What it means to live today
Launched in 2016 as a journal examining, “What it means to live today”, Real Review is the magazine we delivered to our subscribers in May 2022, and it looks and feels unlike any other title I’ve seen. It’s published by architectural practice Real Foundation, and I’ve always enjoyed the idea that this is a magazine made by people who love experimenting with the physical structure of things – in this case introducing an extra vertical fold that gives a wide ‘quadruple-page spread’ format.
Architecture doesn’t only influence the shape of the magazine; it also provides the basis for two stories that take an analytical look at the spaces we live in. How to Love Housing Without Getting Hurt focuses on Stockholm’s new housing, while Stored Labour looks closely at the layout of apartments in Hong Kong, and the stories are strikingly similar in the way they use our built environment to reveal insights about the different ways we live.
There are other stories that also seem to echo or reflect on each other in the magazine, and my favourite pairing provides a grand, sweeping view of human history: In the long opening interview, David Wengrow speaks about his new book, The Dawn of Everything, in which he and co-author David Graeber retell the story of how we got to where we are today, rejecting the familiar narrative of linear progress from hunter gatherers, to organised agriculture, to the creation of towns and cities, and pointing instead to a variety of, “complex, self-conscious societies assuming a ‘carnival parade of political forms’”.
It’s fascinating stuff, and not just for its historical rigour – Wengrow argues that, “we’re weighted down by a certain artificial story of our species’ history,” and says that by jettisoning that burden we may be able to find a better, more equitable and sustainable way of living now and in the future. That’s followed a few pages later by Ursula K Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, first published in 1986 and reproduced here alongside artwork by Magali Reus, offering another look back at our ancient ancestors, and challenging received wisdom about our deep history and what it means to be human.
There are also structural similarities between otherwise unrelated pieces, with several reviews that set out to feature one subject, before pivoting dramatically to focus on something else. Editor Jack Self is entirely open about this editorial pirouette in his review of the lateral flow process, which begins with the pandemic and the history of the lateral flow, then uses the most joyous and exuberant description you’ll ever read of a woman taking a pregnancy test to switch into a criticism of late capitalism and its relationship with the internet.
Similarly, in Let Your Fingers Do the Walking, Maddy Weavers opens with an overview of Russian disinformation, before bringing her review around to its promised focus on the Yellow Pages.
Playful and critical, intelligent and challenging, I love Real Review’s view of the world and I was really pleased to deliver this one to our subscribers. If you’d like to see what we send next, sign up for our surprise magazine club and we’ll get your first magazine in the post straight away.