It's flattering, I suppose, that regular reader Tony Galati would suspect that perhaps I would know someone who has a need for 11 linear feet of The National Geographic, a near complete run from 1976 to 2011. I seem to go in those circles. And double flattering that he didn't even ask whether I myself wanted them. I am a book-type, but leaping to acquire this seems, to me, as hoarding.
Not that I don't appreciate the magazine. I do, and have lauded a recent issue—last year's daring look at a face transplant. But I didn't fall under its sway growing up, the way I did, say, for the New Yorker. And even the New Yorker: I read my copy, then throw it away. Then again, the entire run of the New Yorker is available online, going back to 1925.
As is the National Geographic, going back to 1888, including the maps. They're available online to subscribers.
But I understand Tony's dilemma. Objects have a sway over us; they acquire us as much as we acquire them. They exert pressure, a mute demand. I asked Tony: why not just throw them away?
"That might be their ultimate fate," he replied, "but it feels something like throwing out books. I always thought that they were worth saving for the photography, if nothing else. But I've reached the point where I realize that my life isn't infinite, and I'm never going to have any practical use for all the stuff I've collected over the years."
No, life is not infinite, and I've found myself extra reluctant to acquire things—tchochkes, in my people's parlance. When I went to Europe for two weeks I came home with a shoe horn as a souvenir: an Italian leather shoehorn, to be sure, a memento from a leather shop in Florence that my wife just loved. But otherwise, I was content with the memories. And photos. I don't get rid of those, which explains Tony's fealty to his magazines. Then again, they take up the corner of a chip the size of a gnat.
This issue—keep the tangible thing well represented electronically or pitch it—has been huge for a couple decades. Not just volumes of old magazines, but card catalogues, even artwork. I was at a school where the kids' fingerpaintings and smiley suns get scanned and put on a thumb drive that goes home, and the originals are tossed. That gave me pause. It's hard to put a thumb drive on your refrigerator.
It was my idea to post photos of the magazines here, and see if anybody is interested. Tony said he might even deliver it to the interested party, a measure of his commitment to see this wealth of information to a good home. Though even that phrase, "a wealth of information" sounds dated, doesn't it? We carry an infinity of information in our back pockets, for all the good it does us. I would study ever page of these old magazines if I thought the answer to our quandary were hidden somewhere there, how the diffusion of information has coincided with the coarsening and dumbing down of our country and world. Maybe it is there, somewhere, waiting, and you're the person to find it. Anyway, you know how to reach me.