The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum once argued that Breaking Bad is a TV show you crave and dread at the same time. As it happens, I feel a similar way about The New Yorker. It contains the best magazine writing there is, but the articles are long and a new issue comes out approximately every 11 minutes. So if you’re a print subscriber, you get backed up and grow to fear the coming of the mailman.
The other periodicals I get are the biweekly New York magazine, monthlies Mojo and Smithsonian, the quarterly alumni magazine from Northwestern University, and the Oxford American, which ostensibly comes out four times a year but don’t set your watch to the schedule—we’re talking about a literary enterprise and funding is fickle.
Unlike The New Yorker, these publications come into my home at a manageable pace and therefore don’t make me feel bad about not keeping up. Mind you, the alumni magazine makes me feel bad, but in a different way.
Like Instagram, annual Christmas letters, and the United States Senate, alumni magazines exist to provide a forum for bragging. But knowing that doesn’t keep me from getting a demoralizing sense of inadequacy by reading about the ludicrously impressive accomplishments of my classmates—or, worse, the people who graduated far more recently.
The alumni updates are always like, “Dr. Hamilton Leroux, class of ’17, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Handsomeness on the same day he fixed climate change and his play opened on Broadway. He lives on the Mamma Mia! island with his husband, Jake Gyllanhaal, and their two enormous penises.”
Sometimes I’m tempted to mail in an update of my own. How’s this: “Zachary ‘Zac’ Thompson, class of ’01, recently rewatched every episode of Designing Women. It really went downhill after Delta Burke left. Next, Thompson plans to finish the Betty Broderick season of Dirty John, though he resists the idea of anyone other than Meredith Baxter Birney playing the lead role.”
I recommend not reading your alumni magazine at all if you can help it, but I suppose I can’t. It comes in the mail for free, after all, and Thompson has been noted for his enthusiastic reading habits since being selected for the Red reading group in Mrs. Lawrence’s second grade class (’87).
My Smithsonian subscription was a gift. The low quality of the paper reminds me of the Lillian Vernon catalog. I don’t know what this says about the periodical’s financial well-being. For what it’s worth, I have always considered Lillian Vernon a notch classier than Fingerhut when it comes to mail-order companies, possibly because “Fingerhut” sounds like a name that would make teenagers giggle.
At various times in the past, I have also subscribed to the New York Review of Books, The New Republic (mostly for Stanley Kauffmann’s film reviews), The Nation, DoubleTake (RIP), The Paris Review, Afar, Chicago magazine, American Theatre, and probably some others I’m forgetting.
When I lived in Chicago, I received the Trib until somebody began stealing my copy from in front of my building in Uptown on a regular basis. Once I realized my days were not diminished without frequent doses of the down-to-earth wit and wisdom of columnist Mary Schmich, I let my subscription expire. Sorry, Mare, but I can remind myself to wear sunscreen and write my own cringeworthy satirical light verse.
The first magazine I ever had a subscription for was Highlights, which my mom got for me when I was in elementary school. The only features I remember are “Hidden Pictures,” where you’d look for, like, a cow embedded in an illustration of a tree, presumably to prepare children for bad acid trips later on in life; and “Goofus and Gallant,” a cartoon about two boys whose names were self-fulfilling prophecies.
Gallant had manners, whereas Goofus was a real piece of shit. He’d never share his toys or do his chores or hang out with his grandma. But Gallant, on the other hand, always offered to help, didn’t even know how to raise his voice, followed proper phone etiquette like it was his religion, and invariably finished every issue of The New Yorker before the next one came.
His blurb in the alumni magazine would make you want to drop dead.