Sunday, August 13, 2006

Staples and Binding

Bargain bookstores: You gotta love 'em.

Unlike many of the other bibliophiles out there, I'm actually not in the habit of visiting these places. My sister does pass by one branch or another on an almost-weekly basis, however, so I still maintain a strange familiarity with these literary clearing-houses.

That said, I'm not all too familiar with their business processes. As far as I can tell, these places pick up their stock from a number of different sources. Most of their books, I think, come from readers or collectors looking to clean out their rooms and make a little money along the way, whereas most of their magazines probably come from newsstands and hobby shops looking to get rid of useless back issues. In short, it's an interesting business model -- sort of like being the scrapyard of the printed media industry. I'm not certain as to whether or not it's a profitable endeavor, but it's definitely expansive enough to allow for branches in all the local malls.

Most die-hard readers probably visit these places for the books. My sister, for one, keeps a running list for her favorite authors, and scours the booksales for anything that's missing from her collection. But then there's me, and I mostly stick around for the magazines; It's strange behavior for a man whose writing feels more at home between stiff cardboard covers.

Rooting through the magazines does sound like a losing proposition. Each back issue runs about a hundred or so pages as compared to the thicker paperbacks or hardcovers, and yet those same hundred glossies cost at least as much, if not more, than their thicker incarnations. In addition to that, the older magazine issues are far more likely to be out-of-date; you'd think that these things would have little or no shelf life at all.

In truth, I only actively search for a few specific titles, and a few specific types of articles. My motivation for each of these probably runs along certain lines of interest, although sometimes it's nothing more than a weird fixation.

For starters, I'm a Dungeon hunter. Dungeon magazine is pretty difficult to find in the Philippines, seeing that its main audience is primarly composed of Dungeons & Dragons players. The only places I know of that regularly stock issues are the Comic Quest outlets run by Vin Simbulan, and even there, the latest issues go for about four hundred pesos a shot (about US$8.00). Every now and then, however, a local newsstand will order a few copies of the periodical, watch as it sinks to the bottom of their sales list, and then unload it on the local bargain bins in the hopes that people like me will come along and pick it up.

Dungeon magazine, for the curious, is a publication that is solely focused on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. That is to say, it contains nothing but adventure scenarios, play discussions and customized rules tables. Unless you have at least a passing familiarity with tabletop RPGs, the magazine will almost certainly read like pure gibberish.

With a smattering of D&D references in mind, however, the true value of the magazine comes to light: It's a good repository of fantasy settings, plotline ideas, and fictional events. I feel that a story can sometimes be reduced to creating a bunch of interesting characters, putting them in an interesting situation, and seeing how they work their way through it. Dungeon magazine helps reinforce this kind of viewpoint for me, and that's why I think it makes for interesting reading. Dungeon's scenarios probably don't constitute redeemable stories by themselves, but they do fire up the possibility of better pieces of fiction.

Then there's Games magazine, the publication that claims a good chunk of the American puzzle-solving audience as its own. While there are already a lot of books devoted to Word Searches, Logic Puzzles, and the ubiquitous Sudoku floating around, Games magazine takes this concept one step further, into a far more creative environment. And if there's anything I have an affinity for, it's out-of-the-ordinary puzzles.

Each issue of Games is divided into two sections. The first half of the magazine is devoted to creative puzzle creations: Photograph mazes, trivia contests, dual-headed crosswords, anything that you probably won't find in an ordinary solver. The second half of the magazine contains the mundane stuff that you'd actually expect from a "Games" magazine: Reviews of newly-released board and card games, feature articles on the leisure and toy industries, even interviews of personalities involved in the design or manufacture of these products. It's literally enough to make your head spin, especially if you're the type who likes exercising your mind.

Apart from Dungeon and Games, I also pick up the occasional computer-game publication. That's not to say that I own an Xbox, or a PSP, or a tricked-out PC or anything like that; It's just that every now and then some magazine is going to come out with a retrospective on gaming, and I like seeing how some of my favorites have stacked up over the years. I may not be too obsessed with computer games right now, but I did play a lot of good titles in the past.

I particularly like lists. Lists are easy to read, and even easier to judge: You just have to look for proper justification on the part of the writers. Electronic Gaming Monthly came out with a "The Greatest 200 Games of All Time" article a few months ago, for example, and I still peruse my copy every now and then. Sometimes the features happen to be near to my heart (Gamemasters had a four-page spread on Anito: Defend a Land Enraged a few years ago), and sometimes I just want to see how an issue or an event gets discussed (Seeker ran one or two articles on some local conventions, from what I remember).

The strange part is that I most definitely buy magazines to read, which means that I'm actually far more likely to pick up an issue of Cosmopolitan than of FHM. (That is not to say that I own a lot of copies of either publication, but the argument will probably come down to that distinction if needed.) My jury is still out on things like Heavy Metal, though -- I don't know if the nudity, the obscene ads, and the terrible storylines are enough to justify looking for the occasional brilliant piece.

If there were a magazine that I'd like to see around here, though, it would be 2000 A.D., a British graphic/fiction publication known for its experimental stories and settings. I've caught a few scans across the web, and they seem pretty good. The problem is that I'm not even sure if the quality is consistent, or even if any new issues are still being published. Being halfway around the world tends to be disadvantageous sometimes.

Now, with all that out of the way, there's only the matter of figuring out what people like me are called. Does the word "bibliophile" still apply in this case? There's got to be a more specific term regarding a fascination for magazines. Something that doesn't rhyme with "weird", maybe...


jeff-reiji said...

My entry for the Ateneo Human Rights Center Essay Writing Contest has been published on my blog. Sean, I need your critique. Thanks ;p

Sean said...

Reiji: I just left a review a few hours ago.

If anyone else is interested in reading the article, it's here. Feel free to leave some feedback for Reiji on this one.

jeff-reiji said...

hey sean. thanks for allowing me to spam in your blog. ;p

anyway, I just read your entry. well, the mere fact you'd said that you're much more likely to read a Cosmo than an FHM... admitting that in public would make some eyebrows dance in trance, he, he...

speaking of magazines, I rarely read them. but I tend to like national geographics and reader's digest though, considering they are magazines... :)

Sean said...

Reiji: Yes, but it's true. Cosmo has far more interesting articles. All that FHM seems to have nowadays is a lot of photos of half-naked women, and I don't think it's worth the cover price.

On the other hand, the only thing that proves is that I'd read toilet paper if it had something good written on it. Oh well.

I'm good with National Geographic myself, but I stopped perusing Reader's Digest almost ten years ago because I was seeing too many "human drama" articles back then. Recent issues have put me off as well, in part because the articles have become more exclusively "Asian" in nature, and because the only international articles published seem to glorify certain Western viewpoints over everything else.