Top Hats and Monocles

29 Oct

Every writer dreams of being published in The New Yorker. It is, one can argue, the Shangri-La of American Letters, a kind of nebulous dreamworld where mediocre writers will occasionally gain entry, and from which, by joyous choice, none ever returns.

Perhaps it is the seduction of the magazine’s aesthetic pedigree; the stupid fantasy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with spectral figures like J.D. Salinger and Vladimir Nabokov; the prestige of overcoming the magazine’s legendary selectivity; and the rather practical effects an acceptance from The New Yorker can have on one’s career.

Of course, the dirty, open secret of writers and readers alike, is that for a number of years the stories published by The New Yorker have been not very good. Far better fiction is routinely found in the pages of Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Still the magazine–and its master image, a dandy in a top hat viewing a butterfly through a monocle, often incorrectly attributed to Al Hirschfeld–contains an unmistakably sexy allure, even though the only truly unique content that The New Yorker provides anymore is the cartoons.

The New Yorker is the first magazine I ever submitted work to–not because my writing style was suited to the magazine (spoiler: it wasn’t) but simply because it was the most obvious and famous destination for a short story. I was 17 and without a clue as to where to direct my fiction, and the absolute certainty of rejection insulated me from the cold, naked truth, that my work was not very good. I have continued this practice, each time my work goes out on submission, as a kind of sentimental gesture, but also for the sheer thrill of the gamble, for the pencil-thin possibility that maybe, just maybe, my work will find its way into an editor’s good graces, and then I can retire to my paradise, stop screaming at the world from down here in the weeds.

I have so many of these crisp-cornered, cream-colored cards, that I use them as bookmarks; and I have been known to send them to friends and relatives on their birthdays, with humorous messages scribbled on the back, in lieu of a greeting card.


One Response to “Top Hats and Monocles”


  1. How to Read The New Yorker | Letters Of Rejection - May 6, 2016

    […] Related: Top Hats and Monocles […]

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