By Brad Davis
Student life is spent bombarded by information from all fronts – classes, social media and everyone around us – with little means to process it all. While it would be nice to spend more time buried in books, the luxury is hard to justify with a busy schedule. Magazines offer a promising compromise; a good essay can be long enough to provoke thought but not require a significant time investment. The library’s reading room has a great selection of all the major, but staid publications. For students who are looking for better alternatives to scrolling through Twitter or reading Vice, here are my recommendations.
My favorite publication, The Point, was recently started by doctoral students at the University of Chicago. Their tagline, “a magazine founded on the suspicion that modern life is worth examining,” certainly sounds self-aggrandizing, but they largely live up to the aspiration. Their criticism and politics sections have a wide breadth and frequently make reference to the great theorists of history, but have more youthful and energetic prose than the Paris Review or the New Yorker. What sets each issue apart is their Symposia, dedicated to dissecting a topic like comedy, sports or protest. With a writing staff comprised of young graduate students, articles from The Point tend to be critical and irreverent, but expect titles like “Obama: Philosopher-King?”
Where The Point makes reference to the inspiration of Plato or Rousseau, the magazine n + 1 embraces the Frankfurt School style of critical theory. Their name is drawn from the tendency to publish in response to the intellectual mainstream: no matter how many publications there are, something vital remains to be added. Each issue is arranged around a concept like amnesty, dirty work or reconstruction, with a wide range of tangentially-related essays. The design of n + 1 is among the best of any magazine, with cool graphics and typography on every page.
Aeon is a web-only publication with essays covering philosophy, science and society. A majority of its content is produced for general audiences by professors or in partnership with university presses. This results in accessible, thoughtful articles that cover the relationships between Buddhism and logic, social equality and dentistry, or neuroscience and the English language. Aeon is also one of the few publishers that can regularly produce interesting and visually engaging video content told via animation, documentary or interview.
The Outline is the youngest publication of the group, started in 2016 by a former Verge editor, but it is already promising. The Outline seeks to position itself as preeminent in digital-native publishing, with several million dollars-worth of funding and staff recruited from Buzzfeed, Vox Media and Vice. Their web design is beautiful and looks even better on a mobile display. Currently, their content consists of pretty standard cultural and political commentary but it should evolve as they seek out more writers. As a new, youthful publication, The Outline may be a great place for students to send article submissions if they are looking to break into the world of professional writing.
Subscriptions for magazines can be expensive, even with student discounts. Fortunately, The Point and n + 1 are both subscription-based but allow most of their online content to be read for free while Aeon and the Outline are entirely free. However, I have one other recommendation for the frugal and discerning student: Arts & Letters Daily (ALDaily). Run by the Chronicle for Higher Education, ALDaily is a website that curates the best reviews, essays and other “articles of note.” Drawing from a list of at least 100 publications, ranging from the Beirut Daily Star to the Atlantic Monthly, ALDaily will have you reading great writing that you otherwise would not find. Sign up for the email list or follow on social media to see articles from Zadie Smith on freedom, Theodor Adorno on pop culture or the diabolical genius of baby advice books. Sometimes funny, mostly relevant and always interesting, ALDaily is a great source to check out.
Students should be able to have enjoyable, intellectual engagements with the world beyond Lewis & Clark. When time is short and books are too long, check out one of these magazines.