The quiet joy of a smart summer read



I approach The Atlantic magazine’s annual “Ideas Issue” the way a fan of Beatles’ music approaches a vintage vinyl of the “White Album”, which is to say: reverentially, lovingly and oh so carefully. 

After all, in both, there’s so much to appreciate, comprehend and, of course, misapprehend. 

Truly, consider the fun that can be had by all in the breaking nights of a martini-soaked summer by arguing the significance of Helter Skelter’s lyrics (“When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide/ Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride/Till I get to the bottom and I see you again”) and the fact that this year’s “Ideas” edition of The Atlantic features line drawings of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney on its front cover. 

It’s kismit, baby. 

And so, apparently, is innovation, even in magazines these days.

Explaining why he chose not one but three covers to grace his publication this month (one after another), The Atlantic’s creative director, Darhil Crooks, writes, “The theme of The Atlantic’s annual Ideas Issue this year is creativity – which is a hard concept to define, let alone to illustrate. We could have gone with an illuminated lightbulb, or photographed Brad Pitt painting at an easel, but those options didn’t seem very. . .creative. Most of the time, we derive our cover image from one specific story. But this time we thought, why not produce a collection of covers, using each one to showcase a different approach to examining and conveying creativity?”

Why not, indeed? 

Cover Number One features the iconic songwriting duo from the sixties and asks whether genius is a solitary encumbrance, or a shared misery. Cover Number Two examines the science of creativity and whether mental illness and IQ are inextricably linked (something I’ve wondered for just about my entire life). Cover Number Three recounts “tales of creativity”, the “breakthroughs, borrowings, revisions, and bold decisions behind the work of highly creative people, from Beyonce to the lead designer of Google Glass.” 

In a monolithic media industry that believes it enhances itself by repeating itself (think Toronto Star and Rob Ford), The Atlantic manages its originality almost defiantly.

Here, there’s James Parker on “The Twee Revolution. . .a terrifying aesthetic” that is “taking over America.” thanks to the likes of filmmaker Wes Anderson, actress Zooey Deschanel and “Brooklynites on bicycles”.

Here, there’s a piece by Joe Pinsker on “punctuated equilibrium” in which he asks whether “autocorrect” will “save the apostrophe, and slow language’s evolution. . .(because) our brains seem to become less vigilant when we know a grammatical safety net will catch us.”

A somewhat more sober article by Gordon Goldstein, a former member of the U.S. delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, asks whether the Internet, as we know it, is fated to go the way of the dinosaur. 

“The World Wide Web celebrated its 25th birthday recently,” he writes. “Today, the global network serves almost three billion people, and hundreds of thousands more join each day. If the Internet were a country, its economy would be among the five largest in the world.”

On the other hand, he notes, “fierce and rising geopolitical conflict over control of the global network threatens to create a balkanized system – what some technorati, including Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, have called “the splinternet.’”

That would be a shame. Without the free research and weird facts and figures literally at my fingertips, I’d probably have to stop scribbling for a living and do something honest if as equally unremunerative, such as farming.

Still, The Atlantic always manages to put me in touch with my inner reader, the one I knew well as a kid growing up without the benefits ample screen time. 

The Internet has taught us how to scan for information quickly. We’ve forgotten how to drink deeply from the well spring of ideas that a good, slow summer read offers. Thank God, we still have a few old-fashioned, paper-bound magazines like The Atlantic to remind us. 


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