Why I Still Subscribe To Magazines

via Flickr (BeverlyIsLike)
via Flickr (BeverlyIsLike)

Years ago, when I began my OWN subscription to The New Yorker (instead of filching stacks of old copies from my father or grandmother on visits home from college), I resolved that if I could not, in fact, read each issue cover-to-cover, I would at least read one piece per issue that didn’t initially grab my attention.

This resolution was not only an extension of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” (even though we all do) dictum we learned in kindergarten; it came also out of years of experiencing the delightful surprise of loving a book that you hadn’t expected to love. And I suppose I learned it in part from my dad, who was always reading everything, even my teen magazines and Roald Dahl books, just to see what they were all about.

Many people have noted that the digital age allows each individual consumer to carefully select what he or she will consume, and things are so tailored on the Internet that even the advertisements ‘magically’ show you what you are likely to be interested in (full disclosure: books, shoes, and graduate school.) A friend recently marveled that the American Girl company sent her an unsolicited catalog within a week of the birth of her first daughter.

Whereas boredom used to send me to the bookshelves to take up and read something I wasn’t initially interested in but grew to love, it’s now possible–easiest, actually–to move through life looking at, listening to, reading, watching ONLY those things that appeal to you at first glance. If it doesn’t grab you right away, you have literally millions of other options, and away you click.

And that’s why I subscribe to magazines: because, yes, while there’s plenty to read online, I like the solid boundaries of the magazine–its beginning, middle, and end. I like coming across articles that don’t initially arouse my interest and then finding, to my surprised delight, that there are whole aspects and points of view on politics, the universe, the human mind, or art that I never even considered.

I am no Luddite: I stay in touch with folks around the globe on a daily basis, read pre-publication galleys on my Kindle, download podcasts, audiobooks, and university lectures, tweet, and in fact subscribe to the  digital versions magazines from one of the poorest countries on the planet, and I’m grateful to be able to do all of that.

But I wonder–and maybe worry a little–about the effect that it has on us to be able to move through life constantly engaged and stimulated, and never by something that we encountered by chance, through boredom, or just because we were flipping idly through a magazine.

18 thoughts on “Why I Still Subscribe To Magazines

  1. This post is a bit ironic for me because I tend to shy away from anything seemingly religious in nature, but decided to subscribe to your blog, even though it appeared that it would have a religious slant. I’m glad I did. I like your idea about reading something that doesn’t instantly catch our attention. I am going to try it because in the past when I have watched a Biography on someone I didn’t know, I still found it fascinating because life is fascinating. I think if you sat down with anyone and learned their life story you would be Intrigued, rather young or old,

    I feel with the easy accessability to basically all information, the need for talking to each other is not as vital. When I go into the lunch room, break room, or smoking section @ work (where in the past you would have had several conversations going), there is utter silence except for the clicking of the iphone.

    Instant gratification, though convenient, has created a generation of people that do not need to converse. I just hope it does not mean they do not know how to converse.

    OK, I went off topic…but great post!

    1. I so agree, and I don’t think your point about everyone being immersed in his or her own digital environment is off topic at all…a little boredom, prompting us toward a little more interaction with humans or toward a book or magazine we wouldn’t think to pick up can be a very good thing. Thanks for reading!

      1. I totally agree. Smartphones (can you buy averagephones?) have ruined solo travel for me. My entertainment used to be getting into train station and airport conversations with other travelers, which was always rewarding. Now when I look up from my seat I cannot catch anyone’s eye for that friendly glance and smile that normally leads to a casual chat.

        Come to think of it, “chat” doesn’t even mean what it used to, does it?

        On my earlier trips to Guatemala I used to take out my sketchpad and draw in El Parque Central, which always drew onlookers and hence interesting conversations. I improved my Spanish greatly doing this. Those kind of interactions are much more rare now. That beautiful old park now has Wi-Fi, and everyone there has their noses in their devices.

        I’m no Luddite either– with my nearest and dearest on another continent I can’t afford to be– but we are definitely losing something here.

        “Speak with Joy– Recovering God’s Gift of Direct Human Contact…”

  2. I feel the same way about listening to the radio. Not Pandora (though I do like it too), but radio stations that choose the music for me and introduce me to sounds I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

  3. Ah, dear girl, you have revealed the secret of our little “GO ON JEOPARDY!!” phenomenon. It is in fact a lifetime of truly random reading, coupled with a slightly freakish capacity for retention.

    I miss the days when waiting rooms had no TVs, and piles of real– as in having articles and not thinly disguised advertising copy– magazines. Now there is always an idiot box (usually with the volume set at a decidedly painful level), and precious little to read. I could always bring a book, of course, but I miss the randomness of leafing through, say, old issues of The New Yorker. You never know what you might find, and thus end up knowing.

    The modern (postmodern?) phenomenon of targeted ads and reading suggestions still strikes this unashamed relic of the 60s and 70s as a bit too Orwellian for comfort. Give me random browsing any day.

    While writing those last two sentences it occurred to me that I’m starting to sound like the world’s greatest living expert on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, so I’m going to stop now.

  4. There was an article I read recently about walking through the library stacks (instead of just downloading articles from JSTOR) that had the same basic idea – there’s something to be said for exploration!

    1. If I hadn’t been browsing in a brick & mortar bookstore one fateful day our beloved blogger would never have been born. Let’s hear it for chance(?) encounters in the real world!

  5. Yes, I was. I was in a Barnes& Noble on Main Street in Flushing, and heard Jane’s distinctive voice in the next aisle and went to investigate (as I believed her to be in California at the time). She told me that she was visiting for a while and was staying with mom at the old apartment. She said that they had driven past grandma’s house a few days before, and mom had wondered aloud if I was still overseas. At this point I asked for a phone number, and…

  6. I love this, Rachel.
    I’ve been trying to do this more in life, and leave more white space so that it’s possible.
    I have worked in libraries for years, and though I’m not in with the books anymore, I try to spend time among them, selecting things I don’t have on my “to-read” list.

  7. Speaking of reading whatever is at hand, when my mother was in college (the first in her family to go to high school!), her father read all of her textbooks whenever she wasn’t using them. What I love about this is that he wasn’t going to get a degree through this; it was learning for its own sake.

    Browse! Read! Learn! Live!

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