This Month In Magazines, March 2011: No Moss

[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here.]

The other day, my girlfriend got a haircut. This happens about once a year, and since we were having such a pleasant Saturday afternoon together, when her appointment time rolled around, I decided to go with her to the salon. It was the first time I had ever been in one (weird, I know, but my mom had a beautician’s license and cut my hair at home. I cut my own hair now. I’ve been to a barbershop only a few times). I was pleasantly surprised with the free coffee, and also with the magazine selection. I picked up the copy of Rolling Stone with Jimmy Fallon on the cover and thought to myself, “hmm, I wonder why I didn’t get this yet.” I looked at the date.

It was at that moment I realized my subscription to Rolling Stone had ended three months ago, and I was sad (how someone can go three months without realizing a magazine subscription has ended is a story for another column). I’ve grown fond of Rolling Stone in recent years. They’ve gone beyond their well-rounded music/pop culture coverage to put together some serious pieces of journalism. Ten-years-ago-me would probably punch me in the neck for writing this, but I’m going to write it anyway: In a world where journalism is becoming more and more biased, it’s refreshing to know that places like the Rolling Stone take reporting seriously. Maybe that is just a said sign of our times. While they have gone the way of the NY Times and started charging online readers, a few of their articles are available online. Here is a taste of some of what I missed, along with a few extras:


Ok, maybe I shouldn’t champion Rolling Stone’s journalistic integrity and then highlight an article that begins “John Boehner is the ultimate Beltway hack, a man whose unmatched and self-serving skill at political survival has made him, after two decades in Washington, the hairy blue mold on the American congressional sandwich.” But if you’ve read this column before, you know that I am a fan of Matt Taibbi’s political and economic coverage (and, as I pointed out, because RS is now charging for archive access, I didn’t have much to choose from). Yes, it’s highly biased, and yes, Taibbi sometimes comes across as a pompous dick, but if you tend to agree with his viewpoint, he’s an entertaining writer. Plus, c’mon, is there really anybody out there who doesn’t think Boehner looks ridiculous when he breaks into tears?
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This Month In Magazines, January 2011: Excuses

[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here.]

I’m embarrassed. It’s been a slow reading month for me. Perhaps you’ve noticed—the title of the column doesn’t exactly match the calendar—I’ve been slacking lately. When I realized that this column was long overdue, I tried to fabricate a suitable excuse. Holiday lethargy? Boston snow has cut off both my internet and mail service? Lingering brain trauma from an old football injury? Well, I couldn’t come up with a good one, and now I have to admit that I just haven’t been reading. That’s some serious Babytown Frolics on my part.

Just look at these articles. In the internet age, two of them are so old, they’re practically Prohibition-era. And the others are about football (maybe that’s it: football; I’ve been so obsessed with football, that I’ve had no time to read. It was the playoffs, and then the [underrated] Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and then the national championship game, and then more playoffs, and then the Senior Bowl, and finally the Super Bowl. I clearly had no time to read during all that… Nope, still a lame excuse.)

Oh well. Anyway, here are a few, much-delayed links. I’ll do better next time.

The One Handed Dude Who Looks Like James Franco

You see the latest Franco flick? I didn’t. I did want to, but something got in the way. Probably the same thing that got in the way of my reading time. But I did find time to read Aron Ralston’s article In Outside. You know who he is; he cut off his own hand. The article is about Ralston’s reactions as he’s watching his life turn into a film, and if you don’t have respect for the cat before reading it, I’ll bet good money that you will after.

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This Month In Magazines, November/December 2010: Insert Theme Here

[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it  here.]

I couldn’t come up with a theme. Should I take that as a sign that I’m bad at this column writing thing? Perhaps, but I have such a hodgepodge of selections this month that I couldn’t find a single common thread.

I tried a cheesy “Giving thanks” theme that seemed nice and timely, but how can one be thankful about police officers shooting a 7-year-old while a reality TV crew filmed footage? When I realized that I’d chosen quite a few profiles (the filet mignon of magazine writing), I thought about highlighting only those. But that meant leaving out some of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a while. So I’ve decided to run themeless instead. If you can find a common thread, let me know.

Rolling Stone Does It Again

I’m a big fan of profiles. To write them well, a writer has to spend a significant amount of time getting to know the subject, either face-to-face or through creative means of research. But well-written profiles are powerful pieces of journalism. Take, for instance, this recent profile of coal mogul, Don Blankenship—a self made millionaire, champion of mountaintop removal, and first-rate jackass. In a surprise move a week after the article ran, Blankenship retired from his post, and the world is now a better place (sort of like a real-life Freedom, for you Franzen fans).

Vermont Style Death Race

First, go to this website: YouMayDie.com

Are you back? How much time did you spend over there? Did you watch the videos? Did you look up some others on YouTube? I lost half a day to that url after coming across it in a magazine article. I can barely run down the block (I have a bad back, and I love fried food, so back off) but I’m fascinated by anyone for whom a triathlon is too blasé. At one point, for a brief moment, I fancied myself ballsy enough to try the Death Race. But there’s barbed wire involved, and repeated mountain running, and I don’t think there is anyone in my life who would be willing to run along side me in order to hand-feed the gross amounts of granola I would require for sustenance. Luckily, Mark Jenkins participated in it on assignment for Outside Magazine. I’ll settle for the article he wrote and the YouTube videos.
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This Month In Magazines, October 2010: Midterm Madness

[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here.]

Do you have to be an avid fan of The Daily Show or the 24-hour news networks to know there is a giant election in a few weeks?

I feel like I’ve noticed the midterms popping up everywhere, but I wonder if watching too much Jon Stewart has corrupted my thought patterns.  In magazines this past month, I’m sure there were as many celebrity profiles and far-flung travel correspondences as there usually are, but for the most part, none of them caught my eye.

There’s just something about gay-hating gubernatorial candidates who email-forward horse bukkake and Delaware witch-cougars running for Senate; I can’t look away. And looking at the articles I’ve picked, it shows. So I’m just going to roll with it.

Tea Party—Just Like the One In Boston Harbor, 1773

That title is sarcastic, by the way. The two tea parties have nothing in common aside from a complaint rooted in taxes. I thought the modern Tea Party would go away, I thought they would be pushed to the fringe—they do, after all, stand on a platform of little substance and contribute almost nothing to the political conversation. Yet they have gained ground by portraying themselves (as white and middle-class as they are) as an oppressed minority.

Not gonna lie, I’m enthralled with this political movement, especially it’s origins which Matt Taibbi covers very entertainingly.* Granted, the article is not as extensive as Jane Mayer’s profile of the Koch Brothers, but it’s a fun read none the less.

*you will only find this article entertaining if you agree with Taibbi.  If you are in the Tea Party, you will see it as another attack from the lamestream media

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This Month In Magazines, September 2010: September!!!

[This column highlights the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it and other ongoing features here.]

I’m convinced. September is the greatest month of the year. The heat and humidity of July and August are gone. TV shows start airing their new seasons. There’s football games five straight nights each week.

And I’m a glutton especially for football on TV.  It’s disgusting, really. My girlfriend puts up with it on Thursday because she’s a nice person. But by Monday night, she’s locked herself in her room and is screaming into her pillow.

I get so school-boy giddy about the approaching TV and football seasons that it even dominates my reading patterns. However, I’d feel like an idiot if I used this column to suggest a bunch of articles about rookie cornerbacks and Don Draper—my MFA requires that I pretend to be a bit more refined. So, in an effort to give you a better impression of my reading habits, here are this month’s suggestions:

Why Not Start With Counterfeit Footwear?

I was in China for the 2008 Olympics, and I found out just how huge the knockoff sneaker industry is. There were vendors selling that shit in every market. A friend of mine bought a pair of orange and black New Balance—the label on the tongue warned against exposure to “intense meat.” For those still buying shoes from shopping malls and not from the corner bodega, this could be mind-blowing.

Also, this article contains the month’s best sentence:

the F.B.I. arrested several people of Balkan origin in New York and New Jersey for their suspected roles in “the importation of large amounts of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, oxycodone, anabolic steroids, over a million pills of Ecstasy and counterfeit sneakers.”

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The Month in Magazines, August 2010: Why So Negative?

[This is the first installment in a new C4 column that will highlight the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here and other ongoing features here.]

I love magazines.

I’m not talking People, Us, Maxim, or any of their like-minded counterparts who believe the American public is no longer capable of reading more than 500 characters at a time. When I talk about magazines, I mean the purveyors of substantial, long-form journalism. I mean the type of articles you find later in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. You know, the type that exposes insubordinate generals or brings humanity back to a hated woman.

To me, a magazine article is to a nonfiction book what a short story is to a novel. The best examples of both short forms are self-contained pearls, with dynamic narrative arcs and gripping stories to tell. And if the writer is great, he or she can elevate a simple subject into high literature.

I don’t know if Nico is correct about the ad he recently thumped on this site—don’t know if it is somehow a strange and desperate ploy to stay relevant in the internet age (it’s beyond a Condé thing, by the way. I’ve also seen it in ESPN and Esquire). But I do know that I want more people to read magazines. That’s the point of this little column. I want to highlight articles from the month that caught my attention. They might not all be high literature, but each will have, for some reason or another, stuck with me.

Of course, I will never profess to having read everything, so if you think there is something I left out, feel free to send it along to marcos@chamberfour.com.

And one last thing: a lot of magazines require that you have a subscription to read their articles online. I can’t fault them for protecting their market, but it does cramp my column a bit. I wouldn’t want my suggestions to make your coffee table to look like mine, So I’ll do my best to keep my suggestions to free articles.

Off we go:

Wanna feel bad about killer whales?

What if Free Willy went the killer whale version of psychotic, pulled that nosey little kid into the water, and held him there until he drowned? Next summer’s blockbuster thriller? No, that shit could have happened.

Also this article contains the best sentence of the month:

“Early in the morning, the animal-care crew would take hot-water-filled cow vaginas and masturbate the males in the back tanks,” says John Hall, a former scientist at SeaWorld. “It was pretty interesting to walk by.”

Try to get that out of your mind.
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