A life described by magazine subscriptions

I love magazines. I have a few current favorites. Over the years I have had many favorites. They change year to year–or sometimes even by month. I especially love when magazines arrive by mail. Buying them from a newsstand or grocery store just doesn't feel as special. I have now had magazine subscriptions for almost thirty years. Recently I tried to remember them. And think about them. In fact, I decided to rate them. In two categories. From 1 to 10. Ten being the most intense. I'm leaving out professional subscriptions. The list below runs chronologically:

1.) Boys Life (The official magazine of the Boy Scouts. They serialized a really great sci-fi book when I was 12 called The White Mountains. I loved that. Importantly, the back pages of Boys Life had the best collection of dorky early adolescent shit for sale anywhere. Magic tricks, low-grade fireworks, pranks kits, telescopes–just amazing crap!)
Subscription era: 1981-85
Enjoyment Quotient: 6
Embarrassment Quotient: 9

2.) The Ensign (The official monthly publication of the Mormon Church. Subscription is often paid for by the parents of college-age children well after they have any interest left in knowing anything about the Mormon Church.)
Subscription era: 1987-2000
Enjoyment Quotient: 1
Embarrassment Quotient: 10

3.) Newsweek (It was a tradition in my family that Dad started a subscription to Newsweek your first year at College all the way through, well, somewhere in your 20s. At one point long ago, Lane and I had an energetic argument about Time vs Newsweek and their different readership–mainly the implications about the different demographics of their subscibers. Could one draw political, religious and class conclusions about the readers of each? We never resolved our questions. I welcome any comments of the subject.
Subscription era: 1987-2007
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

4.) Spin (It was $10/year. Why not?)
Subscription era: 1991-92, 1994-6
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 3

5.) The Student Review (The alternative newspaper published at BYU. The paper that brought together Bryan Waterman, Rachel Berkowitz, Dave B, Adriana Velez, Rogan Ferguson, Dr. Cedarbrook, etc. It was readily and weekly available on off-campus newstands while I lived locally. Once I left Utah, it was delivered by subscription.)
Subscription era: 1992-1996
Enjoyment Quotient: 9
Embarrassment Quotient: 1

6.) Sunstone Magazine (The alternative monthly Mormon magazine)
Subscription era: 1992-1999
Enjoyment Quotient: 9
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

7.) Dialogue: A Quarterly Journal of Mormon Thought (The first place that I online casino ever had some short fiction published)
Subscription era: 1992-1997
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

8.) Spy Magazine (It was also like $10/year, and seemed like the most subversive magazine around at the time. If only it had lasted longer.)
Subscription era: 1992-94
Enjoyment Quotient: 9
Embarrassment Quotient: 0

9.) Interview Magazine
Subscription era: 1992-94
Enjoyment Quotient: 6
Embarrassment Quotient: 0

10.) Might (A Dave Eggers' publication following in the footsteps of defunct Spy. I still remember the article “Are black people cooler than white people?” I think the answer was yes. I used to fantasize about moving to San Francisco to join their staff.)
Subscription era: 1995-1997
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 0

11.) The Utne Reader (One of the first earnest environmentally-conscious magazines designed to make one feel guilty for the many sins of commission and omission in which modern consumers are complicit. Included short stories and poems too.)
Subscription era: 1996-97
Enjoyment Quotient: 3
Embarrassment Quotient: 6

12.) Rolling Stone (Does this need a description?)
Subscription era: 1996-97
Enjoyment Quotient: 6
Embarrassment Quotient: 4

13.) DoubleTake (A photography magazine with fiction and poetry)

essay service

Subscription era: 1996-98
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 0

14.) Nest (A truly original magazine of architecture, interiors, and landscape. Each issue was printed in a different lovely inventive format.)
Subscription era: 1997-99
Enjoyment Quotient: 8-9
Embarrassment Quotient: 0

15.) Wallpaper
Subscription era: 2000-2004
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 3

16.) The Economist. God, what a boring, overrated magazine.
Subscription era: 2000-2001
Enjoyment Quotient: 3
Embarrassment Quotient: 7

17.) The New York Times I won't get into all of the problems with this publication. Dave can do it much better.
Subscription era: 1999-2007 Sunday Edition, 2008-2010 Daily Edition
Enjoyment Quotient: 9
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

18.) The New Yorker (This is another magazine that has provoked many debates. Often about Anthony Lane vs. Dave Denby. I find AL totally annoying, but I think DD writes kind of boring, less intelligent reviews. So I tend to read AL despite hating him. This same phenomenon used to apply to the Newsweek column that featured the despicable George Will and the soporific Anna Quindlen.)
Subscription era: 2000-2010
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 1

19.) Metropolitan Magazine (A magazine of Interior Designs. It was $10/yr. It had amazing houses. Unfortunately, your mom might also have a subscription.)
Subscription era: 2000-2008
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 6

20.) Dwell
Subscription era: 2001-2010
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 6 (mainly because lately it feels like such a subscription cliche for a certain demographic)

21.) New Mexico Magazine (Also, one of those subscriptions provided by a parent to an older child as they leave the home state.)
Subscription era: 2002-2010
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

22.) Art in America
Subscription era: 2002-04
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 3

23.) MAPS quarterly (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)
Subscription era: 2003-10
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 4

24.) ArtNews
Subscription era: 2003-05
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 3

25.) Black Book Magazine
Subscription era: 2003-04
Enjoyment Quotient: 5
Embarrassment Quotient: 2

26.) Philadelphia Magazine
Subscription era: 2003-07
Enjoyment Quotient: 7
Embarrassment Quotient: 3

27.) Penthouse (This was kind of a dare. And for me and Honeycups it created an exciting monthly conversation about modern pornography and its strange tropes and cliches. It was bizarrely unsexy.)
Subscription era: 2003-4
Enjoyment Quotient: 6
Embarrassment Quotient: 8

28.) McSweeneys (The coolest subscription around? A hodge-podge of brilliant writing. But after perusing the table of contents, sometimes whole issues would go almost unread.)
Subscription era: 20004-06
Enjoyment Quotient: 6
Embarrassment Quotient: 3 (for the same reason as Dwell)

29.) Cookie Magazine (Dressed-up, celebed-up, and wide-ranging, but still a super annoying lame parenting magazine)
Subscription era: 2006-07
Enjoyment Quotient: 2
Embarrassment Quotient: 9

30.) US Weekly
Subscription era: 2006-09
Enjoyment Quotient: 8
Embarrassment Quotient: 6

31.) Entertainment Weekly
Subscription era: 2008-10
Enjoyment Quotient: 9
Embarrassment Quotient: 4

Current Subscriptions: The New York Times, The NewYorker, New Mexico Magazine, Dwell, Entertainment Weekly, MAPS.

Subscriptions we feel like we should have, but we would probably never read: Harpers, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books.

Subscriptions we would have if we weren't cutting back: Wallpaper, New York Magazine, Philadelphia Magazine.
Subscriptions we secretly wish we still had: US Weekly

Any other recommendations?


34 responses to “A life described by magazine subscriptions”

  1. A White Bear says:

    I highly recommend Cabinet. It’s inexpensive for what you get, utterly beautiful and written in a style that somehow does not irritate me at all. I often find myself thinking, “Wow, I did not realize I had any interest in reading 15 pages about abandoned modernist slaughterhouses in rural Argentina!” or whatever. Great stuff.

    (mainly because lately it feels like such a subscription cliche for a certain demographic)

    Ya think? Maybe it isn’t this way where you are, but in Brooklyn, bourgeois white people can be parted into sheep and goats by whether they say, “Oh my God, [grin] that’s so… Dwell!” or, “Oh my God, [eyeroll] that’s so… Dwell.”

  2. lane says:

    oh this will make delicious lunch time reading!

    (and this is of course peppy breakfast time commenting! . . .)

    great post, can’t wait to read it all . . .

  3. Rachel says:

    One of my favorite topics, Fawcett. Sometimes I used to get together with friends on this list & just hang out reading magazines. Delicious, tactile, in no way replaceable by an iPad.

    Our lists overlap a lot. Other lapsed subscriptions in my household: Vanity Fair, Out (it was actually excellent when it very first started–I had it sent to a fake address in SLC because I was afraid of being kicked out of school!!), i.D., Mountain Biking.

    Current subscriptions not mentioned above: Saveur.

    Newsstand: Mojo, (sometimes Uncut and Q). I read Wired at the library between classes.

  4. Dave says:

    What an excellent post. I totally remember that White Mountains comics serialization; I ended up reading a couple of the books in that series.

    When I was a kid I was very proud to subscribe to Air & Space Smithsonian, enjoyment 8, embarrassment 6. I loved my grandparents’ subscription to Reader’s Digest, enjoyment 10, embarrassment 10, because during the Cold War Eighties they always had one or two articles about spies and/or threatening Communists. Also, such hilarious jokes! My parents ended up subscribing to it just as I was getting old enough to see how awful a magazine it is; I think they still take it.

    My only subscription right now is the free but excellent Tape Op, a serious music recording magazine. (Enjoyment 6, embarrassment 0.)

  5. Dave says:

    Speaking of Dwell, you’ve all seen this, right?

  6. swells says:

    Yeah, KCRW used to send a year of Dwell to its subscribers for free, and when it first started coming I thought it was sooo cool and full of inspirational design. By about six months into it, we hated its arrival so much that in following years we would explicitly request KCRW NOT to sign us up when we subscribed. It still came for a while anyway, those unhappy hipsters loitering annoyingly around our uncool house.

    On the other hand, when I moved out of SF, I finally got rid of crates and crates full of Spin, Alternative Press, and CMJ that I always wanted to keep “for reference” (as if) I loved that stuff. I put the stacks of years-old magazines on the street in front of my house and they were gone in minutes. Spy had so few issues that I cold justify hoarding them, though–I still have them all for the next time you visit, F!

    Finally, I really need to know more about #25, Black Book Magazine.

  7. swells says:

    sorry. should be a period after “(as if)” or it’s too confusing. Also, the California equivalent of what parents buy their grownup children is Sunset Magazine, which I just resubscribed to to feel like a real grownup (everyone’s parents got this when I was a kid). “The magazine of Western living!”

  8. I don’t have any subscriptions right now. I usually subscribe to Games, because I like some of their puzzles, but that lapsed a couple of months ago and I did not renew out of laziness.

  9. Marleyfan says:

    What an intriguing post. You’ve got to explain Multidisciplanary Association for Pscyhadelic Studies). Sounds like an Acid-promoting publication.

    And for the record, I still love Sunstone and wish the student Review hadn’t died.

    I especially liked your Embarrassment Quotient.

  10. Farrell Fawcett says:

    Hey AWB: Cabinet, yes, i like the looks of it. Thanks!
    And Rachel, yes, I imagine that our magazines overlap a lot (I suppose shared musical tastes is predictive of shared magazine preferences).
    Dave, I read another book or two after the BL serialization! But Air and Space Smithsonian? You really were precocious.
    Steph! You still have old Spy mags around?! Wow, still another reason to visit Long Beach. And yes, my parents got Sunset Magazine too! So many warm pretty photos. As to Black Book Magazine, you seriously haven’t run into it before? It was always at the checkout at our grocery store–it still is sometimes. Basically just an entertainment magazine, but used to seem edgier.
    And Marleyfan, yes, MAPS promotes research into therapeutic uses for many different currently illegal substances. A Harvard study of the use of MDMA (ecstasy) in treating anxiety in chronically ill patients is ongoing. There are also studies at UCLA with psylocibin and there are studies outside the US focused on LSD and ibogaine.

  11. trixie says:

    does anyone remember Ranger Rick magazine? the nature/animal life magazine for kids? that was my first subscription. i kind of wish it were still around because william would dig it.

  12. Rachel Berkowitz says:

    Ranger Rick: still around!

  13. J-Man says:

    How about Highlights magazine? Surely some of you must have suffered through that behavioural propogandist dreck as children. Goofus & Gallant = Jesus & the Devil. Of course, I never really thought that what Goofus did was wrong.

    Farrell, although I think we all inherently understand the Embarrassment Quotient, I was curious: is that scale based on what mag you would be most embarrassed to be seen in public with, or does it refer to a more internalized, squirmy embarrassment?

    And Dave: I LOVE TapeOp. Especially when Larry Crane rants. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to do my best to make it to the next TapeOp Con and revel in all the nerdy audio goodness.

  14. Ivy says:

    The National Geographic mag for kids is very good. It changed its name a couple of years ago, I think it is called Kids now. Or maybe that’s what it WAS called. Just make sure you don’t get the classroom edition, which is way less fun. We used to subscribe to it at my former workplace (an educational publisher) for subject inspiration, but also design inspiration. Our receptionist used to steal it, because it was more comprehensible than the grown-up NG, which we also got. Usually had articles based on the same subjects. We also got a few other kids mags in a similar vein, but the NG one was far and away the best.

  15. Dave says:

    OMG, J-Man! I am so pleased you read, let alone love, TapeOp. I don’t understand half the stuff in it, but it’s so great.

    Farrell, “a life described by magazine subscriptions” would really need Modern Maturity on the downward arc, wouldn’t it?

  16. lane says:

    on lunch now . . .

    first thing this morning when i read this headline was “time vs. newsweek!” glad to see it clocked in at 3.

  17. lane says:


    spin is embarrasment 3! and nest is ZERO!

    NEST should be embarrasement like 7, way more pretentious than the utne reader, you always pull out that “i love my gay side thing . . .”

    utne reader is embarrasemt 3 at the most.

    spin . . . 1 maybe. rolling stone 4, maybe . . .

  18. lane says:

    it’s one of those great farrellesque topics.

    after nest i just became interested in comparing embarrasment quotients. commenting could go for days . . .

    but i guess that begs the question. why? Why did you calculate such a funny, squirrelly thing like being embarrassed by a magazine . . .?

  19. lane says:

    boys life enjoyment 3, embarrasement probably 9 (then) now 3.

    TIME! enjoyment 8, embarrasement 1.

    Sunstone, enjoyment 9 (when i had an illustration in it) embarrasement, yeah it should be like 7.

    rolling stone, enjoyment (at the time) 10. embarrasement at having enjoyed it so much, yeah 4 -5

    new yorker, enjoyment 8, (i wish it were a little . . . trashier) embarrasment 1(only because it seems like a civic duty here.)

    vanity fair, i wish it were 10 but alas it’s only like 5 -7, embarrasment . . . 0!

  20. lane says:

    and just so everyone understands, i moved to new york to be a magazine illustrator. the “aura” of a magazine used to be something i though a lot about.’

    but then i started to go to galleries and i stopped looking at magazines. this post brought me back to that place. they are an amazing enterprise. nest, double take, mcsweeny’s, the new yorker, and The Great Whatsit.

    It seems a moment to say that whatever happens to our little site here. it’s been great. i don’t have anymore monday photo ideas. and posts like this and rogan’s yesterday seem all out of me.

    Carry on if you can, I’ll keep commenting at least.

    Thanks for all the great times Dave.

  21. J-Man says:

    15: Dave, I don’t understand a lot of it either, particularly the letters section (although I should as I did study Audio at one point. But I guess one reason I read it is to fill in holes in my knowledge). However, I really enjoy the interviews with the producers. My personal scale of measurement for each issue is, “would I want this guy to produce my album?”. So far Ethan Johns is the only one with a 10. Oh, and I’m waiting for the sister publication to come out, “TeaBoy”.

  22. Farrell Fawcett says:

    To J-Man and Lane’s questions about calculating the embarrassment quotient. You know, I think the embarrassment number is about my current response to having the subscription. But not every time. It’s really a very poor indicator of anything except a gestalt feeling I had last night while writing this. Very hard to justify in the light of day now. (why should I feel embarrassed by Boy’s Life? And, sure, the Spin mag embarrassment was definitely a zero back in the day, but when I look at it’s covers now I cringe, so scoring it 3 is probably too LOW) As to Nest magazine, I don’t know what to say, it might have been more pretentious than most magazines out there, but I loved it for that. For the first couple years, getting Nest in the mail, was thrilling. Unwrapping it and thinking “what did they do this month?” It felt so clever, artsy and cutting-edge. The “I love my gay side thing” had nothing to do with it. And for that matter, I don’t quite understand the expression, but I think I know what you’re trying to say, so I won’t push it. Still, I stand by my Nest scores. Thanks for the nice things you said in #20!

  23. lane says:

    oh, and i’ve thought about this a little more. your nervousness about the cultural buzz magazines give off has to do with your discomfort surrounding your parents subscribing to New York magazine.

    to this day your still a little uneasy about displays of cultural pretension.

    my take anyway . . .

    great post.

  24. J.J. Walker says:

    Dynamite! The only magazine that ever mattered.

  25. lane says:

    wow, yeah, 3rd grade. Enjoyment 10 embarrassment 0!

  26. J.J. Walker says:

    Three words, Lane: Di No Mite!

  27. Tim says:

    I loved this but didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday. Two music mags unmentioned so far that rock my world are The Wire and The Big Takeover. the former is a sometimes pretentious experimental-avant jazz-electronic-noise-weird folk-dub-etc. beauty that arrives every month. I’ve really learned a lot from it over the years. The latter is a punk-power pop fanzine (run by one guy, essentially) that comes out twice a year. Over the last 30 years it’s evolved from a typed, stapled giveaway to a full-color, book-sized affair. The reviews are fun, but he’s never met a record in which he didn’t find some redeeming qualities. The nice, long interviews are excellent.

  28. trixie says:

    12, 14:
    Thanks!! Rachel, in the back of my mind while I was writing my comment I was thinking hmm i wonder if that magazine really is over? Oh well.
    Ivy, thanks for the tip. I am going to check out the NG for kids. William doesn’t read yet, but loves him some science.

  29. Nat says:

    Disney’s Family Fun is another good one. I have Halloween parties for my kids and all of their friends every year, and I couldn’t manage them without the magazine. It has some amazing craft ideas and recipes, which are very easy and fun. (This past Halloween we made swamp juice out of 7up, green food coloring, and gummy worms. It was so simple, yet so fabulously realistically gross. And who knew that donut holes make marvelous eye-balls, and hard-boiled eggs make seriously scary ghosts for a pretzel fenced guacamole grave yard.) It has something great for every season.

    Nick Jr was fun for us for a while too. It has a special section (Noodle) with puzzles, cut-out cartoon characters, letter tracing games, and bed time stories and poems. I don’t know how old your child is, but if he is not reading yet, he might really enjoy Nick Jr.

  30. trixie says:

    thanks nat!

  31. Marleyfan says:

    Dynamite? I haven’t thought about that in about 30 years, and it brought a smile to my face:)

  32. Maury D says:

    God what a relief to hear the Economist would not make me whole/I don’t have to feel like a jerk for not reading it.

    I started thinking about this and my only unusual entry was Opera News Enjoyment 7 Embarrasment 9 BILLION. Maybe NYRB Enjoyment 0 Embarrasment -1.

    Dave: I remember one of those awfully funnyjokes from my grandmother’s Reader’s Digest that in fact involved the cold war. It was about Fidel Castro and a peanut vendor at a baseball game. To tell it now would only crush the fragile bloom of its exquisite humor, I suspect.

  33. Ivy says:

    28. NG may be a bit intense for the non-/beginning reader! It is visually very interesting, but often beginners don’t know how to approach a highly-designed page. However, having said that, underestimating the smalls is always an easy trap, too. Good luck with it, regardless.

  34. LP says:

    OK, I’m late to this discussion, but I must put in my two cents:

    Ranger Rick + Highlights = big thumbs up! I still look for Highlights when I’m in the dentist’s office.

    80s-era Readers Digest: this was a major guilty pleasure. My grandparents had a subscription too, and I still fantasize about getting a “Life in these United States” joke printed.

    Dynamite: My fondest memories from 7th grade are the days that Scholastic delivered their books and magazines. Dynamite was awesome!

    Magazines that haven’t been mentioned here: We get Outside (my brother got it for RB for Christmas, after first misunderstanding and thinking she wanted “Outdoors,” a hunting magazine) and, yes, Sports Illustrated.

    Spy: I interviewed her for an internship there just after college. New York was a big, scary place, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it, but I drove my little Chevy Citation up from my parents’ house in Florida for the interview. The internsåhip was for 40 hours a week, completely unpaid. I wondered whether it was even possible to live in New York on whatever tips I could get in the evenings as a waitress.

    When the day of the interview came, it ended up being a moot point: everything that could go wrong in big, scary New York did: my car got towed, the interviewer was a total frat-boy snob who dismissed everything I said, and when I went to Strawberry Fields in Central Park after the interview to relax, some goon started whacking off in front of me. I thought, “Okay, that’s that,” drove down to Washington DC the next day, and decided to live there instead.

    Still, Spy was a great magazine.