Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#115, November 28, 2000


by Marylaine Block

If you can't bear the thought of slogging through crowded malls, subjected to endless repetitions of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," but still aren't ready for the frustrations and risks of shopping online, I have a suggestion: give the gift that keeps on coming, month after month. Give magazine subscriptions to your dear ones.

Pick one about their favorite hobbies or secret obsessions. With over 150,000 magazines to choose from in this country alone, there really is something for everybody. Which is good, because in some way, I believe, we are all misfits. We all have interests or unreasoning dreams that we can't talk about because there's not a soul around us who understands or cares about it.

Some of us react by flaunting our passions to an uncaring, not to say hostile, world. As a Michigander transplanted to a town that roots for Cubs and Bears and Bulls, I continued to root for Tigers and Lions and Pistons. When the Pistons won their two world championships, I proudly wore my Pistons World Champions t-shirt. [It did turn out to be a conversation starter, at least - perfect strangers would come up to me and say, "Bill Laimbeer sucks."]

More of us, though, just give up and keep quiet about our odd hobbies - what good does it do to be an expert on movie soundtracks, or muzzle loader shotguns, or Days of Our Lives, if nobody wants to hear you talk about them? Worse, what if you share your dreams, of rafting the Colorado, or raising ostriches, or writing a hit song, or owning the world's most complete collection of toy soldiers, and they laugh at you?

Now, of course, many people have taken their odd passions to the net. They've found web sites devoted to their subject, where they can join in discussions, post their own articles and photos, ask their questions. But for those who aren't wired, and for those who like the solidity and permanence of paper, there are magazines just for them.

There are magazines for children and for old folks, new immigrants and Daughters of the American Revolution, parents and swinging singles, Christians and Jews, farmers and urbanites, tinkerers and scientists, Cosmo girls and homemakers, cat fanciers and dog lovers, readers and would-be writers. There are magazines for Civil War re-enacters, lottery players, and collectors of antique phonographs, not to mention quilters, woodturners, Catholic foresters, and variable star observers. For those who love the past, there are magazines of history and legend; for those entranced by possible futures, there are magazines of science fact and fiction.

That's very comforting. It's not just that they offer useful content, like how-to articles and information and advice; it's not even that their ads tell us where we can buy the specialized tools for our dreaming - videos, posters, books, equipment, seminars, and agents. It's the proof they give that we are not alone in the universe, that other people share our eccentric passions.

We hear their voices in their letters to the editor, asking some of the same questions we might have asked. Our eyes light up at announcements of events where we could meet them in person - perhaps a forthcoming meeting of the Ohio Woodturners' Guild, a regional tournament of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an exhibition of circus art, or a competition where amateur wrestlers may win a chance at stardom.

Best of all, month after month, we find in our mailbox regular assurance that we can live our dreams if we dare to. If we dream of retiring and spending every day fishing, a subscription to Crappie World is a regular reminder that somewhere fish are biting. If we always hankered to run a used book store, Antiquarian Book Monthly offers practical advice that makes the dream seem possible. If we long to live in a Victorian mansion, Old House Journal always has new advice to offer on how to restore one.

How do you know what magazines are available? Look through the racks in big bookstores for ideas, or ask your librarians what magazines there are for people who love [fill in the blank].

Show the ones you love that you understand the secret desires of their hearts. Give the gift that keeps on coming, a magazine that tells them they are not alone.

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