Book Review: About Town

About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made
By Ben Yagoda

Lately I've been really focusing on the enjoyment of books and writing again. My lack of reading, then lack of writing and subsequent lack of knowledge consumption and creation has gone on too long. About Town would normally have taken me much longer to finish, but I got in there quick and stayed absorbed, even though I took many breaks for notes and looking up words. Glad I was in this mode for this title; it was quite good. It wove together some of my favorite things - writing, history and The New Yorker.

As I prepared to write, I realized that I am likely going to read most of Ben Yagoda's books. Initially I thought this was one of my wildcard books, but then realized I added it to my reading list when after I read Yagoda's Memoir: A History. My experience reading this book was very different from reading the book about memoirs. It was interesting even when it went into lists, which I didn't like in Memoir. I think I read a review that said About Town was slow moving and while I can see that being possible, I really enjoyed the book more as I read along. This history of The New Yorker made me conjure lists of my own and I really enjoyed this non-fiction reading experience.

First, this book really grew my reading list and reminded me of some titles I've forgotten to transfer to new lists. There are a couple works that I thought to reread, namely Hiroshima and In Cold Blood. Most of the new stuff on the list appears to be non-fiction, but I was dazzled by all the great authors and specific works named in About Town. There are actually a lot of interesting pieces published in other magazines, which are noted. The list is mostly in chronological order.
  • Book: Keep Your Head Down by Walter Bernstein, 1945. Collection of the New Yorker's articles/letters on WWII.
  • "The Beautiful Spoils" by Janet Flanner, 1947. Piece about the Nazi's plunder of art during WWII.
  • Essay in Holiday by E.B. White: "Here is New York", 1948
  • Fiction: "The Enormous Radio" by John Cheever, 1947. The story is about a radio that starts transmitting other people's lives.
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality by Hannah Arendt. I've only read some of this book for a class. Heavy stuff, but I must get back to it.
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Same thing, this is a book that I have to get back to.
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Book of two important essays on race relations.
  • "The Honoured Society" by Norman Lewis. About the mafia.
  • Look into profiles published in Esquire by author Gay Talese on Frank Sinatra, Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio.
  • Wanted to look up pretty much anything by Richard Harris. My notes indicate that in 1966 he detailed how the American Medical Association sabotaged Medicare. Interestingly, in 1968 he also wrote about how the National Rifle Association sabotaged gun legislation. It would be fascinating to read about these issues from the 1960s perspective.
  • "Village of Ben Suc" by Jonathen Schell, July 15, 1967
  • Talk piece on Milton and Rose Friedman in the form of an expense account by Jamaica Kincaid.
  • Book: Happy to Be Here and short story "Local Family Keeps Son Happy", both by Garrison Keillor. I love that guy.
  • "A Welfare Mother" by Susan Sheehan, 1975
Honestly, I'm looking at this list and think there there's a lot I didn't take note of. I really thought the writing allowed for quick reading, which pulls me away from taking those kinds of pauses in reading. So much great stuff in this book. It got hard to keep track.

Okay, so the other list I found myself developing was that of words, some new, some I just never took the time to look up or remember how to spell. There were a lot of interesting words to feast one's eyes one.
  • contrivance
  • hokum
  • solecism
  • ostentatious
  • faux-naif
  • acerbic
  • filial
  • palsy
  • deleterious
  • prescience
  • ennui
  • elegiac
  • calumny
  • jeremiad
That's good stuff.

Merry Christmas!

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