Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Through a Golden Frame

Over on his blog, James Gurney shares the story behind this piece, done for National Geographic's centennial.

I was raised on National Geographic, and even now, years later, just the glimpse of a yellow square-bound spine brings with it the promise of something interesting, exotic, or new. I've been a subscriber (do they call them subscribers? I suppose I'm technically a "member," aren't I? But that just seems pretentious...) for much of my adult life. In the last couple of years, we've pruned most of our subscriptions, since they would invariably collect dust unread on the edge of a table for months at a time. So away went the Entertainment Weekly, the Scientific American, the Smithsonian Magazine. But when it came time to get rid of National Geographic, I found I just couldn't do it. Like anyone who subscribes, I've got whole shelves and stacks of back issues, many of which I've never had a chance to do much more than glance at. But when I was just starting out as a writer, back in high school and college, the vast majority of the first-level research I did was in the pages of National Geographic. The surnames of virtually all the Te'Maroan characters, from Clockwork Storybook days through to the present, came from a single article about Polynesian sailors I read more than twenty years ago. I couldn't help but picture Georgia, years from now, finally noticing the huge library of magazines in the house, all of them bordered in a frame of golden yellow, and discovering what lay within those pages all on her own.

In the end, we renewed our subscription, and delivery of National Geographic continued uninterrupted. Just the other night Allison, Georgia, and I paged through the latest issue around the kitchen table, Georgia pointing out the animals she recognized. Seeing that image of Gurney's this morning, I was immediately tempted to go dig up the older issues I've got, and see what I might have forgotten, or what I might have missed. There's always something new in there.

So much resonance with this!
When we were kids, there were a lot of back issues cut up to illustrate school reports or to make collages.
Thanks for posting this, Chris. Someone who saw this painting told me the story of a guy in Massachusetts who stored his whole collection of Geographics in his attic. Unknowingly he put the heavy magazines over a weak point in the structure, and the whole top of the house caved in. So be careful where you store them!
Stu, that's a horrible thought to contemplate. Cut up old issues of National Geographic?! The horror!
Ha! Thanks for the tip, James! I'll keep all of mine safely on the ground floor, I think.
My mom didn't have the proper reverence for printed articles that we do -- this is the same women who tossed our Silver Age comics and gave away our vintage Lionel trains. To her, it was just clutter that we were getting too old for.

My brother has never forgiven her about the trains, and he's a dentist today with a married daughter.
As the parent of a four year old, I'm totally overcompensating in the other direction, Stu. I won't let Allison give any of Georgia's books or toys away, on the off-chance she might want them someday.
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