The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine

The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine. Introduction by David Remnick. Random House, 2005; eight DVD-ROMs enclosed in a 123-page booklet, $100

FROM THE DUST JACKET:

Every page of every issue on eight DVD-ROMs, with a companion book of highlights. A cultural monument, a journalistic gold mine, an essential research tool, an amazing time machine.

What has the New Yorker said about Prohibition, Duke Ellington, the Second World War, Bette Davis, boxing, Winston Churchill, Citizen Kane, the invention of television, the Cold War, baseball, the lunar landing, Willem de Kooning, Madonna, the Internet, and 9/11?

Eighty years of The New Yorker offers a detailed, entertaining history of the life of the city, the nation, and the world since 1925.

Every article, every cartoon, every illustration, every advertisement exactly as it appeared on the printed page, in full color. Flip through full spreads of the magazine to browse headlines, artwork, ads, and cartoons, or zoom in on a single page, for closer viewing. Print any pages or covers you choose, or bookmark pages with your own notes.

Our powerful search environment allows you to home in on the pieces you want to see. Our entire history is catalogued by date, contributor, department, and subject.

4,109 issues. Yours to search and savor.

DVDs for computer use only.

System requirements: Windows 2000 and XP; Mac OS X 10.3 and higher.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Hartford Courant: Each page has been photocopied and reproduced in its entirety, ads, cartoons, and all. It's a little like 21st-century microfiche without the laceration dangers. Each disc contains roughly 10 years' worth of magazines. You have to manually load the disc you want to access the issues represented therein. (In other words, unless you are an accomplished geek, you cannot just dump all the contents onto the hard drive.)In a thoughtful and New Yorker -ish touch, you may explore issues by their cover. And, yes, you can limit your browsing to the cartoons only.

Newsday: ...the set displays on one's computer screen crisp scans of every page -- articles and advertisements -- of the magazine's 4,109 issues, from its 1925 inception to its 80th anniversary in February.

The ads alone provide an economic picture, The New Yorker 's current editor David Remnick says, of New York's middle and upper middle class: "What stores are around, what stores aren't around, what advertisers want to present as an ideal woman or man, passing prejudices, things that you would never say now that you could say then."

The software is searchable by author (or cartoon artist), department ("The Talk of the Town," "The Sporting Scene," etc.), year, issue, and cover. A handful of pre-made reading lists sort articles under such topics as "Humor Pieces" and "New York Stories."

Wireless News: ...the project consisted of processing more than half a million color scans, which resulted in highly compressed files that have far better image quality than JPEG. LizardTech's DjVu technology, which was developed in AT&T Research Labs, made more than 4,000 New Yorker issues available in a collection of eight DVDs.

"After extensive research, the only compression software we found that retained the beauty of The New Yorker 's illustrations, cartoons, and covers without distortion was the DjVu technology. In particular, [Lizard's] DjVu technology brilliantly compresses text without any loss of quality at greatly reduced file sizes. We could not have had even come close to the product we have without LizardTech's technology," said The New Yorker 's Edward Klaris.

A CONVERSATION WITH NEW YORKER EDITOR PAMELA MCCARTHY:

I confessed, "Since my copy of The Complete New Yorker arrived, I've not returned telephone calls, the dinner dishes heaped up, the living room carpet took on the look of carpet runners at downtown movie theaters."Ms. McCarthy laughed. "David Remnick [The New Yorker editor] came in on the Monday following our finishing the package, which he had taken home, and said, 'Oh my God, I'm addicted.' He said that he installed it and started looking and reading, and only hours and hours later he surfaced to see his children."

"How beautifully packaged it is! Everything about it is beautiful. I thought I'd never see another advertisement for de Pinna or for Anne Sexton's family's department store, Abraham & Straus."

"We included the book part. It's not a real book as you see, but we did want it to be in bookstores and in the books section and not the software section because the books section is where our readers are, obviously. So we were encouraged to create something book-like, and as we started to do that, I realized that it could be very helpful as a point of entry for people who didn't know the magazine or had some level of discomfort with technology. These people will, I hope, see some of these great old pieces and be seduced into popping the disc into their machine."

"How did you decide to do it?"

"We've wanted to do it for a long, long time -- eight years. There was a moment at which technology and our ability to give it the resources in terms of people and money and copyright law all came together -- December 2003."

"Copyright law must have been a nightmare."

"No, actually it turns out that if you do a re-creation that's page by page, identical to what you did originally, it's alright. The pages themselves are a static document."

"How was the index kept over all these years?"

"There is a library department here. We have two full-time librarians. From the early 1930s, librarians have created abstracts of each story every week. People who started in the early '30s went back and did the years that hadn't been done. It was little enough time so they could catch up. That's a tremendous resource. We've got a library with something in the vicinity of a million cards. It's what we've always used in order to find everything the magazine did by Edmund Wilson or what the magazine did on Iraq during 1990, what's the history there. And we would go to the index, which is so helpful. We've got the history of the better part of a century there, at your fingertips. It's extraordinary."

Every page of The New Yorker was scanned. A Kansas City company did the scanning. Before the scanning began, magazine employees gathered copies of the magazine from various storage places in their offices and off-site. "And then," said Ms. McCarthy, "we had to figure out how to get them from here to Kansas City without their being lost en route. Because there were some where we were down to our last two copies. So we actually sent them in a truck with two members of our editorial staff -- two young guys, who drove from here to Kansas City and spent the night in motels with the truck.

"We felt much better doing it that way. The card catalog ["The cards," a magazine spokesman told an interviewer, "appear on the DVDs as originally written -- typos and all"] is so irreplaceable that we didn't want it to leave the premises even with bodyguards. So we had the scanning of that done here. It was a big job."

"Are users of The Complete New Yorker having technical trouble?"

"People who have had trouble we've encouraged to contact the tech support people. My understanding is that they've been quite good. I've seen strings of e-mail to the tech support people thanking them and stating that the problem has been solved.

"With any software there can be tricky moments, depending on the kind of hardware you have and your level of knowledge."

Ms. McCarthy sighed. "I've actually heard what you and David Remnick have said, which is that people feel it's addictive. The New York Times recently ran an editorial titled 'Annals of Tilley,' about The Complete New Yorker . It was on the main editorial page, in the place where they often wax poetic about fall leaves."

In part, the editorialist wrote:

"A truly committed browser of these discs will spend a lot of time in the Goings On About Town section, discovering, for instance, that Howdy, Mr. Ice of 1950 was playing at the Center Theater in June 1949, and registering that interesting parenthesis (No dancing, unless noted) under Night Life. There is a world of social and cultural history packed into these listings, a calendar of acts and entertainers that have slipped out of nostalgic reach.

"But the most visceral pleasure in these discs comes from the advertising. It is so interesting that you can be forgiven for confusing the real relation between advertising and editorial content, for supposing that ocean of warm, gray ink existed just to support those astonishing ads. Who remembered that Exxon made an 'intelligent typewriter?' Why should an ad for laser discs feel so cruelly ancient, more ancient than an ad -- 'Ask the man who owns one' -- for the Golden Anniversary Packard? There is quicksand here, and some of us are sinking fast."

"Some people think it's a great research tool. Others," said Ms. McCarthy, "like the serendipity of wandering in and out of various issues. I think the thing that people have said again and again is, 'what a gift to have this all in one place.' I use it probably five times a day looking things up. We do have an Internet version of the library cards here. But I still find myself going to this instead."

"I understand that you can update it."

"You will be able to next winter or spring. After we do the anniversary issue again we will be notifying people who have registered on the archive website. We will notify when the new discs are ready and then you order one and we send it to you."

"There's a history of American poetry here."

"There is. There is. The poetry is extraordinary, to see those names, one after the other. Alice Quinn, the poetry editor now, made the selections of the poems that are included in the book part.

"Again, the attempt was to show just what you've said, that there's a history there. That's something we hear again and again. It can be a pleasure to bring writers to people who might not otherwise know them, particularly younger people who might not be aware of, say, John Hersey and Hiroshima. Or that Truman Capote wrote something other than In Cold Blood.

"You mentioned the history of poetry, but you also see a history of long form or narrative journalism over the years. You have a history of fiction -- Salinger, Roth, William Maxwell, Alice Monroe, Mavis Gallant. I think any sector of American culture can be tracked here.

"The cartooning and the covers, what's always been interesting to me is to see the same themes surface again and again in the covers. We have the domestic dramas, we have the man on the street. The palette, the style of drawing has changed."

William Shawn, editor of the magazine from 1952 until 1987, was somewhat old-fashioned about language. I asked Ms. McCarthy when the word "fuck" was first used.

She didn't know, but she was sure someone did. "I should know that. You could certainly conduct a study of such events within The New Yorker, which, for some fanatics, will be an intensely pleasurable thing to do. But the ability to look at a much wider history is where it gets very, very rich."

After our talk, I did look up "fuck" in the index. According to the index, this four-letter word was first used in a story -- "Onionskin" -- by Allegra Goodman. ("I was the one who stood up and said Fuck Augustine. What I meant was that I didn't take the class to read him, I took it to learn about religion -- God, prayer, ritual, the Madonna mother-goddess figure, forgiveness, miracles, sin, abortion, death, the big moral concepts.") The date of the magazine was April 1, 1991, an Easter Sunday; an Easter egg and a gaggle of bunnies, who appear to me to be at Radio City, dance a bit like Rockettes about the James Stevensen cover (but I could be entirely incorrect about the Radio City identification). The issue also features an elegant but sad poem -- "Late Night Ode" (See page ##) -- by J.D. McClatchy (McClatchy's first poem was published in the magazine on June 28, 1982), a poem by May Swenson, and one by Laura Mullen.

"Do you think that The New Yorker was in its earlier years a publication for the educated upper middle class?"

"Do I think it was or is?"

"Was."

"I think it didn't need to be, but my sense is that it probably was. I think the ads reflect that. I think that's not the case now, but I find it very interesting that The New Yorker is the magazine I see most commonly read on New York subways. You see The Daily News and The New York Post and The New Yorker. When you see it on the subway, you see it primarily among young people."

"What subway do you ride?"

"The F train from Brooklyn."

"So there are all those smart people from Brooklyn coming into work."

"And many smart people who just stay in Brooklyn and work. It's interesting to see and I think very telling."

"One thing that you see in The New Yorker, writers in the Talk of the Town section, particularly, never seem purchased, they never seem to be paying for the Cartier's ad. Nothing that's written seems afraid of advertisers."

"In our magazine? The writers write as if advertising didn't exist. It's just not a concern of theirs. It's a concern of the advertising department, who sell the ads and it ends there.

"I let the ad people know. I give them some background on the magazine. I want to be sure that they're selling the magazine that we're creating. I think there needs to be some communication at that level. I want them to understand why we do certain things."

"In the old days of the magazine, did the magazine's covers tend to point to, or allude to, some text within?"

"Looking at the issues I would say that there wasn't. That the cover was always seen as a freestanding story of its own, if you will. It says, 'It's baseball season,' or 'It's Spring.' 'It's a Fabulous City,' or 'Why Is That Guy's Hair So Long?' I'm thinking of a cover of a businessman in the '60s looking at a hippie. So it was always separate, except for moments when there were overriding issues, like the war. Like our current war."

"When did The New Yorker stop being a magazine just for people in New York?"

"I would say in the 1940s. World War II changed things enormously at The New Yorker . Harold Ross found it within himself and his staff to do a magazine that he had never intended to do. A much more serious magazine, and one that had a much wider interest, because of the topics that were being covered. I think at that point, people all around the country started paying attention in much greater numbers. The magazine had followers around the country."

"Did they have to use different kinds of paper during World War II?"

"There were certain wartime regulations that meant that you couldn't use certain components, so it was a more fragile paper. They look yellow now. But they all do. Which is one reason that we were very eager to do this; the oldest issues were becoming so old that they are in danger of disintegrating. A certain number should be kept in archival envelopes, but that allows for very limited viewing. So we wanted to document it all, preserve it all, have it available and accessible before the material fell apart."

How did Ms. McCarthy, who has been at The New Yorker for 12 years, first come to the magazine?

"I was at Vanity Fair with Tina Brown. She asked me to come -- that was a great invitation. When she left, I was not ready to leave and was delighted to be able to stay. The magazine is so big in the sense of history and people working at it now that I had only just begun to understand it and enjoy it. I'm not worn out yet."

"As a young person, had you read the magazine?"

"Not really. We got it at home; I read the cartoons. I really started reading it in college, Mount Holyoke College, in the '70s."

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