Question Time with David Remnick

David Remnick walked up to the stage, slipped on his glasses, and smiled. It was Wednesday night, and a mostly

David Remnick walked up to the stage, slipped on his glasses, and smiled. It was Wednesday night, and a mostly older crowd had gathered at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square to ask Mr. Remnick questions about his new book, The Bridge.

Mr. Remnick opened with a joke about how little editorial experience he had before becoming editor of The New Yorker. “The only editing experience I had was as the editor of the Pascack Valley Smoke Signal newspaper,” he said. “You know it? You know that newspaper?”

It was a newspaper Mr. Remnick worked on in high school.

“It came out twice a year, and I did it on my kitchen table, and it was very, very good,” he said. “I wrote all the articles myself and changed the names, which I still do. It’s an astonishing thing. I am Malcolm Gladwell. I am unbelievably rich.”

Over the next 45 minutes, the jokes kept flying.

There were plenty of puzzling questions, too.

“Over his lifetime, Barack Obama has gone by three different names,” said one woman. “Therefore since he wasn’t wedded to a name, why was he so adamant about keeping his middle name, Hussein, which is a very offensive and hot button issue and alludes to a lot?” 

“It’s not offensive to me,” said Mr. Remnick.

“Well it is offensive to me,” she said. “I’m a Jew, and it’s offensive to me, and it’s offensive to a lot of people.”

Mr. Remnick, no gentile himeself, interrupted.

“Well, I’m not Italian, lady,” he cut in. “I got to tell you that.”

The room erupted in laughter.

When it died down, Mr. Remnick said that a name cannot be innately evil.

Roughly 30 minutes later, as the Q&A died down, a thirtysomething lady asked one final question.“I just wanted to ask, on a more upbeat fantasy,” she said.

Mr. Remnick interrupted. “Upbeat fantasy?” he said. “Are you sure you’re going to say this in public?”

She did.

“What sort of Supreme Court justice do you think he might make in a decade?” she asked.

Mr. Remnick repeated the question. He seemed confused. “What sort of a Supreme Court justice?…Ohhh! Sorry. It’s your fantasy. I was hoping for something else.”

There was more laughter.

It’s not inconceivable that President Obama could serve as a justice, Mr. Remnick said, but presidents usually pick jurists not politicians.

Afterwards, Mr. Remnick signed books. When it was our turn, we asked if there was anything left out of his recent glowing profile in The New York Times? “Not that I’m going to tell you,” he said. “Why don’t you ask me a question, and I’ll answer it.”

Did he have any good lines for Jay Leno to drop in Washington this weekend, where Mr. Leno will be serving as the headline act at the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner? 

Mr. Remnick laughed. “He’s the pro, not me,” he said.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of Mr. Remnick’s high school newspaper. The correct name is the Pascack Valley Smoke Signal.

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Question Time with David Remnick