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The gifts of summer dwell in The Believer 

Magazines perfect for the beach

There are few better places to be than horizontal on the sand, lapping up a stack of magazines. 'Tis the season of periodical-lite: fatter releases with fewer syllables per page. It's white space bliss, turning pages with a tidal soundtrack. During the summer, most publishers slip in a double issue to give their editorial and ad staffs a break and take advantage of the reader's shorter attention span (as in, six weeks after starting an article you might finally finish it). Advertisers will pick up more serious inches in the fall, and subscribers, well, they're just happy to get mail, right?

This summer, two magazines especially jumped off the shelves and into my beach bag: the June/July music issue of The Believer (#25) and the July/August issue of dwell.

The Believer effortlessly moves from their high-lit California blend of literary interviews and culture grazing to a perfect sample of contemporary music with the same alert wit and smart fun. Beck's there; so is Aimee Mann. Amy Sedaris and Nick Hornby are the solid dependable rhythm section, pounding out their delicious beats.

But it's the music on the bonus CD that makes this their fastest selling issue yet, a nice 25th anniversary present. Matthew Derby, a Brown University MFA grad, gets 17 bands (Spoon, The Shins, Cynthia Mason, Constantines ... ) to record cover versions of their favorite songs by other bands (Cherry Blossoms, Postal Service, Richard Buckner, Constantines ... ). It works! No pretension or posing, just great music.

A non-music bonus in the issue is a great piece on George Plimpton's archives. Editor Heidi Julavits lets writer Oliver Broudy, the managing editor of the Paris Review, run with the story. Lots of inside asides and background, like some of those engaging long non-fiction articles in The New Yorker. Great beach reading ... and listening.

You'll float away flipping the pages of the latest dwell. Everything's modern, and sanctuary seems to be the new buzz word. Whatever--it looks very cool and comfortable. Their summer issue is themed Fluid Design: Modern Waterfront Homes. The houses are beautiful, the scenes are beautiful, the full-color double-page ads are beautiful, and the people are OK, too. This is their first issue following their "Ellie" (code for a National Magazine Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors) for General Excellence in April. The exuberance shows. The look is so clean. Never stuffy, it's designed to look relaxed and purposeful.

The homes described and intimately photographed are decidedly not your so-called "beach houses." They wrap around the beach or complement the beach. Water and vistas are everywhere, making this a wonderful beach companion. I doubt your kitchen will ever look that nice, nor your deck or boat dock. But on vacation, feet up on the railings, go ahead and wink, "Honey, what do you think of this sofa (closet, blender, window treatment ...)?"

Couple of other things to like about dwell: The issues are hefty, with very good quality paper and tight binding (they know each issue will end up saved way past the cover date). You'll be passing the issue around and dropping hints, believe me.

To be fair, it should be noted that The Believer showed very well at the same recent National Magazine Awards ceremony, scoring a runner-up in General Excellence for their circulation category. Before you power down and turn out the lights, check out the other winners and runners-up at Lots of good magazine reading!

Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at

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