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Reviewing Change

February 23, 2006 By:
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The first two issues of the much-anticipated revised version of The Paris Review, under its new, young editor Philip Gourevitch, have appeared, and though both were decidedly better than the few issues that trickled out following the death of founding editor George Plimpton, they were also something of a mixed bag.

Gourevitch first began making a name for himself as a reporter and editor at the Forwardnewspaper in the 1990s. He remains a staff writer at The New Yorker, and is the author of an acclaimed book about the Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

Of the Review, he told interviewers that he planned to change the magazine in definite ways. And so he has.

First, he moved the editorial offices, which had always been located in Queens, to East 72 Street by the East River.

He also told Stop Smiling magazine that he wanted to change the way poetry appeared in the quarterly. "I think the poetry has been a bit disorganized, which is to say there's been a lot of poetry and quite a bit of it very good. But there are too many poets and too many poems per issue. We're going to publish poetry portfolios, much the way we've published art portfolios in the past. So you have fewer poets per issue, but more poems per poet. There won't be any format changes with fiction."

As for nonfiction, the new editor said that the magazine's not in danger of becoming a showcase for journalism, but he and his staff would work harder to get some reportage in.

The look and feel of these first two Gourevitch issues - summer and fall/winter 2005 - have been considerably altered. Where older issues were short and thick, these new ones were taller, wider and thinner. The cover was glossy, and rather than art - as was the case from the 1950s on - the first had a black-and-white snapshot of Salman Rushdie as a child, the subject of the interview inside. The other showed Asian workers in a chicken factory.

I didn't think I'd like this kind of change, but found that it makes for a clean break with the past and won't take much getting used to.

It's the contents that seemed odd and lacking cohesion. It's clear that Gourevich wants to expand the geographical boundaries of the material, and too stretch it far beyond Paris (meaning Europe) and the New York School of poets who predominated in the past.

The only really big name besides Rushdie was Elizabeth Bishop, whose notebooks were sampled. The actual notebook pages were reproduced, then the poems reprinted in clean copies. None of them were as astonishing as a lot of her published poetry.

There was a long, arch piece of fiction by Damon Galut in the fall issue that ran for 40 or so pages. I lost interest long before the end.

And there was something from China by Liao Yiwu that portrayed "some of the denizens of that country's lower depths," in the words of the editors.

Nothing was wonderful, nothing terrible. But I'm keeping an eye out for the next issue.

 

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