Passed/Failed: An education in the life of David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker

'I was in academic nirvana'

David Remnick, 48, was The Washington Post's Moscow correspondent, and later won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. He joined The New Yorker in 1992, and has edited the magazine since 1998. Reporting: Writings from 'The New Yorker' is out now

Hillsdale, in New Jersey, where I grew up, is only 35 minutes from where my family now lives in New York, but it feels pastoral by comparison. From kindergarten to the end of high school, it was an East Coast version of what you see in the film American Graffiti: the marching bands, the football teams... Very middle class in a blue-collar American rather than an English way. Springsteenian, I would say.

I went to kindergarten in a yeshiva -a traditional Jewish school - in Patterson, then began first grade at the George G White School, across the road from our house. At 13, I went to Pascack Valley High.

Maybe because of Sputnik, instruction was stronger in the sciences than in the humanities. I was a dutiful science student and an enthusiastic arts student. I was lucky enough to find one or two intellectually sympathetic teachers. Also, I had a friend who was on my wavelength and we bought books together at church sales. Older and more cynical people might have said that we were pretentious, but my feeling is that pretension is a good thing, the progenitor of actual achievement. What scares me is apathy.

Across the river, there were these things you heard about: private schools. They were close to us in the sense that Hampstead Heath and Brixton are in the same city. If you went to a well-known private school in New York or New England, loads of you would go to Harvard or Yale. It was unusual in our [state] school, but one kid in my class went to Harvard and one to Cornell. Then, by a miracle, I got into Princeton, the "preppiest" of the Ivy League universities, sequestered from contact with the rest of the world. It was wonderful, an academic nirvana, just heaven. I studied Russian and French and majored in comparative literature.

At high school, I was the kid who did the whole school newspaper himself on the kitchen table - I wrote it myself, under different names. At Princeton, instead of supporting myself by being a waiter, I joined the Press Club and was a stringer for The Washington Post, the New Brunswick Home News and the Asbury Park Press. If a senior member of the university died, I would send out obituaries. I was reading Dante while being a junior apprentice hack.

Princeton is famous for its old-style-tweeds "eating clubs", such as the Ivy Club and the Cap & Gown, with an application process in which you have to put yourself forward, known as a "Bicker". I ran away from all that. I lived in Wilson College, named after the US president who was later president of the university. We were very anti-Brideshead, which is a snobbery of its own.

Most summers in high school, and at first in college, I had my own house-painting business. Then I got a job at Newsday, a paper in Long Island, and the following summer an internship at The Washington Post, which, five years after Watergate, was extremely glamorous.

After graduating, I worked for the paper, but then they said, "Get lost for a year". I went on a Princeton programme in which they sent you to the military dictatorship of your choice - or Japan. I taught for six months at Sophia University, Tokyo, a Jesuit college where, on the first day, I was instructed not to date the students, although they were the same age as me. I found it very lonely and must have read a book or two a day for six months.

jonty@jonathansale.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all