Thursday July 29th, 2010

Best Magazine Articles Ever

Here is a continually updated list of the best magazine articles ever written. It’s already getting a bit unwieldy, with more and more suggestions of things that haven’t exactly passed the test of time, but it’s still a great browsing tool. I was happy to see that someone had submitted Edwin Dobb’s “A Kiss is Still a Kiss (Even if the Sex is Postmodern and the Romance Problematic),” from the February 1996 issue of Harper’s. I remember liking that a lot when it was first published. I’ll have to re-read and see how it holds up.

Then there’s Gary Wolf’s 1995 profile of Ted Nelson for Wired. Nelson, the inventor of hypertext, was working on a massive project called Xanadu. The piece begins:

I said a brief prayer as Ted Nelson—hypertext guru and design genius—took a scary left turn through the impolite traffic on Marin Boulevard in Sausalito. Nelson’s left hand was on the wheel, his right rested casually on the back of the front seat. He arched his neck and looked in my direction so as to be clearly heard. “I’ve been compiling a catalog of driving maneuvers,” he said. “It’s one of my unfinished projects.”

Nelson is a pale, angular, and energetic man who wears clothes with lots of pockets. In these pockets he carries an extraordinary number of items. What cannot fit in his pockets is attached to his belt. It is not unusual for him to arrive at a meeting with an audio recorder and cassettes, video camera and tapes, red pens, black pens, silver pens, a bulging wallet, a spiral notebook in a leather case, an enormous key ring on a long, retractable chain, an Olfa knife, sticky notes, assorted packages of old receipts, a set of disposable chopsticks, some soy sauce, a Pemmican Bar, and a set of white, specially cut file folders he calls “fangles” that begin their lives as 8 1/2-by-11-inch envelopes, are amputated en masse by a hired printer, and end up as integral components in Nelson’s unique filing system. This system is an amusement to his acquaintances until they lend him something, at which point it becomes an irritation. “If you ask Ted for a book you’ve given him,” says Roger Gregory, Nelson’s longtime collaborator and traditional victim, “he’ll say, ‘I filed it, so I’ll buy you a new one.’” For a while, Nelson wore a purple belt constructed out of two dog collars, which pleased him immensely, because he enjoys finding innovative uses for things.