I used to haunt flea markets looking for back issues of magazines I had known and loved as a child. My family subscribed to the middle-brow usuals: Life, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest. We didn’t have many books in our home, so I spent hours and hours poring through these periodicals. We looked forward to the annual “joke” cover of Saturday Evening Post by Norman Rockwell: how many mistakes can you find in this painting? Even my four-year-old brain could engage in that challenge. And Reader’s Digest – I may scoff at it today, but I loved the quizzes and anecdotes and occasional natural history article.
Seeking out old magazines became sort of a family tradition as I got older. I gave my mother a 1910 edition of Harpers for her 80th birthday, and we had a great time going through the ads and articles and thinking about how the world was in her birth year. These tangible cultural reminders incite nostalgia, but they also raise other concerns.
My mother gave my husband a subscription to National Geographic for his birthday every year from the time we married until she died – some thirty years. That’s 360 magazines! And he can’t throw anything away! When we moved recently, they had to go, and not even the local nursing homes would have them. The world is awash in wonderful back issues of National Geographic.
We have a complete archive of all the Interweave Press magazine back issues in the basement of our office building, and sometimes I go down there to look something up. It’s hard to accept that the oldest ones date back to 1975 – almost four decades! Antiques! It’s never a quick trip. I find the issue I want, the factoid I’m seeking, but in the process I find dozens of other bits and pieces that I just have to stop and read, or at least look at the pictures. All these back issues take up a whole room, a room that used to be a bomb shelter in the 1950s. No way could I fit them into my house.
Like many women my age (and younger), I wax eloquent about my love of paper, pages to turn, magazines as objects. And I hope they never go away. But at the same time, if I had to choose between a set of pages to fondle and all the rich content those pages hold, I’ll take the content any day. That’s the beauty of magazines in electronic form, on CDs, on the internet. You can have the content without the clutter. On the other hand, I’m pretty comfortable with clutter. It’s a conundrum.
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