Magazines for optimism
As we move into the third week of isolation in the UK, it’s difficult to remain optimistic. At Stack we’re turning to magazines for comfort — at a time when your eyeballs ache from screen time, just looking at something tangible is itself a small relief. But it’s more than that too: reading something really good reminds you of what makes (normal) life so precious, and the things about it we can still access, even in isolation: good food, good art, and good erotica. Not necessarily in that order. Below, we’ve rounded up the magazines keeping us sane and happy.
It is cheering to remind ourselves what humans — at the height of their magazine-making powers — can do. Basing every issue around one apparently mundane household object, one fascinating idea that underpins MacGuffin is that the objects that surround us profoundly shape our interior worlds. Issue seven, for example, is about trousers, because as the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco put it, “a garment that squeezes the testicles makes a man think differently”. Number eight is about the desk, and it is as rich and dazzlingly strange as ever, using Trump’s suspiciously bare desk as a springboard to ask one existential question: “Is an empty desk the sign of an empty mind?”
Gardening is meant to soothe the quarantined soul, which makes Pleasure Garden — a large-format biannual that takes the garden as a place of fantasy and escape — an isolation essential. The latest issue is themed ‘A Japanese Dream’, because, the editor explains, “There is a gardening culture that transcends to the level of the spiritual and this is perhaps recognised in Japan more than anywhere”. Highlights include a series of photographs of a naked doll, tied up with tiny ropes, and perched inside different bunches of flowers.
There’s a description of Claudia Roden in the sixth issue of The Gourmand that I think about a lot: “She is no more a simple cookbook writer than Marcel Proust was a biscuit baker. She is, rather, a memorialist, historian, ethnographer, anthropologist, essayist, poet, who just happens to communicate through ma’am — taste.” The Rolls Royce of food magazines, The Gourmand does a similar thing: it tells cultural, political, and historical stories through taste. Possibly the most delicious piece in the latest issue is about the artist Dorothy Iannone, whose cookbook is threaded through with orgiastic scenes from her love life. One recipe for tomato sauce, for example, is interrupted by this question: “Where would I find someone else who thought I could make a fortune on my ass?”
Isolation is really just a series of mealtimes, punctuated by hours spent thinking about the next mealtime — so it is only right that we have two food-focused magazines on this list. The ‘Fashion’s Kitchen’ issue of this satirical fashion title looks a bit like a Delia Smith edit of a 70s soft porn magazine. Expect hot men wearing ‘Hellman’s Mayonnaise’ crop tops, and models smiling in an unfocused way next to food they will clearly never permit themselves to eat.
With touch between people who don’t live together now punishable by law, and lockdown expected to last until Spring 2021, erotic magazines are here to save us. Phile’s fourth issue is a master of the form: the first page is a picture of a watermelon wearing what looks like a cock ring. Other happy-making things inside include high heels made out of nails, and a woman dressed up in a latex pig suit.
Featuring a juicy, fabulously wet cover image by Samara Scott, The White Review will make you feel optimistic about life because everything in it is so profoundly good. Gems inside issue no. 27 include a hagiography of Nine Inch Nails and a round table discussion about meat. One story, by Sabina Urraca, has an account of a 12-year-old’s ennui that sounds a bit like quarantine. Walking with her parents on the beach, the protagonist would hang back, “take a stick and write in the sand: ‘Something, somebody.’ I was calling on events and people, or at least an event or a person, to magic me out of that listless pre-teen time, to kick-start real life on my behalf.”
Boasting the unforgettable strap-line, “YOU ARE HOLDING A BUTTERFLY”, this is a magazine about Portland, with an opening series dedicated to the flowers at the Portland Memorial Home.“Life is replete with beauty”, writes Abby Morgan, “and [it] can stay that way long after you or your loved one has passed on”. Remembering the importance of beauty feels important, now more than ever.