Every page of The New Yorker was scanned. A Kansas City company did the scanning. Before the scanning began, magazine employees gathered copies of the magazine from various storage places in their offices and off-site. "And then," said Ms. McCarthy, "we had to figure out how to get them from here to Kansas City without their being lost en route. Because there were some where we were down to our last two copies. So we actually sent them in a truck with two members of our editorial staff -- two young guys, who drove from here to Kansas City and spent the night in motels with the truck.
"We felt much better doing it that way. The card catalog ["The cards," a magazine spokesman told an interviewer, "appear on the DVDs as originally written -- typos and all"] is so irreplaceable that we didn't want it to leave the premises even with bodyguards. So we had the scanning of that done here. It was a big job."
"Are users of The Complete New Yorker having technical trouble?"
"People who have had trouble we've encouraged to contact the tech support people. My understanding is that they've been quite good. I've seen strings of e-mail to the tech support people thanking them and stating that the problem has been solved.
"With any software there can be tricky moments, depending on the kind of hardware you have and your level of knowledge."
Ms. McCarthy sighed. "I've actually heard what you and David Remnick have said, which is that people feel it's addictive. The New York Times recently ran an editorial titled 'Annals of Tilley,' about The Complete New Yorker . It was on the main editorial page, in the place where they often wax poetic about fall leaves."
In part, the editorialist wrote:
"A truly committed browser of these discs will spend a lot of time in the Goings On About Town section, discovering, for instance, that Howdy, Mr. Ice of 1950 was playing at the Center Theater in June 1949, and registering that interesting parenthesis (No dancing, unless noted) under Night Life. There is a world of social and cultural history packed into these listings, a calendar of acts and entertainers that have slipped out of nostalgic reach.
"But the most visceral pleasure in these discs comes from the advertising. It is so interesting that you can be forgiven for confusing the real relation between advertising and editorial content, for supposing that ocean of warm, gray ink existed just to support those astonishing ads. Who remembered that Exxon made an 'intelligent typewriter?' Why should an ad for laser discs feel so cruelly ancient, more ancient than an ad -- 'Ask the man who owns one' -- for the Golden Anniversary Packard? There is quicksand here, and some of us are sinking fast."
"Some people think it's a great research tool. Others," said Ms. McCarthy, "like the serendipity of wandering in and out of various issues. I think the thing that people have said again and again is, 'what a gift to have this all in one place.' I use it probably five times a day looking things up. We do have an Internet version of the library cards here. But I still find myself going to this instead."
"I understand that you can update it."
"You will be able to next winter or spring. After we do the anniversary issue again we will be notifying people who have registered on the archive website. We will notify when the new discs are ready and then you order one and we send it to you."
"There's a history of American poetry here."
"There is. There is. The poetry is extraordinary, to see those names, one after the other. Alice Quinn, the poetry editor now, made the selections of the poems that are included in the book part.
"Again, the attempt was to show just what you've said, that there's a history there. That's something we hear again and again. It can be a pleasure to bring writers to people who might not otherwise know them, particularly younger people who might not be aware of, say, John Hersey and Hiroshima. Or that Truman Capote wrote something other than In Cold Blood.
"You mentioned the history of poetry, but you also see a history of long form or narrative journalism over the years. You have a history of fiction -- Salinger, Roth, William Maxwell, Alice Monroe, Mavis Gallant. I think any sector of American culture can be tracked here.
"The cartooning and the covers, what's always been interesting to me is to see the same themes surface again and again in the covers. We have the domestic dramas, we have the man on the street. The palette, the style of drawing has changed."
William Shawn, editor of the magazine from 1952 until 1987, was somewhat old-fashioned about language. I asked Ms. McCarthy when the word "fuck" was first used.
She didn't know, but she was sure someone did. "I should know that. You could certainly conduct a study of such events within The New Yorker, which, for some fanatics, will be an intensely pleasurable thing to do. But the ability to look at a much wider history is where it gets very, very rich."
After our talk, I did look up "fuck" in the index. According to the index, this four-letter word was first used in a story -- "Onionskin" -- by Allegra Goodman. ("I was the one who stood up and said Fuck Augustine. What I meant was that I didn't take the class to read him, I took it to learn about religion -- God, prayer, ritual, the Madonna mother-goddess figure, forgiveness, miracles, sin, abortion, death, the big moral concepts.") The date of the magazine was April 1, 1991, an Easter Sunday; an Easter egg and a gaggle of bunnies, who appear to me to be at Radio City, dance a bit like Rockettes about the James Stevensen cover (but I could be entirely incorrect about the Radio City identification). The issue also features an elegant but sad poem -- "Late Night Ode" (See page ##) -- by J.D. McClatchy (McClatchy's first poem was published in the magazine on June 28, 1982), a poem by May Swenson, and one by Laura Mullen.