Granta

Way back in November (“Upcoming”)  I compiled a list of topics that I promised to address. So far I have not written about a single one, but that state of affairs changes today.

The British journal Granta: A Magazine of New Writing has always been a favorite, though I haven’t read it in quite some time. With sophisticated writing by the well-known and obscure, its selection of material beats pretty much everyone else out there. I still have a copy of Food: The Vital Stuff from 1995 that includes a wonderful essay by J.M. Coetzee entitled “Meat Country.” The same issue contained a truly sick-making piece on cannibalism, actually two with the inclusion “Idi’s Banquet,” told from the point of view of Idi Amin’s doctor. Yuck! An equally awesome (in the original sense) meditation offered a respite as John Lanchester contemplated the variations of pancake: blini, crêpes, and the less well known brigdini from Italy and nalesniki from Poland.

Even the photographs distinguish themselves from the routine. The cover photo blazes with a glistening, colorful array of sushi, long before that food choice became available in just about every shopping center in the country. Black and white images accompanying the articles and stories range from blurred figures passing beneath a sign that says Old Kent Road that precedes Graham Swift’s “The Butcher of Bermondsey,” to a picture of men in a cage with a rooster sitting outside above them that accompanies “Men as Chickens” by Geoffrey Beattie in which four men live in a chicken cage as part of publicity for a book on vegetarianism.

The other issue that has survived various magazine purges is one entitled The Sea. I have less memory of this one, but Paul Theroux did manage to cross back over to the question of food in “Unspeakable Rituals,” providing a description of people who preserve their dead by smoking them and another group that dines on caribou droppings. The descriptions of the rituals are hidden in the ruse of “someone handed me this manuscript.” They grow longer and more gruesome, ending with an election in which the chief is selected by various trials, among them living underground with thirty or forty “furious squealing rats.” Not sure what all this has to do with the sea except the people in the ritual live on an island.

The current issue is about work and the most enticing about a man who steals books, or stole them as a child. I’ll probably wander over to the library and glance through it. If I hadn’t just subscribed to The New Yorker (I’m already a week behind), I’d buy Granta again.

The only difference I can perceive between my antique copies and the new based on a cursory glance is that the editors have eliminated the word “paperback” from the designation “magazine of good writing.”

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