My New Yorker is David Remnick’s New Yorker. The magazine was around my house off and on when I was young. My sister and I, ignoring the witty captions, used to use the magazine’s iconic cartoons as a sort of coloring book, spicing up a droll bedroom scene with our 24-color set of magic markers. As a high schooler with half-formed thoughts of a literary life, I began delving into the fiction each week, but it was only a matter of time before the rest of the magazine’s contents began to tempt me, though I remained utterly unaware that I was discovering the magazine at its point of greatest turmoil, the Tina Brown years. By the time I went to college, I was an avid consumer of the magazine, though without the time to give it my full attention. Once I graduated, however, with only the responsibilities of undemanding jobs, I was able to give in and have read the magazine, more or less in its entirety ever since.
The Tina Brown era ended and David Remnick took the magazine’s helm around the time I became a New Yorker regular, and he, to a certain extent, epitomizes my New Yorker. Beyond Remnick’s editorial influence, any contemporary reader of the magazine has become familiar with his thorough profiles which tend to alight on a few different topics that he has covered closely over the years. Many of these are collected in his recent volume Reporting, which came out last year and is now available in paperback.
The book divides the articles, which are all taken from his years at the New Yorker, into five sections covering, roughly: politics/news, literary figures, Russia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and boxing. Nearly all of the articles in the collection are the long, in depth profiles that New Yorker readers will be familiar with. In Reporting, Remnick’s subjects include Al Gore, Philip Roth, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (twice), Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyaho, and Mike Tyson.
These profiles are impressive in the access they offer – we have dinner with Al and Tipper, visit Roth’s writing retreat, and play chess with Lennox Lewis. Taken together, one also notes that these profiles most prominent quality is their workmanlike thoroughness. Remnick takes us into his subjects’ homes but he also grabs quotes from dozens of peripheral characters in his quest to offer as well-rounded a picture as possible. There’s nothing flashy about Remnick’s writing – he won’t wow you – but then again his writing carries none of the annoying tics that mars some of his colleagues’ work. Here I’m thinking of Adam Gopnick’s tendency to view everything through the eyes of a parent or Anthony Lane’s dandyish fussiness. For anyone who aspires to practice long-form magazine journalism, you could do a lot worse than starting with Remnick as a model.
My favorite part of the book was the last section on boxing. Here Remnick was able to drop some of the necessary serious that his other subjects demand and substitute it with some color. Setting the scene for the 2002 Tyson-Lewis fight in Memphis, Remnick writes:
On the night of the fight, the skies of above the Pyramid were choked with helicopters. It took a long time to get through the metal detectors and professional friskers, though it seemed that the women of uncertain profession, along with their raffish masculine handlers, were accorded more courtesy than the rest of us. There were certifiable celebrity types all around, mainly film stars like Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Samuel L. Jackson, and a flotilla of NBA players. There was much relief in finding out that one hadn’t been given a seat behind Dikembe Mutombo or Magic Johnson.
In fact, Remnick’s boxing pieces would have made for a nice, slim volume on their own. But Remnick doesn’t seem like the type of reporter who, as he ages, will pursue writing only about his particular interests at the expense of taking on a broader array of topics. In its variety of subjects, Reporting is an ideal slice of Remnick’s work.