Life Stories: Profiles from The New Yorker
Starting with its light fantastic evocations of the glamorous and the idiosyncratic in the twenties and continuing to the present, with complex pictures of such contemporaries as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Richard Pryor, The New Yorker's Profiles have presented readers with a vast and brilliant portrait gallery of our day and age. These literary-journalistic investigations into character and accomplishment, motive and madness, beauty and ugliness, are unrivaled in their range, variety of style, and embrace of humanity.
To help mark the occasion of The New Yorker's seventy-fifth anniversary, Life Stories puts into one volume, for the first time, some of the most outstanding examples of this exemplary tradition. Here you will find Wolcott Gibbs on Henry Luce, Lillian Ross on Ernest Hemingway, and Susan Orlean on show dog Biff Truesdale. And in some of the exhibit's many other rooms you will find startling likenesses of Marlon Brando by Truman Capote, magician Ricky Jay by Mark Singer, pitcher Steve Blass by Roger Angell, and Anatole Broyard by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
When they were first published in the magazine, these essential biographies brought insight, amusement, understanding, and, often, joy or sorrow to those who read them. Gathered together here, in Life Stories, they provide us with an album of our era, a rich and diverse appraisal of some of the most prominent members of an entire century's cast.
Way back in 1926 the founding editor of The New Yorker suggested that the title Profiles be registered with the copyright bureau. Harold Ross had ample reason, for though he didn't invent the word itself, he certainly invested it with new significance. Over the years, New Yorker Profiles came to represent a new kind of biography: concise, well-researched, and impeccably written sketches of personalities who were often famous--but just as often not. Take for example "Mr. Hunter's Grave," Joseph Mitchell's 1956 Profile of George H. Hunter, the 87-year-old chairman of the board of trustees of the African Methodist church on Staten Island. This delightful piece leads off a select group of Profiles culled from The New Yorker's first 75 years and collected in Life Stories, edited by David Remnick. More a study of a place and a way of life than of a particular man, Mitchell's Profile stretched the parameters of the form. To long-time readers of the New Yorker, one of the reasons to welcome this excellent collection of 43 stories written over the past seven decades will be the recollection of their first encounters with some of the writers who were fresh new voices when their stories set in Manhattan first appeared. Such then-newcomers as Lorrie Moore, Jeffrey Eugenides, Deborah Eisenberg, Anne Beattie and Laurie Colwin portray New York in their distinctive voices. The literary Old Guard is here in solid phalanx too: stories by John Updike, Bernard Malamud, John O'Hara, Elizabeth Hardwick, John Cheever, Peter Taylor and William Maxwell define aspects of their decades with timeless clarity. Holden Morrisey Caulfield makes his debut in J. P. Salinger's "A Slight Rebellion Off Madison"(1946); Philip Roth's millionaire author Zuckerman is accosted on Second Avenue in "Smart Money"(1981); one of Isaac Bashevis Singer's innumerable group of displaced Jews and ardent lovers holds forth in "The Cafeteria" (1968) on the Lower East Side. At opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, two entries, Woody Allen's "The Whore of Mensa," (1974) and "Mid-Air" (1984), by Frank Conroy, have become classics. Published this year, Jonathan Franzen's "The Failure" defines the '90s in the city, yet Maeve Brennan's 1966 "I See You, Bianca," a quiet narrative about loss highlighted by "the struggle for space in Manhattan," could have been written today. If Dorothy Parker's wit now seems shrill ("Arrangement in Black and White," 1927 ), and Irwin Shaw's "Sailor Off the Bremen," from the same year, seems mannered, Jean Stafford's "Children Are Bored on Sunday"(1948), still resonates with a peculiarly New York atmosphere. Of course, there are tales from such New Yorker stalwarts as John McNulty, S. J. Perelman, E. B. White and James Thurber. Manhattan as geographical area and emotional landscape takes visible shape as haven and hell, locus of opportunity and of dead end lives. Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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