Saturday, June 21, 2014

Magazine Mania! (Part One)

With a lot more time to read lately - and a determination to take a break from Zola - I decided to dive into the world of publications. I have nothing against reading on my tablet, but I do prefer print magazines because it allows me to escape screens. That's got to be good for my eyes.

Of course, I had to turn the selection of pubs I would subscribe to into an adventure! I went to a few bricks-and-mortar bookstores and scoured their massive rows of magazines. Exploring all these small, obscure pubs was fun! There are so many crazy magazines out there that you can't believe command a readership that keeps them afloat. Wanting a variety of subject matter, I picked the pubs that seemed to be the best for me. I figured I'd read them and, if they clicked, subscribe.

Some of these are magazines are quite popular, others I was already familiar with, and some come to me from supporting charitable organizations. Here are a few of the pubs I chose and am currently enjoying. I'll need a few posts to get through them all as I really have gone on a 'mania' with them.

The Economist

For a long time, have been lax in keeping up on world events. I suppose I got turned off by how phony news outlets have become: the generic human interest stories, morbid sensationalism of randomly selected crimes, and loathsome political polarization. For example, I know Fox News will bash anything Obama does because their politics drive their news. And there are left wing sources with the same ax to grind. So why bother? I also turn-off to overly manicured newscasters. I just don't find someone who looks like they spend more time in make-up than they do reading news credible.

Of course, this is all just a (lame) excuse, and I wanted to be informed again. Over the past several years, whenever I was at an airport preparing for business travel, I'd pick up a copy of The Economist knowing it was quite well-respected (and has been around for about 150 years!). I like the standardized text, lack of personalities, and the occasional dry remark that never gets too clever for its own good. While they have definite editorial positions, I sense a good mix of conservatism and liberalism in its pages. So I finally signed up!

The New Criterion

During the past few years I'd benefited from reading biographies of several authors I'd tackled (such as Melville, Zola). I also found myself introduced to writers as I learned about the milieu of certain artists. I wanted a magazine that would give me this kind of input on a regular basis. The New Criterion may fit the bill for me. Aside from great articles on the humanities, I like that there seems to be a healthy dose of skepticism employed in assessing contemporary work. While I love contemporary art and writers and enjoy having my sensibilities stretched, I find that many arts magazines seem to convey a bland acceptance of everything. I believe part of being an art or literature lover is actively evaluating what I am exposed to. I push to be open - very open - because some of the best art experiences are those that shatter our boundaries or drag us outside our comfort zones. However, this must be balanced with a level of discernment or the entire concept of art is destroyed.

The only potential downside to The New Criterion is its sliver of political essays. The low level of thought in these essays is all the more noticeable given the intelligence of the other content. For example, the April 2014 issue has an article about which races are best suited to succeed in America based on their inherent qualities(!). The article names the Jews and the Chinese as the most effective races. Oh and, by the way, one of the authors of the essay is Jewish and the other is Chinese. Seems the magazine loses it's self-touted critical edge when it comes to politics and public policy. But I can skip a couple articles when the bulk of the material is so thought-provoking.

Lapham's Quarterly

When I came across Lapham's Quarterly, I could scarcely believe what I was holding in my hands! This quarterly magazine is over 200 pages in length. Each issue selects a theme around which the magazine amasses two to three page excerpts and essays from writers, thinkers, artists, scientists, world leaders, politicians, etc. The writers are from around the world and throughout time and, at the end of each essay, there is a thumbnail biography so you get the context and setting behind the text. The pages are also richly illustrated with art, photography, charts, and visual miscellany related to the subject.

In the issue I picked up, the theme was revolutions. Among the over 80 writers/thinkers included, the most recognizable names were Martin Luther, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Karl Marx, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Lord Byron, Margaret Sanger, Giacomo Balla, Albert Camus, Che Guevara, Emerson, Copernicus, Thomas Jefferson, Adolf Hitler, Isaac Newton, Aeschylus, and Leon Trotsky. Among the lesser known 'contributors' (at least lesser known to me) were plenty of historic and contemporary figures from other cultures that I'd likely never be exposed to on my own.

While each issue is long and text from certain writers can be a bit challenging, the brevity of each selection led me to move very quickly through the issue. Lapham's Quarterly is the literary equivalent of dining at a tapas restaurant. A little of this, a little of that. A variety of dishes that don't all go together but are all expertly prepared and create a very satisfying experience.

More to come in another post...

No comments: