Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading The New Yorker

If you read The New Yorker, that is, if you subscribe to it, then you most likely have the same love/hate relationship with it that I do. I'm not talking about the actual content, though there is that too. I'm talking about the strategy you have to employ so that you actually manage to read each one, while also reading books, while also not letting too many pile up alarmingly in your house, thereby forcing you to throw out the whole stack and start again.

I once worked with a woman who let her New Yorkers pile up and pile up and she would get around to them eventually, but she never seemed to mind that she might have ten of them sitting around at one time. Strangely she was a producer for a WNYC radio show that involved talking to tons of writers who actually appeared in The New Yorker and you'd think she'd have wanted to be a bit more on top of things. (One of the best moments of that job was hearing her on the phone say, "Oh, Spalding, could you hold on a second?") But anyhow, when I asked her if she minded that she had six-month-old New Yorkers just sitting in a stack in her apartment, she would say cheerfully, "Not at all. I'll get to them eventually." Such optimism she had.

When I lived in New York City, The New Yorker was perfect for the subway. After a couple of days the type would be all blurred and the pages all crumpled, but who cared! You just threw it out, since the next one would be arriving any minute. But then, when I turned 30, two things happened to make my New Yorker reading something of a challenge. One, we moved out of the city to a place where transportation was no longer a passive activity, allowing for leisurely reading, but rather one in which you actually had to pay attention. Two, we had a child.

So the magazines would come, as relentlessly as always, and I found that, on the one hand, they were sort of the perfect thing to read since a novel involved too much commitment at such an intense point of my life, but on the other hand, not surprisingly, I didn't really have the same amount of time for reading any more. In a way, the story of my life (from, say, age 26 on) could be told by just counting the number of New Yorkers in my house. Before the age of 30, you would only find a single one in my house at any point in time. In fact, sometimes there might not be any at all, if I'd managed to finish one before the next one arrived! But by the time my first daughter was born you might suddenly notice the appearance of two in the house, if not more, all turned to somewhere in the middle of an article, with the best of intentions that they'd get finished and thrown out finally. (Note: When I say "thrown out" I really mean "recycled." I don't mean to worry anyone.)

I managed to find a way to make reading The New Yorker easier, however. When my daughter took naps, I pushed her in a stroller while simultaneously reading the magazine. I do tend to like doing two things at once, and believe it or not, it was not at all hard to do. I'm sure I was known around town as that woman who pushes a stroller while reading every day, but I hardly cared. I was really on to something. In fact, my love for the author Alice Mattison began the moment I read the first line of her book The Book Borrower: "Though she was pushing a baby carriage, Toby Ruben began to read a book." This practically sent chills up my spine. Someone who understood!

There was also the problem of not being able to read any books while trying to keep up with The New Yorkers. I'm a fast reader, but come on. I was always relieved when one of those double issues would arrive during the summer or around Christmas. "Now I can read some books!" I'd think excitedly.

But then maybe in the past year or so, though, I started doing something that I really found luxurious: I allowed myself to read only the articles that truly interested me. Always the fiction and then maybe one or two others. And then? I'd just recycle the magazine and move on. I am free!


Hope Perlman, aka Ms.Hap said...

My problem with the NYer is that I always seem to MISS the ONE big article everyone else is talking about. For that reason, I save a backlog of magazines, and recycle them after a couple of months. That way, I can look it up if two or three people start referring to something I invariably missed.

Anonymous said...

I graze through them in a midweek evening, always back to front, reading anything that interests me in that sitting. If it doesn't catch me then, it doesn't catch me and I'd be fine with passing it on to the library giveaway shelf. John, however, gets extremely anxious that he'll miss something and can't accept that once he gets down four or five weeks, it's effectively over and he should just give up and start over.

Reyna said...

I pretty much read anything Malcolm Gladwell writes. And all the medical stories. Oh, and anything by the amazing Katherine Boo.

SZ said...

You once told me that you read the New York cover to cover and I felt a little sheepish because I, well, do not. I mean, I know I SHOULD read the Seymour Hersh articles, but I get about a page and a half in and my eyes glaze over. Pretty much anything about Iraq or Afghanistan gets skipped, too. I always read Talk of the Town and Shouts and Murmurs (unless it's by Woody Allen. His are never, ever funny). Those are easy.