Natural History

Even as I've established myself as the world's preeminent blogger about magazines (0-25 readers/six-feet-and-under division), I can't entirely dodge the slings and arrows of my critics. Apparently I haven't been responsive enough -- silly me, preferring the quaint conversational medium of e-mail -- and apparently I haven't been enthusiastic enough in my embrace of some of the blogospheraglobe's hallowed traditions, like the live blog.

Assuming I understand this correctly, a live blog consists of posting thoughts/anecdotes as they occur to you, without further editing. People have live-blogged Olympic curling, the "America's Next Top Model" finale, visits to the commode, etc. Those who do this -- and thus sacrifice their uninterrupted enjoyment of the event at hand -- are said to be "brave" and "clever."

I'm neither of the above, so the live blog that follows represents my final attempt to cozy up to my blogtastic peers and better comprehend their bloggy ways. I chose the July/August issue of Natural History for my task, figuring that a magazine so deeply steeped in pop-culture and celebrity ephemera would prove the perfect foil.

7:33 A.M.: Did I say "pop-culture and celebrity ephemera?" I meant "boring nature gunk, presented boringly." My bad.

7:35 A.M.: A quickie first impression: The mag doesn't appear to have evolved one iota since I was forced to read it, under threat of curtailed recess, during grade school. Its cover design remains mired in the early 1980s, and the bug-eyed, leaf-tailed gecko that adorns it wouldn't be a particularly charming insurance pitchman (pitchgecko?).

7:36 A.M.: The first contents page continues the minimalist trend: a few random illustrations, plus 20-word-or-less story descriptions. Three of the four credited writers use a middle initial as part of their byline.

7:38 A.M.: Ooh, a photo spread sneak attack on page four. Good call injecting some color this early in the issue. The mag explains the photo, complete with an I'm-smarter-than-you Shakespeare reference, on the page that follows.

7:39 A.M.: One passage from the "Up Front" editor's note ("now strap yourself in once more and zoom even further into the past, to the beginning of time, some 14 billion years ago, when our universe began with a big bang") reminds me of Carl Sagan, who I hated. During my undergrad years, I used to jog by his house most days, forever minding my own darn business. One fall I returned to find that he'd erected a lengthy eight-foot-tall fence right next to the sidewalk, thus limiting my view of the natural landscape. This pissed me off. Did he really think beer-buoyed college kids had the slightest desire to look in on him and his wife as they checked out each other's solar systems?

7:43 A.M.: That story took four whole minutes to relate? This is going to be a pointless exercise.

7:44 A.M.: Natural History contributors look exactly like you'd imagine. I can't wait until I'm craggy enough to grow scholarly facial hair.

7:49 A.M.: The front-o'-book "Samplings" don't exactly ooze charisma, but the section features neat-o items on atmospheric ozone and non-genetically-modified poisonous laser-super-toads. The mag loses points for the reproduction of its photos here: the stamp-sized shot of a worm-like amphibian offers nothing in the way of detail. Why even run it?

7:54 A.M.: After snoozing my way through the "Naturalist at Large" piece on eco-friendly travel, I am convinced that there is no person on the planet I'd less rather be seated next to at a dinner party than its author.

7:55 A.M.: Do barbecues count as dinner parties? If not, I haven't been invited to a dinner party since, well, ever.

8:01 A.M.: My favorite item so far: "The Other Kinsey Report," a look at Albert Kinsey's guide to edible wild plants. This is what Natural History should strive to do in every story: illuminate heretofore obscure nature/history arcana, just like its moniker promises. Not sure why the mag went all Good Housekeeping on our asses and printed Clara B.M. Kinsey's recipe for persimmon pudding, though.

8:06 A.M.: It's beautiful outside. Time for a run. Amy, you're in charge while I'm gone.

9:18 A.M.: Back. Natural History should consider doing a write-up on my sweat glands. Seriously. There might be something very, very wrong with me.

9:22 A.M.: I have absolutely no opinion, positive or negative, about the "Biomechanics" piece on algae survival in intertidal zones.

9:32 A.M.: The cover story on squamata (that's science-guy speak for "lizards and snakes" -- see, we're all learning something today) is incredibly comprehensive, if not all that lively. Nicely detailed photos, too, especially the one of a chameleon with a legit Gene Simmons tongue.

9:46 A.M.: Neither "From Fins to Limbs" (an evolutionary tract) nor "Beyond the Big Bang" (something about Earth clones in galaxies far, far away) elicited much in the way of a reaction. Really, I feel no smarter than I did ten minutes ago. Does Natural History have some kind of money-back guarantee?

9:47 A.M.: But I love this pull-quote from the latter story: "With humankind reduced to absolute cosmic insignificance, our [its?] descent from the center of the world is now complete." Can't you just hear Leonard Nimoy solemnly intoning this phrase over the low hum of orchestral trills? Oboes rock.

9:51 A.M.: Either I'm getting bored or these book reviews pack all the wallop of a schoolgirl haymaker. I'd like to slap the reviewer for his opening volley: "Summertime, and the reading is easy." Jackass.

9:52 A.M.: I've gotta say -- this live-blog thing kind of kicks ass. No paragraph transitions or coherent train of thought required. And I can just end the thing any time I darn well please.

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