Is a Subscription to The New Yorker Worth It?

By Carlos Portocarrero

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I’ve had a subscription to The New Yorker for over a year now, and so far it’s been a mixed bag. For every really good article, there is typically a pretentious, boring short story mixed in and a whole lot of one-sided politics going on. The cartoons and the cover art, for the most part, are pretty entertaining.

This past week, for example, there’s a really great article on the writer Ben Fountain (the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara) and the circuitous path he took to becoming a writer (it took him a LONG time). The article discusses how some creative people (like Picasso) bloom early and things come naturally to them, while others (like Fountain and Cezanne) take a lot longer. It’s a very interesting read written by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point and Blink.

And actually, this week’s piece of fiction was pretty good, which was a nice surprise.

My current subscription doesn’t run out until April of next year (I got a sweet deal on what is typically a pretty expensive magazine), but the other day I started wondering what I would do if it ran out tomorrow.

Would I stop reading it or would I renew—and how much would I be willing to pay?

The Magazine

It’s a quality magazine, no doubt about it, but there are some things that drive me crazy:

  • The Fiction is pretentious and boring: I like my short stories to sizzle. If I feel like the story is trying too hard to be smart or sound intelligent instead of simply (!) entertaining me, then I lose interest real quick. I’d say 75% of the fiction (one of the main reasons I subscribed in the first place) is like that, and it drives me crazy.
  • The politics are not even handed: We’re not talking Fox News or anything—and I realize we’re getting closer and closer to the elections—but I can’t stand it when every single article bashes Republicans and praises Democrats. I never start an article off wondering where it’s going to go, it’s always the same and I don’t like that. Give me a little dissent every once in a while (intelligent, coherent dissent, not Alan Colmes-type babble).
  • The Shouts & Murmurs section is a waste of space: I see what they’re trying to do here: humor that is “out there” and “different.” It doesn’t work—ever. Next week David Sedaris will give it a shot and that’s a good sign, but unless someone like him is writing it, I usually skip this section.

Other than that, I love the magazine. It gives me a collection of really interesting articles about all kinds of diverse topics that I would never read about anywhere else, and that’s really valuable to me. This week, for example, there was an article/book review about texting and what it means for the future of language. A few weeks ago there was one on the huge machines that dig tunnels into the ground. Sound boring/weird? It’s not. And the writing is top notch, which is a good thing for someone that calls himself a writer. The more high-quality stuff I read, the higher the odds are that osmosis will suck up some of that goodness and I’ll become a better writer.

I love the book reviews, movie reviews, and the financial page. And one of the best things about it is that it comes to me every week—a weekly reminder of everything that’s going on in the world that is outside my “domain.” This too is very valuable.

The Money

It’s not cheap—the fliers that come in the magazine offer subscriptions as follows:

  • 1 Year (47 issues) for $47 ($1/issue)
  • 2 Years (94 issues) for $77 (82 cents/issue)

My current deal was a two-year subscription for just $24, which I still have a hard time believing. It was one of those deals where I got an offer in the mail and every time I threw it in the garbage can I kept getting an even sweeter one. As a current subscriber, I can get a much better deal than this advertised one:

  • 1 Year (47 issues) for $29.95 (64 cents/issue)
  • 2 Years (94 issues) for $49.95 (53 cents/issue)

That’s not the deal that got me into the magazine, but it’s still pretty damn good.

Survey Says…

The politics drive me crazy, but I hope that once the elections are over that will taper down. As for the bad fiction, I think I’ll just follow Stephen King’s advice on that one. Reading bad fiction is not necessarily a bad thing because it’ll keep my own fiction from carrying those qualities that I don’t like. Fingers are crossed.

Now all I have to do is hold out for the best deal. I’ve already started getting things in the mail but I know I have until April, so hopefully they’ll come down quite a bit and we’ll both get what we want.

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