As a child, I read a lot of magazines. My grandparents, who lived in a small apartment about six blocks away from us, had countless subscriptions, and years’ worth of issues stacked up in our basement, where I sat contentedly flipping through the glossy pages on rainy afternoons and cold winter evenings.
I could go out on a limb and say this choice of reading material contributed to my warped body image, middle-class hyper-idealism and unfair expectations regarding men and relationships… but I think I’ll stick to the larger truth: These magazines made an avid reader.
Here’s a nostalgic look at a few of the magazines that helped shape my worldview at age 9.
“Town and Country.” To this day, I have no idea why my grandparents subscribed to this magazine. It appeared to be by, for and about WASPs, and my paternal grandparents were hardy Irish Catholics from the Midwest. Regardless, I loved the heft of T&C, its endless pages of gorgeous fashion photography and the promise of a beautiful life at an estate on Long Island. (I’m aware this makes me sound like a climber. Have no fear: My working-class roots run deep.)
“Ladies Home Journal.” LHJ has grown up a bit and improved its design, but in the 1980s I think it was a lot more sensational and far less aesthetically pleasing. I loved the celebrity cover stories: “Melissa Gilbert: All Grown Up,” “Priscilla Presley: A Glamorous Grandmother at 40.” Vanna White offered diet tips, and ordinary housewives underwent makeovers that transformed them from frumpy to fabulous with just a haircut and some good makeup.
“National Geographic.” I’m not heavily into science, though I love to study maps for fun. I read NatGeo the way some men joke that they read “Playboy” for the articles. The photography was and still is stunning. Moreover, the discovery of the iconic yellow mag also marked my discovery of advertising. I loved hunting down old issues — the older the better — and studying the color ads for vacuum cleaners, Amtrak and life insurance.
I used to feel more guilty about my more pulpy reading choices. Then, I remembered that some people don’t read at all, by choice or by circumstance. I love reading and do so every day. Literacy is one of the few issues I care enough about to get involved in. I’ve stopped apologizing tacitly for the fact that not every book on my nightstand is “Madame Bovary,” “Moby-Dick” or “Ulysses.” I read widely about American history, political leaders and cultural movements. I also read Jennifer Weiner and Curtis Sittenfeld. No apologies.