Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mag a zine

I just signed up for another magazine. This is getting a little ridiculous. When I graduated from college, I had exactly one subscription: Consumer Reports. When my mom visited recently, I noticed that I had five magazines on my coffee table... and that was just the ones that had arrived the previous week.

I'm planning on culling things over the next year. For posterity, though, here are the ones I subscribe to, roughly in order of how long I've been getting them for:

Consumer Reports - I love the idea of this magazine. Their ratings are great, I love how they don't accept advertising, and Consumers Union is one of the best public advocacy groups in the US. That said, my subscription is expiring and I won't renew. I came to realize that I haven't used a single one of their reports in the past year; I just don't buy that much stuff these days, and don't see that changing until I buy a house. Besides, they've been irritating me with constant renewal notices and those infernal subscription cards.

The New Yorker - Hands-down my favorite magazine. I got a gift subscription around Christmas 2003, and have happily renewed it every year. The reporting is original and outstanding, the arts coverage is thoughtful, their profiles have piercing insight... every piece of this magazine is tops. Best of all, the quality of writing is unparalleled, and makes other magazines seem shoddy in comparison. Also, they introduced me to George Saunders, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Washington University - I get this for free since I'm an alumnus. It's mildly interesting, and I enjoy feeling like I'm still a part of the community. Also interesting to read up on what other alumni are up to.

Dr. Dobb's Journal - This started out as a subscription to C/C++ Users Journal, but that magazine went away a while ago and they converted my subscription. On the plus side, I'm a "professional" and so I don't need to pay them, just occasionally fill out a survey. It's all right, not great... since it's less focused than the previous magazine it's less useful to me, and too many articles that do apply to me fall into the "duh" category, but there's just enough good content in there to make me at least flip through it.

XLR8R - I started subscribing to this shortly after I moved to the Bay Area; I love electronic music, but know almost nothing about it, and thought this would be a good way to become acquainted. Unfortunately, I just don't seem to have time to read this... I end up recycling each issue unread (at best flipped-through) when the next one arrives. I may need to resign myself to being unhip, and will almost certainly not renew. On the plus side, each issue comes with an excellent CD sampler, which has introduced me to some artists I really like.

San Francisco - This is a freebie I get from supporting KQED, our NPR station. It's the quintessential coffee table book, with great pictures and short articles. I don't think I'm getting any more issues, which is fine... it's very focused on the City and the North Bay, so it isn't all that useful to me. Still, each issue usually has at least one interesting article, so I won't complain, especially since it's free.

Cook's Illustrated - I've already described on this blog how they sent me a free issue out of the blue. I tried some stuff, was impressed, subscribed, and it may not be an exaggeration to say it's changed my life. Over the past year I've relied on a combination of CI, Joy , the Campbell Farmer's Market, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to feed me, and I don't think I've ever felt better. Cook's Illustrated has all the best aspects of Consumer Reports: unbiased reviews, no advertising. Its exhaustive and educational recipes have taught me a ton about cooking; while I'm far from an expert, I'm much better off than I was a year ago. That said, I'm letting my subscription lapse. (Why? Read below...)

The Atlantic Monthly - I got a great deal on this, and had been curious for a while - it has a solid reputation for good reporting. I've been happy with it, but won't renew. Why? Because it does largely the same thing as the New Yorker, though with a stronger emphasis on politics, and tends to come up short in comparison: the writing isn't quite as strong, some commentators are too abrasive, there's too great an emphasis on factoids and statistics. Still, if The New Yorker didn't exist, it would probably be my favorite magazine.

Nutrition Action Healthletter - I came to greatly admire CSPI when reading Marion Nestle's What to Eat . Like Consumers Union, they're an excellent public organization that promotes good science and policy. I got a great deal on this subscription as well, and may well continue. Each short issue distills the science behind some nutrition topic into a clear and useful article, plus includes reviews of food, simple recipes, and other useful stuff.

Lucky - Okay, I'm just embarrassed about this. I bought something from Amazon (probably some kitchen thing) and was told I could get a FREE subscription to Lucky. I thought, "Oh, free! I like free!" and gave them my address. My first issue arrives yesterday and... um, yeah. Not exactly what I was expecting. I think I'll try to see if I can cancel my subscription, just because I hate the idea of so much paper being wasted on me.

Cook's Country - I got a sample issue a few months back and was sufficiently impressed that I decided to switch over my CI subscription. Both magazines share equipment reviews, kitchen tips, and essay-style recipes. I think CC is more my speed, though. It has more recipes, and they tend to be simpler and quicker. I've been really impressed by the great stuff in CI, but I need to ask myself if it's worth spending up to five hours cooking a dish that I'll end up eating by myself. I can see myself swapping between the two in the future, but for now, I'll stick with CC.

New York Review of Books - This year's freebie from KQED. It replaces last year's gift of the complete New Yorker archives, not the San Francisco magazine. I've heard great things about this, though I haven't actually read it... I'm hoping it will introduce me to new authors and genres and widen my reading a bit more.

Wow... twelve magazines. That's way too many. No wonder I don't seem to read as many novels these days as I'd like.

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