Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot: National Geographic

     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.


  1. I know how Tony feels about throwing away this kind of stuff: I have a lot of 33LPs that I cannot bear to throw out. I was able to sell many several years ago. If I ever get my shit together, I'll pack them up and give them to Beverly Records. Maybe the magazines could be donated to a resale shop of some kind. There's a terrific one in Crestwood. You never know who might want actual magazines.

  2. What Mr. Galati is doing is something the Swedish call döstädning. It means “death cleaning”. It’s basically a practice of getting rid of stuff nobody really wants as they approach the end of their life.
    Of course anyone can do this at any time. My wife and I, entering our eighth decade have been doing this so as not to burden our son with the chore of going through bunch of stuff, once thought worth keeping (like books, trophies, and other mementos) but have absolutely no value to him after we die.
    Thrift shops are the main beneficiary for those items we couldn’t get ourselves to simply toss in the trash.
    It is a cleansing and it feels good. It doesn’t take away the importance of what was originally produced. It’s just hard to find true value in it.

  3. I know how to reach you, but who would shlep them to Ohio? Besides, I don't have the space for them...we already have eleven overflowing bookcases in a two-bedroom bungalow. Libraries sometimes sell Geographics at book sales, unless they toss them into their recycling bins.

    At one time, schools would gladly take magazines, but that was back in the day. One of my father's clients actually had a complete set of LIFE in bound volumes, which he wanted to toss. I begged for them, to no avail. The New Trier HS library gladly accepted them.

    My sixth-grade teacher brought her old Geographics from the late Forties and early Fifties into our classroom, where I learned about the C & O canal along the Potomac, and saw the bright Kodachrome images of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. My junior high library had the dark-brown bound volumes that went back decades. Bare-breasted Afican women and historic floods. I avidly gazed at both.

    That wall of yellow brings back a lot of memories. During fifth grade, an uncle gave me a Geographic subscription. The first issue included a membership certificate, which I proudly hung in my bedroom. Didn't have 11 linear feet, but our family had about a third of that...1958 to 1970.

    Eventually, the yellow wall ended up on basement shelves. When my parents moved to Miami, a cousin took them to his Rogers Park upholstery shop. I kept about a dozen. I still have "John Glenn's Ride" and "Avalanche! 3,500 Peruvians Perish In Seven Minutes"--both in the June '62 issue, the oldest of the bunch.

  4. In the 1990s, I donated at least 20 years worth to my kid’s middle school library. I stopprd my subscription when it was bought by Murdoch. So, thankfully, I don’t have to shlep them to my recycling bin.


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