Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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In which the staff of Emdashes (Squib king Martin Schneider, fearless intern John Bucher, and me) puts the blue ribbons on last week’s Wilburs.

The normally mild-mannered
Briefly Noted was bracingly political this week. I also relished Anthony Lane on Tintin and Hergé, Alec Wilkinson’s astonishing tale of Gordon Bell’s well-recorded life, and Nicholas Lemann on the search for Reagan’s brain, I mean a reading of Reagan’s diaries. Meanwhile, I’ve participated in two or three teleconferences recently, and while they weren’t balm to my battered soul in every instance, I dug the silliness of George Meyer’s Shouts and Murmurs, which was perfectly suited to its length. John Lahr makes me want to see everything he reviews. I think one of this week’s letter-writers, Richard W. Besdine, MD, wins the prize for longest professional title; for space, editors were forced to omit “East Coast, United States, The World, The Milky Way, The Universe.”

As for cartoons, I liked Roz Chast’s midtown meta-moment and the unfortunate-screen-saver drawing by Drew Dernavich (the recent winner of a National Cartoonists Society award for best gag cartoons). I’m glad that Fairleigh Brooks of Louisville, Ky., won this week’s caption contest; Fairleigh, if you’re feeling high on your victory, as you should be, please get in touch and we’ll do a fun, painless interview. Finally, if you aren’t reading the Critic’s Notebooks within Goings On, you’re missing out. How many times has “Rub on my monkey!” appeared in The New Yorker before this date? I’m willing to bet: This is the first.

I enjoyed Gus Powell’s shot of a pre-game Yankee Stadium on p. 6. Confession: I support the Yankees, but my stance toward the team is increasingly becoming marked by schadenfreude. I’m struck by the Shouts piece by George Meyer. As Simpsons junkies already know, Meyer was profiled by David Owen in the March 13, 2000 issue. So is this the first time that someone made the transition from profile subject to contributor? The answer is no: Steve Martin was a profile subject in 1993, and made his debut as contributor in 1996. Is there anybody else? I also enjoyed Anthony Lane’s piece on Tintin—and not only because someone told me about a week ago that I resemble Captain Haddock. —MCS

The editors have thrown us an article to salivate over: Paul Theroux’s Letter from the lunatic dictatorate of Turkmenistan, where Turkmenbashi—the “Leader of All the Turkmen”—has renamed, among other things, ketchup, because, as he says, “We must have a Turkmen word for this!” Theroux’s writing is plain and conversational, and his descriptions spin with a lust for landscape.

Here’s a nice bit, in which Theroux describes Ashgabat’s biggest marketplace, Tolkuchka Bazaar:
Buying a carpet or a melon or a sack of spices is one part of the interest of such a bazaar. The interaction of people—farmers with their families, gawky boys, shy girls—is also important. Country people might travel for a day or two on an old bus or a night train to meet city people; families rendezvous nearby for picnics; men swagger and shout while boys gape and imitate them. This bazaar was a kind of vortex, drawing in Turkmen from all over, in an ancient ceremony of encounter and negotiation, with music playing and camels howling and hawkers shouting for customers.
I’ve already bought my rail pass. Who’s coming?—JB

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