I spent a little time today reading a new journal that intrigued me. I'm an early adopter when it comes to such new magazines or journals, particularly when (as is often) you cannot find them online or in the library.
The Pedestrian is an unpretentious entry into what has to be a limited market. It bills itself as a journal "that seeks to explore the ordinary," that, as the editors explain, "the people and things that are familiar – or have become too familiar – might be allowed to enchant." In it you'l find a collection of classic essays from the past as well as new contributions that carry on the conversation, each issue exploring a common theme --- this one, empathy.
I'm holding Issue One --- yes, holding, because this is not primarily an online journal, though selected pieces from each journal are posted online. Holding, because holding is believing for me, words having extra weight when they are etched in paper and touched and smelled. Yes, smelled --- the ink on paper, newness, the aroma of ideas.
That it seeks to explore the ordinary doesn't mean that it is elementary. Some of the entries take concentration, like the excerpt from C.S. Lewis' classic exploration of how to read literature or how to view visual art, "An Experiment in Criticism." Like always, I find myself rereading Lewis' sentences, either because I am slow-witted, easily distracted, or simply overwhelmed by the profundity of his words. Plus, some entries are simply longish, at least by today's standards, like Virginia Woolf's "Memories of a Working Women's Guild," her preface to a collection of letters written by working women in 1893, interesting but somewhat difficult to plow through, and oh so long. But then there are concise pieces like that of actor Anthony Lawton's "A Book for My Son," where in less than four pages he manages to make a valid point: "To the extent that we use empathy as a first step in self-advancement, our hearts will be a savage place. To the extent that we use empathy as the first step to charity, our hearts will be civilized." As he explains, it's just a little bit of the book he's writing to his son, a book about "everything," a book he believes will be about 900 pages in length. Let's hope the world still reads such tomes when his son is of age.
G.K. Chesterton (on lamp-posts, of all things), Madeleine L'Engle (from A Circle of Quiet), and even Adam Smith. . . well, you see the variety of what lies here. If you don't find an essay valuable, there is always another perspective, personality, or style --- just keep turning. I enjoy the mixture of old and new, the opportunity to focus on a single theme, the sense of wisdom imparted by the life experiences represented here, from authors of renown who speak to us from the grave to authors known and unknown who speak out of or into our time.
I recommend The Pedestrian, if you are willing to make the effort and take the time to absorb the words, if you're not seeking just information or titillation but, as I said, an opportunity to grow a little wiser from the reflections of others. For this pedestrian, just an ordinary guy, it was a good walk in words. I can see my way just a little better now in their light.