Once you had to write “Air Mail” on any letter going overseas if you wanted it to get there in the same year it was mailed. Now everything the USPS sends goes air mail (and judging by the extreme lag time it takes for letters I’ve sent from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn, literally everything goes in the air mail bag!). In July 2019, Graydon Carter, former longtime editor of Vanity Fair, premiered a new venture called Air Mail (with a nostalgic DC-3 airplane as its logo) that comes to subscribers as a weekly eblast.
On first sight it appeared to look and read like a cross between Vanity Fair and The New Yorker but without the compelling qualities of either. On second reading, my view had not changed, but I’ve given it a few months to settle, and I somewhat but not entirely agree with the evaluation by The Nation‘s Kyle Chyaka in his critique titled “Graydon Carter’s E-Mail Newsletter for the Rich and Boring” (which suggests a certain displeasure):
Air Mail, which is like a glossy print magazine from the ’90s uploaded to the Internet, down to its profusion of rubrics in varying typefaces and its relentlessly chirpy copy. So deep is the newsletter’s nostalgia for an earlier golden age of print that you’d expect subscription cards to fall out of it.
Air Mail’s first issue landed in inboxes July 20, its branding a stately all-caps sans serif, its logo a heraldic vintage airliner midflight, and its colors a Vanity Fair–esque red against a paper stock manila background. Carter has described the publication as “the weekend edition of a nonexistent international daily,” a sort of floating style section covering subjects like château renovation, vacation destinations, and accessory recommendations, with enough foreign reporting, true crime, and literary criticism to give it heft. Its slogan is “For the world traveler,” and its header advertises “best of the news from abroad,” delivered every Saturday at 6 am.
The reference to Vanity Fair and New Yorker is valid. Carter, who long held the reins of power at the former has brought with him various former VF contributors and Bob Mankoff, former New Yorker cartoon editor has the same duties here.
Nonetheless, Carter is no slouch and his publishing instincts are sound indeed. Despite certain reservations (why so many Hermes ads?), there is some je ne sais quoi about Air Mail. The design is rather handsome, the cartoons are amusing and the stories have a magnetic pull, if only as a teaser (“Putin on the Ritz” –good one).
I’ve browsed through almost all its 28 issues on my phone and I have to admit that The Nation is a little too hard on it. Air Mail it passes subway and bus time nicely — it also is a pleasant alternative to taxiTV.