Buzzes, flashing notifications, pings, whirring cursors—if you spend a lot of your time on the Internet, sometimes you feel like your whole life is an intricate arcade game. It’s a great place for all kinds of things, but sometimes, you can feel your brain aching for a break from all the whizzing and whirring, the tweets and tabs and ever accumulating things to put your eyes on, and some time to focus on something. Whenever I need a few minutes of a brain respite, I try to pick up or click through to one of the many wonderful literary journals out there. Whether it’s an after-work pause to leaf through The Paris Review or just taking a couple minutes and a separate browser to read through some of the fiction on Midnight Breakfast, there are a host of options, both online and off, for soaking in some gourmet word offerings. There are many great ones out there—if you go digging, you’ll find many, many more literary magazines to read. But here are just a few of my favorites.
The Paris Review
One of the great stalwarts of the literary scene, The Paris Review puts out four excellent issues a year, chock-a-block with fantastic new offerings from authors both highly established and just breaking through. It’s well worth subscribing to for the interviews alone (the current issue has Jane Smiley interviewing the punk poet Eileen Myles, as well as a terrific essay by James Salter), but if you just have ten minutes and need a brain break, their blog and archives are also fantastic for catching up on your literary news and history. (And if The Paris Review is your jam, consider leafing through the equally excellent and now sadly defunct Partisan Review. All its archives are available online.)
An online-only, free (but donations very welcome!) operation, Midnight Breakfast consistently showcases some of the most fun, diverse, slightly-under-the-radar literary voices. It offers six fresh, illustrated pieces of fiction and nonfiction a month, and it’s absolutely worth keeping in your bookmarks. Want a taste? Try this great story about television and dystopia.
The Literary Review
A quarterly offering supported by Farleigh Dickinson University, The Literary Review is one of those print magazines that not only contains a wealth of absorbing stories, essays, and poetry it also looks great. It’s the kind that you leave out on your coffee table as ornament as well as something to pick up while you’re lazing on the couch. Some of their offerings are available online, too if you just need a mid-morning fiction break.
If you’d like some fiction but you don’t have much time or attention span, Okey-Panky is a neat solution: From the minds behind the wonderful lit site Electric Literature, an online literary journal of short (but very good) things. Think of it as fun-sized literature, something that’s nourishing but not as time-consuming.
Virginia Quarterly Review
Another of the literary journal stalwarts, the Virginia Quarterly Review regularly publishes smart, beautiful writing. Just look at this piece by Roxane Gay on the cost of black ambition, or this one by Leslie Jamison about female pain. Some pieces are available in their entirety online,, and you can also subscribe both in print and digitally for the whole issue, which I recommend.
The New Inquiry
An online-only magazine of literary and cultural criticism, The New Inquiry is where you can find some of the sharpest, smartest looks at everything gossip to policing to witchcraft. The magazine is just $3/month, and hits your inbox each time with a bunch of stories woven around a theme. It’s always something that I keep for the end of the day to read on my commute home on the train, as sort of a delicious day-end treat.
A new-ish print literary magazine, I first picked up Armchair/Shotgun for its title alone, and soon found myself pleasantly absorbed by its contents. It’s a journal that picks all its submissions blindly, so, as they say in their submission guidelines: “We feel that good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school drop-out. Good writing does not know your interstate exit or your subway stop, and it does not care what you’ve written before. Good writing knows only story.” That’s great, and it means that the writers showcased are usually ones you might not have heard of before—but might soon make it to your must-read-immediately pile.
Featured image by Gillian Laub commissioned by The Literary Review