Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My roadtrip reading this past week was Brendan Gill's "Here at the New Yorker", his 1975 memoir about his time at the magazine. I was an undergraduate so long ago that getting into law school was by no means a sure thing. It was competitive, (only two other people from my graduating class went on), and it made sense to at least think about alternatives. In my naivete I entertained notions of pursuing graduate studies in each of my majors, and one area I thought I might be interested in becoming expert in was the oeuvre of The New Yorker. I thought then, and I continue to believe, that the influence of that publication was profound and far-reaching, and it might have been an interesting project. Mercifully I was called to the bar and the world was spared, but during that time I read quite a bit about the writers and editors and hangers-on that inhabited the place. I had not read Gill's book, though. The reviews suggested that it was grumpy, and that it was filled with a lot of payback, and although Gill had been at the magazine as long or longer than anyone, and had, by his count, written more for it than anyone, I was put off. (In fact, at his death in 1997 he was one of the only writers to have worked with all of the editors the magazine

I suppose I needn't have been. It is full of gossip, much of which is mean-spirited, although he at least had the class to reserve the cruelest anecdotes for the deceased-- for the living, and particularly for William Shawn there is mostly fawning praise. Gill writes as though the reader must certainly be familiar with his work, and I suppose anyone who would read a book like "Here at the New Yorker" would be, but as a literary figure I think it is probably safe to say that this is the work he'd most likely be remembered for, rather than any of the seven other volumes listed on the flyleaf. I recall his writing about architecture, but you could put a gun to my head and I couldn't tell you anything about his film or theater criticism. He was sort of a utility infielder at the magazine, it seems to me, and the sense I got of what he was like personally was that he was likable enough, if he liked you. Although his mother died when he was young, he was nevertheless the child of privilage, a doctor's son. Yale, and a Bonesman, which means that although he'd probably be interesting to have a drink with, he'd have been unlikely to have me over to the Century Club to do so.

The book itself is a curious thing. Nearly 400 pages long, it is anecdotal and discursive. It's methodology seems to be to take up in turn as many people-- editors, writers, artists, what have you, relate a little story about each, and then move on to the next. It does not hang together as well as a New Yorker article does-- it is almost like 400 pages of "Talk of the Town" writing, only not really as good. I've read probably as many of the other memoirs about the magazine as anyone-- I think I've read them all now-- and there was dish here that was new to me, but none of it was particularly illuminating. It wasn't deep dish, let's put it that way, and it would not have been very useful to me in my long-ago abandoned project.

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