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Your Lit Mag Starter Kit, Part 1: Hearty, High-Quality, Aesthetically Traditional Lit Mags

September 18, 2014 Journals/Magazines, Writing No Comments

By Becky Tuch

Remember when you didn’t know how to cook? When you were in your teens or twenties (or your thirties, maybe even forties) and you didn’t know the first thing about what should fill your kitchen cupboards and pantry shelves?

I have a distinct memory of being twenty-two years old, just out of school, excited to cook my first big meal in my first big-city apartment. There I am, stocking up on groceries, feeling proud of all my responsible vegetable choices, eager to hurry home and start cooking. Only, when I get back to my apartment, I discover that I’m missing something crucial: pots and pans. Also, silverware. How could I eat beans without a can-opener? Or eat anything at all without a plate?

In good time, I learned how to fill a kitchen with basic supplies. I’ve also relished those cookbooks that have little sections at the beginning explaining what one should always have in the kitchen: olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic. Certain basic spices should also be at hand: basil, curry, bay leaves, cinnamon. And of course, if you like to eat soup, it’s probably good to own a pot. And a ladel.

All of this came to mind recently as I looked at my bookshelves full of lit mags. Through The Review Review, my website that reviews lit mags, I’ve come in contact with hundreds of literary magazines over the years. Like a trained chef working quickly in the hot kitchen of literature, I know exactly which magazines to turn to if I need a great essay for a writing prompt or if I want stories emphasizing strong characterization. If I want to find a voice from abroad or from right around the corner, feel politically riled up or chucklingly entertained, certain lit mags will do just the trick. I know where these flavors are and I generally know what proportions I want to add to my literary diet.

But let’s say you’re brand new to lit mags. You want to subscribe to a few (as you’ve been told time and time again that reading lit mags is the key to publishing in them), but you’re not sure where to begin. You may know what you like…or you may not. You may have a clear sense of your own writing style or you might have no idea what you’re doing at all. You know you like to write. Or perhaps you simply like to read. You want to learn more about what’s being done today, by modern writers, both heavyweights and those brand new to the scene. But what are the basics? Where is the lit mag starter kit? With what lit mags should you begin to stock your literary kitchen?

I think I can help. Below is the first part of a series I will be doing featuring lists of  lit mags grouped into aesthetic categories. Today’s installment features hearty, high-quality, not necessarily experimental print journals. If you like straightforward narratives, moving accounts, clear prose, evocative imagery, stories that take emotional risks but tend to stick to a beginning-middle-end format, stories that perhaps focus more on character and plot than experimentation with language and syntax, these are the lit mags for you. … Continue Reading


Do You Know These First Lines of Famous Books? Take the Quiz

September 17, 2014 Quiz, Writing 3 Comments


By Nichole Bernier

Can you recognize these first lines from famous books? Some old, some new, some borrowed, some you blew through.

Answers at the end. If you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself! And it’ll come through in your cheater-tweeter pride.


1. China’s turned on herself. If I didn’t know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws.


2. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence.


3. Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hoping judgement would not be too heavy upon him.


4. In the two there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work.


5. Now I believe they will leave me alone. Obviously Rodman came up hoping to find evidence of my incompetence — though how an incompetent could have gotten this place renovated, moved his library up, and got himself transported to it without arousing the suspicion of his watchful children, ought to be a hard one for Rodman to answer.


6. The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of an empty auditorium.


7. Mum says, “Don’t come creeping into our room at night.” They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, “Don’t startle us while we’re sleeping.” “Why not?” “We might shoot you.”


8. It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.


9. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.


10. 124 was spiteful. Full of baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.


11. The fat one, the radish torez, he calls me camel because I am Persian and because I can bear this August sun longer than the Chinese and the Panamanians and even the little Vietnamese, Tran.


12. I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.


13. On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.


14. My name is Kathy H. I’m 31 years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year.


15. There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old.


16. Howard Roark laughed.


17. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.


18. All this happened, more or less.


19. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.


20. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.


21. The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.


22. On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.


23. His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horse-back, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze.


24. In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.


25. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.



1. Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

2. The Sound and The Fury, William Faulkner

3. White Teeth, Zadie Smith

4. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

5. Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

6. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

7. Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Alexandra Fuller

8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time, Mark Haddon

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

10. Beloved, Toni Morrison

11. The House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III

12. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

13. Tender Is The Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

14. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

15. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

16. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

17. Waiting, Ha Jin

18. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

19. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

20. Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

21. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

22. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman

23. Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

24. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon

25. Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White


How many did you get right?




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