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Review of "Prospect Magazine"
I think we're looking at the New Year now! Have a great Christmas, all.
Just my kinda thing then! I don't buy newspapers: I've no time for tabloids; The Telegraph is too rabid; The Times gets worse by the day; The Grauniad is too worthy, even for me; The Independent is just plain boring half the time. I get my news fix largely from Jon Snow and the Channel 4 website because I gave up with the BBC long before the current Hutton fiasco. The most interesting aspect of that shameful episode for me was that - at long last - the BBC was even thinking of challenging the establishment. I am interested in current affairs, though, and I do like to know what is going on, who is thinking what and why, and what intelligent people might make of it all.Enter Prospect.
Current affairs journals tend, like newspapers, to have a political bias. As my views are generally left of centre, I buy The New Statesman from time to time, for example. Prospect is not like this. It has no particular political bias. It is a magazine of essays on a broad variety of topics although all contributions are anchored to thoughts on current affairs whether they are political or cultural. Inside, you will find travelogues, narrative journalism, political polemic, arts reviews, interviews and pieces of general cultural criticism. I find much to enjoy in every issue. And because Prospect's contributors demonstrate a wide variety of political affiliation, I find much at which to spit tacks in every issue too! You will get perhaps a dozen full-length articles each month and these will be anything from two to five thousand words long. Added to that will be seven or eight shorter columns – much like those you find in the Sunday papers, coming from journalists with various perspectives. Of these, I enjoy the political observations in Washington Watch and Brussels Diary particularly. There will also be several, in-depth reviews of books, music and films. Often, each review will concern two films or two books - comparing and contrasting them - and I find this is often a much more interesting angle to take. Having said that, the book review section often contains some very pompous submissions which remind me very much of The Emperor's New Clothes. Ho hum, such is lit crit anywhere you find it.The February issue's headline essay is titled "HMS Useless". Its tagline - "Why is the Royal Navy still fighting the Cold War?" – did not fill me with enthusiasm. I am not particularly interested in the ins and outs of military kit. However, what I found was a fascinating critique of the Royal Navy and the way in which the military buys equipment to deal with assumed situations in international relations. Its argument made sense and was completely new to me. I still do not pretend to understand the complexities of military procurement, but I certainly have a better comprehension of the ways in which it can affect the capacity of our armed forces, and more importantly for me, the dangers that individual servicemen and women may face. Also in the February issue is an interview with Martin Bell – ex BBC foreign correspondent and Independent MP. It was an aggressive, antsy interview and I found it most enlightening. Mr Bell, I am afraid, came across as a star-struck, self-absorbed man and hardly the "attached journalist" of the image he likes to project. Unfair? I'm not sure. It was certainly interesting! There was also a fabulous and humorous article on Ebay addiction. It made me laugh heartily. February's Spitting Tacks Moment for me came in an extended essay discussing diversity and immigration. The tagline question was, "Is Britain becoming too diverse to sustain the mutual obligations that underpin a good society and a generous welfare state?" My answer to that would be a resounding no, but Dave Goodhart, the contributor – and Prospect Editor – was not so sure. His arguments were sound enough for me to need to question some of my assumptions and think through very carefully how I felt. I enjoyed the challenge.
Successive issues of Prospect will often have "partner" articles presenting a different point of view on a subject discussed in the previous edition. I really like this because my Spitting Tacks Moments often change to my Nodding Head Vigorously Moments. Articles often inspire lengthy discussions in the letter sections too. An essay on nursing in November is still exciting debate in February. I missed the original article, but I wish I had not, as the arguments are heated and very interesting.Another attraction to the magazine for me is a relatively new addition to the contents page. Prospect has started to include a piece of fiction – a short story – into each issue. The Arts Council are funding their commissions under the Save Our Short Story campaign – you can read about it at www.saveourshortstory.org.uk. A short story, to the campaign and to Prospect, is not the light fare so popular in women's magazines; it is an attempt to rejuvenate a serious literary form. I love this. The serious short story has lost currency in the UK since the likes of Somerset Maugham and Saki were writing, yet it is going strong stateside under the leadership of people like John Updike. It is about time we caught up again! The two stories printed so far - by Tim Winton and Michael Faber - were both excellent. Hurrah for Prospect and the Arts Council campaign.
After all that waxing lyrical, I feel I should mention that it is not always the points of view expressed I find irritating about Prospect. Almost to a man, their contributors are journos or fellows of the halls of academe. Sometimes, as they pontificate away on the state of the nation, I cannot help but wonder how much such actually know about the state of the nation. I wonder how much of their endless navel-gazing has any awareness at all of the little man or of the the daily life of your average joe. A long time ago, when I was recovering from serious illness, my consultants kept recommending that I take yet more time off work, even though I was well on the road to recovery. "And where do you suggest I find the resources to take another month off because I am one point under the anaemia threshold?" I would say. "I am on half pay already because my sick leave is exhausted. But the mortgage still needs to be paid." The consultants just looked at me, bemused. On occasion, I feel the Prospect correspondents are a bit like those consultants.Each issue – Prospect is published monthly - will set you back a penny under four quid, which is quite a lot of money for a magazine, even a posh magazine. However, there is a lot of reading for your shekels. I take up to a week to read and digest all the contents. Subscribing for a year will set you back £38.30, a saving of twenty percent. I do not subscribe to Prospect although this is probably a more matter of laziness than reluctance. I tend to pick up my copy whenever I am in a W H Smith large enough to stock it. However, I would miss Prospect if it folded. If I could choose just one magazine to buy then it would probably be this one. I like its breadth of topic. I like its essay format. I like the fact that its contributors come from across the domestic and international political spectrums. I enjoy the challenge many of the articles present to me. And I think it is always a good thing to allow my assumptions to be challenged. How else can I be sure of my own opinions? Prospect's rarefied tone irritates me on occasion and more regularly – in most issues actually! – at least one of the contributors will irritate me more. However, in the end, almost every article in Prospect excites a reaction in me, and that is what I appreciate most.
If you would like to try before you buy, then a small selection of the articles from each issue are available on the Prospect website – www.prospect-magazine.co.uk. Subscribing gives you full, searchable access to all the past issues. It is another reason I should pull out my finger and fill in that subscription form!Oh, and there aren't any adverts outside of the classified section, either. Amazing!
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