Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 10 & 17, 2017 Issue


Clive James, in his wonderful poem “A Heritage of Trumpets,” in this week’s issue, picks up from where he left off in his Poetry Notebook (2014), the last chapter of which is titled “Trumpets at Sunset.” For James, it seems, the trumpet, when it’s played “with definition, lyrical and real,” the way, say, Bunk Johnson, Buddy Bolden, Bill Coleman, and Louis Armstrong played it, evokes the bittersweet mixture of elation and elegy (“The controlled sensation / Of vaulting gold that drove a funeral then / Linked death to dancing people, grief to joy”) that James is feeling as he approaches life’s end (“the dying voice of silence”). I love that “Blaze away / Into the dark, bugler. Be sure the night / Reflects your song with every point of light” – James’s inspired variation on Dylan Thomas’s  “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

James’s poem contains at least one other allusion, as well – “Play that thing!” – an invocation of Philip Larkin’s great “For Sidney Bechet,” in which Larkin, apparently listening to a recording of Bechet as he writes the poem, gets so caught up in his intense response to it, he suddenly shouts out, “Oh, play that thing!” James’s use of the line allows us to be aware simultaneously of Larkin’s original melody and the new melody based on it, the poetic equivalent of jazz improvisation. Brilliant!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

5 Great "New Yorker" River Pieces


James Graves, "St. John River" (1976)












I love rivers and I love river stories – especially factual ones. The New Yorker has a long history of great river writing. Here are five of my favorites, with a choice quotation from each in brackets:

1. Berton Roueché, “The River World,” The New Yorker, February 26, 1972; included in Roueché’s 1978 collection, The River World and Other Explorations (“At the head of the tow, where I am sitting on a coil of rigging near the bow of the starboard barge, there is the feeling of a raft – a peaceful sense of drifting, a sense of country quiet. The only sound is the slap of water under the rake of the bow. I am alone and half asleep in the silence and the warmth of the mild midmorning sun. The river is empty. There is only the bend ahead, a sandy shore of brush and willows on the near bank, and a steep bluff crowned with cottonwoods a quarter of a mile away on the other – no towns, no houses, no bridges, no roads, not even another boat”).

2. John McPhee, “The Keel of Lake Dickey,” The New Yorker, May 3, 1976; included in McPhee’s 1979 collection, Giving Good Weight (“We are a bend or two below the Priestly Rapid, and we can see more than a mile ahead before the river turns from view. Bank to bank, the current is running fast. It is May 28th. The ice went out about a month ago. We have seen remnant snow in shadowed places on the edges of the river. The hardwoods are just budding, and they are scattered among the conifers, so the riverine hills are bright and dark green, streaked with the white stems of canoe birch”).

3. Bill Barich, “Steelhead,” The New Yorker, March 2, 1981; retitled “Steelhead on the Russian,” in Barich’s 1984 collection, Traveling Light (“From my available gear, I’d assembled a kitful of lures and a makeshift steelhead rig – an eight-foot fiberglass rod and a medium-sized spinning reel wound with twelve-pound test – and I took it in hand and walked off into a seemingly static landscape that could have been painted by Hokusai: twisted live oak trees, barren willows, new winter grass, and vineyards laced with yellow mustard flowers, everything cloaked in river mist”).

4. Alec Wilkinson, “The Riverkeeper,” The New Yorker, May 11, 1987; included in Wilkinson’s 1990 collection, The Riverkeeper (“I went out with him one evening in December to look at a cove that is so choked in the summer with water chestnuts that he can’t get the boat into it, and we came home in the dark, and it was really cold, and the water was so smooth that the sensation of crossing it was almost like flying. I have been out with him on hot, hazy days when the river is gray and the sky is white and the hills in the distance are blue. I made a trip with him one spring day from Cold Spring to Catskill Creek – sixty miles. In Poughkeepsie, we stopped and watched police divers haul the body of a drowned man from the river. We spent the night in a slip at Hop-O-Nose Marine, on Catskill Creek. Herring jumped all night in the creek. It sounded like someone spooning water from a basin with his hands”).

5. Ian Frazier, “Five Fish,” The New Yorker, October 8, 2001; included in Frazier’s 2002 collection, The Fish’s Eye (“Storm clouds moved in, and the afternoon light became a wintry gloom. Snow began to fall hard, hissing in the bare branches of the cottonwood trees. The river scenery – bare-rock bluffs, dark-red willows, and tawny grasses along the shore – faded like something you see as you fall asleep. Daryl and I waded in deeper, crossed the river, tried different spots. The water in the Bitterroot actually felt warmer than the melted snow trickling around our ears. My fly line began to make a raspy sound in the line guides as it passed over the edges of ice building up in them. Steam rose from the water and moved in genie-sized wisps with the current”).

Credit: The above illustration by James Graves is from John McPhee’s ““The Keel of Lake Dickey” (The New Yorker, May 3, 1976).  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 3, 2017 Issue


This week’s New Yorker has yet to arrive in the mail. Rather than wait any longer, I’ve decided to pick one piece from the newyorker.com version and comment on it. My choice is Adam Gopnik’s “Hemingway, the Sensualist,” a review of Mary V. Dearborn’s new biography, Hemingway. Gopnik’s title is excellent, getting at exactly the quality of Hemingway’s writing that most appeals to me – its sensual responsiveness. Gopnik says,

The stoical stance has been much celebrated—“grace under pressure” and the rest—but the sensual touch is the more frequent material of the prose. Whether at Michigan trout streams or Pamplona fiestas or those Paris boîtes, there is a strong element of “travel writing.” He wrote pleasure far better than violence.

This is well said. My favorite Hemingway work is his Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast (1964), in which his “sensual touch” is evident in almost every line. Here, for example, is his description of eating oysters at a café on the Place St.-Michel:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

My only quibble with Gopnik’s piece is that it slights Hemingway’s journalism. Gopnik says, “But, as much as generations of newspapermen have claimed him as a student of newspaper style, nothing memorable emerges from the collected journalism.” I disagree. There’s a reporting piece called “Christmas on the Roof of the World” (The Toronto Star Weekly, December 22, 1923; included in the 1967 collection By-line: Ernest Hemingway, edited by William White) that I rate right up there with Hemingway’s best short stories. It’s an account of a Christmas Day that Hemingway, his wife, Hadley, and their best friend, Chink, spent skiing in the Swiss Alps. From beginning to end, it’s a rush of action and excitement, climaxing in the run down the mountain (“But there is no place to go except down. Down in a rushing, swooping, flying, plunging rush of fast ash blades through the powder snow”). The pleasure principle is commandingly strong in this piece, as it is in all of Hemingway’s best writing.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Benoit Pilon's Evocative "Iqaluit"


A still from Benoit Pilon's "Iqaluit" (2016)












It’s been almost a week since I saw Benoit Pilon’s Iqaluit, but I find myself still thinking about it. The plot is engaging enough, involving the suspicious death of a French-Canadian construction worker and his widow’s attempt to find out what happened. But, for me, the film’s great strength is its evocation of Iqaluit - the beach, the houses, the gravel roads, the breakwater, the graveyard, the river, the bay, the tundra, etc. It conveys a deep, poetic feeling for the place. The images have been brilliantly selected. It’s beautifully shot. Watching it, I found myself longing to be back there.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fireworks


A couple of nights ago, Lorna and I attended the Canada Day celebrations in Charlottetown’s Victoria Park. Rowan, our two-year-old grandson, came with us. I stood, holding him in my arms, as round after round of spectacular fireworks were launched. Rowan gazed up at the explosions of luminous red, green, and gold glitter. He was smiling. At one point, he said, “I want to eat them,” reached out, grabbed an imaginary handful of sparkles, and popped them in his mouth.

Rowan’s appetitive response to fireworks reminded me of Peter Schjeldahl’s passion for Fourth of July bottle-rocketing, which he’s expressed in two wonderful pieces – “Fireworks” (in his 1990 collection, The 7 Days Art Columns 1988-1990) and “The Pyro-American in Me” (newyorker.com, July 3, 2016). In the latter piece, he likens fireworks to music. He writes,

My personal pleasure required the most physical practical sequencing: fulminant jazz, call it—without, incidentally, the kitsch of musical accompaniment. Fireworks are music. (Our valley made for richly satisfying echoes.) Professionals obsess, preciously, about the beauty of their shells. But fireworks can’t help but be beautiful. I cared far less for quality than for quantity. With fireworks, more than enough is wonderful. Apropos more than that, words fail.

Another memorable New Yorker piece on fireworks is Adam Gopnik’s “French Fireworks” (newyorker.com, July 15, 2009), an account of his attendance at Paris’s Fête Nationale. He describes the lighting of the Eiffel Tower (“By manipulating this projected image of the tower, overlaid on the thing itself, the designers managed to make it seem to spin, disassemble, paint itself red, white, and blue, turn into a psychedelic sixties-style monument complete with Day-Glo flowers, and, in the end, actually shake its hips”) and the fireworks that went with it (“And all this was accompanied by uninterrupted and achingly loud fireworks, particularly heavy on the pure-gold and amber end of the spectrum, and with gas jets at the tower’s center flaring at high moments of emotion”). Gopnik ends his piece by noting, “There are some things that only government can do well: alpine uniforms, health care, and fireworks displays would seem to be three of them.”

I don’t know about alpine uniforms, but with respect to health care and fireworks, I totally agree.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Imaginary Interview: On the Making of "Mid-Year Top Ten (2017)"


Dolly Faibyshev, "Mermaid Spa"












This year’s “Mid-Year Top Ten (2017)” is the eighth in a series that began in 2010, the year this blog was launched. All were composed by New Yorker & Me staff writer John MacDougall. We asked him to reflect on his work.

What’s the point of these lists?

They’re a way for me to take stock of my New Yorker reading experience.

What criteria do you use to pick and rank the pieces?

Pleasure is my guide.

Well, what do you look for in a piece of writing? What gives you pleasure?

Are you familiar with James Wood’s definition of “thisness”?

Refresh my memory.

Thisness is any detail that draws abstraction toward itself and seems to kill that abstraction with a puff of palpability, any detail that centers our attention with its concretion. Wood wrote that in his great How Fiction Works. It’s one of my touchstones. It expresses perfectly the quality in writing I most relish. The New Yorker brims with it.

I notice that this year’s “Mid-Year Top Ten” contains a “Goings On About Town” list. That’s a new feature, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Over the last couple of years, “Goings On About Town” has become my favorite section of the magazine.

Why is that?

I think it has to do with my preference for description over narrative. “Goings On About Town” contains an abundance of great description.

Give me an example.

Well, the one that immediately comes to mind is Becky Cooper’s brilliant “Tables For Two” piece on Mermaid Spa, in which, in detail after sensuous detail, she describes the dining room, the sauna, the steam room, and the food. For me, it’s one of the most memorable pieces of the year so far – right up there with Luke Mogelson’s “The Avengers of Mosul” and John Kinsella’s “Milking the Tiger Snake.”

Your lists are always positive. Have you ever considered including a “worst” or “most disappointing” category?

No. My list is a fan’s list. I like to keep it positive.

Is your list in anyway biased?

Yes, I readily admit I have favorites – Ian Frazier, James Wood, and Peter Schjeldahl, to name three. I relish Robert Sullivan’s writing. Anytime he appears in the magazine, I try to get him on my list.

Who do you think reads these lists? Who’s your target audience?

I’m not sure who reads them. I don’t have a target. I make them for their own sake. They’re my way of paying homage to The New Yorker – to the many writers, editors, and artists who produce it. Also, these lists afford me the pleasure of revisiting the magazine pieces and savoring my favorite passages.

Do you foresee a time when your enthusiasm for The New Yorker will wane and you’ll stop making these lists?

No. I’m totally hooked on The New Yorker. If anything, my addiction is intensifying.

Mid-Year Top Ten (2017)


Bendik Kaltenborn, "RJD2"













Time for my annual “Mid-Year Top Ten,” a list of my favorite New Yorker pieces of the year so far (with a choice quotation from each in brackets):

Reporting

1. Luke Mogelson’s “The Avengers of Mosul,” February 6, 2017 (“We accelerated into the lead, hurtling down alleys and whipping around corners. I was impressed that the driver could steer at all. The bulletproof windshield, cracked by past rounds, looked like battered ice, and a large photograph of a recently killed SWAT-team member obstructed much of the view”).

2. Gary Shteyngart’s “Time Out,” March 20, 2017 (“I missed out on the culmination of the evening, when all the watches were piled up for an Instagram photo with the hashtag #sexpile, but as I wandered into the autumn night my Nomos beat warmly against my wrist”).

3. Ian Frazier’s “High-Rise Greens,” January 9, 2017 (“Throughout the mini-farm, PVC pipes and wires run here and there, connecting to clamps and switches. The pumps hum, the water gurgles, and the whole thing makes the sound of a courtyard fountain”).

4. Ben Taub’s “We Have No Choice,” April 10, 2017 (“As the rescue boat bobbed next to the larger ship, Nicholas Papachrysostomou, an M.S.F. field coördinator, helped Blessing stand up. She was nauseated and weak. Her feet were pruning; they had been soaking for hours in a puddle at the bottom of the dinghy”).

5. Dexter Filkins’ “Before the Flood,” January 2, 2017 (“The work of maintaining the dam is performed in the “gallery,” a tunnel that runs inside the base, four hundred feet below the top. To get there, you enter through a portal near the river’s edge and walk down a sloping corridor into the center of the dam. The interior is cool and wet and dark. It feels like a mine shaft, deep under the earth. You can sense the water from the reservoir pressing against the walls”).

6. Calvin Tomkins’ “Troubling Pictures,” April 10, 2017 (“Large and medium-sized canvases in varying stages of completion covered most of the wall space in the studio, a long, windowless room that was once an auto-body shop, and the floor was a palimpsest of rags, used paper palettes, brushes, metal tubs filled with defunct tubes of Old Holland oil paint, colored pencils and broken charcoal sticks, cans of solvent, spavined art books, pages torn from magazines, bundled work clothes stiff with paint, paper towels, a prelapsarian boom box, empty Roach Motel cartons, and other debris”).

7. John Seabrook’s “My Father’s Cellar,” January 23, 2017 (“But for me alcohol offered an escape from control, his and everyone else’s. A glass of wine gave me a kind of confidence I didn’t otherwise feel—the confidence to be me”).

8. Kathryn Schulz’s “Losing Streak,” February 13 & 20, 2017  (“Grieving him is like holding one of those homemade tin-can telephones with no tin can on the other end of the string.”)

9. Jake Halpern’s “A New Underground Railway,” March 13, 2017 (“Fernando grabbed his backpack and opened his door; in the blackness, the car’s overhead light seemed glaringly bright. I told him to call me when he made it, or if he felt that he was in serious danger. He nodded goodbye, scurried down the embankment, and disappeared into the brambles”).

10. Fred Kaplan’s “Kind of New,” May 22, 2017 (“She sang with perfect intonation, elastic rhythm, an operatic range from thick lows to silky highs”).

The Critics

1. James Wood’s “The Other Side of Silence,” June 5 & 12, 2017 (“What animates his project is the task of saving the dead, retrieving them through representation”).

2. Dan Chiasson’s “The Fugitive,” April 3, 2017 (“He is, at his best, a poet of home-brewed koans, threading his philosophical paradoxes into scenes of slacker glamour”).

3. Peter Schjeldahl’s “What’s New?,” March 27, 2017 (“Politics percolate in evocations of social class and function, with verisimilitude tipping toward the surreal in, for example, a set that suggests at once a beauty parlor, a medical facility, and a prison”).

4. Adam Kirsch’s “Pole Apart,” May 29, 2017 (“But, where Eliot often used this kind of moral X-ray vision to express contempt and disgust for the world, Milosz had seen too much death to find skulls profound”).

5. Claudia Roth Pierpont’s “The Island Within,” March 6, 2017 (“Of course, any such biographical explanation is a cheat: the reader cannot be expected to supply these facts; the poem means what it means, on its own”).

6. Dan Chiasson’s “The Mania and the Muse,” March 20, 2017 (“This is the critical point about Lowell as a writer: he had been straitjacketed, he had been physically violent, he had been shaken to his fundament with regret, he had been wounded deeply by wounding others. To create a life, along with a body of work that reflected it, was to find and follow the thread inside the maze”).

7. Emily Nussbaum’s “Tragedy Plus Time,” January 23, 2017 (“Despite the breeziness of Breitbart’s description, there was in fact a global army of trolls, not unlike the ones shown on “South Park,” who were eagerly “shit-posting” on Trump’s behalf, their harassment an anonymous version of the “rat-fucking” that used to be the province of paid fixers. Like Trump’s statements, their quasi-comical memeing and name-calling was so destabilizing, flipping between serious and silly, that it warped the boundaries of discourse”).

8. Alex Ross’s “Singing Philosophy,” February 27, 2017 (“Ghostly, twelve-tonish figures in the final bars feel uncertain, provisional, questing”).

9. Anthony Lane’s “Pretty and Gritty,” March 27, 2017 (“ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is delectably done; when it’s over, though, and when the spell is snapped, it melts away, like cotton candy on the tongue”).

10. Adam Gopnik’s “Mixed Up,” January 16, 2017 (“The illusion of confiding in the reader alone is what essayists play on. You’re my best friend, Montaigne, like every subsequent essayist of his type, implies to his readers.”)

Talk of the Town

1. Nick Paumgarten’s “Bong Show,” May 15, 2017 (“Delicate leaves and lace, tubes within tubes, ghouls embedded inside chambers like ships in bottles”).

2. Robert Sullivan’s “Facing History,” June 19, 2017 (“At Goodfellows, a barbershop on Fourth Avenue, people knew the church but not the tree. ‘In the North? That seems strange,’ a customer said”).

3. Tad Friend’s “Pulverizer,” June 19, 2017 (“The hairs on his forearm stood erect, like little soldiers”).

4. Lauren Collins’s “Sideline,” June 19, 2017 (“He must have been chewing on his cigarette, because it hung from his mouth like a broken limb”).

5. Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Incidents,” June 19, 2017 (“In front of him, a set of stairs led up to a rectangular opening cut into a wall. Beyond the opening was an empty chamber. Lights installed in the walls of the chamber were making it glow different shades—first fuchsia, then baby blue, then electric yellow. Everything outside the chamber also kept changing color, including Turrell”).

Goings On About Town

1. Becky Cooper’s “Tables For Two: Mermaid Spa,” March 6, 2017” (“Claim a table—it’s yours for the day—and head into the sauna. Sweat until you can’t stand it, and escape to the cold shower. Pull the chain and a torrent of ice water rushes over you. Then go to the steam room and get lost in the fog, before plunging into the ice pools. Jump out, gasp for breath, and feel your head pound with shock and relief. Repeat until you’re jelly, and then it’s time to eat”).

2. McKenna Stayner’s “Bar Tab: Super Power,” February 27, 2017 (“Visiting Super Power, with the gentle glow of a blowfish lamp, the fogged windows dripping hypnotically with condensation, and the humid, coconut-scented air, was exactly like being on a cruise, but everyone was wearing wool”).

3. Becky Cooper’s “Tables For Two: Sunday in Brooklyn,” January 23, 2017 (“At some point, someone near you will order the pancakes, and you will turn involuntarily to stare at the stack coated in hazelnut-praline-maple syrup and brown butter. Gesture to your waiter for an order of those. The sauce, the texture of butterscotch, slips down the sides like a slow-motion waterfall. It tastes like melted gelato. The pancakes, slightly undercooked, seem almost naughty”).

4. Nicolas Niarchos’s “Bar Tab: Paul’s Casablanca,” January 16, 2017 (“Instead, Sevigny has gone for a purer form of fun: an enfilade of domed caverns where dancers sway to rock and disco hits flanked by tiled nooks from which clusters of beautiful folk watch the whorling crowd.”)

5. Shauna Lyon’s “Tables For Two: Atla,” June 5 & 12, 2017 (“After the great pea-guacamole controversy of 2015, it takes cojones to add mint to an otherwise innocent, chunky scoop, which arrived, one afternoon, dramatically hidden under an elephant-ear-size purple-corn chip”).

6. Wei Tchou’s “Bar Tab: Diamond Reef,” May 1, 2017 (“Diamond Reef’s frozen take (the Penichillin) employs an age-old principle: anything is more fun when tossed into a slushy machine”).

7. Richard Brody’s “Movies: Who’s Crazy?,” March 13, 2017 (“When love creeps in, the doings turn mock-solemn, as a mystical marriage—a threadbare rite of flung-together outfits and tinfoil décor—plays out like a discothèque exorcism”).

8. Talia Lavin’s “Bar Tab: Fishbowl,” May 29, 2017 (“It causes the wasp-waisted barmaids in strappy green minidresses to grunt audibly as they muddle handfuls of cherries, and scoop ice as if shovelling a driveway”).

9. Matthew Trammell’s “Night Life: Step Out,” June 5 & 12, 2017 (“Rich saxophones and organs stood in for synthesizers, drums jangled and twitched, and vocalists like King Krule gave the beats another sheet of voice”).

10. Joan Acocella’s, “Dance: Alfa Romeo,” June 19, 2017 (“Even when she’s performing small steps, or no steps, you can still feel, across the auditorium, that astonishing engine, humming along like an Alfa Romeo, at the base of her spine”).

Best Short Story: Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Show Don’t Tell,” June 5 & 12, 2017 (“Giving a blow job to a Peaslee, it turned out, wasn’t the best I could do, the closest I could get”). 

Best Poem: John Kinsella’s “Milking the Tiger Snake,” January 9, 2017 (“tiger snake /out of the wetlands, whip-cracked / by the whip of itself until its back is broke”).

Best newyorker.com post: Philip Gefter’s “Sex and Longing in Larry Sultan’s California Suburbs,”April 9, 2017) (“Whenever I walked down the boardwalk and entered his house, I was reminded of the light in his pictures; this is where he honed his precision-cut insight”).

Best Issue: January 9, 2017, containing, among other pleasures, Ian Frazier’s “High-Rise Greens,” John Kinsella’s “Milking the Tiger Snake,” and Wei Tchou’s “Bar Tab: Rabbit House.”

Best Cover: Mark Ulriksen’s “Strike Zone” (May 1, 2017)



















Best Illustration: Riccardo Vecchio’s “Bill Knott” for Dan Chiasson’s “The Fugitive”(April 3, 2017).

Riccardo Vecchio, "Bill Knott"



















Best Photograph: William Mebane’s “Tim Ho Wan” for Jiayang Fan’s “Tables For Two: Tim Ho Wan” (April 17, 2017)

William Mebane, "Tim Ho Wan"












Best Sentence

Everyone is born with a subject, but it is fully expressed only through a commitment to form, and Yiadom-Boakye is as committed to her kaleidoscope of browns as Lucian Freud was to the veiny blues and the bruised, sickly yellows that it was his life’s work to reveal, lurking under all that pink flesh. [Zadie Smith, “A Bird of Few Words,” June 19, 2017]

Best Paragraph

Many tables stick with giant bottles of water and platters of fresh fruit. But you came for the food, so go for it. The large meat dishes—lamb leg, beef stroganoff, chicken tabaka—are hefty in a way that seems ill-advised in the setting. The hot appetizers are a better idea. The borscht is rich and thick. The garlicky French fries, piled on a sizzling iron skillet, though not exactly what you’d picture eating in a bathing suit, are a banya staple. Even more traditional are the pelmeni, filled with beef, lamb, and veal, and topped with mushroom gravy, which are addictive until they congeal at room temperature. Luckily, the dish is too good to leave for long. The best, though, are the cold appetizers, especially the pickled herring or, if you dare, the salo—raw pig lard, frozen and sliced thin. The procedure is half the fun: Layer it over some brown bread. Salt it. Pick up a raw garlic clove. Salt that. Bite one, then the other. The sharp fire of the raw garlic gives way to the sweetness of the bread, and to the soothing fat as it melts. It’s more bracing than the ice pools. [Becky Cooper, “Tables For Two: Mermaid Spa,” March 6, 2017]

Best Detail

But the bar’s smallness works to its advantage, and the place has been created with intense care and an idiosyncratic sensibility: there are warm woods and twinkling Edison bulbs; the bases of the water glasses are tuliped so they spin on their sides precariously but never spill. [Wei Tchou, “Bar Tab: Rabbit House,” January 9, 2017]

Best Description

When I look at the back of a Datograph, one of Lange’s more complicated watches (it features a date as well as a chronograph, a kind of stopwatch), I see a small city of silver and gold gears and wheels, a miniature three-dimensional universe in which everyone is running to catch the next bus. [Gary Shteyngart, “Time Out,” March 20, 2017]

Best Question

While creating the universe, did God have in mind that, at a certain point, a stuffed goat with a car tire around its middle would materialize to round out the scheme? [Peter Schjeldahl, “The Wave of History,” May 29, 2017]

Best Quotation

“On this movie I got down on my knees and prayed before takes, and then just grabbed my balls and tried somehow to be of service.” [Anthony Michael Hall, quoted by Tad Friend in his Talk story “Pulverizer,” June 19, 2017]

Best “Bar Tab” Drink Description: Colin Stokes’s rendering of a John Campbell’s Martini – “smooth, with sumptuous olives” [“Bar Tab: The Campbell,” June 19, 2017]

Seven Memorable Lines:

1. A reporter’s request for an explanation from Secret Service personnel inside Trump Tower proved as fruitful as a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Complainer. [Mark Singer, “New York Strip,” January 16, 2017]

2. True, she expresses a weakness for vanilla sex, whereas his preference, one suspects, is for Chunky Monkey, but that’s easily fixed. [Anthony Lane, “Movies: Fifty Shades Darker,” March 6, 2017]

3. History isn’t a feather. It’s an albatross. [Jill Lepore, “The History Test,” March 27, 2017]

4. But grief makes reckless cosmologists of us all. [Kathryn Schulz, “Losing Streak,” February 13 & 20, 2017]

5. Soon enough, Elphi will be superseded by some other Instagrammable wonder. [Alex Ross, “Temples of Sound,” May 22, 2017]

6. I sometimes pretend that the ringing in my ears is a sound I play on purpose to mask the ringing in my ears—a Zen-like switcheroo that works better than you might think. [David Owen, “Pardon?,” April 3, 2017]

7. As for her having a face, you can say that again. [Joan Acocella, “Dance: Alfa Romeo,” June 19, 2017]