From the Stacks: The Gift-Giving Guide Edition

By Staff
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This holiday season, our crack team of magazine readers has teamed up to help you avoid the consumer-frenzied mall and give the gift that keeps on giving: information. With the care of a gourmet sommelier pairing a rare delicacy to its rightful wine, we’ve matched some of our favorite alternative magazines to their ideal recipients–those exasperating names on the gift list for whom a sweater just won’t do. The hermit socialist uncle? Got him. The eerie niece? No problem.

If you’ve still got a magazine-gift dilemma after reading our guide, drop us a line in the comments below. We’ll sort through our stacks and get back to you.

For your faraway friend with whom you can’t share a beer:
Get him or her Imbibe, a magazine of “liquid culture.” Imbibe answers perennial questions about coffee, beer, and cocktails, such as that nagging head-scratcher: What was George Washington’s drink of choice? (Answer: Applejack, a traditional American liquor). Then, next time you see your distant friend, crack open a couple of Hefeweizen, the unfiltered wheat beer featured in the Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue, and enjoy the cultured conversation that’s sure to flow. “Did you know that Hefeweizen is brewed with at least 50 percent wheat malts, unlike most beers, which are brewed with barley?” your friend will ask. “And that while in the United States Hefe (as aficionados call it) is served with a slice of lemon, in Germany that’s unheard of.” You may never eat solid food again. —Brendan Mackie

For the unapologetically carnivorous:
Meatpaper, a nominee for best new publication in this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards, is about more than eating meat. It’s about meat history, meat ethics, meat as a metaphor, and, perhaps most bizarrely, meat as art. This San Francisco-based magazine honors what editors Sasha Wizansky and Amy Standen call fleischgeist–the spirit of meat. In Meatpaper‘s Fall 2007 issue, this spirit is manifest in a wide array of articles, including a Q&A with butchers who advocate using less popular but deliciously traditional cuts of meat, and a look back at Jana Sterbak’s 1987 Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, in which a waifish model wore a costume made entirely of raw steaks. The text throughout is framed by a clean layout and luscious images, which makes Meatpaper an intellectual and aesthetic treat. —Morgan Winters

For the Yankee pal who won’t stop with the mint juleps:
A slew of magazines without a lick of the South in them have been, of late, trumpeting this recently discovered region below Cincinnati that has a ton of great stuff going on. It’s called “The South,” and did you know that bands come from there? And writers? And artists? And that it’s impossible to write about this place without employing clichés such as “bourbon-soaked” or “country-fried?” Well, not so for the Arkansas-based Oxford American.This class act has covered its beat for the past 15 years, showcasing all things Southern and great (or sometimes not so great). The latest edition (#58) includes a CD compilation of the 26 Southern recording artists profiled for the annual music issue, which showcases a diverse group from Thelonious Monk to Daniel Johnston. The issue also features a cool series of essays titled “Writers Who Rocked,” penned by the members of an assortment of noteworthy musical acts, including the Red Crayola and the Del Fuegos. Smart, edgy, hip, funny–Oxford American proves that Southern culture isn’t an oxymoron. —Jason Ericson

For your bearded uncle who stopped coming home for the holidays because he’s too busy working on his manifesto:

So you’ve got a problem. Last year you got your uncle the Nation, and though he really enjoyed the Deadline Poet, the coverage was just too far right for him. Well, don’t fret. Z Magazinemight be the solution to your gift quandary. Z regularly draws contributions from top-shelf revolutionary thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, as well as radical educators, leaders, and in-the-trenches activists you’re likely to have never seen or heard elsewhere. Don’t expect to find much love for Democrats here, standard bearers of hegemony that they are. For a real vanguard trifecta, throw in subscriptions to Socialist Review and In These Times. Taken together, they’re guaranteed to have you and your uncle renouncing your citizenship and burning the contents of your wallet. —Jason Ericson

For the young and slightly twisted:
I had never heard of a literary journal for children until I picked up Crow Toes Quarterly. This newish Canadian publication has come out swinging as “the new face of children’s lit,” with strange, spooky stories sure to sate Roald Dahl fans. The Summer 2007 issue (Fall hasn’t landed in our library yet) is packed with imaginative stories featuring cheesecake-munching babies, an arachnophobic dandelion, and a wandering two-headed boy named Tongue. The issue also includes poetry, a call for entries for a creative writing contest, and an interview with illustrator Scott Griffin. A great gift for children ages 8 to 13, or any adults still cultivating their imaginations. —Sarah Pumroy

For the Catholic-raised intellectual who is moved by Christmas mass but feels shut out by several Church teachings:
Commonweal, a biweekly magazine published independently by lay Catholics, is comprised mostly of opinion pieces, with topics and views that, though they range widely, are rooted in a deep, critical investment in Catholic identity. Commonweal‘s politics are center-left but not predictably so; its lively cultural and arts coverage is even harder to pin down. The main thread is an enthusiasm for robust, open, forward-looking debate. Highlights of the Dec. 7, 2007 include a piece by a Catholic prison chaplain on the rise of conservative evangelicalism in prisons and a smart analysis of Vatican statements on end-of-life ethics. —Steve Thorngate

For your cube mate, who still wears his “I want to believe” T-shirt at least once a week, sometimes for several days in a row:
Psst. Come over here. Did you know that cancer-causing monkey viruses have infected our vaccine pool, the Great Depression II is imminent, the government is using its pop culture outlets to slowly warm the public to the existence of extra-terrestrials, and officials have met with clergy to discuss an official merger between church and state? Well, you would have if you’d read the Winter 2008 issue of Paranoia, “the conspiracy and paranormal reader.” A Paranoia subscription would also keep you definitively up-to-date on the latest news on the investigation into the assassination of JFK. You don’t have to be a conspiracy junkie to love this magazine, but it does help. Now here’s a tinfoil hat. Go and spread the word. —Jason Ericson

For your thoughtful, but obstinate political sparring partner:
Reason, a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for political coverage,offers some of the most interesting, in-depth reporting and contrarian perspectives you’re likely to read anywhere. This monthly’s columnists are incisive and acidly funny: Look out especially for Greg Beato’s sarcastic commentary. And reminiscent of Harper’s “Index,” the “Citings” section at the beginning of each issue collects information that you might not find anywhere else, documenting everything from excessive earmarks in a Congress that promised–and continues to promise–their demise, to the pointlessness of a tax-funded anti-pornography program. Unlike Harper’s, though, Reason provides context to anchor their more surprising reports. There are some party lines in this libertarian magazine. (Consider the magazine’s December issue, which featured a sidebar chiding contemporary Republicans for not taking author Ayn Rand seriously enough.) Nevertheless, Reason cultivates a useful contrarian voice–an ideal gift for those who agree with you one moment and bare their teeth the next. —Michael Rowe

For the fashion-conscious yet tasteful young woman:
To describe Eliza as a “modest” fashion magazine doesn’t do it justice. The simple adjective brings to mind images of prudish or pious women hiding their bodies in long skirts and plain tops. But Eliza is so much more. The Fall 2007 issue features smart, compelling, and useful stories, including a piece on how to change a tire, an exploration of Seattle, tips on how to be comfortable in your own skin, and, of course, plenty of fashion articles and photo shoots. I wouldn’t have even known that Eliza was a “modest” fashion magazine if I hadn’t read the editor’s note. But once Summer Bellessa clued me in to the magazine’s mission–“We will not uncover the sexual secrets to make him want you, promote people who are glitz with no substance, or glorify lifestyles that we know do not bring happiness”–I began to notice the pleasant absence of revealing clothing and sexually explicit images. A more accurate word to describe the styles in Eliza might be “tasteful” rather than “modest.” Either way, it’s definitely a good pick for any smart young woman interested in fashion without the sleaze. —Sarah Pumroy

For your college friend who once showed up at an ’80s night party dressed as an 1880s shopkeeper:
Polite, another nominee for best new publication in this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards, publishes articles on straightforward topics, but from a perspective neither entirely serious nor exactly kidding (e.g., a travel piece that ends, “There’s no city in America with less personality than Myrtle Beach, S.C.”). It also runs more conventional pieces on odder subjects, along with fabricated profiles, features, and, in the Autumn 2007 issue’s “Best of History” section, historical narratives. (One is credited to an Oregon Trail pioneer who knows how to shoot his rifle in exactly eight directions.) The package is an entertaining assortment–sorry, a “miscellany”–of the esoteric, the deadpan, and the desperately clever. A great choice for anyone who’s interested in everything but takes none of it all that seriously.Steve Thorngate

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