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June 2, 2006

OGIC: James and the giant slab

Regarding The Complete New Yorker, I'll reluctantly admit to still being part of the camp James Wolcott describes like this:

An odd thing happened. It arrived, wrapped in plastic, and there it sat, wrapped in plastic. For weeks, months. I had read a few raised-nostril reviews of The Complete New Yorker that lauded its scope, refinement, and handsome presentation, but criticized its search engine, the awkwardness of inserting a different disk for each decade, the misspellings in the synopses (dismaying, given the magazine's reputation for meticulousness), and the inability to cut-and-paste. But it wasn't underwhelmed reviews that deterred me from cracking open the package, and I discovered through comparing notes that others shared my paralysis. Wherever literati types gathered to namedrop and glance over each other's shoulders, unopened sets of The Complete New Yorker seemed to loom in the background, like the slab from 2001. Editors, agents, and fellow writers admitted that they too had bought the set or received it as a gift, but somehow "hadn't gotten around" to opening it yet--or hadn't been able to bring themselves to. They sounded vaguely sheepish and guilty, as if shirking their duty, or shying away from what lay within. You would have thought that to pry open the gatefold to The Complete New Yorker was to enter the forbidden tomb from which no man or woman returns.

Presumably under threat of the New Criterion's everlasting ire, Wolcott finally unplasticked his slab and records his impressions in an garrulous but engaging thicket of a consideration that comes as close as one would wish to exhaustive coverage of the eight-disc behemoth. A good read and a survey of highlights for those who, like me, want to delve in armed with some manner of compass.

Posted June 2, 2006 12:41 PM

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