If you chose mostly Bs, you will probably loathe San Francisco magazine. You will likely find it horribly, laughably, and irrevocably pretentious. You will likely roll your eyes when, in an article about the architectural design of a Sonoma observatory (complete with—natch!—a spa), you see a path referred to, without irony, as “a long allée” of trees. You will likely roll your eyes some more when you come across a six-page spread devoted, with barely contained giddiness, to various grades of Hollywood celebrities who have been photographed while visiting San Francisco. (Actual quote: “Planeloads of actors kept celeb spotters satiated with more eye candy than they’ve seen in years.”) You will likely roll your eyes even more when you scan the reverent photos—of fig leaf-roasted halibut and sweet-corn vichyssoise and other gastronomic creations—that accompany a review of the Marin restaurant Murray Circle. You will likely find each of the oversized glossy’s 168 pages to be, in their own way, showy and haughty and, in their “Modern Luxury” motto, woefully out of step with these trying economic times. You will almost certainly conclude that San Francisco crosses the line between appreciating The Finer Things In Life and fetishizing them.

If you chose a mixture of As and Bs, you will probably admire San Francisco’s substance even as you question its style. You might find your mouth watering, Pavlov-style, while reading the cover story about “the Bay Area’s smartest desserts”—pumpkin custard with dehydrated carrot shavings! white-chocolate rosewater panna cotta with saffron-pistachio-milk chocolate ganache! “cigarettes” of rice paper and tobacco-infused cream!—even while your mind wonders, “Um, can desserts really be smart? Should they be?” You’ll almost certainly be moved by “Gone,” a deeply reported and sensitively written piece about a sad, if not new, trend: teenagers leaping to their deaths off the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. You might find yourself nodding in appreciation at San Francisco’s “Click” section, a series of photos capturing moments of city life—election night in the Mission, the boho-biker LoveFest on Market Street—with equal nods to anthropology and artistry. You might appreciate that, representing as it does a city known for matters of marriage, San Francisco manages to unite the extravagant and the everyday—the Prada spread nestled near the H&M ad, the announcement of a new Gucci boutique followed by the profile of Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, the review of a fine dining restaurant at home with the review of a burger joint, things attainable and things aspirational—into a marriage of equals. A laudable feat, most would agree. -Megan Garber

LA Weekly, December 5-11, 2008

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, go online and read excerpts of the LA Weekly’s thirtieth anniversary issue on its Web site. The issue is a chock-full reminder of what founding editor Jay Levin says in his own epistle: “The backstory was our commitment.” It’s a five-star assemblage of accounts from Weekly editors, writers, and contributors (past and present), paired with “best of” excerpts from over the years. Among the jewels are recollections from previous editors in chief: Levin writes about tackling L.A.’s huge smog problem by assigning arts and culture reporter Rian Malan “to investigate the South Coast Air Quality management District” because he was “such a keen bullshit detector”; Kit Rachlis discusses deciding to place the culture wars front and center by putting Andrew Serrano’s Piss Christ on the cover; Sue Horton recounts the 2000 Democratic convention in L.A., when the paper decided to transform into a daily operation for the week.

Others to look for: Lynell George, who was a staff writer when the L.A. Riots burst, writes about the lead-up to the unrest—“You’d pivot between the city’s disarray and the paper’s droll, sardonic commentary on the state of things”—when the riots struck and she was suddenly “on assignment expected to explain the inexplicable.” Marc Cooper expounds on the Weekly’s coverage of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica during the Reagan administration, when he was news editor, while Ginger Varney writes about being the paper’s first Central American correspondent. Jonathan Gold, a former music editor, grouchily says the paper’s music section “sucks,” but offers an alternative assessment: “the beauty of the Weekly’s music coverage, then as now, lies chiefly in the magnificence of its background noise.” And there are plenty of additional accounts from the arts realm: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the Weekly’s first art editor and critic (on reviewing Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party); Alan Rich, who got laid off earlier this year after 16 years as the paper’s classical music critic; film critic John Powers; former film critic Michael Ventura (on “the writer’s editor” Bob LaBrasca); and current film editor Scott Foundas (on Ventura).

As an issue, it’s scattered and disorganized, with overlapping and sometimes self-indulgent memories. It makes for a forensically phenomenal read. -Jane Kim

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.


More in Behind the News

The Mail

Read More »

CJR Staff is a contributor to CJR.