Friday, September 10, 2010

Tossing and Turning... Pages

I love magazines, and always have. Shortly after I learned to read, my godparents caught me poring over Popular Electronics. It broke their hearts. Thinking I lacked suitable reading matter, they bought me a 14-volume set of Reader's Digest Condensed Classics, with pretty bindings, gold-edged pages, and ribbon bookmarks.

In fact, I went to the library often. I just liked magazines. (But those classics were good, too. When I finally realized that "condensed" wasn't necessarily a good thing, I was delighted to read the complete editions of Jane Eyre, Little Women, and my other favorites.)

I wasn't suffering when I read Popular Electronics at 7 or 8. I liked it. It made no sense to me at all, but not much did at that age. It was just another reminder of how much I still needed to learn. And it happened to be stacked on the living room table along with Life, Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Women's Day, Redbook, and National Geographic.

To put it mildly, my parents liked magazines, too. My father has never tossed an issue of National Geographic since he "joined the Society" in the 1930s. His living room table is still piled with recent issues, along with photography, electronics, organ, and radio-operator magazines, and he's 96.

When my brother went into the army in the early '70s, he had his Car and Driver and New York magazines forwarded to our house. I now realize that my early forays into New York gave me the first hint that I was not a suburban girl at heart, but a city one. There was no way I was going to spend my future in a split-level. But I was going to spend it reading magazines.

I evolved from Highlights to Ingenue and Seventeen. Then to Glamour and Mademoiselle — exotic publications in a Swarthmore College dorm room. After college, I kept up with those and also started my lifelong New Yorker subscription. Eventually I started getting Metropolitan Home, Victoria, House Beautiful, and House and Garden. Then Martha Stewart Living came along, and I kept every issue. I also subscribed, in various years, to In Style, Cook's Illustrated, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Elle, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Domino, Gourmet, Bazaar, Vogue, and Real Simple.

And that's just what I remember off the top of my head. I've gotten lots of decorating and cooking ideas from magazines. I've learned a lot about health, money, fashion, and life from reading them, too. I like to pull out an old issue and go through it before I fall asleep.

Eventually I had two long shelves loaded with all of my Marthas and old issues of other magazines I couldn't part with. There was always a giant stack of current magazines on the coffee table, and a giant basket that filled the whole area under the table packed with catalogues as well as magazines.

Unfortunately for them — but fortunately for my tiny apartment — most of those house-and-garden magazines went belly-up. And I finally got fed up with fashion magazines a few years ago. I'd continued subscribing because, as a retail copywriter, I had to keep up on trends. But Vogue began to strike me as a loathsome example of conspicuous consumption, not worth the occasional fantasy photo spreads where they turn Keira Knightley into Cinderella, or whatever. Who is Vogue written for? How many women would pay $700 for, say, a T-shirt — and would I want anything to do with a single one of them? I still subscribe to Elle, mainly because I was one of their guest reviewers for a couple of years. They sent me piles of free books! I might apply to do that again. But I think I'm going to let my subscription lapse. I let my Martha subscription end last year and the world didn't end.

About four years ago, I decided that my magazine and catalogue (J. Peterman, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Martha by Mail) collection was becoming ridiculous. During one hot summer week, I went through everything, tearing out photos and articles I wanted to keep — and filling a shopping bag. I also recycled at least five linear feet of magazines. Slowly I weeded out more and more over the next year or so, until I didn't need the basket under the coffee table anymore. I kept a pile in a small basket by the bed, and another pile of now-"vintage" magazines in a cabinet.

Recently, even these began to get on my nerves. I believe I've been reading too many "Minimalist" living articles and blogs. The clutter-free philosophy is hard to resist. So I went to Paper-Source and bought three pretty striped magazine file boxes. I wanted four, but three were all they had.


The guy on the left is the magazine holder.

It's taken me about week (I can't read anything without falling asleep these days) but I've winnowed and weeded, reducing my magazine collection to fill those three boxes. Out went issues that contained ads or letters I'd written. I tore out the ads and tossed the magazines. Out went many recent issues of O and Real Simple that I hadn't gotten around to reading. (Along with those and Elle, I still subscribe to The New Yorker and just went back to that guilty pleasure, Vanity Fair. These are all easy to toss the same month they arrive.)

So, one file box is full of the best issue of Martha, especially Christmas, Halloween, and decorating issues. Another box holds ancient issues I just can't part with — no more than two issues per title. The third box is a little embarrassing. It has J. Peterman and Anthropologie catalogs — which sometimes sell for as much as $75 on eBay. I'm too lazy to sell them but too miserly to throw them out. It's also full of commemorative issues — the Princess Diana Vanity Fair issue, The New Yorker's 9/11 issue, Newsweek's JFK Junior issue. I really don't want these — do you? Make me an offer for the lot, and it's yours.

There's a reasonable stack of current magazines on the coffee table — nothing near as bad as the stacks in my dad's house — and that's it. The basket formerly in the bedroom is now holding towels in the bathroom.

And I feel better without all that old paper lying around. I shouldn't miss any of it because I have a good-sized pile of clippings for comfort. I'll eventually sort those and store them in an accordion file. But first. it's time to tackle the closets, cupboards, and drawers....

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