May 19, 2006
Utne receives some 1,200 magazines, newsletters, journals, weeklies, and zines. Add in hundreds of books, CDs, and DVDs, and it's a flood of media that lines the walls of our library and piles high on our desks. All the ideas, people, and stories inspire lively daily chatter, but they can't all fit into our bimonthly magazine. So we share the gems here in our weekly editions of 'From the Stacks.' Check in every Friday for the freshest highlights of the independent and alternative media.
Revelatory autobiography, graphic novel, family history told using literary tropes, investigation of personal memory, small-town tale of skeletons in the closet, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, new from Houghton Mifflin, is all this and more. In an interview in the Summer issue of Bitch, Bechdel says she's wanted to tell this story since she was 20, but that she had neither the emotional nor creative skills to take it on until her late 30s. Even then, it took her seven years to complete. Such diligence rewards Bechdel's readers, who may plow through Fun Home quickly, then find they want to reread it to catch everything they missed the first time around. The handsomely produced book likely will compel readers whether or not they're familiar with Bechdel's long-running lesbian comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. -- Chris Dodge
Published twice a year, the theme-based journal Matter comes on strong with literature, art, interviews, and whatever else its editors deem germane to the topic at hand. Issue No. 8, 'Land,' ranges from a poem about lilacs to a defense of being naked in nature. (Call me converted!) The 312-page issue provides rewarding quick-hits with an abundance of art while slowing the pace from time to time with quirky pieces of experimental fiction and essay-like arguments. Of special note, interestingly enough, is the table of contents: Obtuse, frustrating, and charming all at the same time, the text is formatted to look like a map of the earth. The page, then, is both metaphorically and literally a map, and yet it defies navigation. Perfect for a stint in the WC or a weekend on the beach, Matter is sure to please, rewarding an open mind with revelations both big and small. -- Nick Rose
In the fifth issue of I Hate This Part of Texas -- a New Orleans-based zine that takes its name from some inspiring graffiti at a rest stop in Oklahoma -- John Gerken examines what it takes to put things back together in communities whose foundations have been shaken. Part of a New Orleans DIY collective, Gerken finds beauty in new beginnings, in teaching middle school students bike repair and safety, and in creating spaces for personal transformations. His friend Shelley Jackson also contributes an essay about her yearly sojourns to India, where she practices Buddhism and quiet meditation, and her subsequent returns to New Orleans, finding joy in maintaining balance in her boisterous neighborhood and bike shop. The essays in this issue call for open ears, community activism, and hope. 'Do what you do and bring it into the world,' Gerken writes. 'Interact. Check out what other people are doing. To share culture is to create community. Talk to you neighbors.' -- Miriam Skurnick
Life gets complicated, so it's nice to know that simple pleasures still exist, like John Coltrane playing 'My Ideal' or John Toren's excellent zine Macaroni. The 71st issue may not be his best, my favorites are when he's out in the wilderness as opposed to the 'minor metropolis' of Minneapolis, but it still contains literary sustenance akin to the publication's namesake. 'Spring Cleaning' opens the issue and follows the author as he sifts through mix tapes, photographs, and other treasures that have lain dormant inside an old desk. Each object evokes beautiful, simple memories that Toren intersperses with quotes from Robert Bly and John of Salisbury. Toren, whose name and contact information aren't included in the publication, is also a writer, editor, and designer at Nodin Press in Minnesota. -- Bennett Gordon
Most people would prefer a lush green public park over a dilapidated post-industrial wasteland, and the Spring 2006 issue of Land & People, the official magazine of The Trust for Public Land, is a reminder that such a conversion is possible. In St. Paul, Minnesota, community members worked together to transform an old urban rail yard into the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Similar projects are going forward in Seattle and Los Angeles. The issue also profiles efforts to shield animal migration paths from development to protect the bears, deer, bison, moose, and elk in the American West. -- Bennett Gordon
Judging from the proliferation of sculpture parks across the United States, public art is catching on. Yet universities and schools are just now introducing public art into their curriculum, writes Jack Becker in his foreword to the Spring/Summer issue of Public Art Review. In this issue, titled 'Art on Campus,' the glossy magazine takes a look at public art both in the classroom and on the quad. The issue profiles institutions that are leading the way in public art education while pointing out some of the pitfalls of campus-community relations when public art projects are involved. And while the magazine provides thoughtful editorials on this particular theme, they also provide, for the more visually oriented readers among us, an image-laden back section that is sure to inspire. -- Nick Rose