ew Yorker wit and wisdom"Everybody talks of The New Yorker's art, that is its illustrations, and it has just been described as the best magazine in the world for a person who can not read," Harold Ross, the magazine's founder and editor, wrote in a 1925 letter. Oh, how times have changed. Although it's now a cultural institution, the magazine made a somewhat lackluster debut in February of 1925 and would have folded a few months later had it not been for Ross. A bluff, determined Westerner sometimes at odds with the Eastern elite, the editor fought hard to find a focus for his weekly. Rallying writers in the '20s and '30s many of them from the renowned Algonquin Round Table he created a forum that would publish some of the most memorable journalism of the 20th century. The magazine may be named for New York, but its span exceeds the city's limits. Its list of contributors is long and illustrious John Cheever, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin and William Trevor, to name a few and the number of books written about it or featuring the work of its writers and artists gets bigger every season. Worthy titles crop up regularly we counted eight in the past six months alone and a few of the most recent releases are highlighted here.
One of America's greatest humorists, New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber was an artist who could, with a few shapely, articulate lines, produce quibbling siblings, bickering spouses and, of course, canines dogs of all shapes and sizes, dispositions and breeds. His big, bumbling mutts were creatures thatdidn't know the difference between man and beast, that dragged their owners whither they would and did things only humans could went snow-skiing, say, or got psychoanalyzed. These and other Thurberesque absurdities are collected in The Dog Department: James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles, an endearing anthology, edited by author Michael Rosen, of the artist's dog-centered writings and drawings. Comprised of New Yorker shorts and unpublished archival material, along with selections from the book Thurber's Dogs, this delightful, amply illustrated volume is filled with humor, advice and reflection Thurber-style on man's best friend.
In the 1930s, as a reporter for The New Yorker, John McNulty frequented Costello's Irish saloon on Third Avenue, a boisterous gin mill filled with cabbies, horseplayers and bums on the make that he immortalized in the pages of the magazine. The results are collected in This Place on Third Avenue, a group of slice-of-life stories brimming with humor and drama that feature the saloon, its habituÅ½s and their pungent, city-steeped dialect. This is the low life writ large, no fringe, no frills. McNulty calls 'em as he sees 'em, and the titles tell all: "Atheist hit by truck." "Man here keeps getting arrested all the time." Though a skyscraper now stands at the site of Costello's, thanks to McNulty, the spirit of the place and the era lives on.
The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town brings together the best of the magazine's trademark "Talk" essays, those succinct journalistic gems, full of crystalline reportage and plainspoken prose, about the everyday and the remarkable, the little man and the big. Spanning nine decades, The Fun of It opens with selections from the 1920s and features contributions by some of the magazine's best writers, from E. B. White to Jamaica Kincaid to John McPhee. Edited by long-time staff member Lillian Ross, who chose from thousands of pieces, the volume is studded with standouts. Especially memorable are antic essays on the city from a young John Updike, and Jane Kramer's visit with Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton.
Another collection of classic profiles by Joseph Mitchell, McSorley's Wonderful Saloon was included in his anthology Up In the Old Hotel but has not existed as a separate volume since it was first published in 1943, when it became a bestseller. Offering a gallery of unforgettable characters oystermen, barkeeps and street-walking eccentrics, a gypsy king and a true-blue bearded lady McSorley's is vintage reporting from the man The New York Times once called "a listener of genius."