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They’ve got issues

The bookworm’s gift that keeps on giving
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  December 12, 2007

As newspapers and magazines slim and shift their focus to online content and revenue streams, it has become sadly commonplace to overlook the unique capabilities of periodically printed matter. You don’t find many books printed on handsome, glossy paper. You don’t find many webmags without chaotic sidebars of links and ads. You don’t find many URLs or publications that cultivate both an image and an intellect while considering wildly disparate content.

The following magazines and journals triumph on all these fronts. Beautifully designed and aggressively thought-provoking, this is reading you’ll want to save for the bookshelf rather than pitch in the recycling bin. They’re also a fine option for that elusive Gift That Keeps on Giving, a semi-regular present in your mailbox.

Each of these periodicals is available at Longfellow Books in Portland. Scoop one up, wrap it up, and go online and make that lit-friendly relative of yours a subscriber to one of these excellent fledgling publications.

biannual | $28 per year |

Consider this leftist New York literary journal the anti-Believer: no one gets off easy and quirk is an enemy to progress. It’s unfailingly elitist in its anti-elite editorial content, but after five issues it has become smart and provocative enough to stake a claim in the City’s intellectual climate. Issue 6 (likely available by press time) offers long-form essays on Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech killer), the history of the cubicle, the NYC gossip site, and a call to lower the voting age. Snobby but humane, academic but fluid, it’s an addictive and essential read.

"Reading is fundamental Last-minute items to toss under the tree." By Portland Phoenix Staff.
quarterly | $28 per year |
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek and I have one thing in common: Cabinet is our favorite magazine. Impeccably designed and well-researched, the Brooklyn mag gives rare philosophical depth to subject matter both arcane and overlooked (movie theater snacks, for instance). Each issue devotes one section to a broad theme (currently “Mountains,” recently “Bugs” and “Magic”), and regular columns are consistently engrossing. In the current issue, Leland De La Durantaye’s “Readymade Remade” — about the uproar over Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” the urinal-as-sculpture that began post-modern art — achieves the suspense of a great thriller.

biannual | $18 per year |

The contemporary art mag is exorbitantly expensive to print, but relatively cheap to purchase (it relies largely on grant support), and a treasure trove of goodies lies in each binding. The current issue’s pullouts include: a portfolio of blonde celebrities from teen magazine covers; a faux-Victorian composition book for practicing penmanship; a reproduction of an 1940 installation blueprint from the Museum of Modern Art; and a full-length CD featuring hot indie artists (Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dirty Projectors, and Califone in this one alone). Add to this special textured pages and the script to an unfilmed Andy Warhol biopic, and all you wonder is: how do they do it?

monthly | $19.95 for two subs |

Paste is the rock mag for NPR enthusiasts. The current issue, featuring the “100 Best Albums of 2007,” is indicative of both its lazy, easy-to-please taste (glaringly mediocre albums by the White Stripes, Modest Mouse, and Band of Horses are hanging in the top 10, presumably to bait mainstream readers) and its admirable championing of lesser-known bands (The National’s Boxer tops the list, and the band gets its first magazine cover). Why gift it? Two reasons: the sheer number of album/book/DVD reviews is unmatched in half-decent music magazines, and after pulling a month-long Radiohead (pay-what-you-want subscriptions), they're offering a two-for-one deal on year-long subscriptions. For $20 you can make your dad (and maybe yourself) a little bit cooler.

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