People send us their newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, we review them.

Mother Earth News, December 2008 / January 2009

For a grizzled urbanite like me, there is something strangely appealing about Mother Earth News: The Original Guide to Living Wisely, whose editorial offices are in Topeka, Kansas. The cover lines beckon with the promise of a healthful, rustic existence: “Back to the Land,” “Easy Crusty Bread in 5 Minutes a Day!” “How To Grow Potatoes,” and “Anyone Can Raise Chickens.” And, unlike slick lifestyle books like Real Simple or Ready Made, there’s nothing intimidating about the magazine. It won’t judge you even if you have never grown a garden, let alone a “Bigger, Better” one. In the movie Funny Face, Kay Thompson, playing Maggie Prescott, editor-in-chief of Quality magazine, says that a magazine is like a person who comes into your home every month. Well, if Mother Earth News were a person, it would be your lovable, plaid-wearing family friend Sally from Indiana who just loves Prairie Home Companion.

But your nice friend Sally also has an interesting political streak: In the “News From Mother,” which is like an anonymous editor’s note (but signed “Mother”), the author writes that the world faces three challenges in route to sustainable living. Number two? Population control.

We must choose to stabilize human population, or we’ll make more of a mess of our habitat and then nature will exert the control we abdicated…. To slow our rapid population growth won’t require Draconian measures. Consider what would happen if the international moral consensus were that each human being should reproduce himself or herself once — two children per couple? That’s all it would take for populations to begin slowly shrinking. It’s a simplistic solution, but the ultimate solutions are often the simplest. We’ll have to negotiate some difficult routes through political conflicts to reach the top of this mountain.

Not a commonly discussed aspect of environmentalism, that’s for sure.

The rest of the magazine offers some advice that even city dwellers can use—like how to stop unwanted junk mail (hint: use a Web site called Catalog Choice. or how to cook with a forgotten grain, millet—and some stuff that’s interesting, but too far into the whole country living thing for me—a feature on farming in the wilderness. But even if the content about “rotational grass farming” is too much, there are cute pictures of llamas and cows to sustain interest.

I was tempted by the teaser line about raising chickens, but got turned off by the line about “pasty butt,” a condition that can develop if chick droppings cling to their booties and clog the anus. Yuck. (Also, I had always thought ‘pasty butt’ was an insult used against very pale people.)

As a whole, Mother Earth News has a lot to offer. Recipes based on small-batch farming are accessible for city slickers with backyards and country folks alike, such as the adorable burr gherkin. And the lifestyle stories steer readers toward a less frenetic, more reflective lifestyle by spending time outdoors or baking your own bread.

The articles aren’t preachy or judgmental; the tone is positive, but not unrealistic. It won’t be easy, but you can do it, the magazine says. And the photography is good, without being too alienating and slick. For families that find lifestyle magazines too consumerist in flavor, Mother Earth News would be a welcome bi-monthly visitor. - Katia Bachko

The Bark, January/February 2009

Though The Bark bills itself as “the dog culture magazine,” you won’t find any glossy features on the latest in collar trends or the most chic cuts for your Shih Tzu; instead, the “culture” being referenced here is that of the human-canine relationship.

Take, for example, the column “Both Ends of the Leash,” by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD. In the current issue, McConnell examines the phenomenon of dog owners who are unable to verbally communicate with their pets. Anyone who has ever faced the infuriating predicament of house-training Fido knows that the words “Outside! Outside!!” carry no meaning for a new pup. But McConnell lauds the benefits of the non-verbal bond between man and dog, saying the relationship is “a connection beyond speech, born of primal emotions and a deep-seated understanding shared by two mammals living together in a cacophony of sights and sounds and smells.” In the article, she urges her fellow homo sapiens to write down all the things they wish to say to their dogs in a letter, and to be more conscious of those feelings when interacting with man’s best friend.

Then there is “Fair Share,” by Amelia Glynn, which dissects the role of dogs in the breakup of human relationships, and attempts to navigate the uncharted territory of shared-pet-custody among exes.

The Editors