I Subscribed to Harper’s Magazine

Illustration in Harper’s Magazine July Issue by Matt Rota

Yes, I did it.

I was wondering what I should subscribe to. Over time, I have kept only one magazine or journal subscription at a time. TIME magazine, speaking of, was a great introductory course, like an appetizer in restaurants I used to physically go into.

But now TIME magazines are great for student clippings and collages during those fun close-to-holiday activities.

I subscribed to the New Yorker after reading a biography for John Updike, the unintended mascot who David Foster Wallace described as “never having an unpublished thought.”

And right before the end of my graduate years I signed up for Nature in order to get a profound discount. I had no idea what I read in that entire year, but hey, I’m here to tell you that science is thankfully still getting done.

When we subscribe to something, somehow it is more than simply a payment for entertainment. When Donald Trump won the presidential election of 2016, subscriptions to The New York Times soared.

We believe in something enough to subscribe, even and especially when it comes to print.

Sometimes we (I too) have purchased books and never read them, simply letting them gather cultural capital on my shelves. “That Colton, he must be so smart.”

Now no one comes over, so it hardly matters.

In any case, as you can see from the title, a new year means a new subscription.

After a recent article by one of my favorite writers, Marilynne Robinson, I had considered subscribing to the New York Review of Books, which I have adored from a distance for some time. Think of it, an entire magazine dedicated to BOOKS!

But it was too expensive.

And then lo and behold I find an article from Harper‘s Magazine about taking a stance on free inquiry, and it put me over the edge…in a good way.

I mean, here I was, traveling to Houston and back with my wife for her clinical trial treatment (not COVID-19 related), and all around me was a sort of edginess in the medical district. The ominous feeling from everyone, the hotel staff attempting a horrible act of positivity in the midst of a hotspot for a pandemic, the nurses charged with providing care for my wife, and so on. Yes, there was some humor, but it was dark fucking humor.

And in the middle of that, we have such a frayed understanding of masks, a lack of education on how the virus spreads, and fanaticism to return to normal despite all the signs.

I had been worried about overreaching on the right and the left in recent months. It’s an election year.

And now it’s time to get busy.

Each subscription is also a willingness to agree with writers that I am there to learn. It is also a willingness to pay for good news. This year, because of Harper’s Magazine‘s stance, they got me. Is it genuine? The signatories on the document suggest that it is. Either way I bit the bullet.

For it is not only the quest for liberalism that a subscription gives you, but also without you knowing it, it’s the inclusion of style, and that too is important to me. So no matter if a year from now if I find another world to subscribe to, I can still relish in the importance of diversifying my stylistic portfolio. Even to the baseball player, some styles of hot dog can be avante-garde, if you know what I mean…

Strange that “subscribing” to something also forces you to admit the etymology of the word itself: you are also adhering to something. And my subscription is paradoxical. By subscribing to Harper’s Magazine based on their open letter to be open and available to “robust and even caustic counter-speech,” I am effectively subscribing to not subscribe. I’m adhering to the fallibility of my own logic. I invoke Richard Feynman again.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

I hate facial hair, and I am growing a beard.

The world is too large to be stuffed up inside your own opinion. Subscribe to one thing, and then subscribe to another. You are not your ideas. When they no longer work for the betterment of those around you, cast them out and put something else on. Or go naked for a while. Feel the breeze.

Treat your books like shoes, your magazines like tissue.

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