Any time I’m up against a writing deadline, I suddenly experience an irresistible, imperative urge to read — preferably periodicals. This is not — I repeat, not! — procrastination. No, no, it’s very much a part of “my process.”
To read other, freshly-published articles reminds me that it is possible to put words to the page — and, further, to do it in a way that actually inspires, refines and elevates the thoughts of others. (Not that I do that! The other writers I read do that!) In other words, reading stokes my own writing ambitions.
It also allows new words to percolate in my mind as I prepare to write — or reminds me of old ones just waiting to be dusted off and displayed again “on the shelf” of a new lede sentence (see what I did there?). Lacrimae rerum. Apotheosis. Intransigent. Probity. Koan. “Slyly seditious.” Felicitous words and phrases that might serendipitously suit a purpose of my own someday …
Fortunately for my, er, “process,” even when my literary reading lags, I always have a magazine at hand that’s worth a leisurely perusal.
I’m mocking myself, but I’m not mocking these periodicals. It’s really no small matter, the magazines we read, especially as women, the fairer sex to whom so much utter trash is marketed. We do not want to be the kind of women C.S. Lewis describes in his chapter on friendship in the The Four Loves, the kind of women who impede conversation by our ignorance:
Something … painful happens when it is the men who are civilised and the women not, and when all the women, and many of the men too, simply refuse to recognise the fact.
When this happens we get a kind, polite, laborious and pitiful pretence. The women are ‘deemed’ (as lawyers say) to be full members of the male circle. The fact — in itself not important — that they now smoke and drink like the men seems to simple-minded people a proof that they really are. No stag-parties are allowed. Wherever the men meet, the women must come too. The men have learned to live among ideas. They know what discussion, proof and illustration mean. A woman who has had merely school lessons and has abandoned whatever tinge of ‘culture’ they gave her — whose reading is the Women’s Magazines and whose general conversation is almost wholly narrative — cannot really enter such a circle. She can be locally and physically present with it in the same room. What of that? If the men are ruthless, she sits bored and silent through a conversation which means nothing to her. If they are better bred, of course, they try to bring her in. Things are explained to her; people try to sublimate her irrelevant and blundering observations into some kind of sense. But the efforts soon fail and, for manners’ sake, what might have been a real discussion is deliberately diluted and peters out in gossip, anecdotes, and jokes. Her presence has thus destroyed the very thing she was brought to share.
So as not to be that kind of boor, we can do one of three things:
(1) We can develop an actual intellectual life (which springs from a rich interior, spiritual life).
(2) We can have the sense to keep our mouths shut when we’re ignorant of the topic of conversation, especially in mixed company! (It’s nice to ask intelligent questions, but you have to know a little something about the subject to be able to do even that much!)
(3) We can talk what Lewis calls “real women’s talk to other women” (although he confesses he doesn’t know what that is!).
Incidentally, that passage from Lewis always makes me think of a local club of men who gather to discuss the works of the great G.K. Chesterton, toward the members of which I sometimes profess jealousy. The truth is, I’d be dismayed at the day they allowed women to infiltrate their ranks!
Toward the first, I commend the following periodicals, in no particular order:
- Principles — a free publication out of Christendom College, which delivers on a bimonthly basis an indispensable essay aimed at the flourishing of the individual and the renewal of the temporal order.
- National Review — William F. Buckley Jr.’s ever-relevant bellwether of the American conservative movement.
- Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture — scholarship on a wide range of subjects that, time and again, illuminates beauty as an objective reality (as opposed to the popular misconception of it as merely a matter of subjective taste).
- First Things — my favorite! Grist for the logophile (Jesus-lovers and word-lovers, that is), leaven for the culture.
- Magnificat — a beautiful, humble way to bring the liturgy into our day and so to remind ourselves that the “meaningfulness of our speech ultimately depends on our making a ‘wager on transcendence,'” as Stratford Caldecott puts it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also recommend the two publications for which I still proudly freelance: Perspective and the Sooner Catholic, both of which take local news items as their departure point for substantive discussions of policy and theology, respectively.
Toward the third, I commend just one periodical: Southern Living. I’d love to be able to recommend more magazines to promote “real women’s talk to other women” (which, to me, necessarily involves birth stories, that great experience from which men have historically been excluded and toward which most women still strive!), but I’ve truly not found any others that are not offensive to a Christian sensibility. I mean, I’ve read an issue or two of almost every women’s magazine out there (I love clothes, I tell you!), but I could never justify a subscription. The print version of Verily didn’t last, alas! Please tell me if you’ve found more! Always room in Mama’s tray for a new magazine!
As this morning’s Magnificat meditation put it, “Every day offers a choice: what sort of reading, what sort of TV, what sort of conversations, what sort of friends will we choose to welcome into our homes?”
Today, let’s welcome Truth, Beauty and Goodness!