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Neglecting common sense, neglecting self-respect and credibility, the New York Review of Books recently sent out a plea for subscriptions so egregiously at odds with the alleged values of the magazine itself, it has earned a place in the permanent collection of Traffic's Museum of Corporate Folly.
In strictly formal terms, the mailing is a standard junk mail package. There's a letter from Anne Kinard, the magazine's Circulation Director, another letter from Rea S. Hederman, the magazine's Publisher, a glossy brochure, and a business reply card.
Throughout these pieces, the copy adopts the standard junk mail tone: a combination of unctuousness and high-pressure insistence. In a particularly squirm-inducing attempt at elitist flattery, for example, Kinard starts her letter with "Dear (Intellectual) Reader." In Hederman's letter, Review subscribers are characterized as "well-educated, well-traveled, well-read..." And on both the letter from Kinard and the brochure, the Review is billed as "The Last Outpost for People who Like to Think."
Intertwined with such blandishments, however, there is a more abrasive element. The reverse side of Hederman's letter, for example, contains only the querulous question, "Are you afraid to think?" On the other side of the piece, Hedermen repeats this theme, asking "Who today has the courage to think?" And then, after a moment of brave cogitation, one imagines, she provides an answer: "Frankly, not many."
The implication, of course, is that in order to sufficiently prove your intellectual derring-do, you must purchase the New York Review of Books. This technique works for first drinks and first joints, so why not boring literary magazines?
Unfortunately, it gets worse.