Center of the Universe
By Caroline Brewton
Growing up, I always wanted to be the kind of person who read the New Yorker. These days, I devour it. I’ve been reading it for a few years, in fact, but I resisted bragging about it. Until now.
You see, as a twelve-year-old girl, I equated it — and several other magazines and book titles — to the trappings of sophistication and worldliness. And young Caroline, from small-time Beaumont, Texas, perpetually clad in unflattering private school garb, wanted more than anything to be glamorous and sophisticated.
Sitting on the edge of my white-frame, twin-sized bed in my room, surrounded by a calico quilt and my myriad stuffed animals, I’d steal my mom’s Cosmopolitan and dream about life as one of the models in the stories. Perhaps I’d live in a chic minimalist apartment in New York City or wear one of the fashion editor’s summer picks on vacation in sunny California. Whatever else I was in all of those dreams, I was always the kind of woman who read the New Yorker. There was one small problem. I had never actually read the New Yorker. I brushed it off as a minor detail. I didn’t read it because I didn’t have access to it. I’m not sure where I was first introduced to the magazine, but it certainly wasn’t my parents’ house. They never kept anything like it. When I was older, I assumed, I would have a job and the money to buy myself a subscription. There was never a question that I would enjoy reading it. Of course I would. I knew almost nothing about the contents.
The first time I actually got my hands on a copy was in the library of my high school. My braces had just come off. Surely I was on my way to sophistication? I peeked inside, and I remember thinking, what in the hell is all of this? I didn’t understand it. It was essays, short stories, critical review, cartoons I didn’t get. I didn’t instantly fall in love with it like I wanted to. I was going to have to mature a little first. I resolved to get a little more glamorous and try again later.
So I took a few literature classes, did a course of interdisciplinary study. And a few years later, I stumbled across Simon Rich’s short story “The Center of the Universe,” which I loved. Guess where it came from? The New Yorker website. In short, it wasn’t reading the magazine that made me sophisticated. I had to become sophisticated to read the magazine. I had to educate myself first. It wasn’t as simple as picking it up and tossing it on my coffee table for all my guests to see.
Before, when I read (or tried to read) it for the wrong reasons, I was right not to brag. But now? Why am I telling you this now? So you can appreciate not that I read it, but that I finally read it for the right reasons. Because I enjoy it, not because it will make strangers think I’m smart. Because, a very little bit, I still want you to be impressed with me. But mostly because, in case you’re a desperately awkward preteen girl like I was, I want you to know that your most sincere dreams for the future might come true in ways you never expected.
And whenever my new issue comes in, I’ll spread a towel and lie on my parents’ deck in the sunshine to read my favorite magazine in one of my favorite places. The whole time, I’ll be thinking “Honey, you’ve arrived.