Book Report: The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology edited by David Plotz (2006)

As you know, gentle reader, I prefer a book in my hand to all the wordsmithery of Internety. Maybe I’m invoking the wrong allusion for my point. Regardless, it explains why I buy books that collect writings that are freely available on the Internet. Like this volume, which collects a number of things from Slate’s first ten years (1996-2006). In a sad sort of way, my going through this book identified how I’ve turned away from reading mainstream general interest magazines in Slate’s 10 year history and why.

This book collects a couple pieces per year (the best, one would assume) and prefaces with a little about the magazine’s history at the time. However, a little after 2000, the “best” of Slate veers into Bush and Republicans sux! territory. Here’s the subject of the pieces:

1996

  • Why flight attendants talk like they do.
  • Trying to overcome one’s aversions to certain foods.

1997

  • Sleeping in the same bed as kids is okay.
  • A man muses while watching couples pass.
  • Liberal versus conservatives (gardening philosophy, not political).
  • Che’s popularity is because he died young.

1998

  • Working in the ER when it’s a full moon on Friday the 13th.
  • A conversation exchange of posts thing.
  • The Farrelly Brothers’ popularity.
  • A baby sitting co-op as an economics lesson.

1999

  • The tele-tubby gay thing.
  • Jerry Falwell’s definition of the Anti-Christ describes the author.
  • The Supreme Court handles a stripper case.

2000

  • Presidential candidates tend to be blue-blooded Ivy Leaguers.
  • The stolen election told as a Grinch poem.
  • A couple’s interaction in a bar.

2001

  • Author tries Paxil for a month.
  • Bill O’Reilly is a poseur.
  • On defending bestiality (not actually defending bestiality).

2002

  • On shy urinators.
  • Soccer fans as nationalists.
  • Evolution of the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Lewis and Clark celebrated inappropriately.
  • A former Marine at the WTC rubble finds survivors.
  • Spitting like a wine pro.
  • The 50/50 political split in America.

2003

  • Post exchange on miscarriage.
  • Goose stepping in parades.
  • A man awakens from being knocked out.
  • Low-rise pants.
  • Author acts as a street performer.
  • Hating Bush but loving his tax cuts.

2004

  • The Martha Stewart trial.
  • Rich men buying newspapers.
  • The end of the universe.
  • Bush is stupid on purpose.
  • Discovering a genetic deficiency in oneself that leads to breast cancer.
  • Michael Moore is a bad documentarian.
  • What did Bush know before we invaded 9/11?
  • I am a racist.
  • I love being in India.
  • Bush is a bad parent; Gore, Kerry, the Clintons are good parents.
  • In praise of misers.

2005

  • Reattaching severed body parts.
  • Rappers compared to bloggers.
  • In praise of Congress’s action on Terry Schiavo.
  • Pitying Prince Charles.
  • Proust and the madeleine cookie.
  • Impact of men watching their women give birth.
  • A Katrina evacuee gets help from the private sector.

I have bolded the pieces that explicitly knock Bush by name. The tone of the pieces begins to shift around 2000, too, to include snarky asides and tut-tutting of some conservative/libertarian principles. Suddenly, the periodical is no longer writing about interesting things that I don’t know about so much as writing about politics and attacking me and things I believe in.

You know, there was a day when I had subscriptions to Harper’s and the Atlantic Monthly. We even had our years with Newsweek and Time. I didn’t pay much attention to Slate, but I went to Salon every day and I even foolishly invested in it.

But come 2000, all of a sudden the magazines all shifted. In the news magazines, they belittled Bush every magazine. In the monthlies, they spent less time on general interest essays and more time trying to outdo each other in implicating Bush in a wide variety of churlish behaviours. Mostly churlish on the part of the magazine authors. As you might remember, I wrote a piece when I let my Harper’s subscription lapse after a decade.

Now I’m off of news weeklies, news monthlies, and general interest monthlies, and home/family magazines are coming next, now that they’ve shifted tone from saving energy saves money to go green to serve Gaia and preserve the environment for the future, where your descendents can live in substinence conditions to serve Gaia.

But, back to this book.

The essays that were what mainstream magazines did best–take one outside his or her daily existence into something, even just a different voice, outside the reader’s experience–were enjoyable. The snarky pieces about celebrities (O’Reilly) and successful business people (who then buy publications) were tolerable–but that’s not a compliment; I tolerated them, literally. However, the snarky pieces on the Bush administration were inexecrable. It took me three times to make it through best-selling author (that is, best selling quoter and inflater of Bush’s misstatements) Jacob Weisberg’s bit about how Bush chooses to be stupid and has an oedipal complex. I read the piece about the Republicans being bad parents and couldn’t believe that the author of that piece was serious.

But seriousness and its attendant earnestness explains why I don’t read Slate unless a blogger links to a specific piece (usually by Hitchens or Kaus), don’t take general interest magazines, and don’t even visit Salon any more (but cannot sell my stock since its sale price is less than the commission price for selling it).

Hard otherwise to capture personal historical reading trends as this book has done accidentally. So I guess it’s worth it for this long post I got out of it. And some of it is good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid, to make another semi-appropriate allusion.

Books mentioned in this review:


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