Friday, May 06, 2011

My Weekly War with the New Yorker

This entry isn’t so much about my problem with the periodical the New Yorker, it’s mostly about the Mexican standoff between me, laziness and free-time. Usually laziness and me gang-up and kick the crap out of free-time, but there are times when laziness and free-team turn the tables on yours truly. In any event, the New Yorker is a perfect conduit for this standoff that happens every day.

In my opinion, the New Yorker is probably the best magazine being printed today. It’s smart, it’s timely, it’s funny, it has cartoons, most of today’s top writers would give their thumbs to appear in its pages. And the best thing--the length of the articles--are ironically what’s kicking my ass on a daily basis*.

They’re too interesting and too long—and trust me, I will expound on this insanely whiny reason after this Posterisk because I sound like a world-class steakhead with the first six-and-a-half words of this sentence.

* Whenever I complain about the downfall of Sports Illustrated, I always crab about the length of the articles; mainly they’re too short. Usually, I’ll say that when the story really starts to get going, you see that little box at the end of the page and you know that you’re done. I’ll prattle on (I'm a hit at parties) that when I was a kid, the articles were “much more in-depth” and it was a “more satisfying read” when I was younger. Yes, the articles are a bit shorter than 20 years ago, however what I really mean is that SI seems to know that I don’t have the time to read long articles, so they’ve made them shorter. This in turn, pisses me off because subconsciously, I know that I don’t have the amount of free time that I used to but I'm not ready to lose that battle yet.

Since I was in my mid-20s, I’ve always wanted a subscription to the New Yorker. Not because it’s the quintessential “adult” magazine, but because I found each issue packed with interesting articles and thought that if I read them I’d become a more well-rounded, educated person. And while that certainly was a reason, I also harbored thoughts of where I'd read the articles that would make me a hit at any cocktail party. There I'd be in front of a roaring fire, in a high-backed leather chair that is part of an immense home library where I’d be in a velvet smoking jacket, a snifter of brandy at my right hand and that week’s New Yorker in my left paw. Oh, I’d chuckle at the issue’s bon mots, nod approvingly or shake my head with consternation when reading articles about foreign policy, maybe even shed a tear or two when reading a piece about some ravaged far away land.

In my mind’s eye, I was more erudite than Mr. Howell (this reference should have been my first clue that this was a complete fantasy) and more worldly than Uncle Traveling Matt (and there’s my second clue) and judging from the home library and smoking jacket, richer than Scrooge McDuck.

As I’ve come to find out, future events that happen in your mind never coincide with what happens in real life. In reality, there are a few places where I read the New Yorker:

1. When I’m on the couch and my wife is watching a show that I hate
2. During the 45 minutes that I carve out for lunch at my desk. Of course, I’m not really concentrating too much on the written page because I also have to keep one eye on my email inbox.
3. While I’m on one of the cardio machines in the gym. And if you've seen my waist line recently, that hasn’t happen in about six months.

Deep down I knew that I was never going to get the immense home library or high-backed leather chairs or the velvet smoking jacket. But it would still be nice to really concentrate on a truly great magazine.

About 10 different magazines arrive in our mailbox every month (the New Yorker is a weekly) and I rarely read any of them.

A few years ago I subscribed to Esquire because one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman, wrote a pop culture column every month. Two months after I subscribed, he stopped writing for the magazine. In recent years, Esquire has turned into a bossier version of Maxim and is filled with mindless articles on “manly” celebrities (like Vince Vaughn) who are pushing their next mindless movie that I’ll never see. Every two or three months they have an article that I may want to read, but I have to wade through so many perfume and designer ads that by the time I get to the article, I smell like the first floor of Macy’s and I’m concerned that I'm under dressed to read the piece. I have two years left on my subscription.

We also get ESPN the Magazine, but I only subscribed to it so that I can get the Insider columns on I rarely even crack open this literary abortion, but when I do it looks like it was written by ADHD chimps who have been raised to think that AXE Body Spray and Mountain Dew advertisements are the pinnacle of page design and literary achievement. I know that I sound like an old man trying to figure out these damn video games that the kids play these days, but on the occasions when I do peruse this magazine it’s actually difficult to know where to begin reading. ESPN the Magazine gives me the literary version of an ice cream headache.

Entertainment Weekly comes to our home too and most of the time, it’s not worth the $6 I pay for the yearly subscription. However there are times when it doesn't disappoint and the way I look it is if I get one or two issues that touch on something that I enjoy, then it almost pays for itself.

Aside from the New Yorker, the other magazine that we get (and that I like) is Boston Magazine. But I like this for reasons other than the New Yorker; I like to read it because they review restaurants and places that I may have been to. I sit there and say, “Aly, remember we went there?” or “Aly what did we eat there? It was pretty good, right?” I’m sure my wife hates Boston Magazine day at our house. They also have some pretty breezy articles that are enjoyable to read.

The rest of the magazines that come to my house are food magazines. Those are for my wife and she enjoys them. I think.

The difference between the New Yorker and the rest of these magazines is that it’s not written for a person with a third-grade education. The writers don’t dumb down their articles, it’s the responsibility of the reader to fill in the blanks if they don’t understand a topic. And while that’s an admirable quantity, it also one of the things that makes it tougher to read. Any of the magazines I’ve listed above, I can buzz through in about an hour (ESPN the Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, 10 minutes tops). And this isn’t a humblebrag, there just isn’t a lot of substance to these weekly/monthly reads.

But the New Yorker is prestigious, even the cartoons have some sort of gravitas—and I am not ashamed to admit that one of the main reasons why I originally subscribed to the New Yorker is because of the cartoons. Both the subject and the art are better than you’re going to find in the daily newspapers. They aren't all gems though.*

* One of the most famous episodes of “Seinfeld” is when Elaine couldn’t understand a New Yorker cartoon, so she confronted the editor of the magazine and walked away with a cartooning gig. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorite episodes of that TV show. And the fact that her published cartoon was a rip-off of Ziggy is even better.

While the New Yorker is a weekly, humbling experience it’s subscription is still something that I’m going to continue. Some of my brightest friends subscribe to the magazine and I've found that they’re just like me, they have dozens of issues scattered around their house dog-eared and worn pages with titles circled—indicating that these are articles that will be read later.

It seems to me that we’re all fighting the laziness/free-time battle with ourselves. I guess that we’ll get around to reading all of this stuff when we retire—what age is that again?

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