Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Terrific New Yorker (with Zadie Smith)

While Rhian goes mercilessly hacking at my book, I'm sitting back and enjoying the latest New Yorker, which they're calling the INNOVATORS ISSUE.

I'm not much for themed anything, but especially dislike themed New Yorkers. Not that they're usually so bad--it's just that I find the normal ones so comforting. They are the artifact of just another regular week, with a variety of mildly interesting things going on, and being written about. I find the theme issues to be hostile to the concept of averageness, especially the ones that are packed with short fiction by people younger and more famous than I.

But I digress. This issue turns out to be great--almost as if it were made especially for me. There's a piece on the Large Hadron Collider, which is either going to change science as we know it by proving various things, or change science as we know it by failing to. There's an annoyingly long bit about Banksy, annoying not because it's poorly written but because it's written about Banksy. (Don't get me wrong--I quite like Banky's stuff. But his earning-fame-by-pretending-to-disdain-it attitude, the literary analog of which we have had quite enough of thank you, is a bit hard to bear.) We have a fine little article about the Antikythera mechanism, the best-named artifact of all time, and another great piece about uber-geek luthier Ken Parker, of Parker guitars (I find the famous Parker Fly a bit too fussy for the exertions of rock and roll, but I like Parker's way of working).

And there's a new Zadie Smith story, which might possibly be part of a Zadie Smith novel that isn't finished yet. It's pretty OK, but Smith's OK is everybody else's brilliant masterpiece, and I enjoyed it enormously. It contains a lot of little self-referential asides, of the sort that people of Smith's generation (by which I suppose I mean, broadly speaking, myself) can write in their sleep, but again, I would rather watch Zadie Smith sleep than just about anyone else dance the macarena. She drops in sentences like "It was 1956, as mentioned above" without batting an eye, and offers this wonderful take on contemporary dying:

This is reminiscent of all the dutiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren lingering over deathbeds with digital recorders, or else maniacally pursuing their ancestors through online geneaology sites at three in the morning, so very eager to reconstitute the lives and thoughts of dead and soon-to-be-dead men, though they may regularly screen the phone calls of their own mothers. I am of that generation. I will do anything for my family except see them.

That may not make her an "innovator," but, like everything else she does, it makes her awesome.


Anonymous said...

I may be of a different generation, but I can definitely relate with "I will do anything for my family except see them." It often makes me feel bad, but at least I'm not alone.

zoe p. said...

Oooh, I wish I wrote that, "I'm not much for themed anything, but especially dislike themed New Yorkers." Haven't been able to open innovations issue myself yet . . .

Anonymous said...

You might want to check out Writers and Company on for an audio interview with Zadie Smith. Listening to her speak is almost as entertaining as reading her words.