Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running a series of gift guides. They’re entirely whimsical and loaded with things I would get for myself, which is to say that they’re the product of my own taste. Here’s the first.
Magazine subscriptions, I think, are one of the best gifts to receive at Christmas. They’re the gift that actually does keep giving all year round, and they also show a bit of thoughtfulness toward the recipient that doesn’t include an imperative: unlike buying a book for someone, nobody expects you to read the whole magazine cover to cover.
By the way, most of these are pricey, largely because a lot of them are “small” magazines that rely more on subscribers and donations for their revenue than advertisers. But small magazines are close to my heart. I think they’re important for a culture. And I think it’s good to read them, subscribe, and support the work they’re doing.
The Economist ($127, weekly)
I still think The Economist is one of the finest general-interest magazines out there, even if it’s expensive. The subscription comes with digital access, and their iPhone app is probably the best magazine app I know. Also take a look at Intelligent Life, the culture magazine from the same people - though I don’t think it’s available in print in the United States, you can read a lot of their content online.
Image Journal ($39.95, quarterly)
If you’re buying for an artist or art-lover, this is the first choice. For my money, it’s the best literary journal in the country, and one that’s done what the finest journals do: draw together a community around them. Image's focus is on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art that dwells at the point where art, faith, and mystery come together (both religious and non-religious will find something to love here). They also sponsor the Glen Workshop and a number of other events. Just take a look at their contributors from the past twenty-five years. (You can get a taste of their outlook at their blog.)
The New York Review of Books ($75, twenty issues per year)
I love the NYRB. It’s neither New York-centric nor all about books. They do the kind of criticism I like best: essays that use a cultural artifact for a springboard to a larger discussion. Some of the best writers of the last half-century have made the NYRB what it is, and I highly commend it to you. (I wrote about its history a bit here.)
Verily ($22, bimonthly)
Women’s magazines can be a bit, well, tricky to find; this is a good one. It’s new, and its print version is beautiful. They’re committed to being “less about who you should be, and more about who you are.” I’m looking forward to seeing where they go in the next year, but in the meantime, it’s a great gift, especially for a young woman.
The Paris Review ($40, quarterly)
In addition to Image Journal, I also love this literary journal, one of the oldest in the business and still one of the best. Like many people, I suspect, their long-running interview series is what keeps me coming back (here’s the index). Writers will appreciate this gift. (They also have a wonderful blog.)
Film Comment ($29.95, bimonthly)
I confess that I don’t actually subscribe, but I wish I did (and probably will, now that I’m thinking about it). But every issue I’ve read has been wonderful. Film Comment is produced by the Film Society at Lincoln Center - a very fine organization in its own right - and they have some of the best film writing in the business.
Kinfolk ($60, quarterly)
I’ve tried to have a love-hate relationship with this magazine, since it so obviously caters to a demographic that I am 100% part of (young, foodie, urbanites who like cooking and aesthetics). But that effort has proven totally futile, because it’s just so dang pretty. If you’re gonna pay for a print product, make it one that takes its design very seriously. Kinfolk is focused on fostering small gatherings, and it does so through quiet, lyrical prose and lovely photographs. Most anyone who likes to entertain or look at photography would enjoy this.
Books & Culture ($29.95, bimonthly)
For over 25 years, Books & Culture has been fostering writers and thinkers, particularly in the Christian community. Most of the content is about books, but not all of it. It’s always intelligent and eclectic and worth reading. This would be a great choice for a college student or the type of person who likes reading about scholarly books on Chinese pottery, a new novel, and a book about philosophical history, all in the same publication. (Full disclosure: I write for them fairly regularly, and they’re owned by the Christianity Today International parent company for which I work in my capacity at CT Movies. But I’ve been a fan and subscriber for much longer than that.)
Monocle (about $185, ten issues per year)
If you’re ready to pony up some serious cash, this is a fun choice. It’s a wee bit pretentious - its target reader is the young, affluent jetsetting crowd - but it’s also kind of wonderful, because they do things like interview guys who own news kiosks in Milan about their business. The magazine presumes that the reader cares about international politics and good design equally, but we could all use a little more well-roundedness, couldn’t we? (Also, it’s a wonderful print product: lots of pages, great design, heavy paper.)
Poetry Magazine ($35, monthly)
One of the things I like best about Poetry is its size - it’s like a poetry chapbook every month. It can be a bit of a mixed bag, but if you’re looking to get a little more poetry into someone’s life, this is a great way to do it.
Got one I missed? That’s what the comments section is for.