The problem with The Complete New Yorker, as Tom Nissley rightly points out, is that it's so goddamn complete. You feel, sitting down to it, a delirious, vertiginous whoa, followed by (if you are Nissley) cephalic pain. If you don't know where to start, read the pieces by Salinger, including the only story of his never published in a book (June 19, 1965). Then try these:

Author: Dorothy Parker Dept: The Theatre

Issue: May 14, 1931 Disc: 8

Dorothy Parker reviews A. A. Milne's play Give Me Yesterday. Replace "reviews" with "feeds into the meat grinder" and you're getting closer. Parker is at her most entertaining when she is most miserable, and nothing makes her more miserable than A. A. Milne. If you think Annie Wagner's theater reviews in The Stranger used to be mean, wait until you get to the paragraph where Parker is so annoyed by a dream sequence in Give Me Yesterday that she shoots herself. There is white space, a pause, then a new section that begins, calmly: "It was, unhappily, a nothing—oh, a mere scratch—and I was able to sit up and watch" the rest of the play.

Author: Janet Flanner Dept: Profiles

Issue: February 29, 1936 Disc: 8

Janet Flanner's three-part profile of Adolf Hitler is unbelievably thorough, was published a few years before things got really ugly, and has the greatest first sentence ever published: "Dictator of a nation devoted to splendid sausages, cigars, beer, and babies, Adolf Hitler is a vegetarian, teetotaler, nonsmoker, and celibate."

Author: Ann Beattie Dept: Fiction

Issue: October 21, 1974 Disc: 3

Ann Beattie can make a good short story in the amount of time it takes you or me to make toast. She had eight short stories in the magazine between April 1974 and October 1975, four in 1976, three in 1977, one in 1978, four in 1979, one in 1980, two in 1981, three in 1982, six in 1983, and on and on. Her second-published story, called "Fancy Flights," about a stoner who's just been fired from his factory job, proves Beattie a master of the stoner story: conversational, vivid, slightly bleak, with great dialogue. At one point, the main character's daughter is conducting a tea party in the living room while he goes into the bathroom, opens the window, lights a pipe, and sits on the bathroom floor. When his wife comes home, he asks her, stonedly, "What are your dreams?" and she replies, "That your dealer will die."

Author: Charles D'Ambrosio

Dept: Family History

Issue: June 17, 2002 Disc: 1

D'Ambrosio describes and quotes from family letters, including his youngest brother's suicide note. The essay was republished in Orphans, but Orphans is hard to find, and in the New Yorker the essay is accompanied by a color photo of D'Ambrosio's brothers, two kids sitting on the front steps of a house somewhere in the Northwest.