Hallmark Magazine

I don't go to industry functions because one, I never get invited anywhere and two, I generally dislike other people. But when the opportunity to attend a lightly-appetizered preview of the upcoming "Larry Sanders Show" DVD presented itself last night, I took the party pants out of cold storage and girded myself for some painful social interaction.

It could have been worse. The clips from the show remain as scabrously funny as they were the first time around, and I got to don my hard-nooz hat for a quick interaction with one of my humor gods, Garry Shandling ("Garry, would you describe your outstanding awesomeness as great or merely superb?"). On the way out, however, a wobbly, animated girlie tugged on my sleeve. Perhaps confusing this fine column or its distinguished author with something/somebody else, she sternly intoned, "You should write about brands more often."

Never one to dismiss advice imparted by an unhinged stranger, I decided to heed her call to arms -- hence today's romp through Hallmark Magazine. I can't say I was surprised to see a publication bearing the Hallmark, uh, hallmark on the newsstand. I mean, Hallmark invents holidays when it suits the company's purposes, not to mention cable channels (which, from what I gather, only air made-for-TV movies starring Patricia Heaton). A magazine? That's an afternoon arts-and-crafts project for them.

Hold onto your hairpins, people, because I'm about to blow your minds: Hallmark Magazine is aimed at women (that flutter you just heard was the collective membership of Welders Local 377 flinging their copies to the ground in disgust). Yeah, it's another one of those "real advice for real women" publications infesting the world of journalism like head lice.

And yet even within the constraints of that genre, Hallmark Magazine manages to excel in more ways than I can note, especially since I wasted the first two paragraphs babbling about myself. The cynical among us might loathe the idea in theory -- "real women" with "real pressures" and "mortgages" and "loveless marriages" and "two kids in juvie" don't have a ton of time to sift through tripe about, like, Faith Hill's mothering techniques -- but Hallmark Magazine is tonally attuned to its readership in a way that few publications are.

Rather than the usual budget-fashion and how-to-save-$4.26-before-brunch manifestos, Hallmark Magazine occupies itself with making readers' lives a little warmer and more pleasant. The March/April issue surveys a range of smaller pleasures, whether the joy in rediscovering the favorite music of one's youth or the therapeutic effect of creating and tending to an indoor garden. Yes, it celebrates ever-so-precious teapots and populates one section's bottom-page crawl with Headline News-worthy infobits about chocolate Easter Bunny production. But this magazine has a heart, a real one. If you're not awed (at the very least) by the woman who adopted five kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, you lack the capacity for human compassion.

Hallmark Magazine distinguishes itself from the pack in several other ways. It hires real, bona fide writer-type people (Peggy Orenstein chimes in on her fashion past, Sharlene Breakey memorializes the sale of her dad's prized possessions). It boasts an organizational framework -- "Inspire," "Renew," "Nest," "Connect" and "Nourish" -- that affords the mag ample room to cover everything from health to beauty/fashion (in mercifully small doses) to nutrition. For every dippy item about "Beauty Blunders" (there's no end to the way you gals can screw up your eyebrows, is there?) or accepting compliments (for me, a generous helping of mace usually does the trick), Hallmark Magazine presents five others that celebrate family, community and individuality in a manner both clever and original.

Even its live-happier tips transcend the trappings of the genre. Ordinarily, I'd no sooner read a story sub-headlined "15 ways to rediscover what makes you laugh, sing, dance, feel, believe - and be gloriously yourself" than bury a swizzle stick deep in my ear canal, but the feature offers a trio of well-observed, non-maudlin essays about faith, exercise and journal writing. The mag also relates a handful of DIY-themed tales, like one about a woman who built her town's library from scratch, that somehow manage not to scream WE SHALL INSPIRE YOU! DON'T FIGHT IT, BITCH!

The March/April issue accomplishes all this without a 700-strong masthead, which should send another sign to Big Publishing that it's possible to do more with less nowadays. What can I say? I'm sold. Hallmark Magazine is by so far the best thing that bears the Hallmark brand, it ain't even funny.

Published by: Hallmark Publishing
Frequency: Bimonthly (increasing to ten issues per year in 2008)
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For a previous Magazine Rack look at Hallmark Magazine, click here.

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