Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

The Basics:
About Emdashes | Email us

Before it moved to The New Yorker:
Ask the Librarians

Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


On a double bill today, my summer-reading Newsday profile of Cosmopolitan editors-in-chief Kate White (U.S.) and Sam Baker (U.K), who both just published detective novels set in the magazine world; and Simon Houpt's lively and thoughtful tale in the Toronto Globe and Mail of the New Yorker archive, the clever devils who made it happen, and the fans (me included) who'll devour it. Here are the snippets of Houpt's Globe and Mail piece with yours truly in them:

Every cover, advertisement, cartoon, Talk of the Town, humour "casual," short story, profile, poem and piece of investigative journalism will be there, stored on a slim set of eight DVD disks yielding high-resolution images that can be viewed on a computer in single- or double-page-spread formats. Users will be able to browse issues through thumbnail images of the covers, or search for specific editorial content via keywords, departments, the name of the author or artist, or year of publication. Showing a shameless populist touch, the disks also provide a method of skipping straight to each issue's cartoons. After decades of phone calls and letters from flummoxed readers trying to trace articles they thought they recalled seeing in the magazine, The New Yorker's librarians will finally be able to push them toward a user-friendly alternative to the clunky and barely accessible microfilm files at public libraries.

"This is going to be an amazing resource," enthuses Emily Gordon, a 33-year-old Brooklyn-based writer who maintains a blog (at emdashes.com) that dissects the minutiae of the magazine from week to week. "Instead of the conversations we're used to having, like, 'Jonathan Schell put that so well in that piece, when was that?' you'll be able to call it up and read it out loud to the other person, just as we all do with our current issues of The New Yorker."
With a unique combination of whimsy, erudition and bold reportage, The New Yorker has become an irreplaceable object of passion in people's lives. "The magazine feels personal," says Gordon, who spent many of her childhood summers at her grandparents' home outside Beebe, Que., where she graduated from the simple joys of the 25th-anniversary cartoon anthology to the more adult delights of the magazine's celebrated journalists. "It doesn't feel like a magazine. It feels like, by reading it, you're choosing a way of living, a way of seeing the world, a way of thinking.

"This DVD project isn't just a two-dimensional searchable reference," she adds. "It has all these memories and times of where, you know, you saw that particular New Yorker cover, lying on a kitchen table in your summer house."

My poem about all that ran as a sidebar to the piece.

My Mother Saved Copies of The New Yorker

Of course she kept New Yorkers.

Everybody did. In our case the issues,

stacked in piles like inventory, turned

stiff with the glue of basement dank

and cat piss. She saved some from the crypt

to paper the sunroom with their sad

or funny covers: the troika Koren,

Chast and Steig assuring us

from their perches in the sunless room

that we were not done for. Without heat

or prospects this was our insulation:

Kael's initials, a dispatch from Elizabeth Drew,

the tiny ad that guaranteed replacement

of the silver service's ghostly fork.

Who was to say Thurber, Parker, Addams

mattered less than food and work,

that men lasted longer than magazines?

The dog hoarse with barking, the cats in heat,

we waited for the mail, far from New York.

Back to other magazines, and crime. In our interview, Kate White, whose reading taste ranges from John Guare to variations of Phaedra, said about her Bailey Weggins series: "In a lot of mysteries the protagonist is a little bit conservative and not especially hip; she might be a private eye, or a cop, or a reporter, and isn't in an particularly modern environment. I really wanted to do the classic whodunit, where there are lots of red herrings and clues. Part of the fun for me was balancing—make it the classic puzzle, but in a very contemporary setting."

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, it may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Thanks for waiting.)

2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree