My name is Jennifer and I’m a magazine addict.
Many places in life demand I exert some self-control; in most situations, I’m capable of doing so. In fact, I’ve gone the past five weeks both (mostly) sugar- and (totally) alcohol-free simply because I thought my body needed a break. I plan on keeping it up another week or two.
But when it comes to magazines, I have zero willpower. Now, I’m not talking about the O magazine or Real Simple or The Atlantic you find at the airport newsstand. I’m talking about vintage magazines. It takes nothing to send me to eBay or AbeBooks or Amazon for that magazine that will solve all my research problems. I mean, clearly that 1910 The Delineator magazine (ordered yesterday afternoon) will tell me everything I need to know about fashion of the day. And the 1921 National Geographic will illuminate South Florida wildlife (bought last fall). And that lot of Collier’s magazines from 1908 to 1919 will… well, I haven’t figure out yet what they will do, but they looked so gosh-darn interesting and I had to see what was in there (bought last summer). I also love vintage books, but magazines win my heart: reading the variety of articles and the advertisements are like a trip in a time machine.
This past week, I became the proud owner of an April 1966 Reader’s Digest because of a specific article I thought would be helpful. And it was. But I found myself sucked in to the other articles. Despite what my children believe, I was not alive in 1966, however, I’m old enough that it doesn’t feel so remote to me. Yet the references—to World War II vets who, in 1966, were younger than I am today; to the stories of men in Vietnam in “Humor in Uniform”; to the antiquated ads—make the magazine feel like it’s from another epoch.
With the benefit of hindsight, the articles are cuckoo to the modern day reader. In “Thoughts for Young Americans,” by Dwight D. Eisenhower (though you may know him as Ike) applauds those American soldiers fighting in Vietnam, saying, “Morale on the fighting fronts is sky-high; and despite the fact that our young men and women in Vietnam feel a deep revulsion against the war, they believe in the fundamental rightness and the necessity of mankind’s long struggle against despotism and slavery.” A separate interview with Dr. William E. Griffith, director of the International Communism Party at M.I.T., reassures Americans in “How Firmness in Vietnam Is Paying Off.” I kind of want to whisper to these guys, “Hey, it doesn’t turn out so well.”
Automation is the new big thing. Libraries couldn’t keep track of all the information, so they were beginning the process of automation. The Library of Congress started things off. They could send information by a telephone line, which “uses perforated tape that transmits signals to remote printing machines at the rate of 6000 words a minute–all for a little more than the price of a long-distance telephone call.” (Cue my kids asking: “What does that mean? Was that a clever way of saying it’s free? Because you don’t pay for long-distance calls. Why don’t they just FaceTime over wifi?”) Does automation frighten you? Don’t worry, that’s covered in the article “Who’s Afraid of Automation?”
The jokes fall a little flat today, as they are dated past the point of being funny any more. Such as, in “Campus Comedy”: “The first three years of our marriage my husband was a student at Syracuse University, and I worked as a teacher. While I did some of the house work, it was my husband who did most of the cooking and cleaning. When a letter arrived from the draft board one day, I was worried. ‘Don’t tell me they’re going to draft you,’ I said. ‘Oh, no,’ he replied cheerfully. ‘They can’t do that–I’m a housewife!”
And the TV? One of the “TV Specials” is the “The National Income Tax Test” on CBS, hosted by Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace.
Reading these magazines makes me imagine my characters in their day reading these same articles. For a few minutes, I can be my character, seeing the world through her eyes. When I order a new old magazine, I eagerly check the mail every day, and when it comes, I make myself a cup of tea and dive into the pages.
But the buying of these things has become a problem. I can’t spend more money on vintage magazines. I repeat to myself, “I will not buy more magazines. I will not buy more magazines,” all the way to the eBay checkout page. And, hey, is that a 1910 Popular Electricity in Plain English magazine? That’s the one that would definitely solve my research problems….