Once every 4 months something comes through my letterbox that doesn’t simply land on the doormat as a brief stop off on the journey to the bin. It’s a magazine called The Happy Reader.
The Happy Reader is a ‘Bookish Quarterly’ that has found a place somewhere in between the posturing of instagram #bibliophiles and #booklovers and the sombre scholars of review magazines. It takes the best of both worlds, no doubt thanks to it being a collaboration between Fantastic Man and Penguin, and combines a meticulous attention to design with a focus on what’s ultimately important: reading.
Each issue (there’s only been eight) is split in two, the first half an in depth interview with a famous figure about books, the second half a series of essays on topics loosely related to the book that’s the focus of that issue. The topics these essays have covered include: a history of recent volcanic events (Issue no. 4 – The Purple Cloud), the symbolism of Big Ben (Issue No. 7 – Mrs Dalloway), an investigation of the diatribes of Alex Jones (Issue no. 8 – O Pioneers!) and an ode to Barneys, the department store (Issue no.5 – Au Bonheur Des Dames). The short pieces of writing form a delightful pick and mix, made all the sweeter for following a deep reflective interview.
It’s creators have pulled off a clever trick – The Happy Reader is both of books and not of books. It certainly feels more intimately connected with books more than any other magazine: reading it feels much like browsing in a well-stocked bookshop, you’re never sure quite what you’re going to pull off the shelf; the paper it’s printed on feels closer to the pages of a paperback than the glossy sheen, or stiff matte, of its contemporaries; its typeface is a serif; it’s the size of a large hardback.
But The Happy Reader, thankfully, is not trying to be a book, just bookish. Which means we get clever, unique additions that exploit the freedom of the magazine form, like the Snippets page, small alongside-the-text notes and versatility in colour and design.
Perhaps the other significant admirable quality of The Happy Reader is its restraint. Its website is spartan, it has no ‘social media presence’, no ‘You’ll never guess the ending to this book!’ articles. It simply hasn’t put workers on the crowded content-factory floor. Perhaps this is because of budget (there are no lurid designer ads inside), perhaps it is a play to the increasing nostalgia for things that are physical and enduring. Either way it’s refreshing: here is a magazine that feels perfectly crafted for readers.