Monday, November 7th, 2011

John McPhee: "Who Could Tell What Might Happen?"

Why write about anything? In the print edition of today's New Yorker, John McPhee discusses rambling and thrashing his way into profile-writing.

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I have an incredible weakness for the old-school New Yorker profiles, particularly the ones where they come straight out and say "someone we know mentioned this guy who does this interesting thing, so we went over and talked with him." They're particularly great because not only do they point out how "we rushed right over" or how "we waited in the corridor for a while, unsure of how to approach" but also because they're invariably unexpectedly interesting in a way that the New Yorker presents as surprising to the writer as well as the reader.

Here's a good example from 1942 : the New Yorker goes to talk with the longest continuous resident of the Waldorf-Astoria and finds out that he's a retired admiral who invented the naval gunsight and the torpedo bomb, reads P.G. Wodehouse (but prefers Dickens), and has a chair in the Waldorf lobby permanently reserved for him. Of course, this being 1942, the New Yorker can't resist one closing query :

As we left the Admiral, we asked him the inevitable question: 'How long do you think the war will last?' 'How the hell should I know?' said he, reasonably, returning to Jeeves.

And fin. That, people, is how it's done.

Jillsy Sloper (#12,648)

Chemical tanker truck driver guy was really interesting. My favorite part was when he's at a weigh station and some federal agents ask to bring their drug-sniffing German shepherd into his cab. Chemical tanker truck driver guy says "Sorry, I'm allergic to dogs." Agent says "Oh, she won't hurt you." Chemical tanker truck driver guy says "No, I'm CONSTITUTIONALLY allergic to dogs." Agent gets the picture. I've been waiting years to steal that line.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Am I the only one who gets The New Yorker mixed up with Saturday Night Live? I might be.

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