Oh, Adam Gopnik. Are you aware of how ironic this is?
When I was a child, two piles of magazines, pillars of this misplaced faith in a leisurely reading future, rose in adjacent basements. In our house, Scientific American, dense with Feynman diagrams and unplayed mathematical games, accumulated, month after month; in my grandparents’, it was National Geographic, yellow-bordered, and with a bright, unpredictable photograph—as likely an Afghan child as a space shuttle—on its cover. Though occasionally the Scientific American pile got upturned by an eleven-year-old searching for science-project material, as far as I could tell the National Geographic pile was never disturbed by its owners, and was there merely to ascend, ever higher.
National Geographic? A pillar of misplaced faith in a leisurely reading future? Sure, I guess. We, too, received it in my childhood home. I remember leafing through it absently as a boy from time to time. I guess my impression of that publication dovetails well enough with Mr. Gopnik’s. But what other publication has held undisputed primacy in my home as a scornful reminder of leisure reading time a long time gone?
The New Yorker, of course. The very publication from whence the above musings came. I just happened to come across the passage as I happened to flip through a recent issue on one of the fleetingly rare occasions I had to sit down with a copy. I found it deeply ironic.
Yes, my home is festooned with unread copies of the New Yorker. Indeed, I get the sense that mine is not the only one. It has gotten to the point where I approach the mailbox with dread, fearing to find another issue to join its contemptuous unread brethren on various flat surfaces of my home.
I have written about this before:
When I finally became a New Yorker in real life, I subscribed shortly after I arrived in the City. For three of the years I lived there my apartment was on the Upper West Side and I worked just south of Murray Hill, and for my last year I lived in Chelsea and worked on the Upper East Side. (For two intervening years I lived on the Upper West Side and worked on the Upper East Side.) Because of this, I usually had a commute to work that lasted about 45 minutes twice a day, almost all of it sitting on subways and buses. It afforded ample time to read the whole thing cover to cover every week.
While many of the things included in the “Goings on About Town” were too pricy for my meager salary at the time (to say nothing of many of the restaurants featured in “Tables for Two”), I still gloried in the multitude of activities and events I could be experiencing. I went to enough of the obscure and exotic films, caught enough of the Off-Off-Broadway plays, saw enough of the exhibitions to feel like I was getting as much as I could out of the offerings at hand. And of course I learned a lot of fun stuff about interesting subjects by reading the articles.
Alas, it is now rare that I do more than glance through them at all. I have the same commute time, but it is now spent driving along the ruthless highways of the Boston exurbs. While this has allowed me much more appreciation of another Great Liberal Media Icon (NPR), it offers no time to read my erstwhile beloved. Days at home are spent largely wrangling The Critter. What time remains is often spent on such frivolous pursuits as writing posts like this one.
But still I will not let my subscription lapse. I am still an urbane sophisticate, dammit! And so they pile upon themselves, instantiating both my vanity and my sloth. I read them just often enough to perpetuate this sorry state of affairs, which looks to last forever.
Since I wrote those words, things have changed even more. We now have both Critter and Squirrel, each of whom need their own particular kinds of wrangling. And I no longer read enough to perpetuate anything.
I have finally accepted the fact that it will be a long time before I will be sitting down to read the New Yorker again with any regularity. When my heart actually sinks when I find the magazine in the mail, it’s time to call it quits. However I may like to think of myself, there’s no point in paying money for a publication I don’t read at all anymore.
So this past weekend I had the Great Symbolic Recycling Purge. I went through our pile of “to be dealt with” mail and extracted all the copies I could find. So, too, the ones on random countertops and bookshelves. The issues that have, in a fit of optimism, found their way to my office are destined for the dustbin. And I’ve thrown out the subscription renewal card they just sent me.
In the not-too-distant future and for the first time in over a dozen years, I will no longer be a New Yorker subscriber. And while that’s a mild bummer, acknowledging it is a small price to pay for a wee bit less clutter and minor guilt in my life.
And that’s this week’s Question — what eras have you passed in your life, and how have you marked them? What have you done to declare, to yourself or others, “I once was this, but now I’m that”? What once-cherished thing has become a burden, and how did you let it go?