Our family visited Washington DC and went to a few museums. We talked about subscribing to Smithsonian magazine (and getting a membership to the museums), but we put it off. Then I received an offer in the mail to subscribe to the magazine and get a membership all for $12. So we did. And I’m thrilled with the magazine.
I recall subscribing to this magazine many years ago (turns out it was about fifteen years ago) as I distinctly remember reading, savoring and the keeping the September 1995 issue which featured a cover about James Gurney’s Dinotopia. The cover is still blazed in my memory (even if I can’t find a better picture than this online).
As with many things, I find that as an adult (and a dad) I enjoy this sort of magazine a lot more than I did as a recent college grad. It was also fascinating to learn in the new 40th anniversary issue that the magazine started not long after I was born. It’s like we grew up together (but I ignored it for years).
Like most magazines, it opens with a Letter from the Editor and Letters from the Readers. And then comes the meat of the book.
The opening sections are short (two or three page) articles. Indelible Images looks at pictures that have stood the test of time (Allen Ginsberg’s photography or Milton Glasser’s 1966 poster of Bob Dylan.
Then there’s Wild Things (Life as We Know It): one paragraph each about fascinating animals and plants: the northern quoll, sea snakes.
Phenomenon and My Kind of Town look at various things around the world (Saving endangered sea turtles, or visiting Kyoto).
The Around the Mall section looks at the museum and beyond. It contains From the Castle (Scanning a Stradivarius), a Q& A [Madeleine Albright, for instance, although they didn’t ask her about being on the Gilmore Girls] and What’s Up (Glasses from 1996 that allow you to change your prescription as you need it).
The June issue looks at a 1976 Christo (Who did The Gates in Central Park) art piece called Running Fence which was a24.5 mile curtained fence that ran through California.
This Month in History looks at events tha happened 30, 40, 50 and 100 Years Ago this month. [In May: Mount St Helens erupted; Kent State Massacre; The first Birth Control Pill; the first optical laser; Haley’s Comet] Or, In June: 60, 75 100, 110 and 140 years ago (140 years ago Atlantic City opened the boardwalk).
Then we get to the lengthier articles. Like the fascinating one about Prohibition and the man who almost single-handedly made it a national issue (Wayne B. Wheeler). Or about how our memories are likely to play tricks on us.
The May issue’s cover story was Destination America and so they travel to a number of interesting places: Route 100 in Vermont; the Filoli estate in San Francisco; Downtown Memphis. The June issue which looks at international sites, like Rome and Turkey.
And I really enjoyed the article about Atlantic puffins returning to the coast of Maine. It was adorable and inspiring.
The May issue ends with a look at the young girl with whom Mark Twain fell in love. The June issue ends with a look at a Shakespeare hoax AND at the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, so I assume there’s a literary article in each issue.
The June issue also contains the 7th Annual Photo Contest winners. Now, I have to say that I included a ton of photos in this post because I think that the pictures in the magazine are really great, but I found the contest winners to be less than inspiring (especially since there is a contest section which allows for Photoshopped images).
As we’ve seen, every magazine loves their back page, and Smithsonian’s The Last Page offers a lighthearted look at something unusual, like your dream job on Craigslist, or the silly (and a little annoying) “Green Eggs and Salmonella” which takes an amusing conceit: kids books are dangerous, but goes in a really foolish way [It starts promising by showing how dangerous the bunny’s room in Goodnight Moon is, but making fun of the dangers in the Good Dog Carl series is stupid because that’s the point of the stories, and Go Dog Go is mocked for not having seat belts? There’s just so many better stories to play that game with and I fear that the author missed the boat on them].
So, yes, I’m enjoying this new (to us) magazine quite a bit. It’s clever, it’s funny and it talks about obscure things that I didn’t know I cared about.
When I joked earlier about needing to be older to appreciate the magazine, the advertisements are for: AARP, GovMint, and Cruise Lines, not exactly post-grad enticements. But no matter what your age, if you like history, Smithsonian is pretty awesome.
You can also see that most (possibly all) of the articles are available online, but heck, what’s $12 to get the magazine brought to your house.