Ladies' Home Journal

Heading into today's exercise, here's what I knew about Ladies' Home Journal: One, it is a women's magazine -- a "home journal" for "ladies," if you will. Two, it contains lots of recipes, many involving peaches. Three, it's been around forever and ever, and ever and ever, amen. Four, it's the kind of publication that media nudniks scorn, because it has the audacity to give readers precisely what they want, in a breezy, easily digestible format.

Come on. Where are the multihued sidebars? The swirly, elongated fonts? The faux-provocative headlines ("332 Ways to Save 448 Minutes!") and quizzes ("Are you white? These questions reveal what the mirror doesn't!")? You'll never win an Ellie with a chart that succinctly lays out the benefits and potential perils of natural remedies/herbal supplements -- and without an Ellie, your mantel will remain as empty as a Lucky editor's bookshelf, or soul.

So no, I wouldn't change a thing about Ladies' Home Journal. Women love this magazine. Why mess with something that works in the interest of creating snazzier fodder for your art director's portfolio?

All those women's-mag mainstays? Ladies' Home Journal pretty much invented 'em: the family/lifestyle hints, the affirming first-person columns, the quickie relationship fixes. And despite a few tweaks over the years -- most notably bulked-up entertainment and beauty/fashion coverage -- the magazine remains true to its primary mission, which is to present time- and cash-crunched mommies with a glut of practical tips for everyday living.

Which isn't to say that the November issue fires on all cylinders. The wimmens o' country music headline it, with Wynonna Judd on the cover and a bunch of quick-hit interviews with Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack and others contained within. There's nothing wrong per se with any of this, yet each of the Q&As covers the same topical ground: life, outlook, family, etc. A group klatch (and yes, I realize that busy schedules likely render this impossible) would have been a better choice, especially if some old-school, chaw-chewin' wingnut like Tammy Wynette were injected into the mix.

Nobody bothers to ask the bright-toothed, curvy gals about suggestions that Nashville has started to prize looks over talent, the responses to which might've proven a bit more diverting than "I love my husband/boyfriend. And you know who else totally rules? God!" Also, one inscrutable quote, from the expansive chat with Wynonna, caught my attention: "I've had my dark night of the soul." You and me both, sister, though I'm guessing yours didn't involve a Coors Light beer ball and some scandalously misaligned papier-mâché undergarments.

I question a few of Ladies' Home Journal's choices on the layout front, especially the way ads for an ADHD drug and a Web site hawking gunk to "firm up your derriere" interrupt an excerpt from Elizabeth Edwards' memoir -- one which discusses the death of her son, no less. Too, sometimes the relatively minimalist design doesn't work. Take the odd mishmash of headlines and captions on the page that precedes the "Your Self" section: It features "Speedy Stress Solutions" in small letters, right above "An End to Loneliness" in larger letters, with "Why Joy Is Contagious" in medium-sized letters just below. For a second there, I thought I was reading something out of Jewel's poetic canon.

What I've written so far dwells on the negative, which ain't fair. Ninety percent of the stories and features in the November issue -- especially the columns and home, health and family sections -- works quite well; the issue as a whole comes across as a masterpiece of creative economy.

Owing to its surprisingly frankness, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" transcends its glib title. The "Inner Life" piece on stress reduction offers advice more involved and less obvious than "downsize!," while the "Love, Sex & Self-Image" poll results are presented in a visually appealing manner and without too much extraneous analysis. Best is the extensive guide for coping with and ultimately defeating breast cancer. No-nonsense in tone and realistic in its depiction of the challenges that lie ahead, the story ably compiles a wealth of crucial information.

Finally, with the November issue's family-style makeover, I think Ladies' Home Journal might have stumbled onto a hell of an idea for a reality show. In it, the mag drags a Minnesota clan to New York for all sorts of primping and trimming and such (not that they really need it -- sure, mom's ink smudge of a brow could use some work, but they look like a normal American family). Think about it: add a "confessional booth," a shrieking nanny or two and some kind of vote-dad-off-the-island component, and you've got Fox ratings gold. I'd like an exec-producer credit, by the way.

So there you have it. "Venerable" and "traditional" are words that few publishers want to hear mentioned in conjunction with their magazine, but Ladies' Home Journal wears its old-fashioned virtue proudly. Kudos to the folks putting it together for resisting any number of noxious publishing-world trends.

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