Milestone: For 20 years now, not counting his mid-'80s sabbatical, Garry Trudeau has been drawing "Doonesbury." To mark the occasion, Newsweek has put him on the cover of this week's issue (Oct. 15).
"Garry Trudeau Finally Talks," the magazine declares -- a peculiar choice of come-on, for two reasons. First, Trudeau has "finally" talked before, including four years ago at some length to The Washington Post, a fact the cover story barely acknowledges. Second, Trudeau "talks" in his own incomparable idiom seven days a week, rather more memorably and artfully and finally than he does in any interview.
That said -- magazine covers will say the darnedest things -- Jonathan Alter's profile of "the premier American political and social satirist of his time" feeds an undeniable hunger for knowledge about the man behind the comic strip and proceeds with open self-consciousness about its mission: That fulsome description of Trudeau, Alter quickly points out, "is exactly the sort of hype that he'd normally vaporize in a few short pencil strokes."
Indeed, this story dwells obliquely on itself, as Trudeau reflects on the perils of publicity far more than on any other topic. Granting interviews in the early 1970s, he says, made him recognize that "I was getting in the way, that it was easier for me to speak more directly to readers if there wasn't the static of me coming at them as a public personality."
And not just any public personality, but a good one: a family man, a limelight-avoider, a homeless-shelter volunteer, a "patriot" in the opinion of a former assistant, and "one of the last people who still believe in the perfectibility of man," in the opinion of himself. Plus he's married to another abominably good person, Jane Pauley, whose relative promiscuity with interviewers has led him to call her teasingly "The Loved One" (after one ridiculous magazine appellation) and the two of them to joke about "the vomit patrol saddling up" after so much news about their "unrelenting wholesomeness."
You expect wholesome from Jane, but you expect wicked from Garry. What you get instead is "sweet earnestness," in Alter's phrase. The vomit patrol is sorely tempted, but out of respect for genius, remains dismounted.
Rise and Fall Editors of the Washington Monthly over the years have never had any trouble prescribing and criticizing legislative conduct, but only once has one of them gone out and put his career where his mouth was. His name is Phil Keisling, and two years ago he was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives.
In the October issue of his alma mater, he looks back on the frustrations, compromises and thrills of winning votes and making law, however incrementally. The villains of the piece are the omnipresent lobbyists, many of whom exert their unseemly influence on behalf of multiple interests; one tobacco lobbyist, Keisling tells us, also represents Oregon's major health insurers.
Paired with that inspirational tale of contemporary politics is a cautionary one about David Durenberger's recent fall from grace. The Minnesota Republican, elected to the U.S. Senate a dozen years ago, was known as a man of keen intelligence and extraordinary rectitude. Tom Hamburger of the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Washington bureau describes Durenberger's gradual descent into "the peculiar, money-mad environment of Washington, D.C." and his final denunciation by his colleagues last summer for breaking Senate rules in his financial dealings.
The longer he served in Congress, and the more important he became, the more Durenberger felt underpaid and deserving of financial parity with his millionaire colleagues. Lobbyists -- the bad pennies of politics, it seems -- were only too willing to soothe him with checks and other perks designed to skirt income limits. Not wanting to paint Durenberger entirely as a victim of the prevailing system, Hamburger concludes with a simple quote from New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman: "It's not difficult to be ethical."
Repaving Grand Street, after nine years as one of the country's preeminent independent literary magazines, has taken on a new editor -- "Edie" compiler Jean Stein -- and a cleaner, jazzier look with Issue 36, most notably with its cover, formerly a menu of contents and contributors. Art editor Walter Hopps explains: "Saul Steinberg's image of the artist, inventing himself from his materials, feverishly at work and, in Steinberg's words, 'just slightly insane,' seemed appropriate as a cover for a journal of Grand Street's persuasion." And how.
Inside, look for an original portfolio of Steinberg's drawings and xerographic reproductions (a dog series); a previously unpublished short story by Elizabeth Bishop, pieced together from the archives by Editor Robert Giroux; an excerpt from an opera, "Saint Francois d'Assise" by Olivier Messiaen; a weird exchange from interviews Stein conducted with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern about their virtual imprisonment in Larry Flynt's mansion in 1983; Edward Said on Jean Genet; Lewis Thomas on the world as he sees it. And more.
Grand Street: one year (four issues), $24. Box 2140, Knoxville, Iowa 50198-2140.
The War Goes On Anyone turned on to the Civil War by the recent PBS series might want to feed the habit by subscribing to the bimonthly illustrated magazine America's Civil War. The November issue, for instance, provides a detailed narration of the bloody 1863 draft riots in New York City, and a story about the exploits of Old Abe, a legendary eagle that served as a Union Army regiment's mascot. America's Civil War is one of a number of military history and war (and, interestingly, sports) magazines published by Empire Press in Leesburg, Va. For one year (six issues), send $14.95 to P.O. Box 383, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-7947.
Mileage Eyers, Baby Buyers, Quantifiers The nuts-and-boltsy Consumer Reports Travel Letter does humankind a major service for October by untangling all the mileage requirements and rewards of the different airline frequent-flier programs, and also rating the programs on delivering what they promise. (One year, 12 issues, $37: Box 51366, Boulder, Colo. 80321-1366) ... Expecting? Parenting (October) tells you what you need to go out and buy -- or bum from friends and relatives -- to be ready when your little ship comes in. ... U.S. News & World Report's annual ratings of the best colleges and universities is out (Oct. 15), with Harvard University and Amherst College ranked No. 1 in their respective categories.