It’s Saturday and I thought I’d spend the day catching up with my magazine reading—which has become a chore, because I get so many damn magazines. How can I help it? I hardly pay for subscriptions any more because I keep getting offers to trade in my airline mileage for magazines, and since it’s so hard to use the mileage for traveling when I want to travel, I just keep saying yes to the magazine offers. And those magazines I do pay for now come at a ridiculously reduced price because my daughter is a doctor and the offers come to our house—so how can I say no to a year of Newsweek for $20, followed by an extra year for $10? Or a year of Time for $25 plus a clock. I told Esquire no to a renewal at $19.95 and they came back to me to re-up for half that. But when it comes down to reading all the magazines that come to our house each month—well, it’s just overwhelming. I look at all the books I have started that I haven’t finished and I blame magazines, because there’s always something I want to read in each of them.
Take my favorite, The New Yorker, which is totally impossible because it’s a weekly. I have a stack of them going back the last five years on my office floor, another stack on top of our piano, a third stack in my bedroom. But let’s just look at the April issues, not even a full month’s worth. Take for granted that I’ll read the movie reviews, and the book reviews. In the April 2 issue the article I highlighted was “The Transition,” an excerpt from Robert Caro’s book about Lyndon Johnson, having to do with the day Kennedy was assassinated and LBJ became president. I was in Washington D.C that day, on a high school trip, and I’ll never forget when we were told to stay on the bus. When Danny Jandorf snuck off and then came back to tell us, “President Kennedy was shot!” I shouted at him, “Not funny, Danny.” For those of us who remember that day, how can we not read about it, even all these years later? The April 9th issue had an article by Rivka Galchen. “Wild West Germany,” about the writer Karl May, who wrote stories about the American West in the late 19th century. I’m interested in May because some years back an Israeli writer I know asked if I’d like to collaborate on a screenplay about him and I remember how difficult it was finding his books at the library. Now the New Yorker has a 6-page article chock full of information. The April 16 issue had a travel piece by Patricia Marx “You’re Welcome,” about people who couch-surf. I like to travel. Not sure I want to trade couches, but apparently there’s a movement out there I should at least know about. Dr. Jerome Groopman has a piece about new cancer therapies in the April 23 issue and I like to read his articles. I also want to read Judith Thurman’s profile on the graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, whose Fun Home was a N.Y. Times Best Book of the Year six years ago and now she has another one, this time about her mother. When I taught my memoir writing seminar at UCLA Fun Home was one of the two required texts (the other: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini). Junot Diaz has a short story, “Miss Lora” in this issue as well, and I like his writing.
New York magazine is also a weekly, and there are often articles I like to read. Frank Rich wrote about how the Republicans have been waging war on women for their own political gain in the April 2 issue. The April 9 issue was all about 3 centuries of scandals that hit New York—that issue goes with me to movie screenings, so I can read about a scandal in the time I have to wait before the movie starts. Joe Hagen wrote about Bill Maher in the April 16 issue, and since I don’t get HBO, I don’t watch Maher on TV, but I do like to read about him, especially since he donated a million bucks to Obama’s super-PAC. As I’ve just finished writing my satire on yoga, I had to read Vanessa Grigoriadis’s article on John Friend (“Karma Crash”), who founded the Anusara style of yoga, then ran into trouble when he started having sex with some of his followers. I also wanted to read what Barney Frank had to say in the interview they did with him, since Frank is a voice of reason who is leaving Congress because he’s fed up with the way his fellow congressmen behave.
While I enjoy Modern Family on TV, I don’t have a need to read what Sofia Vergara has to say in the April Esquire. But I will peruse “Sex and the American Man,” to see what Geoff Dyer, Tom Chiarella and Chris Jones have to say about fellatio, the missionary position, and why women aren’t as good in the sack as they think they are. Craig Davidson has an article about synthetic hormones, claiming that they are miracle drugs that will allow us to cheat death. I’ll read that. There’s also a piece on “The War Against Youth” that blames the Baby Boomers and not the recession for screwing up our young people. As a Baby Boomer and the father of two young people I kind of have an obligation to take a read, and maybe apologize to my kids afterwards.
In the April Atlantic I don’t think I’ll bother with their cover story on Ben Bernanke or read about how Rahm Emanuel is doing as mayor of Chicago. But Mark Bowen has a piece about “The Man Who Broke Atlantic City,” about a guy who won $6 million playing blackjack in one night—I like Bowen’s writing, and have used some of his previous articles in my Literature of Journalism class, so I’ll read it. And I’ll definitely read about “The Greatest Living Novelist,” Philip Roth, by Joseph O’Neill because I happen to agree with that assertion. Roth is an amazing writer. I tried to get him to agree to a Playboy interview for years, but he never would. Neither would John Updike. What a shame. In the May Atlantic, which just arrived, they have another piece about a writer, this time “The Most Overrated Novel of the Year”—knocking down Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I’ll check it out. But I’ll pass on “American Mozart: The Genius of Kanye West” as well as “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” There’s only so much time….
Alice Munro has a story (“Train”) in the April Harper’s, and since many believe that Munro is worthy of Nobel consideration, it’s not a story I want to ignore. Will Frears also writes about James Ellroy, and I know Ellroy—at least, I’ve been to a dinner with him, and have interviewed him for my book Endangered Species. He’s got quite an ego, Mr. Ellroy, but he also kind of looks like James Joyce, and Joyce is my literary hero. So, will read about Ellroy. And I’ll also probably skim Thomas Frank’s article “It’s a Rich Man’s World” about how billionaire backers pick America’s candidates—though in truth, I’m pretty fed up with our political system just because of these billionaire backers.
I don’t read many articles in Playboy, though I do look through the interviews, and, yes, the cartoons and photos, but I think I’ll read “The Hit King” about Pete Rose in the May issue because Pete Rose is a great fictional character who actually lives. And I may even read “Disappearance in the East” by Lawrence Osborne, about faking your own death, because haven’t we all thought about that at one time or another? And what would it be like to attend your own funeral and listen to the eulogies? David Sheff interviews N.Y. Times conservative columnist David Brooks, so that might be worth looking at, to see if Brooks thinks Romney has any chance at all against Obama.
I want to read “The Stanford Education Experiment” in the April issue of Wired, because it’s about two professors who let 160,000 students sign up for free to take their artificial intelligence course online. I’ve thought about teaching online but I’m too lazy to get it together, but maybe this article will inspire me. There’s also a piece about LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, “The Social Networker” by David Rowan that might be interesting as it’s about how relationships rule, and I’m lacking in that department as well—not with my personal relationships, but out there in cyberspace. I should probably take a look at “The Man Who Makes the Future” in the May Wired, since it’s about the man who invented the browser (Marc Andreessen) and how he sees what’s on the horizon.
My wife bought some clothing at a department store and wound up signing up for 3 free months of People, which I used to read years ago, but now that it’s coming into our house, I’m finding it a shell of what it used to be. Do I really care to read whether or not Princess Kate is pregnant or that Adele looks slimmer in the April 16 issue? No. But I will read the “shocking new details” about “JFK’S Final Moments.” As I said, I’m a sucker for JFK stories. In the April 30th People Brad and Angelina are on the cover—once again, who cares? Prince Harry is dating a pop star, Zach Efron is starring in a new movie, Francis Bean Cobain lashes out at her mom, Courtney Love, and Axl Rose grabbed headlines by refusing to join Guns N’Roses in their Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame induction. Don’t care about any of it. I was just proud that Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted. I’ve known Anthony since he was two and I really like him.
Another weekly, Entertainment Weekly, arrives at my house since its inception because not only do they cover the entertainment industry, but also books, and there aren’t many magazines that cover books (yes, The New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper’s and New York do, and that’s why I get them as well). In fact, there was a book that they put on the cover of the April 6 issue: Fifty Shades of Grey. OK, it’s about sex, and sex sells, but it’s a book. Hurray for books! Apparently they had a second cover for newsstand buyers, about The Hunger Games. So, two different books. I saw the movie, and thought it not worthy of all the attention it’s been getting. EW’s music issue came out April 13, with Adele on the cover. She’s got a beautiful voice, though it does seem she shouts her lyrics a lot. I’ll check out “The 30 Greatest Artists Right Now” though I’m already disappointed that the Chili Peppers aren’t included. And I will read the April 20 summer movie preview, since I go to a lot of screenings and I might as well check out which ones to avoid. I always enjoy the “Sound Bites” page of EW, by the way. Makes me laugh.
I don’t really know Town & Country as a magazine, but we’re getting it now, and I see in the May issue they have a delightful story about a French couple whose art deals with animal themes, as cabbages sprout chicken feet, baboons become fireplaces, and sheep become a dog’s couch. They also have an article about “Club TED,” on “the private power powwow of billionaires and braniacs.” I’ve already read about TED in The New Yorker and New York in March, but OK, I’ll take a look and see if there’s anything Town & Country has added.
The May Details has Chris Evans on the cover. Not interested. Nor am I interested in reading about “The New Rules of Running,” not with my hip. Nor about what’s secretly making me fat, or the fastest way to get my body beach-ready. I might take a look at the search for the perfect party drug, because I’ve always been fascinated by perfection. But Details is looking a bit thin to me.
ESPN the Magazine has two drug (well, marijuana, anyway) related articles—“Higher Education” and “We Smoked It All”—in their April 30 issue, which I will read. I’m not shocked at all that athletes smoke grass. When you get all banged up and need some relaxed downtime, nothing wrong with a joint or a bong hit. It’s so ridiculous, our antiquated drug laws. It’s bad enough we don’t pay our college athletes, but to deprive them of normal college experience? Come on. But those are the only articles I’ll read in that issue because the rest is devoted to the NFL draft, and I couldn’t care less about that. RG3 (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III) is on the cover , and he’s also on the cover of the April 23 Sports Illustrated, so he’s obviously a big deal. But what’s curious is that both magazines pick him to go second in the draft, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Who’s not so lucky to be bypassed for both covers.
If I was a Boston Red Sox fan I’d read “Fenway Turns 100” in Sports Illustrated, but I’m not, I’m a Yankee fan, so I’ll watch them play on ESPN instead. But I will read Frank Deford’s book excerpt “Over Time” about when the NBA was young and “inconsequential.” Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy—inconsequential? I don’t think so.
I get Golf Digest and Golf magazines, though I mostly look at the equipment because every issue of every golf magazine seems the same when it comes to telling you how to chip better, drive straighter, lower your score by putting better or using the right ball. I won’t read the “7 Things All Great Players Do” in the May Golf Digest because I’m not a great player, and great players play a whole different game than duffers like me. Nor will I read “Rory’s Real Power Move” in the May Golf, because really, do you want to spend your precious time reading about golfers? Yes, if their name begins with a wild animal of the cat family, but once I read that 90% of pro golfers are Republicans, I just can’t bother with them. I do enjoy seeing great golf shots, but I don’t much care to read about them. John Updike wrote brilliantly about golf, but Updike’s not around anymore, and I haven’t seen any other writer capture golf the way he did.
I grabbed a copy of the March issue of MORE when I went to SuperCuts for a haircut, not for the profile of Julianne Moore but for the 6 page article on “Anti-Aging Skin Care: What’s Right For You?” I liked the way they put 20 products on one page and then explained what each is for. This isn’t an article I will read, but one I will pass on to my daughters. But I confess to lifting it from SuperCuts because I didn’t want to be seen tearing out the pages.
There’s not much in the May issue of Wine Spectator that interests me, although they have a piece on Long Island Wine Country and I grew up on Long Island and didn’t know they grew grapes, so I’ll take a look. Same with their sister publication, Cigar Aficionado. The June cover (June? Boy, they are ahead of the curve) features the co-creators of the TV show Homeland, which everybody I know who gets it likes. I’ve never seen it, so won’t bother reading about it. Oh look, an article “Will Tiger Change His Stripes?” I’ll read that. I do enjoy keeping track of Tiger. Like I do Pete Rose. Both fascinating characters.
And finally, Time and Newsweek. Time’s April 23 cover story is about the secret society of Presidents, and I’ll read it. I’ll also look at the “Faces of Syria’s Victims” and read “How Sleep Can Spark Creativity.” I will definitely not read the April 16 cover of Newsweek about Dr. Phil’s Diet books. Dr. Phil has always given me the creeps. But people obviously like the guy. Now he’s on the cover of Newsweek. Yuck. Walter Mosley, though, has an article inside “Never Argue with a Man with a Gun” and Mosley was Bill Clinton’s favorite crime writer, so I’ll read that. And novelist (and fellow Peace Corpsman) Paul Theroux has a piece about George Zimmerman, who killed the 17-year-old black teenager Trayvon Martin, and though I’m pretty tired of this story already, I will read what Theroux has to say, because I always read what novelists have to say in news magazines. My favorite feature in Newsweek these days is the back page, “My Favorite Mistake,” because it’s edited by their culture editor, and my former student (I’m so proud!) Kara Cutruzzula. In this issue she gets Steven Tyler to confess about dressing like a lady. Kara also interviewed John Grisham on his $6 million screw-up in the April 9 Newsweek. Way to go Kara!
I guess it’s appropriate to end this look at a month’s worth of magazines with Time’s April 30 issue, “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” So glad to see that for the first time since they’ve been doing this list Oprah Winfrey is not on it, and Jessica Chastain is. In the piece on Jessica is says that she was discovered by Al Pacino when he cast her as Salome in his yet-to-be-released film Wilde Salome. I am very familiar with that film because I’m in it (as the journalist friend who hangs around Pacino throughout). I spent some time with Jessica, I even filmed an interview with her for the movie, but it’s not in the final cut. She’s terrific in the film—her best performance to date.
And there you are: I sat down to write about the magazine stories I wanted to read today and wound up at this computer for two plus hours, not reading anything. But I still have some time. I don’t think I’ll get back soon to the books I’m halfway through (too many to list), but maybe I’ll read all of these articles (not today of course, over the next month or so). And then maybe I won’t, because next week a new batch arrives in my mailbox, and the week after that, and the week after that. Aaarghhh! How do we possibly keep up?