Thursday, April 24, 2008

Times Literary Supplement, you are like catnip for my brain.

Sometimes I like to get a little autodidactic* with myself. I know, I know, you're thinking, "What if she goes blind?" (Not to worry. I wear glasses.) But yes, the truth is that sometimes I like to "get my learning on," as the kids say. Without a nearby university or handy college professor to teach me, though, it can be difficult. So when I get in the self-educating mood, I turn to The Times Literary Supplement, the best smarty-pants publication ever created that doesn't require you to have a PhD just to subscribe.

If you've never read The Times Literary Supplement, it's a British publication that reviews both popular and academic books. Unlike The New York Times Review of Books, though, TLS critics give you scads and scads of background on the subject covered in whatever book they're reviewing. For example, this past weekend, I read a review of two academic books that looked at clothing in 18th century Europe. Within this article, I learned about class structure, about Marie Antoinette's fashions (the real kind, not the Sophia Coppola kind), about how the upper and middle classes copied their styles from farmers and peasants. Dear God, I even learned about cloth. And you know what? It was fascinating. Each article is like a mini-history lesson with a big picture and small type. Half the time, I have no idea what I'm reading and am completely confused, but nearly every article still yields an undeniable intellectual buzz, a rush of learner's adrenaline that just makes me want to read more.

The TLS has been around since 1902 and its past contributors have included Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and Henry James. Even Martin Amis took time out from being caustic and inventing new compound adjectives to work on its editorial staff early in his career. How's that for book nerd credibility?

So if you like good reading that occasionally requires the use of a big dictionary and sometimes makes your cranium jitter with confusion, give The TLS a test drive. Honestly, it's like taking master's degree classes but without having to listen to flannel-clad TAs. And there are rarely any pop quizzes although they publish some kind of cryptic puzzle that I swear is like cracking the Enigma code. Never, ever use a pen.

Check out The TLS. Your brain will thank you.

* Isn't this a great word? It has the dual benefit of sounding both racy AND confusing, like "brontosaurus," which sounds like a Dutch porn name.


Kimmer said...

What are the titles of the books about clothing in the 18th century? They sound fascinating!

Liz said...

Hi Kimmer, I think I still have the issue. I'll check for it tonight and let you know.