October 2005

DeAnn Welker

magazine whore

The Pleasure of the Surface

I have a confession. A new guilty pleasure.

This is a different kind of guilty than I’m used to. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am familiar with feeling guilty for getting too much news from blurby magazines such as The Week (don’t worry, I canceled that subscription). I’m also familiar with the shame that comes along with flipping through the pages of checkout stand smut -- including US Weekly, In Touch and Star -- after something on the cover piques my interest. (I can’t say much good about any of those magazines, but they sure do know how to “sell.”)

But, no. My new guilt comes from my newest subscription -- a free trial, no less -- to Smithsonian magazine.

I cannot get enough of Smithsonian’s strange and informative combination of history, politics, the arts, and wildlife. Since I have had my subscription, I have received three issues. In that time, I have laughed, cried, been horrified, been intrigued, thought about changing careers and overall felt much more charitable.

So why do I feel so guilty?

I guess it’s because I pride myself on enjoying the longer, more contemplative pieces from Atlantic and The New Yorker, the “books” of magazines, if you will. While Smithsonian has plenty of longer articles, none of them seem to be reported or interpreted with the same depth of knowledge and research that appears to go into one Atlantic cover story.

Smithsonian magazine gives me enough information to understand a topic -- any topic, really -- but none of it delves too deeply into the issue (the exception being the World War II letters from the August issue, but those were provided by readers who experienced the war firsthand, so it doesn’t really count as the magazine digging deep into a topic).

So, that’s it. My guilt comes from the “surfacy” nature of Smithsonian’s articles. I never thought I would like anything that I could describe as “surface-level” content. The magazine provides with the most bare-bones assessments and analyses of everything from Stonehenge to sharks.

But what I’ve discovered -- much to my embarrassment -- is that when it comes to covering such a broad range of ideas, it might be best just to scratch the surface, and let the readers decide which topics they want to dig into more deeply.