A love letter to STACK Magazines

Posted on November 26, 2010

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I have a thing about magazines. In fact, I’m looking for a small but useful magazine rack that I can put in my room to hold some of the prettiest and most interesting magazines that I have: the Bret Easton Ellis edition of Fantastic Man (that I bought at the Borders at a faceless off-motorway retail park about half an hour before I went to my now-girlfriend’s house so she could give me a t-shirt that had a gallows humour – literally – slogan on it for my birthday); a couple of editions of Monocle (which yes, is aimed at someone about 30 years older and £250,000 a year richer than me); Manzine (which I hope to write for, about being a man who crafts – Kev Braddock, get in touch if you sound interested!) and some pretty issues of Creative Review.

I’d read about STACK ages ago, but back then I was a poor student and £4.90 a month was a tangibly large amount of money. Okay, so I may have spent that much – and maybe more – a month on various magazines at WH Smiths, but the whole unknown element both intrigued and scared me. What if I spent a fiver on something I didn’t really like?

STACK, I should explain, is a subscription service where you receive a random magazine (or as was the case for my first month’s subscription, TWO!) every month. You don’t know what it will be: it could be something about tattoos or rap music or cookery. You might not like tattoos, or rap music, or cookery.

But that’s sort of the point of magazines. It’s what differentiates them from books. A magazine cover simply can’t print everything inside on its cover, so you’re bound to come across something that you didn’t know before. The thirst for trivia is something that I have. For example, from the latest issue of Monocle I learnt that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s fashion sense intrinsically links him to the country’s colonial past. That’s come in useful for the book about the continent that I’m writing (and that, if you’re interested in the oil and gas industry, or just social anthropology and history in general, may prove very useful). Current word count on the book by the way is 8,000.

So I was excited (to the point of walking out on my girlfriend – sorry dear) when I heard a heavier-than-normal thud by the front door last week. My first ‘issue’ of STACK had arrived.

The November magazines (you get more bang for your buck this month, it seems) were women’s magazine Oh Comely and Article, a local listings magazine with a difference.

Obviously this is where the luck of the draw comes in. I’m not a woman (see the tattoo, rap music and cookery analogy a few paragraphs higher up) and so Oh Comely shouldn’t really have interested. Though because it’s a magazine, and because you learn new things when you’re force-fed random articles, it was good. As a style of magazine – beyond the women’s interest thing – it’s not my type either, but that didn’t prevent me from spending an hour or so reading it both while the girlfriend was playing Crash Bandicoot and after she went home. I tend to like more text-heavy magazines, and this felt a little too picture based.

Article was much more up my street. It’s printed in Sheffield, but takes in the whole of the north-west (a place I now have a soft spot in my heart for, because I spend a significant part of my life there nowadays). It had a theme of ‘drifting’, which often small zines like this do, but they managed to make it as unpretentious as possible; the girlfriend’s initial verdict, however (she grabbed it off me as soon as I opened the envelope) was “this is weird.”

The main article, on the disappearance of the Great American Drifter, was just the sort of thing I can get into. It might not have taught me anything new (I did Kerouac for my dissertation last year) but it added colour to literary study and was a good piece of reportage, with first-hand interviews.

I could go on and on about magazines, as you can probably tell, but all I’ll say is that if any of this homage to magazines and their magical trivia-learning power has struck a chord with you, then you should subscribe to STACK now. It’s a great service.

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