To qualify for a Summer 2001 Best for the Beach award, 'zines needed to meet but a few criteria: easy on the eyes, currency in some pop-cult or off-duty field, nothing too deep or PC, plenty of fodder for low-level, short-sentence conversations, and a high "pass-around" factor. Old friends, Mother Jones, in their 25th anniversary issue, and the "Debut Fiction" issue of The New Yorker looked promising but, alas--too many words. Most of these magazines here were to be consumed in a horizontal mode, quite often serving the dual function as a literary umbrella. Concentrated squinting causes the chain reaction of sunscreen leaking into a reader's eyes, leading to blinding pain and panic, and that's not a fun vacation feeling, is it? New York City's Big, a recent dual design winner at the New York Gold Magazine Award ceremonies, is a drowsy, browsy dream to float through. The colors are brilliant, and the layouts and content are eclectic. Big 34 celebrates "This England." You aren't there, but flip a few pages and you'll be looking for fish and chips at lunchtime.
There's also a new kid in town on the freebie racks. Triangle Free Press is seeking to carry on the mighty tradition of political 'zines in our media glutted sprawl. Issue One just hit the pavement. With a "seccion en Espanol" and short pieces on anti-biotech actions in Greensboro and a freedom school opening this summer, TFP is following the '60s Protean Radish and the Anvil of the '70s, bringing us stories that won't make the evening news sound-byte track. Author/grocer Michael Steinberg and staff have created a bonus back page resource guide to tape to your fridge when you return, recharged, from the beach.
A full-page photo of the Mr. Lady crew eating breakfast, reading the Sunday paper, is a major highlight of the latest Bitch. The founders of the Durham queer, feminist, indie upstart record label look real at home; the honest interview on topics from punk to politics to domestic bliss confirms their confidence. Bitch 14, the music issue, is full of great pieces on country, black female metal music, and record reviews. Face up, on a beach towel, just above the high tide line, Bitch won't be joining the usual crowd of C-store glossies.
That said, the next Best for the Beach Award goes to Rosie. Yup. Rosie, and her big sister, Oprah, are changing magazine publishing. They are in charge. What they write about, who they feature, what ads they run, even the recipe columns, have an amazing impact across America. And their namesakes know it. Rosie especially takes chances, putting a photojournalism story about Romania and Afghanistan next to a piece about a brave fireman, or a clever Molly Ivins essay across from an ad for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.
Maybe your day-to-day doesn't feature JockeySlut. That's why you need it on vacation. Spend some time with the magazine pitched as "disco pogo for punks in pumps." This 4-year-old British mag is about sound and style, loud and directly on the beat, from deviant disco to tech-house to whatever's 'round the corner, down the stairs. Now you won't pick up this music on your beach transistor, so let's just hope someone brought some soundtracks, too.