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A Different Take on Magazine Anthologies

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 2:30 PM

A chronological anthology allows editors to revisit older content and offer retrospective context.

By William Dunkerley

Nation magazine contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen has modeled a different approach to the traditional magazine anthology. He collected articles spanning a timeline to illustrate how his subject has evolved. It offers a chronological dimension.

Thematic Anthologies

More common is the compilation of an anthology that aggregates articles simply based on a common theme. I searched the keyword "anthology" on Amazon. The results showed anthologies that cover a wide variety of subject areas. Many deal with literary topics as well as other areas of mass market appeal.

In the past I've personally been involved in creating anthologies about special interest topics such as space communications, personal computers, solar energy, electromagnetic interference, and integrated circuits. So the focus of an anthology can be as broad or narrow as you want.

One of the anthologies that turned up in the Amazon search is actually about being a magazine editor. Titled The Art of Making Magazines, it is edited by Evan Cornog and Victor Navasky. Cornog is dean of the School of Communication at Hofstra University; Navasky is a professor of magazine journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Back when Navasky was a magazine editor himself, he became an early subscriber to Editors Only.

Chronological Anthologies: A Case Study

Cohen comes to the role of anthology editor with a distinguished academic background. He is an emeritus professor at both Princeton University and New York University.

In creating his anthology he has included not only his Nation articles but input from his many online columns and media appearances. This all presented him with a couple of obstacles to overcome in his approach to creating an anthology.

One is that perspectives presented in earlier articles may have come to be seen differently or are in need of further explanation as subsequent events emerged. His anthology, incidentally, appears in the form of a book (print and digital) titled War with Russia? It covers the period from 2014 to 2018. So given what we've all seen in the news on that subject, it's clear that it is a fluid topic.

The way Cohen dealt with that was to be clear about the timeline. Cohen explains that his material appears in "chronological order as an analytical narrative of ongoing events. The date under each title is the day it was posted at TheNation.com." He adds that the commentaries appear largely as originally posted.

However, in compiling the anthology he had the benefit of retrospection and the attendant opportunity for improvement. Thus, Cohen says, "I polished the language somewhat, added some clarifying information, and combined a few related commentaries into one or two."

Another obstacle is that the articles and columns were originally written as stand-alone pieces. That means they each had to orient the reader to the subject matter.

Cohen said that he "made some deletions in order to avoid unnecessary repetition. But repetition of large themes and ongoing subjects became unavoidable, indeed necessary, for the purpose of my weekly commentaries -- and of this book: to make accessible to general readers an alternative, dissenting narrative of what I think are among the most fateful developments of our time. Whether I have succeeded or not is for readers to judge."

Mixed Reviews

According to consumer comments about his book that appear on Amazon's site, the judgments have been mixed. Cohen's writings tend to debunk many factual myths that he's found in mainstream media coverage of the US-Russia relationship. That's put him up against opposing political views on the subject. While 63 percent of the Amazon reviews were positive, 18 percent were negative, and 19 percent were in the middle.

As to reader opinions of Cohen's approach to compiling his anthology, I spotted only one remark and it was negative. The reviewer opined emphatically, "Interesting concepts-facts-but redundant!!!"

So the chronological anthology may not be something that will please everyone. But when there is real meaning in how a subject or issue has progressed over time, the approach is quite apropos and even invaluable.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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