Looking at David Remnick’s collected reportage

Reporting: Writings from The New YorkerReporting: Writings from The New Yorker by David Remnick

Okay folks, confession time. And it’s a confession in the form of a question: does anyone else here feel compelled, every time they wander into a library, to sit down by the magazines and rip through the latest issue of The New Yorker?

I’m not a giant fan of the magazine – it’s a little highbrow for my tastes sometimes – but there’s still something every week or two which I’ll read with enjoyment: sometimes it’s a review, sometimes it’s a short story but usually it’s one of the longer features. And more often than not, it’s something by David Remnick. So I had high hopes for Reporting.

A collection of current New Yorker editor David Remnick’s essays and longform reportage for the magazine which has him covering a bit of everything: there are stories on novels, stories on places, stories on politics and stories about sports. It covers a range of topics and although Reporting is a nice collection, it’s also a mixed bag.

I suppose this happens with any collection of journalism: written on deadline around ten years (or longer) ago. Often, they’re looking back at just-past events and trying to look at what happens next. But years later, we already know what happened next. And this hindsight can make a reporter look like a genius, a fool or sometimes just naive. This hindsight makes some of these essays come off as dated. There’s one about how Ariel Sharon is reshaping Israeli politics more towards the centre, away from the far-right. Funny how that one turned out. Or the one about how Vladimir Putin is modernizing Russia, taking it past all the corruption problems of the Yeltsin years. I wonder what Mark Ames would think of that.

The book’s split by topic, including sections on the middle east, on Russia and on literature. The literature section is includes an interesting profile on Don DeLillo and another on Solzhenitsyn in exile in Vermont (less interesting is him on Philip Roth). Elsewhere, Remnick writes  on Tony Blair, just after he dragged the UK into Iraq, on Putin, on the husband-and-wife translating duo Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and several times on Israel and the PLO.

The last section (my favorite, actually) is on boxing, or more specifically, on Mike Tyson: on his mayhem-stricken bout against Evander Holyfield, on Teddy Atlas and Lennox Lewis and about final bouts of Tyson’s career. These have Remnick’s writing at it’s best, when he’s off on something he clearly enjoys and has been set loose somewhere big, either right before some action (like before the Tyson/Evander Holyfield fight) or right after, like in his piece about New Orleans post-Katrina, another standout. But elsewhere, when he’s interviewing politicians and trying to probe into people like Blair or Putin, it’s hard to shake the hindsight, which is too bad because his writing is pretty great: he’s got a knack for capturing the feeling in a room, like when a satirical TV show sends a kid to ask Blair tough questions.

Rating: 6/10. On the whole, it’s a good collection of non-fiction and although I wouldn’t rank it among the best collection of New Yorker material I’ve read (that honor still goes to Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer), it’s still worth a read if you’re a fan of the magazine or of Remnick’s other books, like Lenin’s Tomb or King of the World.




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