You can't review The Complete New Yorker. It's like reviewing the United States, or at least the actual-size map of the United States that Steven Wright used to say he had. You get eight DVDs, along with a lovely book of highlights pasted stupidly into the DVD sleeve, and on those eight DVDs you get (if "get" means you can see them on the computer screen where you've installed the software) every page in the New Yorker between February 1925 and February 2005: ads, theater listings, "Franny" (January 25, 1955) as well as "Zooey" (May 4, 1957), Pauline Kael on Bonnie and Clyde (October 21, 1967), and that "Who moved my copy of Who Moved My Cheese?" cartoon that I still think is super hilarious (May 7, 2001). According to the search index, which I don't trust, that includes 655 pieces by Janet Flanner, 1,803 by E. B. White, 114 by Jamaica Kincaid, 14 by Elizabeth Wurtzel, and eight by Charles D'Ambrosio.

There are many ways in which reading The Complete New Yorker can give you a headache. You can get a headache from reading choppy article summaries in the little search window, or from squinting to read the tiny type in the double-page view, or from reading a few dozen Talk of the Town pieces in a row, at which point you feel like you have been talking to a precocious child for the better part of an hour. You can get a headache from how good Ian Frazier can be, and from the times when he's not quite as good as he usually is. And you can get a headache from switching the DVDs in and out any time you want to change decades. They are a pain to work with, so it's easy to get stuck on the surface, searching and skimming the capsule summaries without ever diving into the actual magazines, and tightening the screws on your headache all the while.

But it is never a mistake—in this as in the rest of your life—to take the brave leap into the archives. For I don't think I can emphasize enough how deeply relaxing it is to reach the original pages themselves. The font alone rewards you, and the off-white background, which yellows slightly as the issues get older. (Yes, I had to switch discs many times to check that, and it was worth it.) I don't mean to say that your headaches are over at this point. It is impossible to see an entire page and read it at the same time: When you make the words large enough to read, you can only see part of the page, so you must slide the text around unnervingly to follow it up and down the columns. My solution: push the zoom until you are swimming in the sentences, which is where the New Yorker is best appreciated anyway. For example, make this sentence from May 27, 1974, as large as you can: "She is a pert engine of destruction."

The archives are most relaxing because they take you directly into a time you are no longer responsible for. I guess the bad word for that is nostalgia, although in this case there is no yearning for a better day. You are just placed among people about whom you need have no opinion or even awareness. There was a time when you may have felt it necessary to understand Bianca Jagger or even compare yourself to her, but that time is over. And someone else has already decided for you that John Cheever was better at writing stories than his contemporaries, and if that turns out not to be true in one case or another, well then, you've made a discovery. The archives accept, and do not judge.

If you are one of those people who gets the New Yorker but gets stressed out because you can't keep up with all the pages that pile up week after week—and anyone who has ever gotten the New Yorker has been one of those people—you might find the idea of The Complete New Yorker anything but relaxing. If you feel bad about six months of magazines you haven't read, how will 80 years make you feel? As it turns out, 80 years feels just fine. You don't need to keep up with them, because they are not going anywhere. Eighty years doesn't become 81 years, unless you sign up for the update DVDs, and you shouldn't. No, no, life is complicated enough already—which, as it happens, is what my tweedy great uncle once said from his Toronto doorstep to my 9-year-old sister as she tried to leave for a long train trip with three of his unread New Yorkers in her hand.