Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Holiday Magazine Watch: November Martha Stewart Living

Reading the November issue of Martha Stewart Living has made me reassess my review of the November Real Simple. I realize now that in order to properly evaluate a holiday magazine, you have to have an aesthetic in place. You have to have standards.

For a holiday magazine to be a true success, it must be infused with the spirit of the holiday--i.e. all content should speak to the holiday at hand, even indirectly. For instance, the November MSL has an article about vacuum cleaners, and you might wonder, vacuum cleaners? Their Thanksgiving significance is--? But of course vacuuming is perhaps the number one chore of the holiday season, which begins with Thanksgiving. A vacuum cleaner article in the November issue could not be more timely.

Ultimately, the November Real Simple failed the spirit of the season test. Because it ended with recipes for Thanksgiving fare, it did leave me feeling a bit Thanksgiving-ish, but the feeling was short-lived. A good holiday magazine will stay with you for days, if not your entire life (ref. Martha Stewart Living, December 2000). There were far too many articles about things that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving or getting ready for the holidays. An article on colds--definite January material. "Garages" to park your various i-pods and cell phones--no, no, no.

Real Simple, please bow to your master, Martha Stewart Living. Note the obsessive detail to serving platters and gravy boats. Note the long how-to article on candle making. Pumpkin candles, darling little orange pumpkin candles that you can do yourself (if you have three or four years to devote to candle-making). Note page after page on making the upper crust of a pie crust, the fluted-disk crust, the faux-lattice crust, the absolutely insane leaf-lattice crust. Note the visit to a cranberry bog. It doesn't let up.

I admit, there was one article that failed the holiday spirit test for me: "By a Thread," about using needlepoint and crewelwork to update upholstery. The subject didn't bother me as much as the the photographs illustrating the article. The photographer lit the rooms so as to evoke summer mornings and bright afternoons. In one picture, green leaves show through a bedroom window.

In a January issue, this sort of lighting would be welcome, a harbinger of good things to come. But in a November issue? All wrong. November has its own particular, evocative light. A November issue of a magazine should help us conjure crisp fall days teetering on the edge of winter. In November, we will still brave the outdoors to rake leaves and tidy up the yard, but we want the house cozy when we get in.

Despite this singular lapse, the November Martha Stewart Living is well worth the admission price. It is a keeper and the standard by which the other 2007 November magazines will be judged by.

No comments: