Why Read Books?

Reading is absurd, isn’t it? Page after page of symbols. Voices in our heads that aren’t our own. Why persist? We may read for entertainment, to pass the time, to visit other worlds, to expand our sense of what is possible. We hunt for treasure, rarely satisfied, but seeking new things to which we can aspire, clues and answers to what our lives are meant to be. At best, perhaps, we read to challenge ourselves and to be changed.

How do we find books worth reading? One way is to pay attention to magazines devoted to reviewing them.

World Literature Today is an excellent source of writings by and about contemporary authors from around the globe. It features interviews, essays, poetry, and short fiction by authors who write as if their lives depend on it. Each issue includes over a hundred English-language reviews of books published in other languages.

Rain Taxi Review of Books focuses on new titles from small and independent publishers such as Coffee House, Graywolf, Seven Stories, South End, and Copper Canyon, as well as university presses and mainstream Canadian publishers whose works are too often ignored in the United States. Each edition balances coverage of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic novels.

Lambda Book Report, a bimonthly publication of the nonprofit Lambda Literary Foundation, engagingly reviews books “for LGBT readers”-lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Recent issues have covered new books about same-sex marriage and titles from such small presses as Manic D, Bluechrome, and Clear Cut Press.

Also notable: New York City’s Black Issues Book Review  and the Toronto-based Quill & Quire, “Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews.”

THIS JUST IN

The Polishing Stone is a new ad-free publication offering suggestions about how to refine “the life you live into the life you love.” Each 24-page issue contains practical advice about such matters as how to make natural cleaning products and find alternatives to toxic wood finishes, along with gardening tips, recipes that use whole foods, and recommendations for herbal health care.

Written mostly by university students and recent grads living abroad, Glimpse Quarterly reports on wide-ranging topics from around the world. Now in its third year, it’s published by the Glimpse Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes global understanding. The Fall 2004 issue spotlights India but also includes writings about life in Australia, Guatemala, and Denmark.

Camas, a no-gloss magazine of writing about “the nature of the West,” specializes in publishing personal essays that provide multiple views of life in a land cohabited by elk, crows, bison, desert trumpets, and the soil organisms that form the region’s “cryptobiotic” crust.

Ocean Press’s new Rebel Lives series compiles writings by and about people “whose radicalism has been concealed or forgotten,” including Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, South African leader Chris Hani, and French anarchist Louise Michel. Also new from Ocean: a history of the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo.

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