An Ode to Magazines (The Print Kind)

[Published in Christ and Pop Culture]

Just the other day, my husband said to me that he was sick of wading through the sheer volume of stuff on the Internet. He is ready for an intelligent person to come along, aggregate top-quality articles, put them all together in a handy portable format in a binding that a reader could just flip through at leisure. Lucky for him, I still subscribe to a lot of magazines. He was being facetious, of course, but there was just enough undercurrent of seriousness in what he said to encourage a magazine-phile such as myself. I pointed to the teetering stack in the corner — everything from Wired to First Things to The New Yorker to Elle Decor — and told him to have at it.

In the face of the threat to the very existence of the periodical, it does not seem out of place to offer support of the medium in overwrought spiritual terms.

I not only subscribe to magazines, I keep magazines. Not in multiple teetering stacks, thankfully, but in quantities that invite comment. I have several (tidy!) piles of magazines dating back many years, some as far back as 1912, which predates my own arrival on the planet, just to be clear. A good periodical will publish work that is both of the moment and of universal human interest, so it follows that a magazine from 1912 can make for some timely reading, even now. There is something humbling about reading an article in the long-defunct Collier’s Weeklyfor instance (peak circulation: 2,500,000), such as the one I read written by a 19th-century reporter offering a direct account of being present at Lizzie Borden’s trial. It makes the stuff of history come alive, which is a useful reminder that the time I live in now will one day be the stuff of history. According to the reporter, Lizzie Borden seemed cold and remorseless at the trial. A firsthand account this captivating beats a rerun of Law & Order any day.

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