The New Yorker is a demanding magazine. It arrives weekly, and its pages are packed with a multitude of worthy reading.
There are news articles, poems, essays, book reviews, pieces on music and art and movies, as well as pithy and humorous cartoons. Indeed, each issue of The New Yorker is robust.
The vastness of content makes it easy to justify the magazine’s annual subscription cost. And this justification is made all the easier for our household, as a family member gifts us a subscription each year at Christmas.
But as full as each issue of The New Yorker is, it also presents a weekly battle. Nearly every New Yorker subscriber fights these battles, battles in the ever-escalating war for our attention.
How can a working person with at least marginal personal relationships and a list of TV shows to watch keep up with reading a weekly periodical as full-bodied as The New Yorker?
Here’s how I do it.
A System That’s Not for Everyone
First, let me clarify: I do not read every issue of The New Yorker from cover to cover.
If you’ve come to this article hoping for some tip or trick to doing so, let me save you the effort. I don’t have that insight for you.
Rather than waste time reading this piece, you can probably make better use of your time. Say, for example, by getting started on this week’s New Yorker.
Secondly, there are some weeks in my life when The New Yorker lies wantingly unopened on our coffee table. Life gets busy.
But I complete the process of reading The New Yorker that I outline below about three out of every four issues. If I were a baseball player, I could make millions off of that average.
Lastly, let me say that much like being vegan or growing out a beard, this approach may not be for everyone. It’s simply what works for me. And maybe it will work for you.
I make no guarantee, offer no refunds or exchanges, even with a receipt.
With that out of the way, let’s dissect each issue of the magazine.
Dissecting The New Yorker
There are short pieces about happenings in New York City. These sections are titled “Goings On About Town” and “The Talk of the Town.”
Then there are usually one or two news articles. These are in-depth, highly researched looks into a variety of topics, from immigration to scientific discoveries. Politics plays a part in many of these features.
Some issues contain profiles of successful, artsy people, such as writers or filmmakers.
There’s an interlude item, “Shouts & Murmurs.” This is a one-page amusing read which is The New Yorker’s version of an awards show host, in that it inserts a bit of humor in between bouts of taking care of business.
Likewise, each edition of the magazine contains two poems. Sticking with the treating reading-The-New-Yorker-as-an-awards-show metaphor, the poems are the in memoriam parts of the show.
Not that all of the poems are sad. But I wanted to take the awards show analogy to its limit.
There’s also a short story in each issue, followed by a series of reviews on books, poetry collections, art, films, and TV shows.
Lastly, there’s the popular Cartoon Caption Contest on the magazine’s last page.
OK, that’s what’s in most issues of The New Yorker. Now let me share with you how I get mostly through each edition most weeks.
Reading (Most of) The New Yorker
The first thing I do with The New Yorker each week is to look at the table of contents.
I place the issue’s pieces into three categories: Will Definitely Read, Will Aspirationally Read, Will Ignore.
Articles that almost always fall into the Will Definitely Read category are profiles of creative people. I love to read about artists of various mediums, and doing so often inspires me.
I also always read the poems, and, when they appear, I make sure to read Dan Chiasson’s poetry reviews.
What you want to read may differ from my preferences. Your questionable tastes aside, that’s OK. The point is to identify two or three items from the magazine for the Will Definitely Read category.
Will Aspirationally Read is a category for items I want to read but will have to miss if life throws a temper tantrum. Most anything can fall into this category. Often, it’s the reviews of books and the short story.
As a writer, not committing to book reviews and fiction are tough choices. But we live in an era of sacrifices.
The in-depth reporting articles sometimes fall into the Will Aspirationally Read category, and sometimes they drop into the Will Ignore. This decision is based on a piece’s subject matter.
If it’s highly political, I usually ignore it. I get enough political news already.
Likewise, movie and TV show reviews are for me always Will Ignore items. I get plenty of TV show and movie recommendations from friends, my hair stylist, neighbor’s dog, and so forth.
Alright, we’ve now arrived at the most controversial part of my approach: A batch of content that I always put in the Will Ignore category.
Now for Some Controversy
I am not from New York City. And I’ve never lived there, though I do visit frequently enough, as my fiancé grew up in New York and still has family and friends there.
Indeed, I spend a good-sized fraction of my life in New York City or being around people who live there.
What this means is that I feel as if I have a pretty good sense of what’s happening in New York.
I hear about the shows that people are seeing, the local political issues everyone’s debating. I learn about controversial construction projects and things like rats delivering pizza.
No, it’s not the same as living in New York.
But reading a magazine isn’t the same as living in New York, either, which is my way of saying this: The “Goings On About Town” and “Talk of the Town” sections of The New Yorker immediately fall into my Will Ignore category.
Now, I recognize this may be radical to some, especially to New Yorkers. I can hear them asking, Why would someone not want to hear about what’s happening in New York City?
Well, let me explain.
Enough of New York
As I mentioned, it seems to me that I get a lot of info about what’s going on in New York from the people in my life.
And not living in New York, I’m not sure why I need to know what restaurants are trending or which plays or musicals or concerts or art shows everyone is talking about. Besides, based on all available evidence, even if I lived in New York I wouldn’t be able to afford to see and do those things, anyway.
So in a life filled with tough choices, such as what to read in each issue of The New Yorker, skipping the New York City-focused stuff is an easy one for me.
Doing so lops off about 30-something pages from each issue. This makes a roughly 75-page edition much more manageable.
And that’s my approach to reading The New Yorker most weeks.
Again, it’s not for everyone. In particular, New Yorkers may take issue with this approach.
But if you struggle to get through at least three of four issues of the magazine, especially if you feel feelings of guilt about this, give my method a try.
Pretend the stuff about New York City doesn’t exist. Identify the articles you definitely will read. Pick a few you’ll read if the going gets good, and toss the rest into the ignore pile.
Do this and you, too, can read most of The New Yorker most weeks.