life odds + ends

our favorite magazines for staying well-rounded and informed

During one visit to my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker that was lying on their living room coffee table and began skimming through it. That issue included a pretty ground-breaking article full of revelations on the extent of the NSA’s torture methods at Guantanamo Bay. I read the magazine from cover to cover, and that began my decade-long love for that weekly periodical.

Since then, I’ve broadened my horizons to a lot of different magazines – I love reading short, well-researched articles on myriad subjects, without investing 20+ hours that I would in a novel, yet getting more information and news than by just scanning the CNN website.

Whether you’re picking up reading material for the beach or an upcoming trip, or just hoping to broaden your knowledge about the world – from politics and technology to cooking and design – here are some of our favorite picks.

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1. The New Yorker

Couldn’t resist including this one on my list. The New Yorker is my go-to source for all kinds of news. When I’m scrolling through a regular news site, I have a tendency to only click on articles that interest me – politics, film reviews, foodie tips, things like that. But this magazine covers all issues under the sun. A few recent highlights include Ian Parker’s profile of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s lead designer; this piece on the world’s weirdest library by Adam Gopnik; Judith Thurman’s recent article on the efforts to preserve dying languages; John Seabrook’s account of the man behind Katy Perry and Taylor Swift’s success; and of course, David Sedaris’s occasional contributions. The cover price seems steep, but an annual subscription for $50-$60 is more than worth it.

 

2. Harper’s

To be fair, there’s some overlap between the New Yorker and Harper’s in content, and the magazine has a liberal slant. But Harper’s is a staple American monthly magazine: it’s published material by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson, and in the 70s, Seymour Hersh’s expose of the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam catalyzed the anti-war movement in America.

These days, the magazine does a great job of covering politics, literature, and pop culture alike, from the battle over Pablo Neruda’s corpse (Emily Witt; Jan. 2015 issue) to a debate on how youth basketball exploits African athletes (Alexandra Starr; Apr. 2015 issue) to unpublished essays by Vladimir Nabokov (March 2015 issue). Add this one to your reading list.

 

3. Cook’s Illustrated

I’m far from the level of domestic goddess. To be honest, I’m probably the exact opposite. More Liz Lemon than Martha Stewart. But I do love to cook, and this magazine is like a gold mine of cooking techniques and tips. Every month, it provides recipes, kitchen tips, and product reviews, and everything is developed in their “test kitchen.” There’s even a discussion of common pitfalls, and the writers go into detail on various methods that they’ve tried and failed before arriving at the recommended technique. This month includes recipes for semolina gnocchi with prosciutto and chives, simple pot-au-feu, homemade sriracha, and New York bagels; a discussion of enameled cast-iron pans; how to cook with garlic scapes; and a taste test of 10 supermarket Bries. Hungry yet?

 

4. National Geographic

This definitely does not help my wanderlust. I love the big, glossy photos of far-flung places and people and cultures and crazy bugs and animals all over the world. For years, I dreamed of being a National Geo photographer (until I realized that my photography skills are sub-par at best). This magazine is a great substitute for coffee table books – plus it’s full of way more interesting stories. (Recently: how coal fuels violence in India, a baby’s brain development in the first year, and the pine beetle epidemic.) I dare you to read an issue and not get travel fever.

 

5. Real Simple

Probably noting that my housewife game is lacking (see above), my grandma gifted me a subscription to Real Simple for Christmas a couple years ago. I really love this magazine now – it’s full of tips on entertaining, decorating, organizing, nutrition and fitness, and all those other things they don’t teach you in school. I find the tips and tutorials here genuinely helpful, especially compared to dumb Pinterest “hacks.”

 

6. Wired

This was originally a gift for my husband, but I found myself picking up and reading an issue with Brad Pitt on the cover. Technology is usually in his realm; he makes sure I update my Macbook software once a year, and that my Fitbit is charged, and I leave the rest up to him. But I’m trying to break out of that stereotype and keep up with some of what’s going on in the tech world, because it clearly has a very large impact on our day-to-day lives (cell phones, apps, fitness trackers, TV streaming, etc. etc. etc.). Wired articles are short and sweet, there are plenty of pictures, and there’s some pop culture mixed in as well. It went up by about 1,000 points in my book when the magazine obtained an exclusive interview with Edward Snowden – and I give Wired full credit for first introducing us to Uber and Airbnb.

 

What are your favorite ways to keep up with the news? Any great magazines that I missed?

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