Unruled Paper

by Steve Mitchell

New York, New Yorker EditionOf course, The New Yorker has always been the tony place for fiction and poetry, beginning early on with the likes of E.B. White, Dorothy Parker, and James Thurber. Some people (but we’re not those kinds of people, are we?) can go on and on about which period was the golden age of The New Yorker and who was responsible for its decline. Nevertheless, the magazine has provided a home, and a weekly paycheck, to some of our best non-fiction writers. Below are a few of the stand-outs.Books

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm“Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” That’s the first sentence from this book, an investigation into the relationship between convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald and journalist Joe McGinniss, who eventually wrote a damning book about the MacDonald case.Janet Malcolm is straight up brilliant. She’s carved out her own place in journalism by finding angles no one has noticed, by spending years in mind-numbing research in order to distill the essence of a court case or a murder. In this book, not only does she explore the ins and outs of the specific case but, as indicated by the sentence above, investigates exactly what journalism is, or could be. Here’s an overview of Malcolm’s decades-long career.

After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction by Renata AdlerAs a journalist, Renata Adler can be a complete provocateur or an amazingly objective and sober assessor of the facts. This is a woman who spent a year writing for The New York Times, then wrote a book about their editorial issues and infrastructure problems, the problems of journalism as an institution. This is the woman who wrote at The New Yorker for years, then in the fallout from the firing of William Shawn, wrote a book about the insular environment of the publication and its decline.This book is a collection of her work over a number of years, first reporting on the Selma marches with Martin Luther King, the Watergate trials, the Biafran famine, as well as cultural events of her time. Her takedown of Pauline Kael’s film criticism included here (see Kael below) is one of the most blistering attacks on a cultural icon around. It’s included here, just for fun.Here’s a provocative review from The Atlantic.

Speedboat by Renata AdlerIncisive but oblique, hard-edged and occasionally tender, funny (because you have to laugh), Speedboat is told in short vignettes: a year or two in the life of a female journalist, her loves, her dinner parties, her assignments. A nearly perfect book and an excellent evocation of the middle 70’s.”The weather last Friday was terrible. The flight to Martha’s Vineyard was ‘decisional.” “What does ‘decisional’ mean?” a small boy asked. “It means we might have to land in Hyannis,” his mother said.It is hard to understand how anyone learns anything.”Here’s Slate on the re-issue of Speedboat.

5001 Nights at the Movies by Pauline KaelPauline Kael essentially wrote the book on a certain kind of film criticism. In an age when film was coming into its own as an art form, when foreign films were just beginning to go into wide release in America, when the ideas of film were talked about instead of the grosses, Kael was there. The reviews collected here cover years and years of filmgoing; Kael even returns to offer her opinions of classics. Her reviews can be fierce and intimate. They are always intelligent and idiosyncratic, even when she is completely wrong. A little sample of Kael’s work:

White Girls by Hilton Als“Anybody in this world can be read,” 22-year-old Maliek Wynn of Brooklyn said to me. “You read somebody to throw shade “” in a bad and good way. You’re tellin’ someone about themselves. Tellin’ everything “” left, right, up, down, inside, out. And it’s an education behind the telling. That’s why it’s a read.”In this collection of essays, Als gives us his wide-ranging take on culture, gender, and identity issues while detailing his conception of ‘White Girls.” For Als, White Girls include Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson. But, to discover how he sees these disparate figures related, you just have to read the book.The New York Times has this to say about White Girls:

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip GourevitchIn writing about the Rwandan genocide, Gourevitch not only documents cases of remarkable courage and bravery, he also explores the ways in which cultures deal with horror and grief, the way grief seeps into memory, and the ways memory transforms the past. He investigates what it means to survive, and whether the surviving is a blessing or a curse.Here’s a Frontline interview with Gourevitch on the Rwandan genocide.EventsJanuary is such a trivial month for events.Pub Trivia at Gibbs HundredWednesday, January 6, 8pmLewis Street, GreensboroWit & Spark Trivia with Eric OakleyTuesday, January 19, 7:30 pmScuppernong Books, 304 S. Elm, GreensboroTuesday and Thursday Night Trivia at Foothills BrewingEvery Tuesday and Thursday night, 9-11pm638 West Fourth Street, Winston SalemAnd,Chloë Sevigny’s Guide to Being a New Yorker

Please send any announcements of writerly or bookish events in the Triad area or beyond to: neuralarts@triad.rr.comSteve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published by Press 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He’s co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC.