Book Review: Readings
Wherever there's a zeitgeist, New York magazine will be there
Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 14, 2008
New York Stories: Landmark Writing from Four Decades of 'New York Magazine'edited by Steve Fishman, John Homans, and Adam Moss
Random House Trade Paperback, 572 pp., $17
It shouldn't come as any surprise that, in an anthology that includes Tom Wolfe's seminal piece "The 'Me' Decade," again and again the journalists within write themselves into the narrative. In last year's "Everybody Sucks," Vanessa Grigoriadis' entrée into the cult of Gawker begins with the drubbing the media-mirror blog delivered her for her New York Times wedding announcement, while Michael Wolff's 2002 piece "The Price of Perfection" compares the then-magazine columnist's efforts to get his daughter into the "right" kind of preschool with that of freshly exposed financier Jack Grubman's not-exactly-above-board anglings to do the same for his own kids. And Tom Wolfe ... well, anything Tom Wolfe writes is as much about Wolfe as it is about Leonard Bernstein's surreal Park Avenue cocktail party for the Black Panthers ("Radical Chic," 1970) or the Seventies groundswell among a certain monied type to get right with yourself and fuck everybody else ("The 'Me' Decade," 1976). Wolfe supplies the book's foreword, too, a somewhat free-associative tribute to founding Editor Clay Felker (to whom the collection is dedicated) that provides ample opportunity for Wolfe to, well, Wolfe out, as in his description of the Saturday morning Madison Avenue stroll of the so-called "art birds": "... the pretty things' lithe young legs with their epidermi of sheerest ravage-me nylon shimmering up to the most tumescent swells of their thighs as they crossed and then re-crossed and then re-re-crossed and then re-re-re-crossed them shimmer shimmer shimmer shimmer beneath the downlighters." The effect skips, almost word to word, from awe to gahhh!, but then so does the whole of the book if you're not careful to take your time with it. While the voices within are distinct (from George Plimpton and Jimmy Breslin to Joyce Wadler and Joe Klein), some of them – especially in the finger-on-the-pulse, this-is-New-York-now stories – have a habit of sliding into snideness. (New York Magazine wasn't named in the suit against snarkiness, but its crossbreed of clubbiness and cool remove is surely a kissing cousin to snark.) Prolonged exposure might lead one to ask if, in cultural criticism, there is simply no joy in anything anymore. Better to read the book in dribbles – and you absolutely should read it; it's a marvelous collection of bits-and-piecings from a 40-year tradition of top-notch cultural and political reportage.