Jan 14 2013

Out of the Waiting Room, Into the World

I usually reserve light reading for the waiting room of my dentist’s office. Maybe that’s why I always get a bad taste in my mouth when flipping through a magazine. Or a headache from the perfume samples. I can never seem to focus on anything between the flimsy covers, registering only advertisements that make me feel bad about how I look. When I finally do get drawn into an article, just when it’s getting good, I turn the page and am lost in another sea of ads.

But a recent screening of our magazine selection at Booksmith has made me feel otherwise. I was curious about the new slew of travel magazines circulating, each with its own unique perspective on place. What I found, among many more commercial-oriented travel publications, were a few magazines that seemed to be skipping down new, unbeaten paths, whether they were honing in on little-known local places, or blowing my mind to new global proportions.

The photographs contained between the stylish covers of Trunk magazine did the latter. Photographer Jason Florio spent 15 years in Gambia to achieve a level of intimacy with the culture that shows in each stunning portrait. Faces look out from the page with an openness and authenticity that could only have been cultivated through trust built over time. Anders Overgaard has captured our destination of the month, Myanmar (Burma) in another series of stunning photographs. And Ayman Oghanna, an Iraqi-British journalist,  takes us directly into the action in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years.

In addition to these photographers, the most recent issue of Trunk contains fascinating interviews with artists who use maps as a medium and stories from correspondents from around the world: Athens, Chile, Swaziland, and even our own Massachusetts. By the time I reached the back cover (a rare thing in my magazine reading life) I was whole-heartedly agreeing with Trunk‘s byline: “the world is a fine place.” And that’s not always an easy thing to say.

From global I went local, with the inaugural issue of Local Magazine: A Quarterly of People and Places. If you want an excellent preview to this new project, watch their video that inspired their Kickstarter contributors to, well, kick-start this worthy cause. The magazine–the brainchild of editor-in-chief Daniel Webster Jr.–is based on the belief that, as he writes, “the whistle-stop or post-industrial city has microcosmic importance to the complicated tale of America.”

Webster and his group of entrepreneurial artists and writers select one small-town destination per issue and tell its story. This issue they traveled to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania where they went to work for Reptileland to better understand local sources of entertainment, talked to the displaced residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park, and of course, reviewed the local tavern. Stop in and travel with them to more overlooked destinations, sampling the local color of small-town America.

And finally I turned to The Common, a recent literary journal out of Amherst College that seeks to deliver to the reader a “modern sense of place” through engaging essays, short stories, poetry, and photographs. In this issue, I dabbled in a collection of South African poetry, looked out of editor Jennifer Acker’s high-rise apartment onto Abu Dhabi, in “From the 17th Floor,” and drove to Vegas with Jennifer Haigh’s character, Sandy, and as “the Strip unrolled before them, a throbbing assault of shimmering, bubbling neon,” I saw it, too.

“We live in an increasingly digital world,” Acker, the journal’s founder, writes,  ”but place is not dead…Far from erasing the importance of our surroundings, our mobile modernity creates a hunger for place-based ruminations. Literature provides the vehicle for these travels.” Enjoy the ride.

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