Saturday, November 24, 2012




Once upon a time, when happiness was the latest Life magazine, and Time journalists were legendary for their expense accounts and pay, magazines ruled the media.
How the mighty have fallen, but fortunately not all.
I picked up Reader's Digest in the dental office the other day and was startled at everything from the $4.25 cover price to the lean pickings.
And this is the magazine that used to be stolen from every dental office. Now dentists should just give them away, considering the charge for even cleaning your teeth.
Not that many would be read. The Digest has shrunk to bite-sized pieces, and the jokes have withered. And they're old, very old.
 For example, in the November issue, a reader from Dartmouth snuck through the old gag about being invited to dine with a VIP and deciding to copy all the table manners so you don't make a horrendous mistake. So when the Queen poured milk into her tea saucer, Jim, the guest, did so too. And then she put it on the floor and said "here kitty."
I thought it was really funny when a better version had some hillbillies dining with FDR and indeed I used it in a speech maybe four decades ago.
There must still be cubby holes stuffed with Reader's Digest condensed books, which all started in the magazine. Its regular feature, The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met was the fascinating equivalent of those Ma Kettle and Cheaper By The Dozen movies. Budding writers fattened their vocabulary through Word Power, which survives.
Condensed books vanished years ago, along with character yarns. Today it's not even a shadow of what it once was, when Life magazine ruled photography, and the Saturday Evening Post was like an ice cream sundae on a hot summer evening.
 I visited the Life offices in its glory day to study the latest darkroom techniques because I was in charge of the Tely photographers for a few years. It was my Mecca, but maybe you  can't say that these days without causing a riot.
I didn't renew my Time subscription because it is too often too lean and  dominated by American politics. I remember the first time I wrote for Time when the rewrite process put a mistake in every one of the seven paragraphs. But then my last piece ran over two pages and it appeared exactly the way I wrote it, which put me in such shock that I didn't mind the low fee.
Maclean's used to dominate the country's current affairs, sort of like  the CBC's National blended with several of those talking head panels based in Ottawa.
I thought I had really made it when I sold my first piece which ran under the headline and theme of "never trust a crooked politician." Then we were sued, by among others, Ontario's AG and a former B.C. cabinet minister. Maclean's ran a paragraph which satisfied Kelso Roberts in Ontario but told Phil Gaglardi and a corrupt big-city mayor that its lawyers were just aching to go to court with them.
So everyone in the end was happy but Maclean's didn't call me again for a while,.
Then it declined. I only skimmed it on line for a few years and then one of those promotions snared me, My son Mark and I really enjoy it today. Its resurrection is remarkable. Interesting, gossipy, opionated, it throw its news net from Pontypool to Mayo Landing.
Unfortunately, I get the Motorist magazine put out by the Ontario Motor League because it's part of the membership. What a puerile publication! And I say that as someone who wrote several cover stories for it, plus numerous editorials and accounts of the Downing Swiss Family Robinson road trips.
I still have an old teak bench that I cover with the latest attempts at print candy, although some of it is stale and, as in the words from that funny song in Les Miserables, there's not much there.
I reach first for The Atlantic, which lives up to its honourable rep most months. Love the old Monthly!
I hate Zoomer magazine because of its amateurish makeup and silly promotions, including all the pretentious crap about it that Moses Znamer makes his radio stations run. It gives info in the same bite-sized pieces that the Digest uses because of one of its silly make-overs. Trouble is, those bites aren't tasty. Now if the Editor spent more time editing and less time competing with Moses for the society photogs, Zoomer might have a bit of zing, but I doubt it.
 Love The Economist, which calls itself a newspaper but is the magazine that you have to read if you care at all about what happens outside the Don and Humber. And then there is Foreign Affairs if you really want some authoritative commentary although you have to struggle not to doze off.
Toronto Life used to be a Must Read for anyone intrigued about T.O.'s alleys and bistros. Then I lost interest, or maybe it did in the real city, drowning in ultra trendy froth.  Mark, who lives about half the time in China, subscribed again as a fast way to orient him to city changes. And, surprise, I found enough inside its phoney sophistication  to make it interesting again.
Cottage Life is a must read if you have a cottage. Unfortunately, too much of it is devoted to really expensive designer cottages decorated by people who seem to roam the world when they're not hunkered down in Muskoka. I now skim  it and then store it so if I have a problem, I rummage through back issues to see if it actually has dealt with my mundane crisis. Still, despite its environmental concerns that it takes to ridiculous lengths - like telling kids they shouldn't pee in big rivers or lakes - it does capture the soul, the mystique, about why we have cottages in the first place.
Other snapshots:
Interviewed Steve Forbes once, the editor-in-chief of the magazine named after his father, the founder, and found him just like his magazine. No zip! Like a supposedly hearty meal where the cook forgot the salt and pepper, garlic etc.
Still better than the Financial Post Magazine which you only glance at because it comes with the subscription.
MoneySense is lighter and brighter, a reminder that financial reporting doesn't have to be a headache in waiting. And Canadian Business  also is a mine of Canadian information.
My son Mark, who counts astronomy as one of his passions, takes SkyNews, which alerts you to anything interesting in the heavens. And he, as a classical music enthusiast, subscribes to BBC Music, a magazine noted for its fine glossy layout and the CD  that comes with each edition. There is the propaganda giveaway,Saudi Aramco,  that gives you the nice side of the Arab World, and Allah knows we certainly have to hunt to find that. I piggyback looks at all of Mark's magazines.
Lots of great reading stacked on my old teak bench. But you won't find the Digest there, or that advertising circular called a magazine published for the OML. It needs too much road service.


There doesn't seem to be a week when the postman doesn't bring me a subscription renewal for some magazine. They're all cryptic. Either I'm down to the last issue or there are a few to go etc.
Never hard date info. So you scrutinize the address label which actually used to state the expiration date. Now they read like hieroglyphics on an Egyptian tomb.  So I have started letting the subscriptions
run out and after a few weeks, renew, and note the renewal date in a book filled with such necessary trivia in a world where everyone is so efficient with computers, half the people don't know what is going on.

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