Monday, June 14, 2010

What is a Magazine?

Looking through an airline's in-flight magazine I found to my surprise it's not a magazine anymore, but a catalog full of purchasable items, titled Sky Mall. I kid you not. In vain I searched it for articles, advice, horoscopes. The items were fascinating and I probably read the catalog more thoroughly than I ever read those in-flight magazines with ecstatic descriptions of trips I would never take.

I think about magazines, talk about magazines. I receive magazines. So what the heck IS a magazine? A wanna-be book with a shorter lifespan? A paper-bound, two-dimensional variety show? A newspaper on steroids?

Etymology: "storehouse, granary." Sense a) "a storehouse of information on any subject." The term used to be applied to books. But more recently, b) "a periodical with miscellaneous papers, esp. critical and descriptive articles, stories, poems, etc., designed for the entertainment of the general reader." (Then a qualification: "Magazines are now often specialized...") (because there is now no general reader. General readers read, like, catalogs. Magazines are slanted toward certain demographics.)

The dictionary points me toward the word "review." What, I ask, is a "review," as in Paris Review? Threepenny Review? I have never looked it up. Anyone can see that "to review" means "to look again," but the noun is defined thus: "a periodical containing critical articles primarily."

What is a magazine? I love magazines, so I have to give this more thought.


  1. I'd go back to the storehouse, with articles selected to be of interest to a particular audience. By the way, the Sky Mall is a catalogue of items for sale. Usually the Airline Magazine can be found in the seat pocket along with the Sky Mall catalogue but they are two separate things. Maybe your airline had a magazine that was good enough that a previous passenger took the copy from your seat.

  2. I think that "Reviews" originally were glimpses into other published works--critical analysis and sample chapters like the NY Times does, to let the reader know if a book is worth getting.

    The "Magazine" sort of became its own art form--a collection of pamphlets, I suppose. I was addicted to them as a teenager. I read almost only magazines then. I think of them as junk food-- but sometimes junk food is fun. :-)