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Magazines go back to school

Back to school. The horror. The bright, festive signs scream, "Welcome Back Students." Even Homer Simpson knows the real message, more blatant than subliminal: "Welcome Back Credit Cards!" The magazines roll out the same call this time of year. Whatever you wore, drove, read, or carried is so wrong for this year you had better get over to the mall right away. But first, "Buy this magazine and we will show you the style bible of the season."

GL cheerily smiles on the cover, "Win tons of free stuff for Back to School!" What I noticed immediately was the orange and yellow color scheme--just like Mastercard. Inside, the girls (GL was formerly Girls' Life) are treated to the scoop on faking an end-of-summer glow, the best blush for back-to-school, and "the biggest trend for fall"--long, lovely lashes (and you guessed it was doing your homework before you start IM'ing the world?).

Over at Lingua Franca, the review of academic life, our own (well, Duke's) Stanley Hauerwas nails an eight page interview. The mag's back-to-school cover announces the event above the masthead, "America's Most Foul-Mouthed Theologian." Yeah, send this issue back to mom and dad next week when they ask how the football team's doing.

Now, if you're Destiny's Child, you're not going back to school. You're going to the bank. Seventeen crushes BTS with 29 pages of glossy ads before the table of contents. Beyoncé seems to be on every other page. Looks like to be a survivor this season you need the right shoes.

Into this mayhem of closet (not desk) glitter and over-the-top consumption comes the brave debut of what might be the best launch of the year, PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers. Just out (in time for an alternative BTS buy), edited by M. Mark, formally of the Voice Literary Supplement, this little mag is fantastic. PEN's heart and words are in the right place, devoted to the promotion of literature and the defense of free expression. Praising the classics, their premiere issue brings out the heavyweights with pieces by Michael Cunningham on Virginia Woolf and Mary Gordon on Salman Rushdie, and Carlos Fuentes writing about Italo Calvino. Deeper into the text we find Robert Stone and Rosario Ferre remembering Jorge Luis Borges. Fittingly, the back cover of PEN America features not Maybelline nail enamel or Tommy Hilfiger eyewear but a dusky bookshelf of leathery classics. That's where you'll find Joyce Carol Oates, Umberto Eco and Paul Auster doing their back-to-school communing.

But it was a Teen magazine front cover story that locked up this year for me. Their headline read, "Style vs. Teachers: How your look affects your grades."

Find Seventeen magazine at seventeen.com, GL at girlslife.com, Lingua Franca at linguafranca.com, and PEN America at pen.org.

More by John Valentine

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