Tag Archives: Esquire

Bar-Naked Cover: Esquire’s Best Ever

8 Jun

The cover of Esquire’s July 2009 issue is striking:  Bar Refaeli wearing nothing but lines from Stephen King’s short story, “Morality.”  Yes, it’s taken a naked supermodel and one of America’s literary giants to bring The Hangover out of its spring hibernation.

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

In the past, this space has admonished Esquire for its seemingly fading commitment to the short fiction it once championed.  But the editors have just taken a master stroke.  A painted, unclothed super model will catch the eye of most men.  Then, hopefully, the twisting language of King’s sentences will spur those potential readers to search out the story (page 57) in the magazine.  If this kind of heat can sell beer on television, why can’t it work for fiction in a glossy?

The pairing of King and Refaeli is genius.  The accompanying photos of the word-paint-splattered supermodel, July’s Esquire “Woman We Love,” speak for themselves.  And if there were a statistic that somehow averaged “book sales” and “literary quality of writing,” it’s likely that Stephen King would sit atop those standings.  Make no mistake, his story here is a contemporary, relevant monster.    

Now if we could only get some aspiring model to volunteer to be painted in the words of a Hangover Post, cultural satire would reach heights previously considered unattainable.    Applications for the position will be gladly accepted.

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The New Yorker: Still Champion of the Short Story

1 Apr

Since its inception in 1925, The New Yorker has published some of America’s best short fiction.   That legacy continues today despite trends to the contrary.  Many of the magazines once featuring short stories have ceased to exist, such as Collier’s and Story.  Others like Esquire have lessened their commitment to the form, cutting back in fiction print pages while shifting that emphasis to their web sites.  Meanwhile, the New Yorker continues to place contemporary stories in its issues–and amazingly, as the fates of other periodicals might suggest–the magazine has not suffered. 

The New Yorker has even deepened its commitment to the form by reaching back into its history while embracing modern technology.   Through I-tunes and newyorker.com, the magazine offers a series of podcasts featuring some of today’s best writers reading their favorite stories from the magazine’s vast catalog of published fiction.   It is a deep and wide-ranging collection of homage.  One can find Jonathan Lethem reading James Thurber’s “The Wood Duck” and Richard Ford choosing John Cheever’s “Reunion.”  The Hangover highly recommends TC Boyle’s interpretation of Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.”  (Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” are two of The Hangover’s favorite short stories.)  All are considered classics.

In addition to the story itself, New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman hosts a discussion of the piece with the selecting author.   The views expressed are always enlightening, as the selector speaks as a fan as well as a fellow writer.   Consistent with The Hangover’s “short stories, long payoff” philosophy, the podcasts usually run less than 20 minutes.  

The podcasts are available on the New Yorker web site and the I-tunes Store (go to podcasts, search for New Yorker: fiction).  The best part:  They’re free.  

The Hangover Strikes: Our Miss Brit

18 Jan

If a reader should doubt the veracity of The Hangover, consider this:  In The Rocket Misfires on January 8th, The Hangover predicted the inevitable comeback of one Britney Spears.  And so it begins.  On a tri-page type cover of the February 2008 Esquire, a 2003 in-her-first-prime Britney is sandwiched between a 1966 Angie Dickinson and that 2008 powerhouse of femininity, the Victoria Secret models.  The “Thank you, God” girls and Britney reprise Ms. Dickinson’s original shot, posing in nothing but fetching white sweaters. 

Britney must have one hell of a marketing and PR team.  As anyone who has done the family grocery shopping this week can tell you, Britney also graces the covers of The National Enquirer, People, and Star.  While the tabloids focus on her various mental health issues and poor parenting skills, Esquire sagely honors her as a cultural icon and one of the magazine’s “Women We Love.”  

It is a testament to Britney and her staff that as she is still sliding toward her “celebrity rock bottom” of despair, the comeback is already underway.  You go, girl. 

The Lion in Winter: Esquire Magazine

4 Jan

Shortly after graduating from college, I came across a short story collection titled, “Great Esquire Fiction:  The Finest Stories from the First Fifty Years.”  The table of contests listed those one would expect to find on a Glenlivet-drinking New York editor’s bookshelf:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike, Carver, Malamud, O’Connor, O’Brien, and thirty-one other brilliant writers.  The stories were fantastic and I started buying the magazine, mainly because of the fiction that appeared in every issue.  My current complaint isn’t that the writers published in Esquire today are bad (although I don’t think that even the famous Steven King or James Lee Burke would crack the Fab 38), it’s that the fiction offerings are so infrequent.  If there’s a short story in every other issue now, it’s a bonus. It can’t be because there aren’t any good writers out there.   

Esquire does promote their fiction on their web site.   They offer stories published in the magazine and others written for Esquire.com.  Their current online feature is the Napkin Fiction project.  Esquire sent cocktail napkins to 250 writers to pen sip-sized stories on said napkins.  Courageously, not all the writers are known literary figures (I can’t believe they missed me), and some of the pieces do have the delicious sting and tingle of a tequila shot.  However, trying to gain appreciation for a writer on a piece of ultra-flash fiction is like picking songs on I-Tunes based on the allotted 30 second snippet.  What if the oohs and ahhs don’t come in until the chorus?   I’m sure that at least one or two of the chosen authors could have developed something worthy of bumping an article on dress shirts and pocket squares.

Which brings us to what is in Esquire these days:  clothing ads, cologne ads, luxury item ads, and self-referential, middle-aged-men-need-this-item features.  And there are plenty of fashion tips.  The former publisher of Ernest Hemingway is now an orgasm article away from becoming Cosmo-for-a-Man.  I understand how the publishing business works.  The ads pay so the content can play.  Still, I find it hard to believe that people really need to see a fashion layout with Bob Dylan impersonators wearing two thousand dollar wool coats, five hundred dollar sweaters, and seven hundred dollar boots.  The editors manage to slip in Dylan quotes among the clothes, apparently in hope of what?  Irony? 

(Richard Russo once said that he wished to remain the kind of guy who mowed his own lawn.  It is a worthy goal.  Should success strike me and I start purchasing four-figure jackets and three-figure shirts, I authorize any of my close friends to beat me about the head with a two-figure Louisville Slugger.   Yet, my subscription remains active.)

In lieu of short fiction, the highlight of the present-day Esquire is the “What I’ve Learned” series.  An Esquire writer interviews a notable person, asking them “What do you know?” and boils down the answers to a one-page list of clear and lucid declarative sentences.  There is much to be gleaned there, especially in the January 2008 issue which celebrates the tenth anniversary of the feature. 

Along with six new interviews, Esquire includes segments from the most notable of the past.  For the current issue, Eric Clapton reveals, “One of the most beneficial things I’ve ever learned is how to keep my mouth shut.”  Michael J. Fox shows insight thought impossible from someone who once portrayed Alex Keaton (Unfortunately, Fox does not address his anti-Elvisness).  The back catalog reveals wisdom from among others, Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Branson, Larry Flynt, and Julia Child.  Evil Knievel states:  “Anybody can jump a motorcycle.  The trouble begins when you try to land it.”  Simple and sharp. 

What makes the feature stand out in the current Esquire is that the writer stays the hell out of the way.  In the usual Esquire profile, a reader invariably learns that the interviewer is fat, goateed, a smoker, a drinker, awed but then un-awed, and ultimately perceived as cool by the subject.  With this tiresome perspective removed, the subject’s thoughts are actually shared with the reader.  The tenth anniversary celebration of “What I’ve Learned” makes January 2008 a very worthwhile issue.  Naturally, it is also one without a short story. 

While a fiction hyperlink is given one of five spots on the Esquire.com header, the genre is often ignored when the magazine comes to print.  By restoring short fiction to every issue, the editors would make it so much easier to flip through the glossy pages of tousle-haired male models.  One would think that Esquire’s heritage demands it.