My realisation came when I discovered I had three copies of the same issue of the Sunday Times Magazine
. It had an interesting piece on the 'deluge of online bile', but that didn't justify three of them being kept for four and a half years. As a New Year's resolution, I committed to substantially reducing my stockpile of old magazines. The magazines I have in my stash broadly fall into three categories:
Magazines I haven't yet read, including, I'm ashamed to say, a few still in their wrappers.
Magazines with interesting articles I'll return to... one day. A large stack of FT Weekend Magazines
typifies this category.
Magazines that I'm sure someone I know will find interesting...
Treasured possessions of mine include old, faded copies of magazines such as Encounter
and The Listener
, full of pieces by leading cultural and intellectual figures of their day. Such magazines give you a real feel for the intellectual climate of the era, especially Encounter
. The dense text and general austerity of the layout also indicates the declarative seriousness of the magazine. Knowing (via Frances Stonor Saunders' work) Encounter's
shady funding sources (mainly via the CIA) only adds a layer of historical interest. As part of the cultural Cold War, the aim of the magazine was to encourage European intellectuals of the left to embrace social democracy and steer away from Marxist sympathies. The final issue of Encounter
was published in September 1990.
Some old magazines help us 'historicise' the present. Recently, I came across an issue of the New Statesman
from October 1996. Across the cover it had: 'The Tories are mired in sleaze and despair (in fact, they'd rather be out of power)'. Across the centre spread is a diagram illustrating the 'years of Tory turbulence'. A reminder of Mark Twain's dictum that 'history never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme'.
All this merely supports the idea that old magazines should be kept and read. But surely that's the job of libraries and archives, not those with bulging flats.
What are the options for those wanting to downsize their stash? I'm loath to fling them in the nearest recycling bin. It feels a waste of something potentially valuable. Or, is this a state of denial? Perhaps, as Madison Darbyshire
has put it in her article, The secret shame of the magazine hoarder
, discarding a magazine means 'discarding the future, better person I would become when I read it'.
Charity shops are generally not receptive (unless the magazines are vintage or on some aspect of needlecraft). The little libraries that have sprouted up in recent years might be an option. However, since they're designed for books, finding a suitable spot to wedge magazines in can be tricky. Magazines are liable to end up a damp, squashed mess.
Hoarders not prepared to chuck excess magazines out will be cheered by the magazine exchange boxes at some local libraries. The one at my local library has helped me offload a fair number of magazines since I discovered it. I hope I've added some that will be of interest to others. However, I've also picked up a few. I just can't resist the sense of serendipity you have when dipping into an assortment such as this. It gives you a greater chance of finding something unusual than an algorithm or online search. It feels like a forage.
On my most recent trip to the library, the box contained magazines ranging from the London Review of Books
and the (discontinued) Guardian Review
, the nostalgic music magazine beloved by '50-quid blokes' (though perhaps that figure now needs to rise given the rise of 'super deluxe' box sets).
I mourned the Guardian Review
when it ended its run in September 2021 after 191 editions. Its A5 size (and 30-40 pages) meant it was ideal to read on a bus or pull out in a cafe. Some of its long reads were enlightening. A 2019 segment, Paths from the past
, had a group of leading historians 'contextualising' Brexit. As one contributor put it: 'History, or a version of it, is both a refuge in such times and a weapon'. It was one of the more illuminating discussions of the topic I've come across.
While the contents of the Guardian Review
are available online, the physical version offered a satisfyingly tactile, absorbing reading experience (at least until they, in a cost-saving move, switched to much thinner paper). Those who enjoyed the physical, paper edition of the Scottish Review
will understand. (Ah yes, what should I do with my bundle of old copies of the Scottish Review
? Surely I can't be expected to get rid of them.) Lifting them off a dusty shelf, I come across (in the July-December 2007 edition), Kenneth Roy's reflections on Magnus Magnusson, who had died earlier that year. The issue from April 2004 contains an article by RD Kernohan: A future for the Tories?
. Again, I feel history rhyming.
In such magazine piles, I often find gems which providentially connect to subjects I've been thinking about. A beautifully written article can also capture my attention, as it does with some articles from the FT Weekend Magazine
or the New Yorker
; a few copies of which have made their way into the library box in recent weeks. These include a lovely, ruminative piece by Joshua Rothman, Becoming You
(from 3 October 2022 edition), exploring the extent to which we change character as we age. Or, is it that we constantly change our perception of that change?
Discarded magazines can, amongst the inconsequential trifles and puffery, contain much to cherish. Also, something which reduces our screen time is surely something to embrace. What will I encounter when I next dip into the magazine box? Or, should I stop defending this bad habit I need to kick?
Perhaps I need to talk to a professional, someone who could help me deal with this habit. On a visit to see a friend who is a counsellor, I broached the subject, looking for psychological insight. While chatting I noticed an unopened copy of the magazine Therapy Today
on her living room table. Surviving the false memory wars
was one of the intriguing article titles; or did I misremember that?
So, what did she do with her magazines? 'Yes, I've got a stack of them I need to go though. I will read them… at some point.' Without an answer, I left with the sense that my magazine hoarding isn't that unusual. The magazine 'amnesty' boxes might serve as a first step towards recovery. But, before you seek out help, you need to acknowledge that you have a problem.
Charlie Ellis is a researcher and EFL teacher who writes on culture, education and politics