The Carl Online


Norm Coleman Loves The New Yorker by Alex Sciuto
November 26, 2008, 9:19 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , ,

But Im hot on the trail of my Google Doppelganger

On the drive home from Minnesota, in order to pass the time in the back seat of a Volvo driving through hours and hours of cornfields and the occassional Iowan town (Waterloo 4EVA!), I read for the first time a New Yorker magazine front to back. While the shock of realizing all that ten-point-font restaurant/concert/theater/movie front matter had maybe 5% more relevance to a Midwesterner like myself than I expected bringing the total relevance to a grand 5%, what I came away most remembering are the uniquely long physical descriptions of anyone mentioned moderately prominently in the magazine’s main articles.

Anyone who reads the magazine casually knows about the paragraph long descriptions of how a person looks and talks and walks that give the story a bonanza of incidental details that I guess the New Yorker’s editors think is the essence of its journalistic brand. The article about the crazy rebel who starts a brewery needs a description of his chiseled jaw and the swagger of his walk just like the profile of T.I. needs a description of his rock-hard abs to go along with coverage of his weapons charges. I don’t dislike these paragraphs, and they often give the New Yorker’s writers, all of whom are excellent, the chance to flex their descriptive powers.

I wanted to note in this post the frequency of them, but also how they vary. There’s one about a Chinese restaurant proprietor (square jaw, cigarette in his mouth, dark bushy hair, and a good socialist name that no one uses opting for his nickname), one about the restauranteur’s chef (gruff-voiced, thick eyebrows, sense of humor). Another character, a BBQ restaurant owner, also gets a paragraph devoted to his nickname and his ramshackle resume.

Listed and delineated with commas, the details are all similar, but the blending of details into narrative differs with each author. None of the writers drop a description into the story. The best one in the issue I read concerned the rebellious brewer because of how Burkhard Bilger brought the description back into the story. He ended describing the brewer’s voice (“his lips twist slightly to the side and his voice comes out low and wooly”) and, the final line was a quote. The quote, in relation to the description, appeared just as an good example of his diction, but when the next paragraph was read, the quote started the next part of the story. The description served not only to illuminate, but also served a structural purpose, denoting a new setting for the article’s narrative.

It was a lovely moment for me. I started the paragraph expecting the normal, but the end twisted my expectations making the descriptions something more than prettily arranged observed details.

Oh and Al Franken/Norm Coleman. Here’s a post from FiveThiryEight.com containing a primer on all the ballot challenges that are being mentioned in the news and on the web. If you don’t want to take the time to read the entire post, the gist of the post is that the numbers being mentioned daily of who is winning and by how many dozens of votes is meaningless. One type of challenge (the most popular) gives a candidate an immediate additional vote that will probably be dismissed when the challenge is actually arbitrated. We all know that the numbers are provisional, but until I read the post, I didn’t realize how provisional they really were.

-Alex Sciuto

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