Centuries before the modern magazine, almanacs ruled print media. Oriented to the calendar year, full of tables, charts, and registers of feast days and saints' days, the first printed almanacs appeared in 1457. And get this, you PDA junkies: the Danes and Normans kept "clog" almanacs before that--blocks of wood with notches marking the days. During the almanac's heyday in the United States, between 1700 and 1900, over 2,000 different editions were published before their decline over the last half of the 20th century.
Guess what. They're back.
Last year Dave Cook launched The Piedmont Almanac, a guide to the local natural world, and last week Finnegan Bell and Albertine Ivory were feted with a party at the Skylight Exchange to debut their traveler's almanac, In Search of the World.
Bell and Ivory grin when asked about their choice of the word "almanac" to describe their publishing project. "Hopefully it clues the world into the fact that they, the reader, are going to be getting into a hodgepodge of material," Bell said.
Finnegan adds, "We like the idea that an almanac is something that is consulted."
In Search of the World is truly a romp. A serious slate of contributors (Thoreau, Debord, Hakim Bey, Rumi, and Rimbaud to namedrop a few) combine for a surprisingly enchanting and festive volume, invoking what Bell calls the "quixotic and naive tone of a manifesto." Bell and Ivory don't want the heaviness. They simply want to encourage the reader "out the front door."
And it works. With health tips, spiffy collages and graphics, minimal font-jumping and great sidebars, their traveler's almanac is a back pocket treasure, a trusty on-the-road companion.
Dave Cook is happy just where he is, though his almanac offers ample proof that he's out the door most of the time, too. Cook has been keeping a nature journal of his Piedmont walks and observations for over 30 years. Living in a tent near Bolin Creek as an undergraduate at Carolina, Cook took off into the woods, fields, and down the local rivers every chance he had. Lucky for us, he wrote it all down.
The Piedmont Almanac celebrates our local outdoors. Every month, every season gets special treatment and up-close notice. For this week's entry Cook writes, "The chill whispers 'hush' to the last cricket and snaps autumn off like a dry twig." He tells the reader to watch for falling tulip poplar seeds, blooming witch hazel, and to listen for the calls of the Great Horned Owl in late afternoon. Beavers and deer are big on his mind this week, too.
Pages and pages of charts close Cook's almanac, devoted to meteor shower schedules, maximum and minimum temperature tables for Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and Greensboro, moon phases, sunsets, wind scales, eclipses, "night noises," and my personal favorite, "fish watching." In so doing, The Piedmont Almanac puts you right there. It's not a bad place to be.
In zine land, there are always opportunities to travel. Here's one more: in two weeks, zinesters from New Orleans are coming our way on their "Y'ERDME?" Fall 2002 Zine Tour. Half a dozen zine publishers, writers, cartoonists, scrappers and scavengers promise to "spill our guts for you" at the Skylight Exchange, Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. DIY thrills are very much alive and well in their little mags: check out such copy center gems as I Hate This Part of Texas, Emergency and Non-Plastique.
What's not to love about a zine movement whose tag is "Winter in the Dirty South"?
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