First of all, I didn't mean to be shopping at Barnes & Noble. I have nothing against you, Barnes & Noble—after all I used to work for you (I was a teenager, I didn't know better, I couldn't find another bookstore that would hire me without experience)—except, well, the people who work for you don't know a goddamn thing, your displays are full of crap, and your continuing existence continues to put better stores out of existence. And no, I am not a "member," and no, I do not want to become one. I don't like giving Barnes & Noble money, but I was on a mission and some missions involve enemy territory. My mission was to find a copy of the second issue of the literary journal A Public Space. I'd found my copy of the first issue at Borders.
The second issue of A Public Space is not out yet, apparently, but copies of the first issue are still sitting around, as are copies of Noon, another literary journal that belongs on the list of literary journals that don't suck. The downside to Noon is that it only comes out once a year. The upshots are that Noon has a serif font, crisp photos, and excellent writing, or at least writing by writers I love, including four short pieces by Lydia Davis (the first one begins, "An ant can look up at you, too, and even threaten you with its arms") and a story by Gary Lutz called "Partial List of People to Bleach" (representative sentence: "My parents—they had each overshot their marriage but otherwise went about ungulfed by life").
I was in line to buy Noon, minding my own business, listening to a checker give the guy in front of me grief about becoming a member, when something yellow and orange and displayed prominently on the sales counter, the latest O: The Oprah Magazine, caught my eye. I've seen it before, this magazine with the same chipper lady on its cover month in and month out, and I've never had any reason to touch it; after all I'm not chipper nor am I a lady, but something deep within me cannot resist the words "summer," "reading," and "issue" in a row. This is O's first ever summer reading issue, according to the cover text, which promises: "Looking for a great book? We've got 64!" I flipped it open excitedly, since I relish published stupidity, and was dejected to find that O's summer reading issue is not exactly stupid. Sure, there are the obligatory recommendations of predictable "beach reads," but there is also fiction by Antonya Nelson, A. M. Homes, Amy Hempel, and John Edgar Wideman; appreciations of Paley, Proust, Melville, Tolstoy, and The Man Without Qualities; a spread extolling the opening lines of Daniel Deronda, Lolita, Play It as It Lays, and other books; and an essay by Toni Morrison in which she spends a page discussing a single paragraph by Flannery O'Connor. (It's never mentioned, stupidly, that this O'Connor story is called "The Artificial Nigger." I'm guessing one of those words breaks a rule in O's style guide.) Anyway, I bought it. Wouldn't you?