When I got to my mailbox with a friend the other day, the little window was full. Engaging in a fit of revelry of the "somebody loves me" sort, I happily fished out a shiny new copy of Entertainment Weekly. My rapture was short-lived. As I turned to look at my friend, her eyebrows were raised. "You read that?" she said. My pithy reply? "Well, you know...sort of."
Two days later, I was carrying my copy of the New York Review of Books when I met another friend. I started to babble about how excited I was to have finally received the 35th anniversary issue, and then I stopped mid-sentence, seeing her expression. "What are you, 50?" she asked. "But wait," I wanted to exclaim, "I also read EW."
Of course, EW is some what vacuous and perhaps even inane, but where else is full coverage given to the status fluctuations of Oprah Winfrey? How else would I get the cultural ramifications of Gone With the Wind in the '90s?
The New York Review of Books may be a little dry, a bit fusty even. But I feel as compelled to read Garry Wills' assessments of President Clinton and James Fenton's analysis of D.H. Lawrence as I do to follow George Clooney's career plans. In very different ways, I am excited by what I read in EW and The New York Review because each periodical gives me something to think about--whether it is the cultural significance of the evolution of Hollywood's screwball comedy or the validity of Pat Buchanan's ideas on economic policy.
But why had my friends been so scornful? These were friends after all, who discussed at length how they loved Harvard because of the diversity of people they met. Could it be that they were incapable of accepting diversity in reading matter? Or could it be that they didn't "get" the associations I make in my reading because they didn't occur to them, and I hadn't bothered, in my shame and embarrassment, to explain them?
My friends didn't know why I read both EW and The New York Review because I hadn't told them. I had taken their questions as indications to blush and stammer instead of to share what is, in a sense, a part of my personality. I had failed to learn the first lesson of Harvard diversity: There can be no understanding if the thing to be understood is never mentioned.