Shelf Life: Let's Review

Publications that help readers navigate (and evaluate) the indie press


| Utne Reader July / August 2007


I'm often asked how I come across new magazines and books for the Utne Reader library. Credit is occasionally due to a helpful friend, a Listserv, or a press release, but I make most of my discoveries while I'm reading publications that allocate generous space to reviews of independent books, zines, music, and films. I usually read magazines like Broken Pencil and Punk Planet from the back, where these nuggets are buried, and scour from cover to cover the handful of publications that dedicate themselves exclusively to reviewing small-press works.

It's a fortunate side effect that these review publications help keep the Utne Reader library thriving and up to date. Primarily, the reviews help alternative sources reach a wider audience by drawing attention to books and publications that aren't found in big-box bookstores, and by helping libraries to maintain and expand their collections of independent books and periodicals. Perhaps just as important, they also foster community among members of the independent press, cultivating discussions about what's out there, what's working, and what isn't.

Small Press Review, an energetic newsprint rag that Len Fulton began publishing in 1967, has long been a reliable source for reviews of books and magazines, as well as for writer-friendly information on literary contests and new publishers.

Most of the books it reviews are poetry and fiction, including an impressive number of chapbooks. I generally hurry through them to the magazine section, where I find that nearly half of the titles are new to me. This made more sense after I talked to Fulton, who estimates that he sifts through 7,000 books and magazines submitted to him each year. 'I look at everything that comes in--everything,' he says. 'I owe it that.'

The most promising-looking items are bundled up and sent to his cast of 30 or so volunteer reviewers. (Others are added to the 40,000 volumes that fill his home's custom-built 500-square-foot library.)

The bulk of the magazine's 3,000 subscribers are publishers and libraries. 'Small Press Review's job is to inform people of what's out there,' Fulton says, 'to show them the shape of this universe.' The magazine doesn't make money, but it does 'just about break even'; the profitable part of Fulton's business lies in the small-press directories he publishes each year. 'I keep doing the Small Press Review because it's fun,' he says.