Reading the good stuff


Last updated 12/5/2023 at 9:48am

Photo of magazine cover by TL Brown

A recent issue of The Sun features a photo by Jason Innes out of Colorado, a portrait of artist, musician, carpenter, and mystic Doug Lipper.

Back in the day, the average person did not have access to the Internet. Back in the day, if you wanted to read about someone else's experience of life, observe beautiful photography-or groovy fashions, handy recipes, the latest developments in popular mechanics - you had to consult a magazine.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a magazine consists of pieces of paper printed with words, artwork, cartoons, and photography, bound together. Less imposing than a book, a magazine's printing might be meticulous and the design gorgeous. Other times, especially now that the industry has shrunk and many titles have folded, the production values fall in the meh-to-crummy range.

As a child growing up out in the country, I was enraptured by magazines. My mom didn't let us watch much television; we were fairly sheltered kids. The outside world, when I did get a glimpse of it, generally came in the form of the newspaper, mail order catalogs, and magazines.

Moms' and Grandmas' magazines showed smiling-lady fashions, impressive kitchenware, delicious feasts for a housewife to cook. There was advice about how to use a microwave oven and how to pluck your eyebrows.

National Geographic let us know that there was a big, round world out there, full of mummies and caves and pyramids, exotic animals, and billions of people who didn't dress, eat, or go to church like we did. I desperately wanted to travel, dig up relics, and find my own King Tutankhamun someday.

Looming large over this scene was Mad magazine. Where did my brother get the giant stack of mad magazines of the 1970s and '80s? I do not know. We pored over these things for hours and hours. I had them all memorized, permanently emblazoned on my brain.

In Mad I read hilarious sends-ups satirizing the popular movies of the day, R-rated stuff I'd never be allowed to see. I learned from cartoonists about the tension between hippies/counterculture and straights/squares, a tension also visible among our neighbors and extended family. It was a laff riot.

These days, when I sit in front of the fire or cozy up in bed with a magazine, I enjoy it a lot more than reading on my phone or tablet. With the magazine, I'm not distracted by notifications and text messages or tempted by social media and online news. Bonus: research shows that people absorb content and meaning better through the printed word compared to screen-based reading.

A magazine subscription is a wonderful gift for friends, young ones, or oneself. You can order online, then print up a homemade gift card if the magazine won't arrive at your giftee's house in time for the holidays. Next week we'll look at magazines for kids and youth. This week, a few favorites for adults:

The Sun

This classic magazine features striking black-and-white photography and thoughtful writing of high quality. The material arises out of personal experience, from somber to joyful: death, dying, illness, loss, and grief alongside love, exploration, inspiration, and meaning. Poetry, short fiction, and interviews join up with personal essays and memoir. For example, Portland author Cheryl Strayed's popular book and movie "Wild" started out as an essay in The Sun. Learn more at

High Country News

Ready to get gritty with boots-on-the-ground life in the West? Read High Country News, which covers a whole lot of terrain, from the edge of the High Desert out into the Great Basin and rumbling throughout the American West. Their writers do investigative work on issues such as water rights, the experiences of indigenous communities, to what it was like to be a Hodad (tree planter) in Oregon in the 1970s and '80s. I wish all city-dwellers and policymakers would read this. More at


This Central Oregon-based magazine can be a bit of a grab bag. With its slick production, large photos, articles that cheerlead tourist activities, and aspirational lifestyle goodies, it sometimes resembles a freebie visitors' guide. But hang on: there are also in-depth stories and historical pieces that give perspective on our state. See

Oregon Humanities

The Oregon-based writers of Oregon Humanities magazine help me understand what it might be like to live elsewhere in the state, including Eastern Oregon and rural areas beyond our own. I've written for it, and felt I was drawn into an eclectic conversation sparking around the state. Oregon Humanities has changed over the years and may be too identity-focused for some readers. For those willing to absorb stories by those who've been marginalized throughout most of our state's history and in its media, it's an eye-opener of good quality. Best of all, it's free! The funding comes from sources such as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Look for the "Sign up" button at

Magazines can be a source of joy and a great present to find under the tree or near the menorah. Next week in this column, we'll look at some good options for kids and teens. Happy Hanukkah, y'all!


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