Wonders of technology aside, some things in life just can't be improved upon: mashed potatoes made from scratch; a dozen red roses wrapped in green florist paper -- and the venerable Reader's Digest.
Who among us geeky media types doesn't remember reading it when we were kids? My parents subscribed for years, and it was always in doctor's office waiting rooms. Sections like Word Power improved our vocabulary while the G-rated jokes made us giggle. The inspirational articles gave hope that most people are basically good.
Today, the Digest is published in 50 editions in 21 languages, in Braille, on cassette, in large print and in a digital version. First published in 1922, it has a circulation of over 10 million in the U.S. alone and a readership of 38 million as measured by Mediamark Research (MRI). According to MRI, Reader's Digest -- despite its just-folks charm -- reaches more readers with household incomes of $100,000+ than Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Inc. combined. That's nothing to sneeze at.
While the magazine has a fresh look and feel with Peggy Northrop taking the lead as editor in chief last summer, she's wisely avoided messing with success. You'll still find all of the old departments including Word Power (around since 1945, incidentally), Laugh (jokes, still G-rated ) and Life (reader-submitted true stories).
For those of us who get most of our news online, a few of the pieces seem a little hokey, like "Beat the Cheaters! 9 New Scams To Avoid." The article reminded me of emails my naive friends and family have forwarded to me. But at least it left out the urban legend about the guy in the mall parking lot who flattens your tire, then hides nearby and then offers to change it when you come back to the car. (Spoiler alert: the guy is a serial killer, of course.)
The Outrageous section, by The New Republic editor Michael Crowley, is a good read, chronicling a hall of shame of greed and abuse. The magazine has a long history of watchdog journalism and it's nice to see it continue.
One thing I don't remember about Reader's Digest as a kid was celebrity coverage, but there's a Q&A this month with Emma Thompson. She's a classy lady and the article provides an interesting glimpse inside her head (she's irked by both bigotry and tea leaves in the sink). The inclusion of this story is probably a sign of the times; we are, after all, a celebrity-obsessed culture. But they didn't put her on the cover, so bonus points for that.
The cover story is ideal for everyone making and already breaking the top New Year's resolution: "13 Things No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss," which is accompanied by a "simple eat-healthy plan for busy, real people." Here's one of those 13 facts behind the new fat-busting science: Recent research shows that along with cigarettes and alcohol, your mom's consumption of sugary and fatty foods before you were born might be the cause of your skewed appetite control and metabolic system. Who would have thought?
There's still a fair share of inspiration, including "Back to Basics: How We Can Renew America's Dream" as well as a captivating piece appropriately titled "The Seeker" on Conor Grennan, who trekked into the Himalayas in hope of finding the families of 24 children he had grown to love after volunteering at an orphanage near Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. The piece includes a handy map of the country as well as a globe showing where it's located.
Remarkably, the magazine has held fast to its general interest appeal. With so many publications (and everything else) designed to appeal to a narrow niche of consumers, it's an anomaly to find a magazine that can be enjoyed by 8- to 80-year-olds, conservatives to liberals, and everyone in between. The holidays are over, but I'm getting my parents a subscription to that large-type edition. Consider getting one for yours, too.
Published by: The Reader's Digest Association