With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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My favorite magazine isn’t published anymore. It is McClure’s, the foremost of the several magazines which in the early years of this century developed a style and attitude to which Teddy Roosevelt gave the name “muckraking.”
It was a blossoming of the Jeffersonian ideal of a press in constant confrontation with the political and economic establishment. In that check-and-balance, that conflict, would be the key to the survival of democracy, Jefferson felt. As he said: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers, and be capable of reading them.” Or, “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the waters pure.”
My favorite astrologer, Lionel Day, has said that if a publication is put out for the people, not for businessmen and politicians (as is so often the case) it will succeed.
McClure’s, which led the way in crusading against big business and corruption, and for social justice, gained a circulation of a half-million. Probably the most important piece ever run in McClure’s was Ida Tarbell’s classic, “History of the Standard Oil Company,” which exposed how John D. Rockefeller through the most ruthless and corrupt of means created the Standard Oil Trust. Lincoln Steffens’ “The Shame of the Cities” was also a McClure’s landmark in what’s now called investigative reporting.
There were other great muckraking magazines then: American Magazine, which became the home of a number of McClure’s writers including Miss Tarbell and Steffens; Everybody’s, Pearson’s, Hampton’s, La Follete’s Weekly, Collier’s, even Cosmopolitan for a while.
They aimed to dig out the truth and present it with toughness and courage. A libertarian form of journalistic expression was involved, a very honest form.
In our day, much of the media has grown fat and been compromised by corporate interlocks with the powers-that-be. The media have succumbed to the fallacy that if you present two differing positions, somehow the truth will flow out the middle, a variation on courtroom advocacy.
I consider this the “Hitler denies” concept of journalism: if it were practiced forty-five years ago, our media then would have found it incumbent upon them, at the Nazi invasion of the Lowlands or the revelation of Auschwitz, to allow Hitler or some other “spokesman” for the Nazis to give their “side.”
The muckrakers went for the core of reality and with great social consciousness exposed the underside of American society to the fresh air.
The underside is still there, including the Standard Oil Trust. Its toll, its scale, its exploitation of human and natural resources, and the attempts to hide that exploitation are far greater now than ever, and it must be exposed constantly, if democracy is to survive.
Sag Harbor, New York
I’m in the unique position of often being asked, “What are your favorite magazines?” since my husband and I have a magazine distribution business, so this one’s easy. Here’s a few favorites:
Mothering, from Albuquerque, N.M., because it is all heart. It, like THE SUN, is written in (large) part by the readers. The readers are mothers and fathers who care about natural childbirth, natural eating, loving, living, working it out together. They (we) are not afraid of such things as nursing a child until age 3, or 4; letting the children sleep every night with the parents (known in our strange Western cultures as “the family bed”), which is assumed by all other cultures to be normal living; educating a child at home rather than letting him be damaged by the public schools; allowing a child a loud voice and open spirit, which causes some sacrifice to our own egos. I love it. I find other people who are as “sane” as myself!
THE SUN. You I subscribe to. Your magazine is too unassuming to sell here in “Raucus City.” Los Angeles likes a lot of flash and sex and dramatic stuff in its magazines (Hustler, OMNI, Wet, etc.). I love you, especially Sy, who is not out to prove something, but who presents himself and the magazine to me simply and honestly.
Mother Jones, which is sure to thrill me with some new revelation about the corporations and establishments which surround us. It’s full of information which is new to me, and I like that.
These three I sit down and read as soon as they come in . . . well, soon thereafter. My husband reads CoEvolution Quarterly, Mother Earth News, Runner’s World, and Prevention. Those are our top choices out of the 150 titles we carry.
North Hollywood, California
The only magazine I really look forward to receiving and reading right now is Motheroot Journal, a review magazine of small press women’s material. This magazine, more than any other right now (not counting the one I edit, Hyperion) feels like my magazine, to read and to write for. I can keep in touch with women writers I’m interested in; I can see my own thoughts going out to meet the world; and the world I’m most curious about right now — the literary world — comes to meet me through these pages.
It is $4.00 for four issues, from 214 Dewey St., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15218. A bargain!
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Information! Access! A magazine is a raging (raving?) conversation compared to a book’s monologue. Oh wow! Graphics combine with editorial/feature dialogue to give readers the essence of consumable literature. Magazines are the instantly re-played moment.
Sure, some of my back issues are cherished and preserved like letters from friends, but most magazines that come through the front door leave by the back door, or the chimney. Books, you have to save and preserve, newspapers you have to recycle. But magazines, just get rid of them and, like a good consuming American, make room for more on that coffee table, bedside stand, toilet top, or car seat.
OK, my top ten:
Village Voice — The pulse of urban America in the 1980s. Best collection of columnists around. The ads remind me of what I’m missing in the Northeast.
Biohazard — A locally Xeroxed magazine. These guys churn out wonderful articles, reviews and outrageous collages.
In These Times — Clear reporting. Good clear reviews of the arts/movies/books.
Overthrow (formally Yipster Times) — A.J. Weberman’s analysis of Bob Dylan’s latest sure thing is worth the whole copy. The Yips were selling “Dump Nixon” buttons months before Watergate. Now it’s the Carter/Allman Brothers cocaine connection. Eat the rich!
All school newspapers — just good to read to see what they’re printing/interested in.
New Musical Express — a weekly English music magazine that covers the field better than anyone else in the world.
Rain — another small, engaging magazine, primarily about the Northwest environment.
N.Y. Times Magazine — Sometimes they have great articles. It was what we, as children, fought for each Sunday after the Sports and Arts and Leisure sections.
CoEvolution Quarterly — Despite its recent excesses regarding space life and techno-science frontiers, CoEv gives excellent “access to tools” reviews and Stewart Brand’s gossip column at the close of each issue is entertaining and humanizes all the “names.”
And lastly, that new magazine that just came out — I forget the name. It’s fantastic! You know that one. Can’t wait for the second issue!
My list of favorite magazines changes from month to month, or even from week to week sometimes. At certain times I’m very alive to one kind of magazine and down on most others. I read poetry or most literary mags in spurts, then don’t read one for weeks or months, either because they’re simply not that good anymore or because I am not on that wavelength anymore. We’re changing all the time.
The next month I may almost totally steer clear of literary mags and be engrossed in pop mags like Atlantic, Harper’s or Saturday Review, even New York occasionally, or perhaps ecology mags/papers such as Mother Earth or The Green Revolution. Next time it may be semi-technical or mystical journals like Science or CoEvolution Quarterly or East West Journal, or political fare such as Mother Jones offers. The papers I enjoy most are my oldline standbys, New Republic, The Nation and Christian Science Monitor, and smaller local papers like The Berkeley Gazette, (E. Bay) Express, Grassroots. Most of my news I get from radio or TV, but sometimes — about six times a year, these days — there’s nothing like a good whopping slushy edition of the Sunday N.Y. Times or SF Examiner-Chronicle for lots of fantastical features, reviews and in-depth background on the news.
I notice that practically everywhere I look, somebody leaves something out: it’s usually politics, but just as often it’s poetry and/or fiction, or wisdom, insight, perspective. Like most writers, I probably read — and expect — too much. Thank the Lord I still mostly prefer reading to TV, though. Mother Jones or CoEvolution Quarterly editors slur or shun poetry/fiction or only review and publish the most famous pop poetry/fiction stars, e.g., Snyder, Ferlinghetti, or Bukowski. At the same time, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review or Carolina Quarterly seldom or never comment on anything outside their beloved gardens of poetry and fiction. I like to see a balance in a magazine.
Why can’t literary mags at least pretend there’s a world outside of poems, where people starve, die, love, shit, even watch TV, engage in violence, and everything else we do? There are some like this, but they are few and mighty far between: Black Jack, December, The Humanist, New Letters, The Smith, Snowy Egret, occasionally the likes of North American Review, Confrontation, etc.
In the last ten to fifteen years, the popslicks have become almost unreadable. Who takes Esquire seriously anymore, or newcomer Psychology Today? With Harper’s and others publishing an average of less than one story per issue, there is hardly a serious literary magazine on the national scene except Atlantic or New Yorker, on occasion. The pop market is surely dwindling for writers as well as readers, most of the blame going to the now infamous mergers of magazines and commercial houses with such decidedly un-artistic companies as Xerox, CBS, ABC. A whole generation of writers is still mostly unknown to the general public because N.Y. houses and mags are taking on only the most established sure-fire names in order to compete with TV; schlocky, slick or violent movies; pornography. None of this will change as long as the government will prop up trains or Chrysler but not the N.Y. Herald-Tribune, once one of the world’s finest half-dozen papers (London Times, likewise, in U.K.), or the ailing Harper’s, the latest mag on the road to demise, according to latest reports. Transportation is high on the government’s list of priorities. Communication and education, ideas, are not. Increasingly, there simply is nowhere else to go for good solid reading but smaller mags.
All the more reason, then, to become an expert reader of mags small and large. For my idea of really balanced mags of recent vintage, ask me tomorrow for tomorrow’s list, but today I’d say: THE SUN, an on again/off again favorite of the last decade, plus Southern Exposure, Wood Ibis, Snowy Egret, Tawte, The Gar, City Miner, The Smith, Harper’s, Atlantic, The Nation, December, The Fault, Greenfield Review, Scree, perhaps a couple more not so regularly. One thing I notice: not a poetry mag on the list anywhere, all publish prose as well as poetry, and only about half are literary mags. The others are what I call damned good general magazines with crazy mixtures of mysticism, ecology, politics, poetry, and so on. They take the world as their concern, not poetry only or merely, or drama, or film, or politics, or Mark Twain.
San Francisco, California
I have only one favorite magazine.