For every issue, we at Utne Reader sift through 1,500 periodicals, skim hundreds of websites and blogs, and clamber over a mountain of new books to present the best the alternative press has to offer. All said and done, it’s interesting and often surprising to see which stories readers latch on to and discuss. The following five articles were your favorites from 2011.
5) 25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2011
Every year, Utne Reader picks a handful of world visionaries, people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them and lay their souls on the line for change. This year’s list included pioneers in the fields of ecology, television, progressive spirituality, linguistics, and more. An excerpt:
The 25 men and women in the following pages have probably ticked off a lot of people. That’s what happens when you have creative, boundary-leaping, uncomfortable ideas—and you pursue them. These people also have delivered hope and renewed faith and tangible improvements to the lives of millions. Their vision, paired with their action, has literally brought food, shelter, and medicine where it was needed. Successes that can be measured and held are wonderful—and much needed—but equally important are the new ideas, the new words, and the new dreams that they’ve engendered.
4) “The Dude Abides” interview by Katy Butler, from Tricycle
Right before his starring role in True Grit, actor Jeff Bridges sat down with Tricycle to riff on meditation, laziness, and his “groovy” Buddhist beliefs. An excerpt:
Jeff Bridges enters the living room of his hotel suite carrying a dark blue Shambhala paperback by Chögyam Trungpa titled Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness. “One reason I’m anxious—because I have some anxiety about this interview, like you do,” he says, as he arranges his long body on the couch, “is that I wish I could be more facile with these things that I find so interesting and care about and want to express to people.” He opens the book. “This will be a challenge for me,” he says. “But I’ll attempt it.”
3) “21st Century Sex” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, from A Billion Wicked Thoughts
Data researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam know that sex was on everyone’s mind this year, including Utne Reader subscribers. Their unconventional study on the nature of human desire provoked immense controversy and debate. An excerpt:
In 2010 we conducted the world’s largest experiment: We sifted through a billion different web searches, including a half million personal histories. We analyzed hundreds of thousands of online erotic stories and thousands of romance e-novels. We looked at the 40,000 most trafficked adult websites. We examined more than 5 million sexual solicitations posted on online classifieds. We listened to thousands of people discussing their desires on message boards.
2) “The Art of the Police Report” by Ellen Collett, from The Writer’s Chronicle
Collett’s surprising portrait of an erudite beat cop from Los Angeles took us inside the head of someone intensely aware of human pain and how it’s dissolved by government of bureaucracy. An excerpt:
Crime reports are written in neutral diction, and in the dispassionate uni-voice that’s testament to the academy’s ability to standardize writing. They feel generated rather than authored, the work of a single law enforcement consciousness rather than a specific human being.
So how can I identify Martinez from a single sentence? Why do his reports make me feel pity, terror, or despair? Make me want to put a bullet in someone’s brain—preferably a wife beater’s or a pedophile’s, but occasionally my own? How does he use words on paper to hammer at my heart? Like all great cops, Sergeant Martinez is a sneaky fucker. He’s also a master of inflection and narrative voice.
1) “Look God, No Hands” by Blaire Briody, from Bust
Perhaps the most salacious story reprinted by Utne Reader this year, “Look God, No Hands” profiled the Dirty Girls Ministry—a Christian group devoted to “cure” adolescent girls of masturbatory habits. An excerpt:
[Crystal] Renaud’s advocacy is labeled antipornography, but it aims to treat all masturbation, whether it involves porn or not. When you peel back the layers, the core of her crusade is against sexual thought—even within marriage—unless those thoughts are about your husband while you are engaging in intercourse with him.