Broadening Your Horizons

I'm a devoted reader of The New Yorker. I started reading it when I was in graduate school and my adviser kept referencing things he'd read in it, so I had to read it to make sure I understood what the heck he was talking about. But I've been out of graduate school for a while now, and I still read The New Yorker for a couple of reasons.

The first is that, in general, it's really well written. Some of the articles are better than others, of course, and I definitely have my favorite writers, but as a whole, the magazine has a calibre of writing that I don't find consistently anywhere else.*

More than that, though, The New Yorker's quality of writing leads me to read about things that I would otherwise never read about. Theater, which I typically don't like. Regions of the world that aren't covered in normal news, not even on NPR. Powerful business leaders. And architecture.


I don't have a lot of feeling about architecture one way or another. Sure, I like a pretty building as much as the next person, but I don't know anything about "good" vs. "bad" architecture. I only know what I like. So, for example, when Frank Gehry designed the business school that was built next to my law school while I was there, I knew right away that I hated it.** But I'm an uneducated viewer.

The New Yorker, though, can take something I don't have the first inkling about and make it wonderful to me. Like in the February 1, 2010, issue, in Paul Goldberger's article about Aqua Tower in Chicago. First, take a look at this building:

I know, RIGHT? It's amazing. The wave effect is caused by the balconies that extend around the building in differing widths. It's so beautiful.

But just looking at the pictures doesn't do it justice, because that wave effect? Means that every apartment in the building*** has a balcony. Even the teeny tiny studio apartments. Even the apartments on the top floor, which almost never happens because the wind shear effect is so great at the top of most buildings that a balcony isn't possible, but that's another thing that's awesome about this building -- the wave design actually breaks up the wind so much that the building is more stable than most skyscrapers and can have balconies even on the 82nd floor. In Chicago. The Windy City.

And, it was designed by a woman, Jeanne Gang, which is a rarity in architecture. It's the tallest building in the world designed by a woman. For real.

This is what I read The New Yorker for.

Because before I turned to page 80 of the February 1, 2010, issue of The New Yorker, I had no idea that Aqua existed. I'm sure I would have seen it eventually****, but I didn't even know it was being built. Why would I? I live in Cleveland.

But then I turned the page and there it was, and it's beautiful, and it sent my mind spinning off into fantasy worlds of a jet set life in Chicago and a modernist apartment 80 floors above the ground in a building that looks like a wave. And it introduced me to Jeanne Gang, the woman who designed the tallest building in the world that any woman has ever built and who said this about her design aesthetic:

"when you can design anything you want without actually having to make it, you do wild things that can't work. And that's not what I want to do."

I love her. And I love The New Yorker.

You may not like The New Yorker. I get it. It's not for everyone.***** But it's important as a writer, I think, to have things -- hobbies, books, people -- who can take you out of where you are and what you know and set you down in a fantasy world and make you dream. That's what writing is made of, when you get right down to it. The What-If. And if you don't have enough What-If in your life, then your writing just ends up being about the Is, and that's just a diary, and no one wants to pay money to read your diary.******


* Because I'm so easily influenced by other people's styles -- especially bad writing -- I try to avoid it when I can. It's because of the erratic quality of the writing that I can't stomach my local newspaper.

** Seriously. It's like an M.C. Escher sketch on acid or something. It's a very ugly building. And very impractical. Take a look:

*** Yes, Aqua is an apartment building. And for the very reasonable price of $1,500 dollars a month, you, too could live in 700 square feet of this gorgeous building! It's practically free! :)

**** Actually, I'm going to a conference in Chicago on April, not a block from Aqua, so I'm sure I would have seen it on my stroll to the conference center.

***** Only the sexy people. So get out there and dance. DANCE, I said. :)

****** Except maybe your little sister.


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