The New Yorker is Ruining My Reading

by Lou Borgenicht

The New Yorker is ruining my reading. I am consistently two issues behind, not counting the one I am currently perusing and I hate living with the guilt. It is sort of a damned if you do damned if you don’t dilemma.

My history with The New Yorker has its roots in childhood but I did not realize it until my mother’s death. I cannot recall ever reading the magazine until I actually subscribed to it when I turned thirty and was living on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It was a cultural anachronism: working as a physician in the Indian Health Service and reading about cultural events in New York City.

When my mother died we discovered a couple of boxes full of old New Yorkers in her basement dating back to World War II. Combing thru issues nearly fifty years old was a trip. The December 1, 1945 issue cost fifteen cents. The lead article was a profile of The Reader’s Digest. Stuart Little by E.B. White was selling for $2.00. “The House on 92nd Street” was playing at the 68th Street Playhouse. “The Glass Menagerie” was described as an “uneven but generally effective play” in The New Yorker’s theater listings on page 2.

In the interest of honest disclosure I have to say that I did not recall these details: I found them in my computer files on disc 7 of my Complete New Yorker, a computer offering I purchased for $100 a few years ago. Eight discs contain every New Yorker from 1926-2008.

But looking at the magazine on the computer is not the same as holding the magazine in your hands. I carry the issue I am reading everywhere: to movies, to restaurants and coffee shops, even to my office despite the fact that I rarely have a chance to read it. It just makes me feel more comfortable having it with me most of the time. I love the familiar way the ink smears from carrying it around in expectantly sweaty hands all day.

There is a certain connectedness amongst New Yorker readers. We all suffer from the same angst. The basic issue is what to do with issues, especially those you have already read. For some reason it is very difficult to throw them out; recycling makes you feel only a tiny bit better. There is something sacrosanct about the magazine.

New Yorkers also complicate vacations. On the one hand vacations are terrific, utilitarian moments in space when you can catch up on your reading without guilt. New Yorkers fit into a knapsack, purse or back pocket (folded) and thus are extremely versatile reading matter. But by the time you return home there are new issues to deal with.

There is also the notion of ineffable hope. I have put unread issues, most often the fiction issue, aside for reading in the future. And there they remain until I discover them in the recesses of the studio. I take them out, look at them wistfully, and return them to the nesting place.

New Yorker readers are their own unique support group. We call others inquiring if they have read a particular article, not as an act of one-upmanship, but rather as an act of literary camaraderie. This query becomes most disturbing when you realize that your friend is ahead of you and actually has read the most current issue. This can become a lesson in temperance rather than competition. The equanimity that results is almost Buddha-like, leading you to accept what is as what is.

The next step is not to feel you have to read The New Yorker before you can get on with your life. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom has sat on my night table, its bookmark wedged between pages 89 and 90, for the past month. It is time to move on.

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