New Yorker Nostalgia: Hunting the Elusive Full-Issue Treatment

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker and author of the new Obama bio, The Bridge, was in town earlier this week, and a few of us had the pleasure of meeting him over lunch (podcast coming soon). We were able to geek out over many things, from Vladimir Putin and "Sandy" Frazier to Gladwell's hair and the Washington Federals (the old USFL franchise that was Remnick's first beat for the Washington Post). But one bit of NYer lore caught my interest: he lamented that publishers are no longer interested in giving the magazine rights to publish extensive excerpts of upcoming books, which is one reason you rarely see those multipart series that used to be so common in the magazine, or even those famous issues devoted to a single, long article. Apparently, they feel it cuts into their sales to give the book away beforehand like that.

First of all, I think that's a little crazy, especially in a time when people are experimenting with giving digital versions of books away to pique interest. There may be other reasons that prevent the magazine from going all-in for an issue like that now, but you don't think that a superb midlist book, headed for respectable sales of 10,000 copies or so, couldn't be goosed into breakout status with the publicity that a devoted issue of the New Yorker would bring?

But my real reason for posting is to ask the crowd a question: you hear of these legendary books that were given an entire issue of the New Yorker under the Shawn regime. John Hersey's Hiroshima is the classic example, and may have been the first one. But I've heard about other, similar events, and I'm not sure how to find all the times it's happened (it's not a very Googleable subject). These are a few that came to mind that I could investigate with the help of my NYer digital subscription--none of them turn out to follow the Hersey model exactly, but I'm just curious, however you define it, what books have gotten this treatment in the past:

  • Hiroshima: Published on Aug. 31, 1948. The issue contained no other editorial material or cartoons, just the Goings on About Town listings.
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark: Appeared in the Oct. 14, 1961, issue, from pages 53 to 169, with fiction and back-of-the-book pieces.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: I had thought this appeared in a single issue, but in fact it was serialized for four consecutive weeks in September-October 1965. You can read the first installment here.
  • Snow White by Donald Barthelme: Published in the Feb. 18, 1967, issue--I'm not sure if it was in its entirety, but it ran from page 38 to 131, taking up the entire feature block of the magazine (though reviews, a short story, and a Letter from Vietnam also appeared).
  • Within the Context of No Context by George W.S. Trow: Published in the Nov. 18, 1980, issue, in its entirety, I believe, from page 63 to 171, with some fiction and a few back-of-the-book items as well. (An excerpt for non-subscribers.)

Are there any others that got the full-issue treatment? Help me out, people. I can't imagine that the reputation or sales of any of these were hurt by appearing first in the magazine.... I'm sure the original edition of Within the Context sold very few copies, but then, despite being one of the great books of the century, a nutty book like that was never going to sell anything anyway. --Tom

Update: Thanks for all the further examples--all I hoped for and more. This "full-issue" phenomenon turns out to be a tricky one. No less an authority than the NYer itself, in their "Eighty-Five from the Archive" series this year, said that the only two times the entire magazine has been turned over to a single article were Hersey's "Hiroshima" and, as mentioned below, Mark Danner's December 6, 1993 investigation into an army massacre in El Salvador, "The Truth of El Mozote," which was later published as The Massacre at El Mozote. Now, to be technical, that issue also included Talk of the Town, cartoons, and some reviews at the back, so "Hiroshima" still stands alone, and the Danner treatment doesn't actually seem so different from Barthelme or Trow above. But I'll leave those subtle differences to the theologians to debate for the coming centuries. Here are some of the other suggestions from the comments:

As you can tell, the multi-part series was actually a pretty regular thing (I remember first falling in love with Ian Frazier's Great Plains that way), and while I'd very much enjoy tracking down McPhee after McPhee (really, no better way to spend a late Friday afternoon), I have to catch my bus. Thanks for all the leads, and feel free to keep adding them.

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