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Much has been written in recent days about the release of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences report called The Heart of the Matter, which examines how the humanities are losing their place in education and in our culture. The report, which was released just yesterday, attempts…

The Heart of the Matter

Much has been written in recent days about the release of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences report called The Heart of the Matter, which examines how the humanities are losing their place in education and in our culture. The report, which was released just yesterday, attempts to ignite a national conversation about why the arts and humanities remain critical to the function of our democracy. (Read David Brooks’ column about it in today’s New York Times.)

Posted by Joel on June 21 2013 • Current Affairs

Journey Through the Checkout Racks

Reading magazines from the early 1960s can show you not only how life has changed since then, but also how magazines themselves have changed. Laura Vanderkam has an interesting story in City magazine called Journey Through the Checkout Racks that looks at how women’s magazines (Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal) have evolved. What’s particular striking is how erudite they once were.

"Flip through the weighty 50-year-old issues, and you’ll soon feel, literally, a massive cultural shift in what women expect from their periodicals,” writes Vanderkam. “In 1963, consuming a magazine could take days. Early that year, Good Housekeeping serialized Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the French Revolution, The Glass-Blowers, cramming much of it into a mere three issues. In May, GH ran a large portion of Edmund Fuller’s novel The Corridor, a feat that required stretching the magazine to 274 text-heavy pages. Redbook’s March 1963 issue featured Hortense Calisher’s novel Textures of Life and five short stories, a level of fiction ambition that even The New Yorker rarely attempts now.”

And serious nonfiction was offered to readers as well. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, credited with starting a new wave of feminism, was excerpted in the pages of Ladies Home Journal. In 1963, Redbook ran a story about a doctor who decided to leave Cuba after becoming disillusioned with with the socialist revolution, Vanderkam writes. “Redbook’s January 1963 issue provides further evidence that the editors of women’s magazines felt no fear of controversial topics. The previous year, actress Sherri Finkbine had famously traveled to Sweden for an abortion after learning that thalidomide might have injured her unborn child. Redbook’s top cover line, HOW THALIDOMIDE TURNED A PREGNANCY INTO A NIGHTMARE: SHERRI FINKBINE’S OWN STORY, pointed the reader to a lengthy article called “The Baby We Didn’t Dare to Have.” The editors’ note in that issue discussed efforts to legalize abortion—following up, the editors noted, on a report in Redbook’s August 1959 issue about how many doctors broke abortion laws. The magazine was trying to shape the national conversation.”

It’s a very interesting story. Vanderkam’s analysis shows us how lives have unexpectedly changed over the past half century, and contrary to our beliefs how much they really haven’t. One way readers’ priorities have changed is clear, writes Vanderkam; they no longer seem “to include spending all day reading a magazine.”

Posted by Joel on June 21 2013 • Journalism

Edmund Wilson's Decline Letter

I recently stumbled across this literary gem courtesy of Tim Ferris’ blog. It’s a letter that Edmund Wilson once used to send to those who requested his time. A noted critic, essayist and journalist, Wilson is the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal for Literature. During his life he was often asked to take part in many projects, yet as this note suggests, he was well aware that it easy for an artist to become distracted.


Posted by Joel on June 07 2013 • Books