New Yorker Magazine Subscriptions

About 11 months ago, in Feb 2020, I signed up for a 12 week subscription to the New Yorker magazine. It was the first print magazine I came across that supported International shipping and would ship to Japan. It was also a magazine that I had heard about a lot on TV shows and podcasts (Seinfeld happens in New York, and in one episode, the main characters discuss a New Yorker cartoon in depth; This American Life and The Daily are both podcasts that are made by crews that live in New York) After 24 weeks, I ended up canceling my subscription because I couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of content that was being delivered each week. This post is a recap of my experience.

I started by reading several articles on the website. Most New Yorker articles were available and they were good; they were articles about a specific issue or a book or someone’s experience which was pointed, had a fixed story arc and had a clear beginning, middle and end. I liked this kind of writing and I was ready to spend more time reading it (back then, I was still using Twitter regularly). The magazine’s subscription had an ongoing sale plan and I would have been able to get 12 weeks of magazines for about $12, which felt like a steal and I bought the subscription. My main concern when I bought the subscription was that it would be too much to read and I would simply never get through it and cancel the subscription after some time because I felt bad about not reading the magazines. This is exactly what ended up happening.

Why I signed-up for a subscription

Over the first 4-6 weeks, from Feb 2020 to the end of Mar 2020, I was barely keeping up. I was spending about 2-3 hours on both days of the Weekend reading the magazine. I came across some great articles and it was a pretty soothing experience to be able to read something that was not closely connected to current affairs or news or anything that was happening right now. The magazine’s coverage was also very wide, and I got a kick out of reading the “Around Town” section which had short snippets about live concerts, Broadway shows, other events happening in New York.

I live in Tokyo and for the first time, I felt that all the talk about New York being the cultural center for theater and jazz was not just talk. For the first time during my time here, I questioned my belief that culture could not be geographically contained. After moving to Tokyo, I had gone to several rock shows and classical music concerts and piano recitals, for the first time in my life. They had all been amazing experiences; but I did not kid myself. I knew that Jeff Daniels was not going to star in an Aaron Sorkin production of To Kill A Mockingbird that would be performed in Japan. The audience was not big enough; the content was not related enough.

The magazine also had a delightful fiction section and several book reviews, a TV show and movie review which lead me to some great books and movies. The final part of the magazine were the long form articles. These were generally on some solid topic which was not related to anything that was going on at that particular moment of time. It was just a topic that came out of nowhere. These also often included “Profiles” of people; these profiles were very interesting. I picked up Sapiens (Harari) after reading the author’s profile (albeit I didn’t end up liking the book).

Finally, the cartoons. Oh, a lot has been said about New Yorker cartoons. They are witty and involved and about 3 times out of 10 they went over my head because I didn’t understand the reference. I felt pretty-much like Elaine in The Cartoon (Seinfeld, 1998). Apart from the single panel cartoons, there were also some elaborate drawings in the “Sketchpad” section and these were my favorite part of the magazine. (Personal favorites: Hammurabi’s Code of Manners and A Psychiatrist and an Artist Walk Into a New York Bar).

Why I canceled my subscription

I couldn’t keep up with the sheer amount of content in the magazine. There are 46 issues every year. Every issue is packed with a lot of amazing articles that I didn’t want to miss: This made skipping over articles or saving them for later hard, I knew that once I moved on from one particular issue the probability that I would come back to read an article in that issue was very small. (For me, somewhere around 0.001)

Apart from this magazine, I was reading non-fiction in English and I was also reading several Japanese news articles every day to get better at the language. I was not going to give up my non-fiction reading or my Japanese learning to stick with the magazine; the point of reading the magazine for me was to have something to read during the times that I didn’t want to read the news or a blog or something technical: Something to read, instead of watching a TV show or YouTube.

Several months later, I do believe this was the right decision. I have ramped-up both non-fiction reading and Japanese learning in the time since. I do feel like I might have been able to work something out if I had been a little bit more motivated to read and engage with the magazine in a different, gentler manner; but I don’t know if that’s true or if I am simply idealizing my desire to read a magazine and not giving up on something that will always remain a pipe dream.

This week, as I started thinking about this again, I searched `how do people have time to read the new yorker` and came across this article:

If anything, an article in the New Yorker is more like a pipe or a cigar. It’s consumed, not with the fidgety and neurotic posture of an insatiable itch-scratcher, but with the deliberate focus of a Tibetan monk. And unlike smoke, these are stories that last. … I’m glad I didn’t miss it, but I’m still able to rest easy — even though I’m certain I’ve missed countless stories that are just as good.

In the end, I figure it’s a good thing we don’t all know the same stories, anyway. If we did, what would there be to talk about when we finally met?)

Now, I have pinned the New Yorker’s latest magazine’s digital edition on my home computer’s browser. I plan to start by reading the Fiction section and some of the long form articles that I am interested in. Eventually, I want to read some of the articles that I am not really interested in to see if they involve discussion about a topic that I find interesting after reading the article. For the reader of this post, I strongly recommend checking out the Digital edition of the magazine here.