The electronic age may have done me in. I have just received a set of eight DVDs that contains every page of every weekly issue of The New Yorker magazine since its inception in 1925 through to 2005. All of that for only $20. How could I resist? (Available on NewYorker.com or Amazon. The original publication price was $100, and even that was a bargain.) Every article by E. B. White, James Thurber, Donald Barthelme, John McPhee, John Updike, Ved Mehta. Every pompous advertisement. Every cartoon by Saul Steinberg, James Thurber (again), George Booth, Peter Arno, George Price, Roz Chast. Even many complete books, such as Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” that were published in installments. It boggles the mind. It is 500,000 pages in 4,109 issues. At my normal reading rate of one issue per week, that will take me to age 152. Thurber alone has over 600 drawings and 300 articles.
My association with The New Yorker goes back to junior high school when my sister, three years older, had a subscription. She was the brainy one, editor of our high school newspaper, the Garnet & Gray (remember that one?), and valedictorian of her senior class. I started my own subscription probably in the late 1960s and have had it ever since. My attic still has cardboard boxes filled with articles, cartoons, and covers I have saved. Now they can go.
The New Yorker disk set comes with a book that has already been useful. H.L. Mencken, it tells me, answered all letters of criticism, no matter how vitriolic, with the same “Dear Sir (or Madame), You may be right. Sincerely, HLM.” I used that reply today in my own house.
The display of the DVD pages is quick and clear. Each can be zoomed in or out. Browsing can be page-by-page, cartoons only, or covers only. Articles are indexed by authors and keywords. All work smoothly and efficiently. You can even bookmark items you’ve found and list them with notes for easy recall. Before the 1990s, The New Yorker had no table of contents and many articles and comments were unattributed. The DVD indexes contain this data gleaned from their internal card files and provides some surprises.
I may disappear from the world altogether, only to be found in the distant future as a musty, shriveled mummy, my dead hand forever clutching the mouse, huddled for eternity against my long silent computer, its ever-flashing LEDs the only remaining sign of a meaningful life that once was. But my blackened, leathery lips will be frozen in an everlasting chuckle.
Now, excuse me, but I’ve got some reading to do.