When the new journalists of the '60s and '70s radically expanded the parameters of what could be considered journalism, their innovations aided most journalists, not just fellow travelers or like-minded souls. A prominent figure in the literary establishment, buttoned-up New Yorker editor David Remnick is about as far removed from the Hunter S. Thompson journalist-as-charismatic-crazy archetype as possible, but in his fine new collection Reporting, he nevertheless benefits from the literary freedoms Thompson and his peers helped win long ago.
The title of Remnick's new book seems to direct readers away from the writer and toward the writing. It's all about story, not the storyteller. But over the course of Reporting, Remnick serves as a subtle, elegant, understated presence in his pieces; like his sophisticated prose style, that presence is witty and assured without calling undue attention to itself. Mostly, Remnick asserts his personality through his choice of subjects. His obsessions are far-ranging, but here they center on Russia, Israel, boxing, writers, and towering icons living in the aftermath of history. An almost preternaturally versatile writer, Remnick is equally adept at chronicling the never-ending train wreck of Mike Tyson's career, and the life of cantankerous Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Vermont and Russia.
Remnick's profiles of prominent writers sometimes fall prey to The New Yorker's tendency toward hagiography. His gushing profile of Philip Roth, for example, might as well be named "Let Us Now Kiss The Ass Of Famous Men." But Remnick's profiles of politicians and pugilists are revelatory delights—especially his piece on Al Gore, which doesn't refute Gore's public image as a droning vice-principal type so much as it deepens and humanizes it. Longtime New Yorker subscribers are likely to experience a distinct feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu reading Reporting, which doubles as a sort of greatest-hits package for the magazine's last decade, but Remnick's fascinating, empathetic, and briskly readable profiles deserve to be read more than once.