I’ve always been a fairly heavy consumer of news media and periodicals. In my grad school program for communications, one of our assigned texts was The New York Times, which we were required to subscribe to and read daily for a semester. I also read the Chicago Tribune simultaneously to compare coverage. A few years later, as a print publicist, I worked with book review editors at various magazines, and so I was constantly reading dozens of magazines every week, from Christianity Today and Books & Culture to World, Discipleship Journal, Commonweal, First Things and Christian Century. In recent years we’ve had (mostly free) subscriptions to an eclectic range of magazines including Wired and Fast Company, the Utne Reader and Sierra magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Men’s Journal and Budget Living. This is on top of keeping up with publishing trade journals at work like Publishers Weekly and Copy Editor.
As many folks have observed, you can tell a lot about somebody by what magazines are on the coffee table. Each of these magazines says something about my sense of self and identity—who I think I am, who I aspire to be. Some reflect our stage of life; we started getting Parents and Working Mother once we had kids. When I got some free subscriptions, I chose Saveur and Outdoor Photographer not because I have any real skill as a cook or photographer, but they were areas that I thought it might be interesting to learn more about, even if I never actually gained any culinary or photographic expertise. My wife has been far more consistent in her magazine readership; her only subscription is to Worship Leader, which reflects that she has a far more singular and clear sense of her identity than I do, with my scattershot variety of nominal interests.
I’ve always had dozens of magazines circulate through my life in any given month, but recently I’ve been learning to let subscriptions lapse. After all, this is a lot of time spent reading magazines that could be used doing other things, and too many of these magazines appeal to particular consumerist identities. So cutting out magazines is a way of reducing exposure to unnecessary advertising messages, as well as recentering myself away from external false selves. For media-immersive junkies like me, fasting from periodicals is a healthy spiritual discipline to practice.