Saturday, March 19, 2005

Brian and Cedric on the link to Vanity Fair

Brian: I'm all for more voices but I must say I'm a little surprised to see Vanity Fair posted as a link on the side. I don't think I've picked that magazine up since Demi Moore was naked on the cover so I don't pretend to be an expert on it. I'm just wondering why it's linked to?

Good question. There are certainly other magazines out there. Vanity Fair usually features at least one strong article an issue on something non-celebrity. In addition, you get James Wolcott.
But there are times when you get a great deal more in terms of politics and sociology.

No, I'm not putting it on par with The Nation, The Progressive, Clamor or In These Times (to cite only four). But they are increasing their online content. And from personal experience, I can attest that people who didn't care to read (for instance) David Corn's coverage of the outing of Valerie Plame were more than willing to read about the same issue when it was covered in a high gloss magazine. They've done some hardhitting stories that are often overlooked.

That's partly because they are new to online content (for sometime, the online site offered you the opportunity to subscribe and not a great deal more). But it's also because of the magazine's reptutation. If it's not for you, ignore the link. But Vanity Fair can reach an audience that others can't. (And other magazines can reach an audience that Vanity Fair can't.)

You can also factor in that I root for the underdog. (Which is probably obvious.) And while I subscribe to The New Yorker and enjoy the fine reporting of the likes of Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer (among others), I do wonder why the stories from that magazine get highlighted on radio, for instance, and there's little attention given to the one big story in each month's Vanity Fair. Three members did request the link after we'd started noting what was in Vanity Fair here but I'm sure I would have made it a link even if no one had asked for it.

As for whether or not it will speak to everyone, I'd argue no. There's no way anything can speak to everyone. Maybe it will speak to you (Brian) and maybe it won't. Again, if it doesn't ignore the link. But Cedric found something that spoke to him and e-mailed asking that it be highlighted.

Cedric: I'm really glad Vanity Fair is being linked to, though a little surprised. I think there's a great deal of writing worth noting in that magazine. And I really liked the article on Ian McEwan that they've got online. ["Ian McEwan's War Zone" by Holly Brubach.]

From the article:

McEwan wrote Saturday in the aftermath of 9/11. Long recognized as one of Britain's finest novelists, with a passionate following, a Booker Prize (for Amsterdam, in 1998), several screen adaptations (Enduring Love, The Innocent, others), and an extensive backlist still in print, he has lately ascended in England to the rank of rock star, albeit one who wears his celebrity like an ill-fitting suit. His expression, habitually kind and thoughtful, turns shy and even pained on those occasions when he is confronted with a camera. Now 56, with gray hair and a lean, angular build, he has an inescapably boyish demeanor. In London, he lives in a house on the corner of a leafy, neoclassical square whose low horizon line is broken by the 60s space-age profile of the British Telecom Tower. It is, as it happens, the house where Henry Perowne lives, approached via the same route Perowne drives on his way home. The parlor is identical: "the belittlingly high ceiling and its mouldings, the Bridget Riley prints flanking the Hodgkin, the muted lamps, the cherry wood floor beneath the Persian rugs, the careless piles of serious books, the decades of polish in the thakat table," flanked by a pair of leather couches. The kitchen, downstairs, is the kitchen in which Perowne cooks dinner. Entering McEwan's house, a visitor has the eerie sensation of stepping into the novel, of being Perowne's guest as well as McEwan's.
Like many of his previous novels, Saturday excavates ground that literary fiction has customarily ceded to journalism. The action takes place in a span of 24 hours, on the day of a massive anti-war demonstration in London in the spring of 2003, four weeks prior to the American invasion of Iraq. As Perowne goes about the business of his weekend--playing squash, anticipating his daughter's arrival from Paris, buying shellfish, visiting his elderly mother--he contemplates whether the world has been changed irrevocably.
"The debate that goes on in his mind is the debate that goes on in my mind," McEwan says, "and the answer is both yes and no. At some point, the street seems so reassuringly normal and the night thoughts fade away. And then he opens a book by Fred Halliday, a respected academic, and reads that we're at the beginning of a hundred-year crisis and feels not just the weight of history but the weight of the future: how is this going to go away? Especially if we begin to suspect that we're not really handling it very well. Sometimes when I'm listening to the news, I realize that all six items are actually 9/11-derived, whether it's an explosion in Iraq, the trial of British soldiers for maltreatment of Iraqi civilians, Condoleezza Rice being sworn in, some fresh little spat between the French and the Americans--you can trace them all back. When I was writing this book, the sense of the capital waiting for a bomb was overwhelming. The authorities have constantly told us that an attack is inevitable. I know they're simply covering their rears, but at the same time, I think, we all more or less agree. And I suppose there's some bleak truth in saying that this is ideal territory for a novelist--or, at least, my kind of novelist."
"My kind of novelist"--he says it as if there were plenty of other writers examining the way large-scale historical events intrude on the lives of individuals. In The Innocent, with its love story unfolding against the backdrop of Cold War Berlin, in Atonement, his last novel, in which the Second World War ultimately denies the characters any prospect of redemption, the past is sufficiently remote as to seem inevitable. In Saturday, it's the day before yesterday.
Perowne argues the case for the war in Iraq; his daughter is emphatically opposed. "That was a row going on in my own head," McEwan says. "Most people here were dead against the war, and I have to say that events have more or less proven them right. I could see only one case for intervention, and it was a moral, humanitarian one. The government here never made that case; it was always weapons of mass destruction. And I shared with many people the view that, however successful militarily, it would be very difficult for a Republican administration like the Bush administration to nation-build, because they actually don't have a strong concept of the state. What they have is a privatizing, free-market ideology, and I think out of that it's very difficult to build up a state."
Here is Henry Perowne on the uses of fiction: "The times are strange enough; why make things up?" He doesn't want to be a spectator of imaginary lives, he declares. "And it interests him less to have the world re-invented; he wants it explained." This was true for McEwan, too, at the time. "When I think of my own reading in the two years after 9/11," he says, "I was rather with Perowne--I didn't want that strenuous business of accepting all the premises of someone's invented world; I wanted to be informed about the world. So I read books on Islam, books on recent American history, books on the Middle East, books on terrorism--I just wanted other people's research and their expertise."

[Note: This post was done on Thursday. Brian's e-mail was sent on Monday, Cedric's on Wednesday. After this post was saved to draft, both were advised that a post would be going up on Saturday. And the e-mail address is for anyone who wants to weigh in on anything. Please note that your comments can be quoted if they're meant to be quoted and if you only would like one section of them quoted, please note which section.]