Don't eat junk food or waste your time with junk reading. That's the advice from the editors of Publio: Culture at the Boiling Point, a magazine that celebrates, according to its mission statement, the "rich bedlam" of today's world and is "free of any specific political agenda or ideological bent."
The advice in the Winter 2006 issue from the editors: "To confine your reading habits to Big Media is to commit to a steady diet of ice cream and marshmallows. In a market ruled by the bottom line and higher ratings, media conglomerates operate according to the tyranny of instant gratification. Revealing a breast and announcing the latest diet fad sell more magazines than presenting simple truths and compelling reflections on our culture."
One of the magazine's articles, "Artist's Apocalypse," envisions the end of animals and humans, the end of artists, in the next global collapse. The ants survive, and the spiders. And the question? "Will there ever be art again? Will the world of insects, at some very distant stage of their evolution, give rise to creative insects that make art?"
The speculative answer in the article is that insects will not produce artists but excellent designers, like spiders spinning extraordinary designs. Or the art of insects might be more inherent, as with the beauty and delicacy of butterfly wings.
Admittedly, that's some heavy speculation, less marshmallowy than reading about Brad Pitt's latest fling or which Greek millionaire is partying with Paris Hilton.
Another article, "Kemo Sabe: Camp America, Tonto, and the Lone Ranger," quotes African-American writer James Baldwin (1924-1988): "It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian."
Continue the editors, regarding the warning against a diet of ice cream reading: "Worthless information has the same effect on the mind that plain sugar has on the body. It requires no effort to digest. It accelerates but does not nourish. We become what we see and read. We are extensions of the screen, the monitor, the machine -- nothing but an erratic click of the remote."
But the choices are out there, say the editors, and it's our job to get beyond the fluff: "It is a disservice to reduce our curiosities and intentions to row upon row of glossy magazines that show some skin and promise the secrets of how to better' please him or her.'"
And so, spurred on by that advice, my New Year's resolution is to read more seriously. Here's my opening list, already purchased and not a marshmallow in the bunch:
The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933, by Amos Elon, the wrenching history of how a small and stunningly successful minority came to be perceived as a deadly threat to German national integrity.
Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995, by Allen Ginsberg, the hippie-mystic-gay-teacher-activist-revolutionary apostle of the Beat movement.
Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, by Martin Amis, a history and memoir on Stalin and the indulgence of communism by intellectuals of the West.
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer-winning story of how Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison prevailed over vast obstacles in setting the course for the nation.
Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, by Jessica Stern, an examination of how people come to see themselves as instruments of divine wrath, gained through face to face interviews with some of the most dangerous religious militants of our times.
Bad Trip and Size Matters: How Big Government Puts the Squeeze on America's Families, Finances, and Freedom, both by Joel Miller. In the first, Miller argues that the government's war on drugs is the ultimate bad trip. The second, Size Matters, says Instapundit.com, "is a virtual manifesto for the PorkBusters movement."
The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A. J. Jacobs, a memoir of Jacobs's all-consuming quest to read all 44 million words of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, A to Z. I'm only on Jacobs's chapter F and already I've learned that there aren't many bald Indians or Asians, Friedrich Engels didn't apply his anti-capitalist prescriptions to the profitable operations of his own company, Aztecs called magic mushrooms "God's flesh," and Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women.