What are the best New Yorker stories from any era?
October 2, 2022 9:30 PM   Subscribe

As a New Yorker subscriber, I should be leveraging my ability to delve into its back catalog more. What are the best things that you have read in the New Yorker from any year? I don’t care about having to dig into the weird archive of old scans - any story from any era would be great. (If you know the actual year, that will be very helpful in looking the story up.) Thanks!
posted by Going To Maine to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Robert Caro's four-part series on Robert Moses and How Things Get Done.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:46 PM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love the profile of Diana Nyad from several years ago.
posted by kensington314 at 10:36 PM on October 2, 2022

Best answer: Hiroshima was my first choice

Atul Gawande has some excellent articles
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 10:59 PM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Literally anything by John McPhee, but especially the stories that wound up collected as Control Of Nature
posted by migurski at 11:01 PM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Not a story, but one of the most moving poems I’ve ever read is called “Bird-Window-Flying” by Tess Gallagher (she was Raymond Carver’s partner and later wife). Google search says it was published in the April 2, 1979 issue of the New Yorker. I remember feeling like that poem had opened up an entire new world for me.
posted by gt2 at 11:08 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: the fifty-nine-story crisis is an amazing story about nyc’s citicorp tower being built with a catastrophic flaw.
posted by bruceo at 11:24 PM on October 2, 2022

Best answer: Bunch of short stories I like quite a bit by midcentury writers of the stereotypical "New Yorker story," not all of whom are named John:

John Cheever
  1. The Country Husband. I love Cheever, he is much weirder than people give him credit for (even though people now give him credit for being much weirder than they used to). This is about a man whose plane crashes and he walks away and he can't get anyone in the world to ask him about it.
  2. Goodbye, My Brother. Great prose.
His two famous magical-realism-adjacent stories, "The Swimmer" and "The Enormous Radio," are on there too.

John Updike
  1. The Happiest I've Been. Man I love this one, makes me feel that sense of Full Teenaged Contentment that you have two or three times as an actual teenager.
  2. The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother's Thimble, and Fanning Island. One of two patchwork stories Updike wrote in the 60s that I really love.
  3. Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, a Traded Car. The other one.
John O'Hara
  1. How Can I Tell You? Very short short story I used to teach.
J[ames].F. Powers
  1. A Losing Game Powers wrote really wonderful little stories about a world—midcentury pre-Vatican-2 Catholic priests, minted by the thousands—that no longer exists. This one's a workplace story about a guy trying to get his weirdo boss to requisition the one thing he wants for him.

J[erome].D. Salinger
  1. For Esmé—with Love and Squalor. If you haven't read Nine Stories I think this might be the best one, a really remarkable war story.
Salinger's New Yorker archive is pretty easy to navigate since he wasn't prolific—personally I think it's basically all really good up through Raise High the Roof-Beams, Carpenter, and then it gets weird in a way that might also be interesting to you. (Hapworth 16, 1924 is maybe the worst story I have ever read by a good writer.)
posted by Polycarp at 11:30 PM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I read a bunch of wonderful stories by Harold Brodkey in the mid-80s New Yorker, and also a shorter and more trenchant version of Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, which occupied most of one issue in the 80s.

That 'article' changed my view of Freud, fairy tales, and human culture.
posted by jamjam at 11:53 PM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Calvin Trillin
posted by DanSachs at 1:54 AM on October 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I asked a similar question in 2014 and got some excellent answers!
posted by third word on a random page at 2:26 AM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: And to add my own answer: The Perfect Mark, a story about the people who fall for Nigerian prince scams, has stuck in my mind since reading it back in 2008.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:42 AM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll always remember how cool it was to read about the fruit detective.
posted by fruitslinger at 4:18 AM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Alice Munro (retired but still kicking at 91).
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:59 AM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: Seconding Alice Munro. Many of George Saunders' short stories were first published in the New Yorker, such as "Victory Lap" and "Puppy".
posted by Agave at 5:14 AM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: I'm not a regular reader, but here are the articles I've stumbled across and enjoyed enough to share and bookmark over the past fifteen years. Pleasingly, even the earlier URLs still work.
posted by fabius at 5:36 AM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: The Mark of a Masterpiece - a piece of reporting so good that it resulted in a lawsuit.
Within the Context of No Context - stream-of-consciousness media criticism from a genius in the middle of losing his mind.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 5:53 AM on October 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: June 26, 1948: The Lottery, Shirley Jackson.
At the time of publication, the magazine did not label pieces as "Fiction" or "Report" or "History", except for the regular "Talk of the Town" section.
from the biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:
"The magazine issued a press release to say it had never before received so much mail in response to a work of fiction. ... Readers wanted to know where such lotteries were held, and whether they could go and watch; they threatened to cancel their subscriptions; they declared the story a piece of trash. "
posted by winesong at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This 2013 piece on Great White sharks remains one of my favorites.

I also like this profile of Rammellzee by Hua Hsu.
posted by kensington314 at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can't find Frances FitzGerald's "Cities on a Hill" at your local library, you can find four of the articles that went into the book under her profile, at https://www.newyorker.com/contributors/frances-fitzgerald. These are two-parters covering Rajneeshpuram (formerly and again known as Antelope, Oregon) and the Castro).

I collected mid-80 New Yorker back issues at some point, and I'm pretty sure the other two communities from Cities were also published there, but aren't listed under her profile. Happy hunting.
posted by morspin at 1:38 PM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: Maybe not "best" but "memorable" for me would be "An Open House" by James Hughes, in the November 3, 1980 issue. I have never read a New Yorker short story since then, despite being a subscriber, because I was so startled and shaken by the story's garbage disposal.

(I am not exaggerating. This is true. Maybe therapy could get me over my fear of New Yorker short stories but I accept myself the way I am.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:40 PM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: Playing Doc’s Games by William Finnegan
New Yorker August 24, 1992
about Mark Renneker, a San Francisco family-practice physician and surfer.
San Francisco ... with its vast tracts of mare incognitum, provided Mark—who when everyone else was surfing standing up was kneeboarding or bellyboarding or bodysurfing—with endless opportunities to be different: to surf previously unattempted spots, or previously unattempted conditions, in previously unimagined ways. “Making a place yours—that’s a lot of what surfing is about,” Mark says. As a teen-ager, he remembers, he used his surf travels as a mental-relaxation technique. “I would run my mind up the coast, surf spot by surf spot. I’d start somewhere down in Mexico, and then try to remember one moment, one wave, one detail of every place I had surfed, working my way north. By the time I was in college, I’d surfed hundreds of places. Still, I’d sometimes get all the way to Santa Cruz. It was a great way to hit on secure, happy places inside myself.”
posted by kristi at 5:24 PM on October 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The fact that McPhee's "Atchafalaya" is from 19-freaking-87 always upsets me --- we already knew so much when Katrina came along in 2005.
posted by secretseasons at 7:21 AM on October 4, 2022

Best answer: Don't Eat Before Reading This, the piece by Anthony Bourdain that pretty much started it all for him.
posted by fruitslinger at 8:46 AM on October 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer my own question, there was apparently an article about metafilter in The New Yorker back in November of 2000. Seems worth digging up!
posted by Going To Maine at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2022

Best answer: I think about The Really Big One all the time, unfortunately.

I sought out some pieces from the New Yorker after reading that they were the inspiration for Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch", and my absolute favorite was Mavis Gallant's diary of the 1968 Paris student protests, The Events in May: A Paris Notebook. It was shockingly funny.
posted by airplant at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2022

Best answer: I once helped publish a collection of the works of St. Clair McKelway, and his piece on counterfeiting from 1949 is delightful.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:30 AM on October 7, 2022

The Chameleon is a biography about a man in France that starts strange, gets stranger, and sticks in my memory as a can't-put-it-down piece of writing.
posted by Mr Yak at 8:16 PM on October 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

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