Picks and Pans Review: Year of Change: More About the New Yorker & Me
by E.J. Kahn Jr.
About the New Yorker & Me, Kahn's commodious 1977 diary about his life at and away from the much-vaunted magazine, was entrancing, despite occasionally irritating minutiae. Entrancing and occasionally irritating also describe this 1987 journal. "I got to reflecting that the year immediately ahead was going to be a pivotal one for me," Kahn writes in the first entry, Dec. 31, 1986. "I was in the process of celebrating three birthdays I deem consequential—Harvard University's 350th, Horace Mann-Barnard School's 100th, and my own comparatively modest 70th—and over the next few months a couple of more milestones would come and go: my 50th college-class reunion and my 50th year of writing for the New Yorker. So I thought that for the first time in a decade I'd keep a daily journal. A lot of things can happen in 10 years, and did. I have gone from two grandchildren to six. I am far deeper into my second marriage.... And I hope that after nearly a half-century of nonstop writing of books and articles—the most of these for the New Yorker—I have become somewhat more reflective." As Kahn would soon find, a lot of things can happen in one year, most notably the replacement of longtime New Yorker editor and legend-in-his-own-time William Shawn by Robert Gottlieb, Knopf's editor-in-chief. Readers of Year of Change who are hoping for deep-dish dirt on that changing of the guard may be disappointed. Much of what Kahn writes about the disaffected staff has been reported, if without the author's eloquence. What Year of Change does offer is one man's view of the changes wrought by Gottlieb: He's a hard sell on cartoons, for instance, and anxious to rid the New Yorker of its fustian ways, including such standard issue New Yorker language as "We betook ourselves." Kahn also notes, "Inasmuch as Gottlieb wants to stay away from fancy words like 'peruse,' for 'read,' I do him the favor of deleting a 'gratified' that he had inserted somewhere and substituting 'pleased.' " Year of Change is best read (perused?) in the leisurely way Kahn seems to have written it. One entry concerns his attempts to get a dead raccoon out of the furnace of his Cape Cod home. The exterminator "says he'll be right over. What he's going to have to do will be disagreeable, but what the hell, it's a living. (He has more in common with most writers than he may realize.)" Kahn even insults the right people: the not-as-talented-as-he-thinks Jay McInerney (very briefly a fact checker at the magazine) and redoubtable social climber Brendan Gill (once the magazine's theater critic, now its architecture critic) are two targets. Minor complaints: Kahn calls the novel written by his friend and former student Mona Simpson All the Way Home when its title is Anywhere but Here. (Where are those doughty New Yorker checkers when you need them?) Also, one wishes to know more about the people who flit through the diary. (Who is Linda Traum?) Kahn has five sons and stepsons, several daughters-in-law and grandchildren and countless friends. It's hard keeping everyone straight—and at times it doesn't quite seem worth it. (Viking, $ 19.95)
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