Friday, December 5, 2014

What to do with your old National Geographic collection


Recently my in-laws asked if we'd like their old National Geographic magazines. It turns out they've been saving them since Columbus reached the Americas.


Our house is small, and we're pretty dang bad at finding appropriate storage places for things. We've still got 90% of our book collection in boxes, although I plan on that changing once escrow goes through on our house (my dreams are filled with full-wall built-in bookshelves). We almost passed on the collection, but then we were like, "but they're National Geographics!" So we took them. And then they sat around for a long while as we tried to figure out what to do with them.


Makeshift beds were made. Towers were built. Dangerous gymnastic stunts were performed with enthusiasm and daring. At which point we had to recognize the unwise use of stacks of National Geographic magazines as building blocks and play equipment.


I remember, decades ago, sitting at my parent's kitchen table, poring over the latest National Geographic magazine. I'd examine every page and imagine worlds far beyond the scope of my everyday life. There's magic in these things. Mystery. Adventure. Only yesterday, the plumber who came to fix our water heater saw our stack of National Geographics and waxed on about his own love affair with the magazine.

Perhaps most exciting of all was riffling through the pages to find the secret artifact nestled amidst articles on rain-forest spiders or new discoveries about Marco Polo's journeys. The neatly folded map is the cereal-box prize for the kid who has a little bit of Indiana Jones in her heart.


There's no doubt my four-year-old is an adventurer, so much so that she puts this home-body dad to shame. I'm working on living up to her craving for adventure. Baby steps, you know? In the meantime, this homage to her childhood and my own is what we came up with for my daughter's room:


I know that not every map is created or even accepted by the people who reside within the (sometimes arbitrary) "boundaries" that a map describes. And a thoughtful play like Brian Friel's
"Translations" complicates even the practice of naming and labeling on maps, charts and historical and cultural analyses. Yet even accepting those qualifications, I identify with Gilbert H. Grosvenor's (the first full-time editor of National Geographic magazine) thoughts on the volume of meaning, of imagination, and of creativity to be appreciated in these works of art as efforts to understand the world we live in.


"A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams."
- Gilbert H. Grosvenor, Editor of National Geographic from 1899 -1954

14 comments:

  1. That is an example of fabulous parenting. Consider your back patted.

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    1. Addison's favorite ones are the bird migration map, the Mesoamericans, and the dinosaurs.

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  2. I too am an issue and map hoarder of NG and my own kiddo has a very blank wall... I love the idea!

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  3. What do I do with my National Geographics????? I give them to my totally creative son-in-law and then watch to see what fun things he does with them!!!! Love you, Neal!!!! =)

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  4. I love this idea! Your daughter is going to make tracks one of these days! Next she'll need a box of highlighters to mark where she's been!

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    1. Oh, trust me, she doesn't need ANOTHER set of markers to mark where she's been. She's all over that.

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  5. I sort of can't get over how unbelievably cool your daughter's room is. I can't think of a more outstanding way to create wonder in a growing mind than by showing her ... everything. Great work, Neal.

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    1. Thanks Drew. The truth is, I don't have the travelling bug that so many people have. But I do like to learn about places, and I'm fascinated by the attempt of a map to express what makes a place a place. It's yet to be seen whether my daughter latches on to the same cerebral fascinations . . . or whether she just wants to GO everywhere (like her mother).

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  6. I have NG from the 70's. I love them, but I have a small house now and I was thinking of taking them to the dump. While I was sorting, I started again, picking up an article about the Irish, in the 70's and reading....2 hours later when I had read the whole magazine.....now what am I going to do. A full size bookcase might work.. I love these magazines.

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