Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

June 7, 2010

Another Part of Print Culture

The National Magazine Awards were given out this weekend, and the results were sort of depressing.  The very first line of their website begins, “Despite a year of magazine closings, restructuring and layoffs…” and the recipients of the awards are largely the few hardy brands which remain: The Walrus, Report on Business, Macleans, Canadian Geographic.  I know it hasn’t been a good year for periodicals in Canada, given that the Canada Magazine Fund and Publishing Assistance Program are about to be gutted in favour of the much more limited Canada Periodical Fund.  The new funding program restricts federal funding to periodicals who distribute at least 5,000 copies a year – a exceedingly difficult number to reach for a magazine published 2 – 4 times per year as so many smaller publications are.  But the new funding structure doesn’t come in until this year – our struggling but excellent little ecosystem of tiny journals and quarterlies ought to have been better represented in the NMAs.  I love the Walrus, don’t get me wrong – but does highest-profile actually mean best?

This made me wonder what the rest of you are reading.  During Book Camp’s Literary Grassroots session, almost every person in the room admitted to having a subscription to a print periodical of some kind.  What are you subscribed to?  Why?  And how do your favourite magazines and journals hold up to the big boys?

I am positively addicted to periodicals.  It’s the same neurosis that compels me to check my email every three minutes – I love getting mail.  And there are just so many incredible publications out there!  Not, sadly, ones which win NMAs – but here’s a look inside my mailbox.

The Devil’s Artisan

“A Journal of the Printing Arts” from Porcupine’s Quill, DA is dedicated to all those things about the form of the book. The focus is decidedly Canadian. Rather than a series of smaller articles and features, each issue tends to zero in on, for example, one press, artist, or issue and really go over the subject in excellent, long-form detail. The journal is, needless to say, beautifully produced. My favourite bit is the “keepsakes” included in each issue – small prints done by or after the work of print artists like Frank Newfeld or Gerard Brender à Brandis.  I’m always scumming garage sales for more little frames for these little beauties!

Canadian Notes and Queries

I wasn’t sure about this one at first.  What I wanted was a Canadian version of British Notes and Queries, and that is exactly what this was once supposed to be.  Over the years the mandate has broadened somewhat from a more scholarly study of books (not, necessarily, literature) to a more conventional literary review.  Nevertheless it remains the place to go for a report on the Canadian book world outside of the Canadian publishing world.  Honestly, that it is where David Mason publishes his essays was what ultimately sold me on it.  The content is a little unpredictable, but that means it’s likely to contain some really excellent pieces.  My only complaint is that they make it devilishly difficult to subscribe.  For heaven’s sake, I don’t want to “print out” an order form and mail it in!  I want to click on a button and enter my credit card information.  Please, and thank you.

Slightly Foxed

This is a British publication, but I love, love, love it!  From their website: “Slightly Foxed is a rather unusual kind of book review, informal and independent-minded, and its readers tend to be independent-minded too – people who don’t want to read only what the big publishers are hyping and the newspapers are reviewing.”  I picked up my first copy from the British Library in London and have never enjoyed so many successive essays in my life.  It isn’t about is-the-book-good or should-you-buy-this-book, but what did this book mean to its reader, and how did it fit into the story he’s about to tell you.  I came back from England determined to start a Canadian version of it.  Coincidentally I had also just read Don Gillmor’s phenomenal essay My Life With Tolstoy, and I thought, this is the kind of thing I like to read.  Needless to say my little idea never got off the ground, but I did subscribe to Slightly Foxed.

The Quill and Quire, The Times Literary  Supplement and The Walrus

They who need no introduction.  Let me talk about The Walrus for three minutes:  I am only subscribed for Don Gillmor.  Once upon a time I would read my Walrus cover to cover and be a better person for it, but I really think it has gone (a little) downhill, its 30+ NMAs not withstanding.  For starters, reading Ken Alexander’s editorials was once the highlight of my month.  The first editorial I read by current editor John Macfarlane was a plea for money unadorned by anything worth reading.  They haven’t got any better.  Somehow the articles don’t bite the way they used to.  Yes, it still contains some excellent reading and I don’t think there’s a serious challenger for its status as the “Atlantic of the North”, but that speaks more to the lack of competition than any greatness on the Walrus‘s part.  I remain subscribed because I want to support the project and, as I say, three or four doses on Don Gillmor per year are worth the price of subscription to me.  I have hopes that The Walrus will have higher highs.  Perhaps if the remainder of the Canadian magazine world can stay afloat, some competition will do it some good…?

7 thoughts on “Another Part of Print Culture”

  1. There’s definitely some overlap between our mailboxes. The number of mags I subscribe to horrifies my non-mag-addicted friends, but I can’t help it. I usually have a couple of canlit journals coming in and try to shift my small amount of subscriber dollars around in that vein. Guilty pleasure: Bookmarks (bit glossy but I like it). Most guilt-inducing: the endless New Yorkers that stack up. Next on the list to subscribe to: Spacing (only tangentially bookish). Next most desired: The Believer.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Oh my goodness, Spacing! I’d subscribe if I had the budget. 😀

      So true about the New Yorker though – there’s so much *in* a New Yorker, and they come out so often! I don’t know how anyone keeps up.

  2. Nathalie Foy says:

    I love, love, love my periodicals. Horn Book, Quill & Quire, Geist, The Walrus, Literary Review of Canada, TLS, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, Believer, Canadian Literature, Essays on Canadian Writing, Mosaic, University of Toronto Quarterly, Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, Today’s Parent, Canadian House and Home (my favourite guilty pleasure), Chatelaine (Katrina Ondstat’s column is worth the price of admission). So many mags, so little time.

    1. Charlotte says:

      You are the second person today to tell me that Katrina Ondstat’s column is all that and a bag of chips! I’ve heard Chatelaine’s latest issue was a bit of a disappointment, though – are they keeping her, despite their new “look”?

      I’d never heard of Horn Book. Thank you for that! I’m tentatively subscribing to their Twitter feed to see what comes of it. 😉

      1. Kerry says:

        I read somewhere that all their columnists are on hiatus at the moment, and we’ll just have to see who is back in September. “A bit of a disappointment” is an understatement, however. If Onstad comes back, I’m not sure even she’ll be able to balance out the terrible.

  3. Nathalie Foy says:

    The Horn Book is a children’s literature periodical. Its editor has a blog that is always a good read: tart opinions well expressed.

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