Entertainment Weekly: Literate Fluff

I’ve been casually reading Entertainment Weekly for years, and it has always felt like a guilty pleasure. EW is good for reading on a lunch break, or when you’re trying to distract yourself from the horrors of an impending root canal, but it doesn’t contain a lot of substance.

At least, that’s what I thought until I bought a copy of the Oct. 3 issue to critique it. I intended to report that the magazine is nothing but fluff— mindless filler good for killing an idle hour. A closer look at EW revealed a literate, intellectual side buried within the fluff.

Admittedly, EW is not perfect.  At times, it strays too closely to the celebrity gossip rags like US Weekly, particularly on the “Monitor” page, where we learn about the latest arrests of Gary Coleman and George Michael. A feature on Disney star Demi Lovato would be more at home in Seventeen. Too often, the features in EW are short and superficial.

Despite these flaws, there is a lot to like about EW. Reading the magazine is a good way to stay current on entertainment industry news, without getting bogged down in the economic details that fill Variety’s pages. EW’s movie reviews, particularly those by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, are consistently fair and well-written.

What I like best about EW is its coverage of books and literature. I’m not an intellectual doomsayer who insists that no one reads anymore. But it does seem to me that literature no longer gets the attention it deserves. Books rarely receive more than a cursory treatment in mainstream magazines. EW reviews new books in every issue. For that, it deserves applause.

In this issue, EW even gives columnist and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) the freedom to write a tribute to Judy Blume— a bold choice, considering Blume writes for young girls and has not produced any new work in several years. I’m usually disappointed to stumble across Cody’s “Binge Thinking” column (I’m always hoping to find Stephen King’s “Pop of King” instead), but this article is a poignant and passionate homage to a writer who surely influenced countless girls, including Oscar-winner Cody. I’m almost tempted to pick up one of Blume’s books myself… but maybe I’ll read a brutally violent James Ellroy novel instead.

The books section near the back of the magazine focuses on more than just bestsellers. There is a fascinating sidebar on author JT LeRoy, who does not exist. LeRoy was the creation of author Laura Albert, who wrote under the LeRoy pseudonym and recruited her sister-in-law to play her alter-ego in public. There is also a glowing (if brief) review of Deaf Sentence by David Lodge, a great British writer who is not very well known in America.

A more cynical critic might complain that the books section only covers three pages. I’m just glad it exists at all, and I hope other magazines will follow EW’s example. It’s a little depressing to think of Entertainment Weekly as a bastion of literary criticism.

—Nick Roberts

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