Harper’s Magazine, July 2013 and August 2013
Summertime and the livin’ is easy, the song says, and who’s to say magazines don’t get to chillax some then, too? That’s the way I felt after reading the July issue of Harper’s Magazine - still good, still professional, but with a tinge of the blahs. Thomas Frank’s cautionary essay about Fox, USA Today, and others isn’t exactly newsy, nor is Jeff Madrick’s wakeup call regarding the protections debtors have. Still they’re worth reading.
Same with an Icelandic firm wanting to make a killing on climate change by selling glaciers - almost like scammers selling moon rocks. And maybe the article on psychotropic mushrooms spills the summertime beans: we gotta escape, it almost claims.
Even Julie Hecht’s fiction, “May I Touch Your Hair?” seems a ho-hum day at the beach, although it’s perfectly written.
But then we all wake up from our summer doldrums for a moment, blink, and scratch our bottoms before surrendering once more to globally-warm lethargy. That moment in this issue came with Mark Edmundson’s essay on the state of American verse - something that could be said as well of the popular song and today’s literary fiction. His thesis, one I’ve adhered to for some years, is that poetry is now self absorbed and esoteric. The reasons? They’re many, and Edmundson lists them, erudite detail by erudite detail.
Then there’s August.
Sleep is always problematic for me in summer, and the same must be said for a lot of others, what with a series of word sketches by writers of one ilk or another about the elusive nature of sleep.
And, yes, we all know by now that the world’s fish supply is being depleted by a hungry world, but Erik Vance puts it in words and pictures for us. For whimsy we get a piece by Rowan Jacobsen about elephants attacking an Indian village and a piece by Beau Friedlander on the history of scent. The one high point to these two issues is Lynn Freed’s clever tale of another and daughter’s move to the U.S. from South Africa.
I suppose this is proper for this time of year. How many times have I seen people in barbershops, grocery stores and the like listlessly and absently turning magazine pages? It’s a summer thing, I think, and Harper’s won’t be hurt by their own doldrums.
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