Around this time last year, I was writing a Christmas list and looking for something a bit more imaginative to put on it (something that gets harder with each year). I decided I would ask for a subscription to a renowned literary journal. As you do.
Granta is a long standing and widely read literary magazine that publishes short fiction, non-fiction, reportage, poetry, photojournalism and more in its quartly editions. It seeks to provide a platform for new writing of all kinds from writers both known and unknown. I was initially attracted to the eye-catching artwork that appears on the cover of each issue. Each issue is also the thickness of a small novel so I definitely felt like I would be getting my money’s worth (or present’s worth, in this case).
It was typical that only as my English degree was coming to an end did I suddenly have a desire to read fresh, diverse and cutting-edge literature that had been noticeably absent previously.
That there are only 4 issues a year is more a blessing than a curse due to the size and the time takes to properly read each edition. It is credit to the quality of the literature within its pages that you might also return to read pieces again after you’ve finished. The covers and the quality of the paper, as well as the images printed on them, both on the inside and out, make it feel like a premium collector’s item.
Of the writing within the issues that I received, it was the non-fiction reports that were the most engrossing. These are often the first piece in each issue, and probably for good reason. The first piece I read in an issue titled ‘Journeys’ looked at the American-Mexican border from the perspective of both the foot-soldier wardens patrolling the large and often lonely desert on one side and the desperate immigrants attempting to traverse the border on the other.
Another, in an issue titled ‘State of Mind’, documented the true story of a Turkish/Parisian girl who live-streamed her suicide on the app Periscope. Like many of the pieces of writing, this was not a one-dimensional tale; in the relatively short space of four chapters, writer Rana Dasgupta brought together numerous contributing and relating factors making for a feast of interconnected thoughts on a deeply troubling subject matter. These included the impact of social media and the instantaneous ‘celebrity’ culture, as well as the ghettoisation of the neglected and troubled Parisian suburbs, and the threat of sexual violence. It was a compelling piece and in many ways very pertinent.
Another story that sucked me into an area of the world I had never previously considered was a piece titled ‘Mangilaluk’s Highway’ by Nadim Roberts, in an issue focusing on Canada. This was the true story of a troubled northern Canadian Inuit community, ravaged by unemployment and the scars of historic sexual abuse that occurred at a boarding school that many young residents attended. This is all framed by the slowly unfolding tale of three boys who attempted to run away, traversing the tundra from the school back to their home town. Within the story there are broken families, the effects of alcoholism in this community and the AIDS crisis in the early 90s. Though ultimately hopeful, the account was in many places a difficult read, but I was nonetheless drawn into a world that I had not previously encountered and I feel I have come away with some greater knowledge of the world than I hadbefore.
And what more could you ask of a magazine than that. In fact, in the case of Granta, you could ask more. Really, I have just scratched the surface; I have also read fiction, ranging from a satirical dystopian vision of a totalitarian Trump state, governed from an enormous floating blimp above the White House by Mark Doten, to a story by Johanna Skibsrud about a girl who has the ability to remember everything and is manipulated by her ‘Masters’. There is also poetry, think-pieces and beautifully presented series of photographs. These include photos of the effects of urbanisation on contemporary China, and astonishing alpine landscapes and the tourists trekking there, depicted as if this is all that is left of civilisation.
I am not sure I will be a lifelong subscriber, perhaps due to the sheer volume of writing on offer and the price of subscriptions, but I will certainly return to it again. I am very satisfied with my first experience of Granta. The ability of the magazine to offer small portals, both visual and literary, into other people’s lives, whether fictional or not, is impressive and captivating. Its documentation of multiple aspects of the world and the people that live in it is admirable. Though bulky and perhaps intimidating, each issue is attractive enough to draw you in, and with perseverance you will be rewarded with a gripping story, a ripping yarn or perhaps a tickling tale. If you fancy a magazine subscription this Christmas and are in need of a window into someone else’s world, this is the one for you.
Words by Tim Goodfellow