In this corner, having arrived in my mailbox last month, measuring in at 9.75 inches, we have Paris Review, Issue 199.
And in this corner, being the oldest Paris Review on my Paris-Review-holding book shelf, dating back to Winter 2001, measuring in at 8.5 inches, we have Paris Review, Issue 160.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, We have on our hands a grudge match for the ages. We have the new and re-vamped Paris Review, a magazine with a coherent sense of poetry, a fondness for visual arts, and an editor with a singular visions versus the old Paris Review, an eclectic hodgepodge edited by George Plimpton (and a ton of others). George Plimpton, the founder vs. Lorin Stein, the carrier-on-er. Yes, in short we have new establishment versus older-but-the-same-magazine establishment. It promises to be a rumble!
And with the opening bell, the most recent issue of the Paris Review, making great use of its wider cover and glossy stock, looks to dominate the ring. The shorter, chubbier, older issue immediately seems out gunned, out classed, out dated. Its yellowed pages have taken on a defensive posture, as if resigned to punishment.
Yes, friends, this could be a wash out. Issue 160 has been knocked down, spine-upward. Yes, it looks like Issue 199 has soundly trounced the past. Progress has proven itself to be progressive. Issue 199 is leaning over to the spectators in the front row, asking if they have read his blog. He is bragging about his special online-only features. The ref has counted to 7. To 8.
But what is this? Issue 160 seems to be pealing itself off of the mats. It’s gathering itself up. It’s puffing its chest out.
“I drank with Hemingway,” Issue 160 is explaining to the ref. The ref is nodding indulgently.
“Paul Murray,” mutters 199, with a loping hook. Number 160, however, has deftly avoided the punch. Issue 199 looks surprised. He swings once more, and once 160 dodges contact.
In a series of grunting, sweat-flinging jab-cross combinations, 199 is shouting out, “The culmination! Of a three part! Roberto Bolaño! Novella!”
“Oh,” 160 taunts, “I’m sorry. Did you think you could surprise me? I knew exactly what you were going to do. I read the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Last month.” 160 just delivered a ding to 199’s left ear.
“I have TWENTY-FIVE different poets in my pages,” it shouts, followed by a series of jabs.
“I have a short story by JOHN BARLOW,” it screams. “What’s that? You’ve never heard of John Barlow? Oh, you mean to tell me you picked up an extremely prestigious magazine and were introduced to an entirely new voice? Well isn’t that novel, 199? Isn’t that fan-wonderfully-tastic, to pick up a magazine of note and encounter a writer as-yet unpublished?”
Ladies and gentleman, if this announcer may interject a personal reflection. When Issue 160 arrived in my mailbox some elevan years ago, I had never heard of Mr. Barlow, and nor had anyone, it seemed, as it was his first published piece. It was story about eating furniture, if I recall, in a British accent with vaudeville flair. Yes, it was a thrill to discover.
199 is looking nervous. It’s circling around the ring in a backwards step. It’s up against the ropes, as if to say, ‘These are my laurels. These writers are unequivocally good.’
Issue 160 shows no mercy.
“BEHOLD MY INTERVIEWS!” it shouts. ” You can take your flavor of the month Eugenides and Hollinghurst. How did you choose such edgy authors to interview? Did you look at Amazon’s predictions for big sales this fall and dial up whoever-the-chump that was willing to chat that month? Don’t ‘but he won a Pulitzer,’ me. Make up your own taste!”
“But… but…” 199 has spat out his mouth piece. Ink is sputtering down his lips. “But I have pictures!”
Oh, folks, it appears 199 has been led precisely to where 160 wanted it. 160 is flashing a series of self-portraits, created over 20 years in varying styles by the the painter Philip Akkerman. 199’s arms have dropped. He is practically defense. There’s a page-tearing crack! 160 has delivered a colossal wallop!
199 is down! The ref is counting to 7. To 8. To 9 and 10. And that is it! Issue 160 wins! 160 wins! It is truly the champion Paris Review of my bookshelves.