I first found out about Penguin’s The Happy Reader magazine on Lucy’s blog The Literary Relish and it sounded wonderful. How could a magazine all about books not? Plus, it’s only £2 per issue. Because I couldn’t wait to delve in, I paid a little extra to receive the current issue (Spring) instead of waiting until Summer.
Spring 2015’s The Happy Reader is split, like the first issue, in two parts: the first, an in-depth interview with a celebrity reader; the second, a series of articles inspired by a particular book published by Penguin Classics.
This issue’s interview is with ‘artist and rock star’ Kim Gordon. I don’t know about other readers, but I love hearing people talking about books or reading about them, whether I know of that person or the books they’re talking about or not. I just find people’s relationship with books and reading so interesting that simply reading about their tastes, reading habits and opinions on books is fascinating to me.
Kim Gordon is clearly well-read and I’ve come away from reading the interview with a couple of titles added to my to-read list. But books aren’t the only topic of conversation (although it always links back to it – the magazine is, after all, a bookish one). There also musings on films, gender, magazines, art, TV, facing criticism, and her own memory.
I read the second half of the magazine some weeks after the first on a sunny afternoon in the garden (unfortunately without a cup of tea by my side which would have been the perfect accompaniment). This issue’s book is The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura – a book which has now found its way on to my to-read list.
All of the articles don’t, as I first presumed they would, discuss the book at length. Instead, they use the book as a starting point. I think this works really well – it doesn’t feel as if I’m excluded from the ‘conversation’ by not having read the book, but it gives me a taste of the book’s subject. It feels a little like I’m in a long-distance book club, but I don’t have to have read the book to take part in the discussion. The section opens with the editor’s introduction to the book. My favourite article comes next which is Nicholas Lezard’s musings on how the people of Britain all have their own correct method of making tea, and inevitably strongly disagree about it. It’s written with humour and excellent observation, and is a strong argument for the preparation of the perfect cup of tea. There’s an article about floristry, a selection of ‘recipes’ for different types of tea, a piece on tea ceremonies, an article about Japanese culture, one about tea in prisons, and a playlist selected by Hot Chip singer Alexis Taylor to perfectly accompany your 4 o’clock cup of tea.
The articles are wide-ranging and excellently written and were the perfect reading for a sunny Sunday afternoon. There are nice touches throughout the magazine: I particularly like the bookmark which comes inside whose pattern matches the inside front and back covers (something I believe Persephone books have done for some time). There’s one thing which lets the magazine down for me and that’s the quality of the paper. There are lovely images throughout the magazine – a beautiful bouquet by florist Majid Mohammad and a series of photographs taken at the various stages of water boiling, for example – but there isn’t the sharpness and crispness that would really make the images stand out. They get a little lost on the page. But, then again, the content in this magazine is excellent which definitely makes up for this tiny complaint.
Have you subscribed to this magazine? What do you think of it?