- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

For some time now, I haven’t felt in sync with the pointed PC slant of the New Yorker on matters political. To be fair, though, I have to say the magazine’s May 24 issue held me entranced.

After a quick skim of Seymour Hersh’s article on how a secret Pentagon program reportedly came to Abu Ghraib prison (a story that would turn out to make quite an impact in the media in the days that followed), I started on David Grann’s A Reporter at Large feature, “The Squid Hunter,” and found myself totally and compulsively hooked.

Unless you’re turned off by anything dealing with the ocean, I doubt you’ll be able to put the magazine down until you have finished this genuinely suspenseful read.

The eponymous monster of the deep is one mighty creature. “A fully grown giant squid is classified as the largest invertebrate on Earth, with tentacles sometimes as long as a city bus and eyes the size of human heads. Yet no scientist has ever examined a live specimen — or seen one swimming in the sea,” Mr. Grann writes.

Mr. Grann, identified as a New Yorker staff writer, went out to sea, twice accompanying scientists on quests to find this extraordinary being. On his first voyage, Mr. Grann accompanied Bruce Robinson, an American backed by an independent billionaire technology guru, on an expedition to sink a robot worth $10 million in Monterey Canyon, an underwater canyon that’s 2 miles deep.

The second time, he set sail with a young New Zealander, Steve O’Shea, in what would become a pretty hairy adventure for both men. Mr O’Shea, it should be noted, has daringly developed a system for collecting the giant squid while it’s still in the form of a minuscule, freshly laid egg. (A pregnant squid expels thousands of progeny at a time.) Once collected, it’s raised to adulthood in a specially devised laboratory.

Not only does Mr. Grann serve up amazing information about this monster of the deep, but he also proves himself to be a remarkably deft, first-rate writer. He makes his reader feel the experience of being in a small, barely waterproof vessel tossing about as a typhoon hits in the rough waters off New Zealand at night. It’s heady stuff, written with grace, intelligence, wit and considerable insight into the men who quest after this practically mythological creature. David Grann … don’t forget that name.

Perhaps this grand piece of writing was making me singularly indulgent, but I also found much to admire in Nicholas Lemann’s “The Wayward Press,” a feature on the career of TV interviewer Tim Russert and his freshly published memoir on his father, “Big Russ & Me.”

Praise also goes to Paul Goldberger’s piece on architect Rem Koolhaas’ stunning new Seattle Public Library (Mr. Goldberger has just been named dean of the Parsons School of Design) and to Joan Acocella — who delivers a singularly informative and perceptive analysis on how avant-garde dancer-choreographer Mark Morris has reshaped “Sylvia,” a century-old ballet set to a score by Leo Delibes, into something vital.

Rounding out this gold-star issue is “Hell-Heaven,” a short story about a little Bengali family in Cambridge, Mass., and how two lonely people work through their isolation in an alien land, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri.

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After the sheer unadulterated pleasure of reading this issue of the New Yorker, it’s a bit hard to drop back to the regular run of magazines. There are, however, other articles worth discovering in a host of publications. Case in point: the June issue of Scuba Diving, a natural segue from the aforementioned giant squid story in the New Yorker.

Personally, I don’t dive. Indeed, I don’t even swim, but boy, does this issue set imagination aflame. The big feature story “Top Ten Big Animal Dives” lists the best places to come face to face with sharks, dolphins and mantas — but no giant squid, thank you very much.

In addition to some stunning underwater photography, the issue features an article on how to survive any diving catastrophe … and the editors really mean catastrophe. Among the examples cited in the story: “saving yourself from a panicked buddy,” “getting lost under water at night … and your light dies … and you’ve lost your buddy” and (egads) “losing a limb to a shark.”

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A short time ago, New York magazine changed ownership. The look of the publication stays more or less the same in layout — although there’s a short note at the foot of the masthead every week pointing out certain features, such as Best Bets, Passionate Shopper, New York Intelligencer and the like. Each one, the note reads, is a major topic heading in the old New York, and they are to be considered “registered trademarks, and the use of these trademarks is strictly prohibited.” You’ll likely need a magnifying glass to read it, though, because the disclaimer appears in extremely tiny type.

The May 17 New York includes a feature on the latest Big Apple gourmet cuisine. (Well, I suppose you might call it that.) The story, titled “Extreme Eating” (stop reading here if you’re about to go to lunch) includes a subhead that reads, “The city is awash in goats’ heads, cockscombs, and corn smut. Yum.”

Grasshopper tacos, anyone? Or how about salt-and-pepper frogs deep-fried? They have a “light, yielding catfishlike flesh, if catfish had long muscular legs,” according to the magazine.

This same issue also features a hottie of a new fashion photographer specializing in bondage and such. The photographer, Steven Klein, recently did an advertising spread for the Canadian-Italo label Dsquared2 that has run in European fashion magazines but not in U.S. publications — and is pretty unlikely to be seen in the latter. Its provocative images include a well-built young man who’s naked with the exception of a few leaves around his loins. He lies on the ground with two attractive young women pulling on cords that bind him.

This, Mr. Klein says, involves “the idea of women in power. It’s about these women tying up men in the woods, kind of stripping them down and raping them and stuff like that.”

Presumably, the editors made the decision to run the pictures and the article without making any reference to those female soldiers with the Iraqi prisoners. The picture is, however, shocking.

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