A Good Magazine Article Is Hard to Find

Harper’s Magazine, November 2013



I remember many years ago, when I was just learning to play guitar, I subscribed to a magazine called Guitar Player, and did I ever learn a lot about the nuances from its articles! I cut out tons of charts, musical pieces, and “how-tos. Most of which I still have and occasionally refer back to.  Then a curious thing began to happen. The articles began to repeat – not literally, but different authors would write articles – covering the same player challenges and issues. After a few years of that, I quit subscribing.

I hope that’s not happening with Harper’s, but it certainly seems so. When you manage a magazine specializing in progressive social and political attitudes, it seems fair that you’re eventually going to repeat yourself.

Take Thomas Frank’s essay on payment for fast food workers. Is there anyone who doesn’t know, or at least think about this issue? And in similar fashion, Jeff Madrick wonders about the future of progressivism in a backwards, ultra conservative age. There is another on vets’ coping with return to society, with pointillist artwork, yet.

Nathaniel Rich, in “The Man Who Saves You From Yourself,” pretends to uncover the seaminess of cults, some of which aren’t, and the uncovering only reveals the easiest to catch, those probably not fooling potential cult followers, either. Ken Silverstein’s “Dirty South – The Foul Legacy of Louisiana Oil” enthralls, but again this story is as old as Huey Long’s under-the-table, so-called populism.

There’s art, and the subject is armpits, asses, hairy chests and legs, hitting a deer on a highway, and A Joyce Carol Oates story, “Lovely, Dark, Deep,” the title telling you most of what you’ll get from this most capable writer’s imagination.

Being an editor of such a periodical has to be as difficult as being a major league baseball manager, or any elective office. I won’t drop my subscription (yet), but I will complain, just a little.


Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.



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