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Last spring a most creative friend, much more highly evolved than I, implored me to check out her favorite new magazine, ReadyMade. Two other friends were often found giggling hysterically at the newsprint zine they'd discovered, The Onion.

It's good to have friends who read magazines with such enthusiasm! And it's great to have Utne, a magazine that annually publishes awards that mirror the vibrant, eclectic pulse of independent publishing. Scouring 1,600 magazines, newspapers, e-zines and copy center masterpieces, Utne's end-of-year recap is required reading for print junkies.

The 2003 Utne Independent Press Awards were released last week, their 15th "annual roster of the best, liveliest, wisest, most significant periodicals" of the past year. Of the 16 categories, ReadyMade won both the Design and Personal Life Coverage blue ribbons, while The Onion took home the gold for Cultural/Social Coverage.

ReadyMade is, according to Utne, "the do-it-yourself bible for the young and moneyless who never the less want to live in style." The latest issue shows you how to prep a hole in your wall with duct tape, how to turn an old school globe into a retro lamp shade, and best of all, how to create a funky art-deco coat rack from an old Christmas tree and stand. There's even a two-page essay on "The 5-Second Rule Reconsidered," convening an expert panel to discuss the ethics of fumbled food, and eating off the floor.

The Onion is no longer a comedy cult secret. Among its fans: Matt Groening, a rock critic before he invented Homer and Bart. This year, as editor of the Da Capo Best Music Writing book, Groening cited an Onion story, header blaring "37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster." Local High Fidelity fanatics especially enjoyed the fake-news piece, as many of the clerks were reported to be School Kids Records employees.

As usual, magazines with local ties figured well in the Utne nominations, with The Sun, Mental Floss, and No Depression picking up mentions. In this season of celebration for non-print media, the category of "Best New Title" for alternative print periodicals is a favorite. Check out these strong contenders, including: The Believer, Wax Poetics, Modern Dog and Land Grant College Review. The winner this year was Kitchen Sink, published by the Neighbor Lady Community Arts Project, a non-profit San Francisco group. Their quarterly features "essays on arts and culture for people who think too much."

The flip side of the fun of new mags is Utne's annual "And Late Lamented" list, bidding a fond farewell to New Art Examiner, Salt Journal, Northern Lights and Animal's Agenda. Last February Bruce Springsteen raised $1 million for DoubleTake magazine at an intimate Massachusetts benefit concert; the funds lasted nine months. The magazine, founded eight years ago at Durham's Center for Documentary Studies declared itself on "publishing hiatus" in October. The never-say-die editors promise a re-launch as a bi-monthly next year.

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Contributing Writer John Valentine can be reached at

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