Utne Reader's library is abuzz with a steady flow of 1,500 magazines, newsletters, journals, weeklies, zines, and other lively dispatches from the cultural front that are rarely found at big-box bookstores, newsstands, or even online. So we share the highlights (and occasional lowlights) of what's landing in our library each week in 'From the Stacks.' Check in every Friday for the latest edition.
The literary journal River Styx takes its name from the mythical waterway between Earth and Hades, life and death. The latest issue, titled 'The Last Laugh,' straddles another chasm, that between poignancy and humor. In it, accessible works of poetry and prose express sentiments that would be difficult to accept without the aid of laughter. But it may be Mark Twain's quote on the first page that best captures the issue's draw: 'The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow.' Reading River Styx, you may giggle at dark humor, clever writing, or backhanded compliments, but the words may also abandon you halfway between worlds as you stare down into the emotional abyss below. The Missouri-based journal steps out three times a year, often with a theme. -- Suzanne Lindgren
The little barefoot, singing hippies that march across the pages of Elissa Jane Karg's recently republished book, How to be a Nonconformist, illustrate 23 playful steps to becoming a bona fide rebel. Karg's advice, originally published as a comic-strip for her high school newspaper in the '60s, mischievously elbows the counterculture of that time with tips like, '[a]void socks. They are the fatal give-away of a phony nonconformist.' Warning: Cracking open this book may pull you back in time. It also may leave you dwelling on things nonconformist today. At the very least, it'll induce a smile. -- Jenna Fisher
'Wonderment' is the first word inside of Sacred Fire's fourth issue, heading up editor Jonathan Merritt's musings on 'the paradox of utter randomness and intricate connection.' Indeed, Sacred Fire displays wonderment throughout, exploring themes relevant to modern, spiritual, and earth-connected people. The connection between Native and Anglo Americans -- both historic and contemporary -- creates an underlying theme throughout the issue. In 'The Lost People,' Thom Hartmann attempts to understand the origin of the settlers' need to conquer the Americas. And Sharon Brown's 'Born to the Medicine' -- a nonfiction story of a white woman who shares a kindred bond with Native Americans -- would make anyone hesitate to generalize about race. Strung next to writings on interconnectedness and gratitude, such pieces form the beginnings of a discussion about how we can move forward, hopefully together. -- Suzanne Lindgren
All it took was one glance at the cover of LensWork and I was entranced. Issue 67 showcases four photographers' portfolios that, collectively, are nothing short of stunning. The black-and-white images depict scenes of Norwegian fjords and the Georgia wilderness, as well as Mehmet Ozgur's 'Smoke Abstractions,' in which he captures the 'ballet' of smoke streams produced by incense. The highlight is Eugene H. Johnson's portfolio, which includes the cover image of a woman from a rare subgroup of the Rabari tribe ('Lady with Split Ears'). It is part of Johnson's provocative collection of portraits from India, Brazil, Egypt, and Nepal. In an included interview, Johnson describes his verve in capturing what he calls the humanity of his subjects. -- Elizabeth Ryan
The accounts of Toronto's urban landscape in Spacing's Winter issue could double as a fascinating tourists' guide to both the city and life in general. There's plenty in this issue (themed 'The New Beautiful City') to rave about. Take 'Left Behind,' Nathalie Atkinson's short essay on the mysteries of left-behind belongings -- shoes, scarves, handkerchiefs -- strewn about the city. Atkinson calls the phenomenon of the abandoned item 'ubiquitous to the urban experience,' as are all the facets of Toronto -- and urban life -- that Spacing captures so well. (Spacing was nominated this year for two Utne Independent Press Awards, in best design and best local/regional coverage.) -- Evelyn Hampton
Another nominee for an Utne Independent Press Award is Kiss Machine, a contender in the General Excellence: Zines category. According to Kiss Machine's website, 'each issue features two seemingly discordant themes.' I picked up the 'Nature or Nurture Issue' (Fall/Winter 2006) and was entertained by a fresh take on a familiar debate. There's an interview with Allyson Mitchell, an artist whose depictions of female sasquatches critique representations of women as 'sexualized animals.' And there's 'Raised by Wolves,' a short, funny first-person account that begins, 'I was raised by wolves: a lawyer and a sociologist.' If you'd like to join Kiss Machine's Nature or Nurture debate, visit the issue's site, where you can post and read comments on the topic. -- Evelyn Hampton