectively. When the essay
was reprinted as a book a few months later, it was offered free to every
member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, accompanied by a letter which
declared: We find it hard to conceive of anything being written that
could be of more importance at the moment to the human race.
else The New Yorker publishednor anything published in any other
magazine, for that matterwould achieve the same notoriety. Nonetheless,
over the next two decades, a succession of writers produced long essays
on widely disparate subjects, each of which ignited intense and often
sustained public discussion. Edmund Wilson introduced American readers
to the most important Biblical discoveries of the century in his 1956
essay, The Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1962, Rachel Carson helped to launch
the post-war environmental movement with Silent Spring, a quietly
apocalyptic account of the damage inflicted on nature by pesticides.
a few months after Carsons article appeared, and two months before
the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, James Baldwin
published his Letter from a Region of My Mind. In its integrity, its
coruscating anger and its eloquence, the essay helped to transform the
terms in which Americas racial dilemma was understood. Baldwins Letter
was followed, just three months later, by philosopher Hannah Arendts
Eichmann in Jerusalem, a thorny and controversial meditation on the
Holocaust; Arendts much-disputed but influential talk about the banality
of evil quickly entered the language.
these and other pieces, including the first version of Truman Capotes
In Cold Blood, Shawns New Yorker captured and held the
center of intellectual attention. It was an astonishing record of accomplishment,
which altered American ideas and expanded the forms of non-fiction.
magazines 75th birthday, though it seems more elegiac than triumphal,
has elicited a half-dozen testimonials, memorials and inquests, including
Renata Adlers bitchy memoir, a couple of anthologies of New Yorker
prose, and Ben Yagodas smart, instructive history.
Town incorporates Yagodas interviews with dozens of the magazines
staffers and his prodigious research in the 2,500 boxes in which The
New Yorker archives are stored. Yagoda marches methodically through
the history, pausing along the way to offer useful comments on the major
figures, and brief but typically shrewd analyses of the stories and
essays. He is especially good on the cartoons (the art, in New
Yorker parlance), which have consistently made a significant contribution
to the magazines sophisticated appeal.
Town has an odd but defensible shape. Yagoda spends over 400 pages
moving the story through 1987, the year in which Shawn was fired by
the magazines new owner, billionaire S. I. Newhouse. At that point,
he doesnt so much conclude his book as simply quit: the subsequent
decade-plus is compressed into a 12-page epilogue. Perhaps Yagoda was
under pressure to meet a deadline; perhaps he simply lost interest.
Fair enough. From the eccentric, compulsively fussy, secretive but brilliant
William Shawn, to the publicity-driven, disruptive and ultimately egregious
Tina Brown: as the Talk of the Town used to put it, in the New
Yorkers first-person plural, we turn our eyes away. Its not a
sight for the squeamish.
Dr. Peter Conn is the Andrea Mitchell Professor
of English and chairman of the board of Pearl S. Buck International.
Modern-Day Morality Tales
story collection tackles big themes and small moments. By Beth Kephart
IN THE GLOAMING
By Alice Elliott Dark C76.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
288 pages, $23.00.
For reasons that have as much to do with
the way we live now as with the very possibilities inherent in the form,
the short story has, in recent years, made a quiet and compelling comeback.
Few novels deliver the chaotic complexity of the ambivalent human heart
like Alice Munros masterpiece, Jakarta or Ann Beatties Second Question
or Ken Kalfus apocalyptic thriller, Pu-239. Few poems force our emotional
surrender as utterly and relentlessly as does Lorrie Moores tale, People
Like That Are the Only People Here. Whether its Rosina Lippi or William
Trevor or the ever-brilliant John Updike, the true masters of this extraordinarily
difficult genre hold us in their thrall. We want to go where they are
pointing because they unveil what we havent seen before.
Short stories can surprise us. They can reconfigure
the commonplace or suggest the preposterous, reinvent language or life
itself. They can take us away from who we are and then send us home
again: new souls inside old skin.
The 10 stories in Alice Elliott Darks newest collection,
In the Gloaming, transport readers to Italy and the Amazon, to
Central Park and, most frequently, a suburban outpost near Philadelphia.
Adapted twice for film (most famously in the HBO production starring
Glenn Close and directed by Christopher Reeve), the collections title
story takes place before a swimming pool and sunsets, before a crackling
fireplace, in a grown mans childhood home. In the Gloaming is the
story of what happens when Laird, now in the final stages of AIDS, comes
home to die. He wanted to talk again, suddenly, the story begins,
and little by little, Laird and his mother reveal themselves to one
another through quiet bursts of increasingly sacred conversation. As
Lairds health deteriorates, as the talk carries forth and carries on,
Lairds mother allows herself to come to terms with what has always
been true: Suddenly she realizedLaird was the love of her life.
Lairds death is, of course, inevitable, and when
it comes, the mother allows herself the anger she has every right to
feel. Its so wrong, she says, about Lairds death. A child shouldnt
die before his parents. A young man shouldnt spend his early thirties
wasting away talking to his mother. He should be out in the world. He
shouldnt be thinking of me, or what I care about, or my opinions. He
shouldnt have to return my love to meit was his to squander.
In Darks stories, good confronts evil, daughters
grow up to be like their mothers, youthful indiscretions come back to
haunt late-blooming romance. All the wrong things happen to all the
wrong people, and sometimes in quick succession. Dark is in pursuit
of big themeslost opportunity, infidelity, betrayal, rape, familial
envy, compromised love, middle age, senilityand if at times these themes
carry her stories along, at other times, Darks tales assume the tone
of modern-day morality tales, as if the writing of them began with an
idea and only later acquired the unwieldy paraphernalia of character
The Secret Spot embodies both the many merits
and the challenges inherent in Darks style. Centering on an encounter
on a steep brushy hill in Central Park, the story tells what happens
when a misguided grudge careens directly out of control. For five years
Helena mercilessly smug, self-righteous creaturehas believed that
ski-jump nosed Julia tried to snake Nick away from her while Helen
was busy being pregnant and her guard was down. Now at last, in one
of the grand coincidences that Dark deploys to move her plots along,
Helen espies Julia in the unprotected open, and ensnares her in a conversation
designed to bring the supposed enemy down.
Shed been waiting five years for this encounter,
scripting and planning for it, but it was crucial that none of that
show. She needed to be the picture of serenity and innocence for her
scheme to work; she must behave as though her stomach was the calmest
surface of a summer pond, and Julia the most casual of acquaintances.
She set to work nudging her features into a mask of composure as she
assessed Julias battle readiness. As the conversation between the
two progresses, Helen makes mental notes of the war she feels certain
she is winning. I have an urge to say fancy meeting you here, but
this is Central Parkalthough Nick and I have always thought of this
particular spot as our secret, Dark has Helen light in. Its where
we got engaged. There. The first volley had gone off easily, and by
the look of Julias widening eyes, a point was easily scored.
Helen plows deep in, taking cheap, school-girl shots at Julias mothering,
memory and very soul. At one point, to prove Nicks tireless love for
her own true self, Helen even pulls out a bit of paper she hasanother
convenient fictional constructstowed in her pocket, a birthday love
note that her own faithful Nick penned on her behalf. After reading
it aloud, she gave a wistful sigh that suggestedshe hopedall the
romance of a wonderful marriage and, in the spirit of sharing her wealthha!she
proffered the card to Julia with the handwriting on it. On like this
the cat fight goes until it wields its all-too inevitable lesson.
Alice Elliott Darks short stories are essentially
and finally about how people get alongabout secrets, about heartaches,
about darkness, about dealing with the ugly stuff that life throws in
our path. Though it is the title story that has garnered all the headlines
(and earned Dark a most prestigious place in Best American Short
Stories of the Century), Dreadful Language, a story of one young
womans awakening into middle age, is, for me, the stand-out of the
collection, a story of subtlety and gradual self-discovery, a story
whose first-person voice is honest and groping and pained. The aches
feel truest here, the characters more complex, the story does not rush
toward a punch line. Losses are both transparent and oblique, and something
carries over; something lingers. Its Dreadful Language that resonates
most strongly in the end, a tale that took me out of me, then brought
me home again, a tale that will certainly help fortify Darks growing
Beth Kephart C82 is the author of A Slant
of Sun: One Childs Courage, which was a finalist for the National
Book Award in 1998. Her next book, Into the Tangle of Friendship,
will appear in the fall.
A selection of recent
books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University
community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the
authors and publishers.
A Celebration of Fatherhood
By Jonathan P. Decker C88 G91.
Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media , 2000. 256
Just in time for Fathers Day, 100 celebrities
remember their dads in first-person vignettes. Among those reflecting
on their fathers are Al Gore, Cokie Roberts, Jesse Ventura, Martin Luther
King III, Bob Vila and Jeff Bezos. Decker is a correspondent on ABCs
Business Now, the anchor for Reuters Financial Television and
the Washington correspondent for the USA Radio Network.
BUILDING AMERICAS FIRST UNIVERSITY:
An Historical and Architectural Guide to The University of Pennsylvania
By George E. Thomas Gr75, Faculty and David
B. Brownlee, Faculty.
The first comprehensive architectural history
of the University of Pennsylvania since the early 20th century, Building
Americas First University traces the University from its earliest
site, chosen by Benjamin Franklin, to the present day. Architectural
historians Thomas and Brownlee follow Penns history from its early
beginnings through its near failure in the early 19th century, its rebirth
as a center of innovation in education after the Civil War, and its
transformation into a global institution after World War II. They show
how changes in the Universitys academic scope and direction are visible
in its buildings and in the character of the three campuses that have
been its home. Thomas is a lecturer in historical preservation and urban
studies; Brownlee is professor of the history of art.
CENTENARIANS: One Hundred 100-Year-Olds Who
Made a Difference
By Dale Richard Perelman WG65.
Santa Ana, Calif.: Seven Locks Press, 1999.192
pp., $19.95 (cloth); $15.95 (paper).
Having lived a full century is, by itself, both
rare and noteworthy. Even more remarkable are those who used their extensive
time to create a positive impact on the world. Centenarians chronicles
the long lives of men and women who made an enormous impact on our world.
From entertainment personalities to corporate captains to political
dignitaries, this book features 23 prominent men and women, including
Irving Berlin, Rose Kennedy, Grandma Moses and George Burns. Another
77 centenarians are listed with a brief description of their lives and
accomplishments. Perelman is the author of three other books, and is
president of the Kings Jewelry chain of stores.
THE FOLDS OF PARNASSOS: Land and Ethnicity
in Ancient Phokis
By Jeremy McInerney, Faculty.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
407 pp., $50.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
Independent city-states, or poleis, such
as Athens have been viewed traditionally as the most advanced stage
of state formation in ancient Greece. By contrast, this book argues
that for some Greeks, the ethnos, a regionally based ethnic group,
and the koinon, or regional confederation, were equally valid
units of social and political life, and that these ethnic identities
were astonishingly durable. McInerney, an associate professor of classical
studies, sets his study in Phokis, a region in central Greece dominated
by Mount Parnassos that shared a border with the panhellenic sanctuary
at Delphi. Tracing the history of the region, he shows how shared myths,
hero cults and military alliances created an ethnic identity that held
it together over centuries, despite repeated invasions. He concludes
that the Phokian koinon survived because it was founded ultimately
on the tenacity of the smaller communities of Greece.
THE PORTABLE THEATER:
American Literature & the Nineteenth-Century Stage
By Alan L. Ackerman Jr. C88.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
271 pp., $45.00.
This book investigates the crucial role that theater
played in the works of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Louisa May Alcott,
William Dean Howells and Henry James. Whether as drama critics, playwrights,
amateur actors, or simply avid theatergoers, these authors thought deeply
about the theater and represented it in their literature. Ackerman,
an assistant professor of English and in the college drama program at
the University of Toronto, argues that this influence can be seen in
the prolific and innovative use of theatrical metaphor, the widespread
use of historically contingent theatrical idioms and in aspects of literary
form which represent dramaturgical methods.
DEATH FORETOLD: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical
By Nicholas A. Christakis G92 Gr95.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.
307 pp., $30.00.
No one wants to talk about it, yet nearly everyone
will face it: a doctors prognosis. Whether its as minor as how long
it will take antibiotics to get rid of bronchitis or as crucial as how
long it will be before the cancer spreads, prognosis is one of the most
difficult arts in medical practice. Doctors daily answer questions about
the future: how many years you have to live, how long your pain will
last, how effective your treatment will be. And patients daily struggle
to decipher the answers. This complicated act of prognosiswrapped up
with expectation, hope, despairis the heart of this book. Through interviews,
surveys and his own experience, Christakis, associate professor of medicine
and sociology at the University of Chicago, examines how prognoses are
made, how often doctors err in making them, and the uncertainty with
which they are pronounced and interpreted, with the hopes of making
the subject comprehensible and humane for those who ask the questions
and those who have to answer them.
CATALOGUE OF THE CLASSICAL COLLECTIONS
OF THE GLENCAIRN MUSEUM
By David Gilman Romano Gr81 CGS99, Faculty,
and Irene Bald Romano Gr80.
Bryn Athyn, Pa.: Glen Cairn Museum, 1999. 254 pp.,
$45.00 (cloth); $30.00 (paper).
This catalogue presents for the first time a comprehensive
view of more than 500 artifacts of Greek, Roman, Cypriot and Etruscan
origins from a small museum in Bryn Athyn, just northeast of Philadelphia.
The Glencairn Museum, owned by the Academy of the New Church and housed
in the former home of church patron and business leader Raymond Pitcairn
(1885-1966), is renowned for its medieval collection; the other collections
of the museum, however, are little known. The artifacts pictured and
written about in this book are the amalgamation of Pitcairns own collection
and the teaching collection used by the Academy of the New Church (a
Swedenborgian religious and educational institution) to serve the educational
mission of its schools. David Romano is keeper of the Mediterranean
section of the University Museum and adjunct associate professor of
classical studies. Irene Romano is curatorial consultant for the classical
collections of the Glencairn Museum.
COMMUNITY PLANNING: An Introduction to the
By Eric Damian Kelly GCP75 L75 and Barbara
Washington: Island Press, 1999. 400 pp., $35.00.
This introductory textbook provides a thorough
examination of the comprehensive planning process as practiced today
in the United States. Kelly, a professor of urban planning at Ball State
University in Muncie, Ind., as well as a past president of the American
Planning Association, and Becker, associate director of the Drachman
Institute for Land and Regional Development Studies at the University
of Arizona in Tucson, use the framework of the comprehensive plan to
demonstrate what planners do and how citizens can become involved in
shaping the future of their community.
THE JEWISH MOTHER GOOSE: Modified Rhymes for
By David Borgenicht C90.
Philadelphia: Running Press, 2000. 96
Best read with a Yiddish accent, The Jewish
Mother Goose spoofs more than 50 classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes,
including Pat-a-cake (Applecake), Jack Be Nimble (Jack Be Careful),
Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (Tweedle-Dork and Tweedle-Putz) and
Hey Diddle Diddle (Oy Diddle Diddle). For those readers unfamiliar
with rolling their tongues and contracting the back of their throats
while speaking, the book provides a glossary of Yiddish definitions
and pronunciation guidelines. Borgenicht is the author of The Worst-Case
Scenario Survival Handbook (See Profiles), The Little Book
of Stupid Questions and Sesame Street: Unpaved.
PENNSYLVANIA OFF THE BEATEN PATH: A Guide to
By Susan Perloff CW65.
Guilford, Conn.: The Globe Pequot Press, 2000. 162
If youve always thought of Pennsylvania in terms
of the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence, then its time
to check out some lesser-known spots. Discover the hidden places in
the Commonwealth that most tourists miss, such as Ricketts Glen, a state
park with 22 named waterfalls and a virgin hemlock forest; museums dedicated
to Jimmy Stewart, mushrooms and mourning; and the steepest vehicular
inclined plane in the world. The book, part of the Off the Beaten Path
series covering all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, features user-friendly
maps; listings of restaurants, hotels and popular attractions; and sidebars
showcasing historical facts and geographical tidbits. Perloff is a writer,
writing coach and writing-workshop leader, as well as a former Philadelphia
By Gregory Djanikian C71, Faculty.
Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000.
80 pp., $12.05.
The poems in this book center around relationships
between husbands and wives, and lovers as well, exploring the misconnections
and distances between them which exist even after years of intimacy.
The collection as a whole gives shape to this interior landscape of
separation and solitariness, making it, perhaps, as significant and
palpable as that other great landscape of togetherness and joy. Though
the poems arrive from different placesthe poets own life, or the lives
of friends and of strangers as wellthe collection reads almost like
a single narrative, a history of many lives coming together to form,
recognizably, our own.
Djanikian is director of creative writing and
associate undergraduate chair of English. His three previously published
collections of poetry are The Man in the Middle, Falling Deeply
into America and About Distance.
DOING ENGINEERING: The Career Attainment and
Mobility of Caucasian, Black and Asian-American Engineers
By Joyce Tang Gr91.
Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. 264
pp., $65.00 (cloth); $26.95 (paper).
The first to systematically compare Caucasians,
African Americans and Asian Americans in engineering, this study tells
how these three groups fare in the American engineering labor market
and what they can look forward to in the future. The numbers of black
and Asian engineers recently have grown at a much faster rate than the
number of Caucasian engineers. With a projected steady increase in engineering
jobs and demographic shifts, this trend should continue. Yet, recent
writings on the engineering profession have said little about career
mobility beyond graduation. This book identifies and explores key issues
determining whether minorities in the United States will attain occupational
equity with their Caucasian counterparts. Tang is associate professor
of sociology at Queens College, CUNY.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS LAW AND ITS ENVIRONMENT
By Richard Schaffer, Beverley Earle
CW72, Filiberto Agusti.
Cincinnati: West Educational Publishing, 1999. 806
Currently in use in over 140 colleges and universities,
International Business Law and its Environment provides a thorough
overview of the knowledge needed to understand todays international
business law. Its contents include the legal environment of international
business; international sales, credits and the commercial transaction;
international and U.S. trade law; and regulation of the international
marketplace. Earle is an associate professor of law at Bentley College.
SILVER ERA, GOLDEN MOMENTS:
A Celebration of Ivy League Womens Athletics
By Paula D. Welch, Lynn Page Whittaker and Daniel
Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 1999. 187
This book is a history of Ivy League womens athletics,
as well as a cultural record, narrating the integration of women into
all eight Ivy schools and into higher education nationally, and the
growth of womens athletics following enactment of Title IX in 1972.
In 25 years of formal competition, Ivy womens athletics has grown exponentially
in resources and accomplishments. Through numerous photographs, first-person
memories and personal anecdotes, Silver Era, Golden Moments pays
homage to Ivy athletes, coaches and administrators, from pioneers to
current students, showing how they shaped Ivy League athletics and how
their commitment and dedication shaped their own lives. Penn athletes
and coaches are well represented in the book.
issue's reviews | Reviews
in Brief | May/June Contents | Gazette
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Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 4/26/00
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PEOPLE AND PLAYERS
University of Pennsylvania
Directed by Ricardo Averbach, Faculty.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999.
years in the making, this musically diverse compact-disc recording
of the Penn Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Ricardo Averbach,
reveals plenty of Penn connections in the liner notes. The selections
include Aaron Coplands The Lincoln Portrait, featuring
guest narration by Penn President Judith Rodin CW66; Jay Reises
Tinicum Rhythms; Gerald Levinsons Bronze Music;
and Heitor Villa-Lobos Fantasy in Three Movements in the Form
of a Choros, with special participation by the Yale Concert
G75, a professor of music composition at the University, based
the title of his new piece on the Tinicum National Environmental
Center, located near the Philadelphia International Airport. The
bouncy rhythms, brash chatter and layers of musical events in
the piece are meant to suggest the teeming wildlife of the preserve
as well as the exuberant and zany human-life of the airport
across the road. Levinson C72, who serves on the music faculty
at Swarthmore College, found the inspiration for his 1980 composition,
Bronze Music, in the musical style of percussion orchestras
called gamelans of Java and Bali. Both selections were
recorded at Swarthmores Lang Hall.
Portrait , recorded at the Annenberg Center, derives from
The Gettysburg Address and Choros, recorded at Yales
Woolsey Hall, provides a panoramic view of Brazilian geography,
music and spirituality.
is also music director of the University of Pennsylvania Symphony
CD is available through the music department by calling (215)