Out of the Blue

From Cover to Cover

When time was marked by magazines

By Deborah Salomon

Life’s steep and winding highway begs mile markers. On mine, look for magazines.

Because you are what you read, from childhood on. I remember more about Mary Poppins than Earnest Hemingway. But those are books, to curl up with on a rainy Saturday, or dissect in a college lit class.

Magazines, in contrast, provide quick reads: facts, opinions, critiques, humor, all au courant.

I grew up in a magazine-rich household. Highlight of the week was arrival of Life. What or who would rate a cover story? Eisenhower? Marilyn? Castro? Ali?

My mother rated Look a notch below Life, therefore unworthy of a subscription. Thank goodness she approved of Reader’s Digest. I beelined to the “Laughter, the Best Medicine” feature.

This affection began with Jack and Jill, first published the year before I was born. I aced the page where animals or objects were “hidden” in an illustration. Soon, much to the chagrin of parents, pre-teen girls developed “crushes” on movie stars. We passed around Photoplay and Modern Screen until pages, stained from Coke, went raggedy. A year or so later, we moved on to racy, fabricated confessions in True Story, purchased by older sisters and sequestered under the mattress. Pure trash . . . but a deliciously grown-up transition.

I was interested in food even then, probably because my mother wasn’t. I recall begging her to subscribe to Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping in the early ’50s, when anything cooked in cream of mushroom soup rated “gourmet.” Meatloaf was a hot topic. Garlic, not. Cakes had three layers; salads were “tossed” and fresh herbs, absent.

Never caught the Seventeen bug. Just too 17-ish.

As a Manhattan kid transplanted kicking and screaming to Asheville, I craved the edgy. With babysitting money, I subscribed to The New Yorker in high school, mostly for the cartoons and covers which, unlike now, were timely but gentle. From these pages printed in a recognizable font I learned about profiling, which helped later on when, coming full circle, I profiled my favorite New Yorker cartoonist, Ed Koren, for a news syndicate.

I continued that subscription for more than 50 years until the articles became too long and the covers, too mean-spirited. I tried skimming my husband’s Sports Illustrated after hearing that the writing was top drawer. Maybe, once you plowed through the jargon.

Then, the Newsweek mandate.

My mother was a high school math teacher and politics maven. She had strong opinions better expressed in Newsweek than Time. I had disappointed her once, by an indifference to math and disinterest in the teaching profession. She certainly wasn’t going to cede her only child to even a smidgen of pop journalism. So, after I married and moved far away, she gifted me with a perpetual Newsweek subscription. Our phone calls usually included a “Did you read about . . . ”

Still checking up.

The subscription ran out after she died.

Magazines in their original form also declined, victims to the internet, podcasts and 24-hour cable news. TV Guide, where my father checked off the week’s best ball games, became superfluous and The Saturday Evening Post a collector’s item. Playboy endured, as if anybody really looks like that naked.

This highway has a happy ending. When my older grandson was about 9, he displayed a keen interest in history, geography, outer space and other exotic destinations. So, for his birthday, I subscribed to National Geographic but had the copies sent to my address. That way I could skim the stories and discuss them with him. He already knew most of the stuff, but loved to argue facts and opinions, whether tribal cultures or marine life in the South China Sea. What a joy, to be out-litigated by a fourth-grader. I subscribed until he was 15.

“Nanny, you should see the pile of National Geographics I have stacked up,” he said, when moving into his first apartment. By then, he had traveled and/or studied in two dozen countries including China, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Central America. He speaks three languages, graduated from law school and passed the bar, all by 23. I take no credit, except for sharing something beyond comic books and chocolate chip cookies.

I can’t remember a time when a few magazines weren’t stacked on my coffee table — always PineStraw, occasionally something else. Occasionally, I read The New Yorker online. My dentist gets an impressive array, including Our State and Southern Living. I arrive early, on purpose, to copy recipes that I never make. At the supermarket checkout I notice that magazines have become terribly specialized, more like grown-up picture books. And horribly expensive.

I don’t subscribe to anything anymore. The house where I wallpapered a bathroom with New Yorker covers is long sold. I haven’t the heart to ask my grandson if he discarded the National Geographics.

But the thrill endures because look where I ended up: writing about magazines for a magazine.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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