Search Results for: New Yorker

John McPhee on One Word You Couldn't Publish in The New Yorker

Fuck, fucker, fuckest; fuckest, fucker, fuck. In all my days, I had found that four-letter word—with its silent “c” and its quartzite “k”—more shocking than a thunderclap. My parents thought it was a rhetorical crime. Mr. Shawn actually seemed philosophical about its presence in the language, but not in his periodical. My young daughters, evidently, were in no sense as burdened as he was. Or as I was. Or as their grandparents were. In the car in their middle-school years, they batted that word between the back and front seats as if they were playing Ping-Pong. Driving, and hearing those words reach a critical mass, I once spontaneously bellowed (in an even-tempered, paternal way), “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck—I can say it, too!”

Well, maybe in a car, but not in The New Yorker, not in 1975, and I didn’t need to be told. I had been writing for the magazine for a dozen years. There were no alternatives like “f—” or “f**k” or “[expletive deleted],” which sounds like so much gravel going down a chute. If the magazine had employed such devices, which it didn’t, I would have shunned them. “F-word” was not an expression in use then and the country would be better off if it had not become one.

-John McPhee, in The New Yorker (now free for everyone), on the history of certain words in the magazine.

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More F-words in the Longreads Archive

Photo: Princeton University

A Filthy History: When New Yorkers Lived Knee-Deep in Trash

Longreads Pick

An interview with Robin Nagle, the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Anthropologist in Residence who has spent most of her life studying trash:

“In its early days, the department didn’t really function at all. There are some photographs taken for Harper’s Weekly, before and after photos of street corners in New York in 1893 and then in 1895. And the before pictures are pretty astonishing, people were literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste, and furniture crap.

“Put yourself back in the late 19th century and think about the material world that would have surrounded you in your home. When you threw something out, it wouldn’t go anywhere. It would be thrown in the street.”

Published: Jun 24, 2013
Length: 19 minutes (4,768 words)

Longreads Best of 2012: Elliott Holt's Favorite New Yorker Fiction


Elliott Holt‘s first novel, You Are One of Them, will be published by The Penguin Press in June 2013

One of my two favorite short stories published in 2012 is “Member/Guest” by David Gilbert, which appeared in The New Yorker the week of November 12, but since that story is not available online without a subscription, I present five other amazing stories published by The New Yorker this year. I’ve been a subscriber to the magazine for as long as I can remember, but I’m glad to see more of the fiction available online for free. Some of those free stories are by masters of the form—including George Saunders, Antonya Nelson, and Alice Munro*, who wrote my other favorite story of the year, “Amundsen.” When I open The New Yorker to find a new Munro story, my heart skips a beat. It’s like having an old friend show up for an unexpected visit.

1. “Amundsen,” by Alice Munro in The New Yorker

2. “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” by George Saunders

3. “Literally,” by Antonya Nelson

4. “The Proxy Marriage,” by Maile Meloy

5. “Fischer vs. Spassky,” by Lara Vapnyar

*no one who knows me should be surprised to see an Alice Munro story among my picks

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012.

Photo credit: Rebecca Zeller

Longreads Best of 2012: Elliott Holt’s Favorite New Yorker Fiction

Longreads Pick

Elliott Holt‘s first novel, You Are One of Them, will be published by The Penguin Press in June 2013.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012.

Source: Longreads
Published: Dec 20, 2012

Longreads Best of 2012: The New Yorker's David Grann

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.  

I am never sure how to choose the “best” story as there are too many. But here’s a list of some of the most notable and memorable stories I read in 2012. Pamela Colloff’s two-part series, “The Innocent Man,” which appeared in Texas Monthly, was one of the best crime stories—and, indeed, best pieces of journalism in any category—that I read. Many of my favorite longreads are works of history, and, in that category, I would include two notable pieces published in the magazine that I work for, The New Yorker: they are Robert A. Caro’s “The Transition,” a book excerpt that details, through the eyes of Lyndon Johnson, the terrifying day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy; and Jill Lepore’s “The Lie Factory,” which chronicles the first political consulting firm in the United States, and helps explain everything that is rotten about our politics today.

Finally, I would include a category for the best longreads from the vault—those long ago published pieces that you suddenly discover or rediscover. This year, I read two remarkable pieces in this category. One was James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” which originally appeared in Harper’s, in 1955; it’s the kind of essay that is almost no longer done, and that uses autobiography to tell the story of a nation. The other old piece was David Foster Wallace’s “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” published in 1994, which begins as a predictable takedown review of Austin’s memoir and then becomes a totally unexpected meditation on the nature of athletic greatness and storytelling.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012

Longreads Best of 2012: The New Yorker’s David Grann

Longreads Pick
Source: Longreads
Published: Dec 4, 2012
Length: 1 minutes (261 words)

The New Yorker's Nicholas Thompson: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Nicholas Thompson is a senior editor at The New Yorker and a frequent Longreader.


I’m a sucker for stories about reinvention, disappearence, and people who pretend to be someone they aren’t. The genre has cliches, and can become trite. But it can also be wonderful. And this year, the category brought us some wonderful longreads.


“Where’s Earl?” Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

I’m biased, but the story by Kelefa Sanneh in The New Yorker about the rapper Earl Sweatshirt is, I think, a classic. The character Earl is the reinvention of another boy, whose amazing past and origins Sanneh describes. But then there’s the second disappearence of Earl himself, and then his quandry about whether and how to return to his career. Sanneh is also, stylistically, one of the most original and graceful writers around. Every sentence is a pleasure.

“His Own Private Idaho,” Sean Flynn, GQ

This piece by Flynn about a mobster who reinvents himself in Idaho, seems familiar at first. But then it turns out the central character is much more complex than you might have thought—and he ends up undone by something surprising and redemptive. It’s great. 

“My Mother’s Lover,” David Dobbs, The Atavist ($1.99)

I’m biased on this one too (I’m a co-founder of The Atavist), but Dobbs’s piece has deservedly been one of the best-selling “e-singles” of the year. It’s an amazing tale of a man discovering that his mother harbored a secret her entire adult life. And then, as Dobbs tries to resolve a mystery of his own family’s past, he gets tangled in the story of another’s. 

“Dave Sanders: Fiber-Optics Exec by Day, Defender of Justice by Night”, Joshua Davis, Wired

Joshua Davis is one of the most cinematic magazine writers around; he’s wonderful at introducing groups of characters, crafting scenes, and keeping a narrative moving. This recent piece in Wired about a fiber-optics-executive who recreates himself as a (sort-of) good-guy vigilante is a classic. It’s complicated, but Davis tells the story smoothly and smartly. 

“The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms,” Joshuah Bearman, This American Life

I know this is a long “reads” list, but the lines with long “listens” are blurry, and there was a story this fall on This American Life of this type that I just loved: Joshuah Bearman’s “The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms.” Like many of the other best stories in this genre, it takes, layer by layer, through a complicated series of reinventions and disguises. Plus it mixes in reality television, a mole, and an heroic journalist.


See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

This Week In Books: The New Lord and Lady of the Apartment

Me, doing the laundry. (OMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Reader,

This week I figured out that the best way to hang-dry our sheets is over the closet doors. From across the room they look like a pair of dangerously large jellyfish landing on a dead coral reef.

Is that a weird thing to think? Well, it gets worse. Because as I foisted those sheets unto their bleached white thrones, and regarded them as the new reigning lord and lady of our apartment, I felt a sudden terror not for myself (because I’m losing it) but the guys who work at the laundromat.

You see, I’ve been trying to think of everyone; to contact trace, as it were, the Danavirus, and catalog everywhere I habitually spread my (ew, this metaphor, what the hell) droplet$. And the laundromat, oh god, oh gods, oh gelatinous lords of the reef — I hadn’t thought of them yet! I’d been so fixated on developing a process for handwashing all our stuff in my kitchen sink that I had forgotten the dire economic impact that this, too, has wrought. The laundromat guys must be so worried right now! How can they possibly be making any money?? So, I worried a bit for them. I’m trying to figure out if they have a gofundme but I can’t find it. God, everything sucks.

I shudder to think of how much handwashing is happening in America right now. It’s not good. I am not good at it. Everything is stiff. It turns out washing machines have water filters in them, who knew! So now everything I own is hardened by the invisible minerals in the tap water (“We are learning much about the Invisible Enemy,” the soft, slug-like President of America whispers to me silkily from his hidey-hole in the crisped white reef), invisible minerals which I’m questioning whether I really should have been drinking straight from the tap for…. my entire…. life….

I know I sound like I’m spiraling, which is why I’ve decided this week to read A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman’s classic work of narrative nonfiction about the Black Death. So far the book has taught me that everything is going to be fine!

Haha, sike, no it’s not. You know, at the time, they didn’t call it the Black Death. They called it the Great Mortality. I’ve been wondering what this whole corona thing is going to be called one day — or even what it’s going to be called next month. In my roundup below, one of the articles, featured on Lit Hub, is called “How Did Writers Survive the First Great Depression?” which caught me off guard when I read it. I thought to myself, with a noticeable chill down my spine, “Oh, are we already calling this the Second Great Depression?” Then I belatedly realized the article is an excerpt from a book about the Great Recession — making it unclear whether the “second” Great Depression presumed by the article’s title is a Lit Hub editor’s gesture toward the current corona crisis or the book itself making a statement about the severity of the Recession. It was jarring, this realization that I personally do not have enough data to say for sure, off the top of my head, whether the second Great Depression has already happened or not; that historical time has become so warped in our supposedly post-everything future that the scale and scope of things is somewhat beyond me. It was like looking into a mirror that’s facing another mirror and seeing my foremost reflection first, a half-second before I notice there are a dozen more just like it, going all the way back.

1. “From Now On, I Vow Only to Read Fiction” by Nausicaa Renner, N+1

“I admire those who are stable enough to keep reading essays,” Nausicaa Renner writes in this very good essay. “From now on, I vow only to read fiction.”

2. “Trout Fishing in America” by Greil Marcus, Bookforum

The great Greil Marcus interviews the great Percival Everett; it’s an unbeatable interview combo, beyond reproach. “I can’t look directly at a beautiful river—I find that I have to turn away and steal glimpses of it, because it’s too much for me.”

3. “I Love Paulette Jiles’s Novels. So Why Won’t She Talk to Me?” by Emily McCullar, Texas Monthly

I think at one point I was the kind of person who would have had some reservations about this kind of thing. I would have thought, maybe, that no matter how cranky and conservative and capricious Paulette Jiles is, it’s still sort of awkward to finish your profile of her once she’s cut off communication with you and insulted you on her blog. But now, in the Age of the Virus, I have shed many feelings and beliefs. My heart has been hardened (“by the minerals in the water,” the pale white President in the Reef whispers raspily to me while Lorrie Moore is soothed by the sound of it), and now, to me, it is noble and just to publish the profile of someone who has insulted you on her blog. News of the world, indeed.

4. “The Provincial Reader” by Sumana Roy, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Sumana Roy remembers growing up as a provincial reader in rural West Bengal, which reminded me a little of growing up in Ohio, back when most of my favorite books were garage sale paperbacks with the covers mysteriously ripped off. “In pre-liberalization India, everything arrived late: not just material things but also ideas … This temporal gap turned journalism into literature, news into legend, and historical events into something akin to plotless stories. But like those who knew no other life, we accepted this as the norm.”

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5. “How Did Writers Survive the First Great Depression?” by Jason Boog, Lit Hub

In an excerpt from the The Deep End: The Literary Scene in the Great Depression and Today, Jason Boog writes about becoming obsessed with authors who struggled to survive the Great Depression while he himself struggled through the Great Recession. “I paid 50 dollars to get a copy of Newhouse’s out-of-print novel so I could show it to everybody I knew. Like some misguided missionary, I’d show it to people and say, ‘See? See? He’s talking about us!’ His book felt like a bomb with a busted timer that had stalled back in the 1930s and had been stuck on a dusty shelf for 80 years, losing none of its dangerous potency. I wanted to fix the timer and blow something up all over again.”

6. “Lunar Phase” by Kamran Javadizadeh, The Point

Kamran Javadizadeh ruminates about what kind of book he would ideally like to be reading right now, and lands on the moon. “I find now that what I want out of reading is both contact and distance … I want something that makes me feel like I do when I listen to those lunar audio loops. Which is to say, both close to a voice and far from its source; securely connected, as though by an invisible cable, to a distant but steady point in space.” He writes that the only thing really doing the trick is James Schuyler’s 1974 poetry collection Hymn To Life. In an address to an inaccessible and distant beloved, one poem reads: “In / moon terms, you’re / not so far away.”

7. “‘Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited’ and the Inner Life of Catastrophe” by Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker

In light of the recent tendency to compare the coronavirus pandemic to the HIV pandemic, Garth Greenwell revisits Andrew Holleran’s 1988 Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited (originally published under the title Ground Zero). “[Henry] James, Holleran writes, ‘claimed the raising of a woman’s eyebrow across the dinner table was more dramatic to him than the fall of Rome.’ The question of many of Holleran’s columns in the eighties was what such a writer can do when Rome actually falls.”

8. “Complex Messiah” by Ratik Asokan, Bookforum

An invigorating read about Heinrich von Kleist, a sort of batty early 19th century Prussian romanticist whose novella The Duel is lowkey one of my favorite books. I’ve always wanted to read his best known work, Michael Kohlhaas, and in this review Ratik Asokan writes that New Directions has just given us a robust new translation. “…The tales unfold with a wild, almost savage intensity, which contemporary readers found disturbing; infamously, Kleist’s hero Goethe dismissed the younger writer as diseased.”

9. “A Detrimental Education” by Zaina Alsous, The New Inquiry

Zaina Alsous interviews Eli Meyerhoff about his book Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World, an examination of how the older concept of “study” has been superseded by the more recent, capitalism- and colonialism-inflected idea of “education.” “With the formal end of slavery, racial capitalism shifted to wage labor contracts … So, in order to enable arbitrage of humans as capital, capitalists needed to create distinctions in the category of ‘the human.’ Stratified and hierarchical education produces differences among humans that, in turn, create arbitrage opportunities in fractured labor markets.”

10. “The Phony Warrior” by Yoshiharu Tsuge, The Paris Review

In an excerpt from The Swamp, a new collection from Drawn & Quarterly of work by the 20th-century comics artist Yoshiharu Tsuge, a samurai is disappointed to learn that a traveling ronin he meets on the road is both more and less great than rumor has it.

Stay well,

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor
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The New York You Once Knew Is Gone. The One You Loved Remains.

Longreads Pick

In this pandemic-inspired variation on the Goodbye to All That essay, Glynnis MacNicol writes about what it’s like to have stayed in the current ghost town version of New York City when so many other New Yorkers have departed for greener pastures, and considers the city’s, and city-dwellers’ history of resilience through hard times.

Source: GEN
Published: Apr 16, 2020
Length: 8 minutes (2,090 words)

New York City Shredder

Tyshawn Jones, far right, at the Adidas Skateloftnyc at Webster Hall, 2017. Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Skateboarding has been around long enough, and skate parks are numerous enough, that tons of amateurs can rip like only pros once did. It’s a whole other thing to skate with style. For The New York Times Magazine, Willy Staley profiles Tyshawn Jones. The first New Yorker to win Thrasher magazine’s Skater of the Year award, Jones represents a shift away from skateboarding’s West Coast origins, and its contentious merging with the fashion industry, which is where the money is. Besides his absolute devotion and his incredible abilities, what separates him from so many of us skaters is that he grew up in the Bronx and has used flat, crowded Manhattan as his skate park. Instead of doing the same tricks on big ramps designed for those exact tricks, he gives us something new: olleying over store signs and trash cans, sliding across handrails and flower boxes, and even doing a boardslide on the front of an earth mover on Park Avenue. Finding the spots requires talent. Imagining how to skate them, and pulling off the tricks, are whole separate talents.

As Strobeck sees it, that journey from the Bronx to Manhattan is captured symbolically in the trick that put Jones on the cover of Thrasher: an ollie over an entrance to the 6 train at the 33rd Street station. This subway entrance is a mind-boggling thing to leap over: The gap starts in an office building’s elevated plaza, and from there, you have to clear a thigh-high guardrail, then a six-foot-wide staircase plunging down into the street, with a spike-tipped fence on the other end. But the ollie itself was just a fraction of the challenge. Midtown was swarming with people whenever they went to film.

One thing Jones has that a lot of pro skaters don’t is a bunch of hardheaded friends who are willing to bring city life to a halt for him. The day he finally landed it, on his third visit, he went to the spot with 10 of his buddies, most of whom didn’t skate. They positioned themselves all around the subway entrance to help, in Strobeck’s words, ‘‘facilitate’’ — or the exact opposite, depending on your perspective. One stood in the stairwell to keep unwitting straphangers from taking a board to the skull, one stood up top to keep people from going down the stairs, some dealt with people in the plaza above, another worked as a spotter to tell Jones when the coast was clear. Even passers-by stopped to help.

To ollie over something this massive is like doing a parabolic calculus problem with your body while also attempting suicide, but it involves a set of motions Jones knows like second nature: Snap the tail and leap, dragging the board as high as you can with your front foot, tucking your knees into your body — on the Thrasher cover, Jones’s are practically touching his shoulders — then hope for the best. When Jones finally landed it, he did so with his front wheels in the street and his rear wheels up on the sidewalk, one last screw-you from New York, but he rode away. He got a message on Instagram from someone who worked in a building high above the plaza. She told him that people in the office had lined up at the windows to watch. When he landed it, the whole place erupted in cheers.

Jones makes a solid living from his sponsors and the restaurant his skate money bought him, but like most pro skaters, he would make a lot more if he was in a different sport. The skateboard industry is lucrative but has always had limitations, so Jones is wisely targeting clothing and fashion brands instead of just skateboard companies. Besides talking a lot about money, Staley’s piece is also a celebration of a sport whose athletes gets far less respect, and money, than mainstream basketball and baseball players. Hanging out with Jones, Staley makes an observation you don’t see much in skate journalism: the way skaters view other athletes.

It was the week of the N.B.A. Finals, and the two began to discuss the truly galling amount of money basketball players make. ‘‘Throwing a ball in a hoop!’’ Jones said, dismissively. ‘‘Curry got $237 million for five years.’’ It hadn’t occurred to me just how rote the work of an athlete might look to a pro skater, who must do so much more than just perform. He has to find spots, think of tricks, overcome not just his fears but also the police, Good Samaritans, cracks in the pavement, rain. And only once that chaos has been mitigated can he try to perform, to write one little line in the canon of an insular subculture. Henry joked that her son had gotten into the wrong sport entirely.

‘‘Throwing a ball in a hoop,’’ he said again. ‘‘That [expletive] is crazy!’’

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