Dishing the dirt on clean's queen Summertime: If easy reading is your pleasure, take a look at what the newsstands are offering this month.

Magazines

July 07, 1996|By Cynthia Dockrell | Cynthia Dockrell,BOSTON GLOBE

This long weekend signals that delicious moment when we are officially allowed to kick back and trade in our Wall Street Journals for more beach-appropriate fare, a la the skin-deep newsstand stuff we tend to shun the rest of the year. We understand that some readers might balk at such a wholesale surrender to the unserious, so we'll throw out a weighty suggestion or two as well.

Spy high

But first, a magazine that takes nothing seriously -- except, of course, its own irreverence. The July/August Spy puts Martha Stewart on the cover as "Whitey Aphrodite," dishing the dirt on the "queen of pristine." We learn that while filming a TV special, Martha yelled at her own mother after the poor lady twice missed her cue; that Martha does virtually none of the writing on her books, nor the editing on her Martha Stewart Living magazine, instead foisting the work onto underpaid staffers; that she once let pots of meat slowly rot in her refrigerator before attempting to give them as Christmas gifts; that, Mrs. Robinson-like, she had an affair with her own daughter's ex-boyfriend. Shocking!

Greg Easley writes with a breathless, you-won't-believe-this tone that's more about Spy's mandate to justify its existence through shameless gossip than it is about whatever crimes Martha has committed. I mean, does anyone buy her act? Any woman who puts forth such a serene air of competence while overseeing an empire as big as her own ego is immediately suspect. Thus, Spy's take on Stewart is overwrought, superfluous and just plain silly.

There is some fun to be had in these pages, though, via Vernon Silver's report from Beirut about Lebanon's attempts to market itself as a tourist mecca. Oh, those now-and-then bombings are nothing to worry about, Silver writes. "And that little war with Israel earlier this year? The action took place primarily in the boondocks, and they didn't hit any hotels, scaredy-pants!" The accompanying photos of beaming families in Bermuda shorts superimposed against blast-scarred buildings are a hoot.

Artistic arm

The July Harper's offers the usual marvelous blend of reportage, humor and oddball anecdote, all superlatively written. Novelist Padgett Powell runs away with this issue, profiling Cleve Dean, an arm-wrestler who hails from Pravo, Ga., and weighs 500 pounds. That's down from the 700 he weighed a few years back. Dean is a hog farmer who has competed on the international arm-wrestling circuit on and off for many years, and Powell travels with him to the world championships.

This enormous man is beautifully rendered: "He moves his arm, the famous one, slowly and widely to my approach, offering me the catcher's-mitt-sized hand on the long end of a long arm that is 1 inch shy of being 2 feet around, and it looks, this arm, like the leg of an ordinary person down there attempting to legwhip me. It is not a steroidy tacky veiny thing but a Michelangelo thing."

Elsewhere in this issue are an atmospheric essay by David Guterson about the good and bad things that go with island living; Orville Schell's creepy trip into still staunchly communist North Korea; and the cover story, about the game the U.S. Border Patrol plays with illegal Mexican immigrants. It's a great chase yarn.

Really serious stuff

CommonWealth will certainly do the trick here. In its summer issue -- which is also only its second -- this journal of "politics, ideas, and civic life in Massachusetts," as it bills itself, puts forth an earnest handful of articles any die-hard political moderate would love. And the key word here is die-hard. Published by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, CommonWealth seems aimed at political junkies for whom there's no such thing as too many stories about welfare or taxes. How else to account for the three features here revolving around Proposition 2 1/2 ? The interview with Barbara Anderson, that property tax-cutting measure's most vociferous champion, is lively -- but it would have to be, given Anderson herself.

This fledgling magazine could do with more of that kind of energy -- as well as some ads to break up the pages and pages of type. Otherwise, its mission of exploring the usual political terrain minus the bloated rhetoric of the usual wonk suspects is admirable, much needed and genuinely democratic.

Accusations

In GQ for July, beyond the usual male-fluff stuff, is a story by Mary A. Fischer about the collective insanity that seized parents, teachers and child-care professionals in the 1980s and early 1990s in the wake of the McMartin child sex-abuse case, whereby everyone from preschool teachers to priests suddenly was being accused of molesting children. The piece doesn't break any new ground, but Fischer effectively portrays the dangers that come with believing a child's story at all costs.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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