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February 12, 2012

Sunday Book Thread

I spent the last week's reading time catching up on my backlog -- I've bought far more books than I can possibly read in the coming year, so I've made a pact with myself not to buy any more until I finish reading the ones I have. This means that I must finally finish scaling the twin mountains of Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Music and Paul Rahe's Republics Ancient and Modern.

However, sometimes all you want is a snack rather than a full meal, and I find that magazines fill that hole quite nicely. Sometimes I read them online -- as with articles from The Atlantic or City Journal, say -- but where most magazines are concerned I'm still an old-fashioned printed-paper partisan. I imagine that at some point the economics of publishing will push most magazines entirely onto the Web, but I'll be sorry to see this happen.

For example: I subscribe to a periodical called The Banjo Newsletter. It's one of those narrow-interest hobbyist magazines that have almost disappeared from the world of print. Part of the mag's charm is the format: printed on newsprint, and laid out for density of information rather than abstract esthetics. I love getting BNL in my mailbox every month. (Readers of a certain age may remember when computer magazines like Byte and Computer Shopper were in a similar niche.)

The same goes for The Fretboard Journal, but for different reasons. I refer to this glossy coffee-table magazine as "guitar porn", because it really is. It is a sumptuously photographed paean to stringed instruments; there are no snippets of sheet music or guitar tab or buy/sell classifieds here. It is a magazine dedicated to the art rather than the craft of stringed instruments, and the people who make and play them.

Mainstream magazine publishing since the 1970's has catered almost exclusively to women. As time goes by and tastes change, Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens gives way to Cosmopolitan and People, but the focus as always is heavily on the female demographic. Men still have a few slender beach-heads -- Guns and Ammo and The Shotgun News are still in print, as are the car mags -- but women comprise the bulk of magazine readership by far. (I don't think I'd count Maxim or GQ as men's magazines because, honestly, I don't know a single guy who reads either title. Maybe I just don't hang around the right crowd. And internet porn pretty much killed the skin-mag business.) Publishers are finding that even women are moving to web-based news, gossip, and home-making web sites, however, so it seems like the era of paper based magazines may be entering its twilight era.

A magazines complete their transition to the internet, I hope they maintain their periodical flavor rather than just turning into another interest-group blog with nicer photos. A magazine isn't the same as a special-interest website. There is an interplay between the words and pictures in a magazine, the thematic content of an issue, and even an esthetic comfort in a familiar layout. BNL may seem rather amateurish and old-fashioned to some, but I find the plain layout very pleasing.

Magazines are an area where tablet computers may finally come into their own, though at present only Apple with their iPad seem to be working to leverage the devices to their full potential in terms of magazines. HTML is simply not a particularly good technology for certain kinds of textual/visual layout, and I think magazines fall into that category. But both the hardware and software are evolving quickly, and I think this problem is on the cusp of being solved (with the addition of video content, which can really deepen the magazine experience if done right).


Send your book recommendations to aoshqbookthread AT gmail DOT com.

Jonah Hewitt sends his YA novel Limbo's Child.

Joe Landman sends a recommendation for Charles Stross's The Fuller Memorandum and Accelerando.

Daniel Kemp recommends There's A War To Be Won and Winged Victory by Geoffrey Perret.

Dave Runyan recommends John Lumpkin's Through Struggle, The Stars.

Joel Leggett recommend's John Ringo's The Last Centurion.

Ben Kovachich sends two of his thriller/spy novels: The Ghost Effect and Terminal Darkness.

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posted by Monty at 10:20 AM

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