Published December 1st 2017 by Penguin Classics
Editor-in-chief: Seb Emina
Genre: Bookish Magazine
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The Icelandic word jólabókaflóðið means ‘flood of books’, in reference to the huge quantity of titles published in the run-up to Christmas.”
For avid readers and the uninitiated alike, this is a chance to reengage with classic literature and to stay inspired and entertained.
The concept of the magazine is simple: the first half is a long-form interview with a notable book fanatic and the second half explores one classic work of literature from an array of surprising and invigorating angles.
In The Happy Reader 10, our summer classic is Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We
Since The Happy Reader has established itself as my favourite magazine, I was in no doubt that I’d be buying this issue. I walked into my local independent bookshop (Five Leaves) and saw Jarvis Cocker looking right at me from a magazine stand just next to the till. Within five seconds of entering the shop, it was in my hands. Then, and only then, did I begin to peruse the rest of the shop.
“You went straight to that,” said the bookseller while I paid, and I reassured him I would be buying every copy in the future. Which also means I will be buying them from that shop.
On the bus home, I had a flick through, read a few snippets and looked at what kind of articles the book of the season, We, had inspired. I could already tell it would be a fun issue to read. I had also spotted Nottingham author Jon McGregor mentioned within the pages, so decided to share my joy at this on Twitter:
It turned out to be my most popular tweet ever, and even managed to reach Jon himself, resulting in his *apparent* demise:
I hadn’t even started reading it properly yet, and it had already given me so much pleasure. However, when I really got comfortable with it I noticed that the front and back cover was of a thicker material than usual, making the magazine feel even better in the hand. I’m more comfortable reading this out and about than reading a book. There’s just a great feel to it.
I read the beginning of the interview with Jarvis Cocker whilst sat in a dentist waiting room, and was completely absorbed in it. The portraits of Jarvis are taken at The London Library, which I’ve been to! They are very bookish and quite arty looking. While reading, I also noticed a few other stylistic changes: the ‘footnotes’ in the columns are now in red (I assume this is to fit with the red theme of the book of the season) and makes them stand out a lot more.
Also, on pages 16 and 17 there’s a ‘highlights’ feature which brings out sections of the interview combined with facts and pictures relating to Jarvis. This is great, although once I realised it contained bits of the interview I had yet to read, I skipped this with the idea that I’ll go back to it once I’ve finished reading the interview (but I forgot).
The interview section ends with Jarvis’ recommendations for night-time reading. This was an inspiring section which I read while waiting for a train, and made me smile as one of his poetry choices is The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen, which I had bought the same day as buying this issue.
Part two delves into dystopian fiction, with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We at the heart of it. Previous to this issue I hadn’t heard of the book, but now I know it inspired books such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and has a prescient like quality that readers coming to today would recognise as relevant.
I learnt a lot from this issue that I don’t know where to begin. The first article is about poet laureates and completely fascinated me. I had no idea that 600 bottles of sherry is what the British laureate traditionally receives when appointed to the position. And I didn’t know that writers and poets had a rather more negative view of being PL.
Here I am going to offer a few thoughts and musings, and quote directly from the article, so skip this if you want to read it first hand and not have it spoiled.
The idea that being ‘obliged to compose verses to order’ feels so much like homework that ‘inspiration’ becomes more like ‘duty’. I’d never encountered this kind of view before, or thought that there would be poets out there terrified of ever becoming a PL.
And how does this relate to those ideas of dystopia? Because ‘the job of a laureate is to produce propaganda’. And quite possibly the most interesting line of the whole article was: ‘the job isn’t given to the best poet available, but to the poet who tickles the rulers’ fancies for political reasons’. As a poet (with no desire to be a PL either before nor after reading the article) I am intrigued by the political nature of this role, and how poetry can be seen as propaganda, and for their to be a significance as to the person who is appointed, not because of quality but of sheer likability. I will be thinking about this article for a long time after.
I also enjoyed seeing the wordsearch on page 50. I was on the bus when I found this, and quickly worked out that the objective is to find the phrase ‘greatest happiness’. I found this pretty quickly, and smiled at being able to say I’d literally found happiness.
We’re also treated to a timeline/tree of dystopian fiction (which recently inspired me to buy The Hunger Games trilogy), an article on weather control, a recipe for bread, and how the idea of ‘scheduled sex’ isn’t really that far away from what we do now.
This issue is packed full of knowledge, and it’s clear that the quality of content being produced by the brilliant people behind this magazine is getting better with each issue.
Link to the magazine on Goodreads: The Happy Reader, Issue 10