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Sep 2003 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

A Voice Among the Stacks
By Kent Shaw

When I was stationed in Orlando, Florida, I used to visit the Hallmark store on Friday nights. They had come out with this new line of greeting cards — cards that were meant to forgive a very specific mistake. And I guess to make sure that people could find the cards, or people would suddenly be reminded that they needed a card for one of these very unique occasions, they put little headlines above each of the stacks. If you were into having fun (and who isn't into fun at 18?), you could play Mad-Lib, melodrama edition. "Your cousin got hit by a truck." "No matter the odds, we can work it out." "Oh my, those cleavers are new."

I'm not exactly sure what reminded me of this story. Except as I was reviewing different newsstands this past month, I couldn't help but string together the August headlines. I might not be 18, but I'm still into fun. "Who's the one with the boob job?" "Blackout of 2003." "Ahnuld for Governor." That particular Mad-Lib appeared at Straub's — a squat but efficient magazine stand with all the best sellers. They've got People, Newsweek, Good Housekeeping, Oprah. Basically, they have every magazine I would never even consider buying. But I believe it's important they're there for somebody. Maybe someone wants to pick up the latest US News and World Report with their ground beef. Makes sense to me. And it makes me happy for Straub's. I have in mind their true tag line, "Giving people just enough so they're satisfied."

It's kind of like Left Bank Books. Now I have to state up front that I have very specific needs from a magazine stand. Really, I'm not interested in the latest fashions. I visited Hallmark stores when I was 18, for God's sake. I need to see literary magazines, featured, in front of everything else — then my true respect will shine through. Some of you might recognize these magazines as the ones that look like paperback books. You might recognize them because they're always there — the same ones month after month. They don't really sell, and sometimes I wonder what would happen if they did start to sell. I'll not use this space to get lost in the economics of literary utopia. Suffice it to say, Left Bank is fighting the good fight with a literary magazine selection that continues to expand. Very good news for me. Perhaps very bad news for readers who aren't all that interested in the latest poem by Martha Collins or Jorie Graham. To those readers I have one thing to say: Shame on you. Quit reading all those stories about boob jobs, get your ass over to Left Bank Books and support the literary economy.

Left Bank even has other magazines that merit mentioning: The Nation, Good Housekeeping (hey, wait a second). They even have a fairly nice selection of free magazines/newspapers. One of my personal favorites is the West End Word. I don't care if you're from South St. Louis and you would never want to afford a condominium advertised on every other realtor's listing. The West End Word has some of the best local reporting in town. My impression is that the staff actually reads press releases that come to them and then decide to report on the ones that are interesting to intelligent people. If you want to know when the next sado-masochist Star Trek convention is, read the RFT. If you want to know how the city of St. Louis is using the web to geographically chart crime, read the West End Word.

So where is the best magazine stand in town? Without a doubt, World News, at the corner of Forsyth and Meramec. Not only do they have a phenomenal literary magazine selection (whoever recommended they carry VOLT was a genius), they also have newspapers from lots of different cities. Sure, not that I'm all that interested in reading the Dallas Morning Sun, but just seeing it available for purchase makes me feel like I'm, um, someplace else. And maybe that's the whole point of going to these stores. All those glossy pictures of beautiful people. I think every woman is winking at me, or at least giving me a good shot of cleavage. I'm really a pretty simple guy. I don't need a whole lot. I'll take two Kate Moss's and that pretty red head whose name I'll learn later, after I get it home. Ah, talk about utopia.

Seriously, though. World News is where you'll most likely find everything you ever dreamed of. The Economist? They've got it. Harper's? They've got it. Science Fiction Digest? They even have that one. (I wonder if it's similar to Soap Opera Digest? Guess what. You can find out because they've got that one too.) It can be everything to everyone without even breaking a sweat. And, on a random note, if you've got a sweat coming on you can go over to the other side of the store and get a soda. Now that's full service!

The worst magazine stand? Borders. If I have to see another commemorative edition of the St. Louis Cardinals' Jukebox Picks put at the end of the rack, I think I'm going to puke. OK. So I'm exaggerating; there is not, to my knowledge, such a magazine. But the Borders in Brentwood stinks with useless magazines. And they seem to be proud of the fact. Whoever knew that there was a magazine published to commemorate The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? Well, if you go to the Borders on Brentwood, you'd know. These are the magazines that are featured. Who cares if the electric power grid is outdated? I want the 15-minute version of a two-and-a-half-hour movie of an 800-page book! Come on. Let's get our priorities straight here.

Oh, and in case you were wondering. This particular Borders used to have one of the best literary magazines selections in town. Then they quit carrying them. And even after multiple complaints about this fact, they evidently insist that they won't carry them. I guess I'm the only one opting for more highbrow excitement than they are currently offering.

And finally for the poorest among us, there's the best free magazine stand. Not that I've been influenced by my sponsors, but hands down The Commonspace has everything good about the free magazine stand. Randomness. Zaniness. Cheesy, overproduced, glossy color photos of people posing in a group shot. There could be nothing better. But what, might you ask, differentiates The Commonspace magazine rack from something you might find at the Red Roof Inn on Hampton? Well, for one thing there's not one mention of Meramec Caverns or Silver Dollar City. For another thing, they have the Vital Voice. And for another thing, Brian and Amanda ain't no stinking sell-outs. If you're giving away your magazine, 'zine, or newspaper, take it to The Commonspace. I need some more stuff to read.

Kent Shaw, poet, haunts the aisles of magazine stands, bookstores and libraries in St. Louis.

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