From the Stacks
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 editorial meetings at In Character could very well consist of an existential card game: Pick a virtue, any virtue. But thanks to good writing and smart organization, their decision to center each issue on a particular character trait has made for an in-depth, thought-provoking magazine. In the two-and-a-half years since its incarnation, issue themes have ranged from justice to purpose, modesty to thrift. The winter issue tackles self-reliance with quotes from great thinkers like Hillel and Dostoevsky and articles on self-sufficiency, intuition, and independence. In Character was nominated for two Utne Independent Press Awards this year: best design and social/cultural coverage (no doubt, a virtuous choice). -- Mary O'Regan
'Because life is longer than you think.' The tagline doesn't exactly reveal much about the content inside Useless, a large-format magazine packed with artist interviews, shocking images, and themes like failure. But at the same time, the motto makes sense; it urges readers to take the time to read an interview with Kinkaleri, an Italian 'performing commando' that took pictures of people faking their own deaths (issue #4, page 13). Or to spend five minutes staring at a giant, two-page, black-and-white photo of a person with disturbing clownish make-up and rotting teeth perched in front of a Dior logo (issue #3, page 25). This is art at its most obscure and self-deprecating, whittled down to magazine form. And there's plenty of time to enjoy it. -- Mary O'Regan
Imagine this: A stranger thrusts a partially blank journal into your hands and explains that you're now part of an art experiment. Would you be wary? Intrigued? Would you accept the challenge, take the mysterious book, and promise to add to its collection of thoughts? Perhaps the most difficult question: Would you be able to part with your work and hand it off to another stranger? That, in essence, is how the 1000 Journals Project works. One end product of the endeavor -- a book titled The 1000 Journals Project by 'Someguy' -- offers a curious compilation of extractions from some of the 1000 journals that were sent around the world and made it back to the project's creator. The book offers little commentary, but the result is a vibrant museum of consciousness and things private. Published by Chronicle Books, The 1000 Journals Project is worth marveling at momentarily, or poring over when it comes out in April. -- Jenna Fisher
As Russia navigates between the Scylla of Western capitalism and the Charybdis of post-World War II disillusionment, independent voices are struggling to be heard in the press. The January/February issue of Russian Life contains a fascinating look at the state of Russia's independent media. In 'Freedoms Found & Lost,' writer Alex Lupis tracks how the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin 'has aggressively expanded state control over the independent media.' Since ascending to power in 1999, Putin has reined in the leading national television channels, so that most regional stations now focus on safe, apolitical entertainment programming. The good news is that a few independent national newspapers -- and the internet -- have largely escaped restrictions so far. -- Evelyn Hampton
Briarpatch's tagline asserts the mission of 'Fighting the War on Error.' It's a battle the magazine takes to multiple fronts, from labor rights and gender issues to its newest installment foretelling a scarcity of food and energy. The February issue features 'The Green Devolution' by Richard Heinberg, who exposes 'peak oil' as an observation rather than a theory and rips apart the facade of industrial agriculture to expose its wasteful underbelly. In 'Who's Cooking the Food System?' contributor Nettie Wiebe further explains the politics behind global food supply and how hunger is manufactured. '[F]ood goes where the profit is, rather than where the need is,' she writes. Briarpatch is an impassioned piece of Canadian craftsmanship that not only promotes social justice and sustainability, but helps make it happen by using a union shop printer, vegetable-based ink, recycled paper, and a wind energy-powered web server. -- Natalie Hudson
Put aside your gripes about kids today. Youth Today, a publication of the American Youth Work Center, proves that many of today's young people are productive members of society. The issues often feature community programs created for or by socially conscious youths and are full of news briefs, press items, and research on subjects from school funding to curfews. In the February issue contributor Mike Males explains the bigotry of curfews. 'Polls show adults drastically exaggerate violence by youth and always think it's escalating,' he writes, contending that his own research of curfew citations found that '99 percent of the youths arrested were just walking, playing basketball, talking to friends.' -- Natalie Hudson