When I was a kid my very favorite magazine was Boy's Life. I'm not even sure where the apostrophe goes in that title and whether it's still around. But whenever it came in, I would instantly retire to my bedroom, prop up a couple of pillows and read it cover to cover.
That's possibly one of the reasons I didn't get my Latin conjugations memorized and got into severe academic difficulties with the Jesuits. But that magazine was just the absolute best, thrilling, packed with information, and enormously readable. To this day I can recall a short story about a big shark that somehow got washed into a landlocked little lagoon in the Florida Keys during a hurricane and how it became, very nearly, a pet for the boy who lived in an old house on stilts hard by the lagoon.
You read a story like that one when you're a kid living in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and you want to take off on the next Greyhound for Florida and the Keys and never wear shoes and get suntanned and climb palm trees and swim with almost domesticated tiger sharks. How can "amo, amas, amat, amamas, amatis, amant" compete?
The nearest thing I can think of these days just came in the mail. It's the 20th anniversary issue of Outside, the monthly a crazy guy from Chicago named Larry Burke got started and which he now runs from Santa Fe. I say "crazy" because I once had lunch with Mr. Burke at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan and when he told me he was relocating to Santa Fe, I said something like, can you really run a national magazine from there? Larry said he supposed so, but the real reason he was moving the company was that he just wanted to live in Santa Fe.
We should all be "crazy" and do things we do because we want to.
Anyway, if you want Mr. Burke's magazine it'll cost you almost five bucks and here's what you get:
An editor's letter from the editor, Mark Bryant. It's all about great people and magazine awards and such.
The good stuff starts with the cover lines. And just roll these over on your tongue and see if they don't send chills and get you turning pages. "Tim Cahill survives the Sahara. Jon Krakauer beholds the world's best climber. Tony Little trims down Tonga. Susan Orlean conquers Mount Fuji. David Quammen lies down with lions. Bob Shacochis revels in Kathmandu. Tad Friend lifts stones. Jack Hitt visits billionaire homesteaders. Dan Coyle dredges up Joe Hazelwood."
I don't even know what "stones" are being lifted or who "Hazelwood" might be. But these cover lines are irresistible for two reasons: they're full of active, vibrant verbs ("conquers . . . revels . . . trims . . . survives") and because there are exotic place names promised, "Kathmandu . . . Mount Fuji . . . the Sahara" and lions and billionaires and mountains suggested.
David Brown (of David & Helen Gurley Brown Inc.) couldn't do better cover lines.
And when you dig into the magazine's 264 pages you get answers ("Hazelwood" is the drunken skipper of the Exxon Valdez, who practically wiped out Alaska singlehandedly) and stories that flesh out the cover lines.
That one about lions, for example. I never even knew there were lions in India. I knew there were no tigers in Africa but lions in India? Mr. Quammen takes us there to a place named the Gir Forest and includes an official report, "Gir lions had killed 28 people and injured 165. Seven of the victims had been eaten." Now if you're a retarded juvenile like me, how can you resist reading that story. I want to see the Gir lions up close and find out why they didn't eat the other 21 people they killed.
Then there's a story about some Chinese gorges by Mark Levine that starts with this irresistible opening line: "Heaven is a vast and frozen place. . .
Tim Cahill's Sahara piece is blurbed thusly, "Don't come to the Sahara, they said. Don't join the Caravan of White Gold, or test the bandits, or even think about laying eyes on the legendary salt mines of Mali. Well, damn them."
Could H. Rider Haggard do any better than that? Could any redblooded American boy up to the age of 50 or so, resist a challenge like that one? And not read on? You've got to be kidding.
I am fascinated by mountains and I have read Krakauer before. And when you combine alpinism with the mysterious East and sacred places such as Mount Fuji, well, what can one say? My only reservation about the Fuji piece was that the artwork, splendid as it is, doesn't make up for a lack of photos. I really wanted to see good pictures of a climb up Fuji. And the single disappointment in the whole damned magazine was Krakauer on the great climber, Reinhold Messner.
You give me a cover line promising the great Krakauer is going to "behold" someone he calls "the world's best climber," I expect more than half a page of copy and a black & white photo of the bearded Messner's face. Other than that, Mr. Burke, nice job.