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On the Stand: a weekly roundup of the best magazine reads: Dec. 24

The Oxford American

Winter 2012

The Oxford American has been published out of Oxford, Miss., then Little Rock, Ark. and now Conway, Ark. (pop. 60,000) for approximately 20 years, on (mostly) and off. Its focus is on the arts, culture, mores and quirks of the American south. A quarterly, its most popular issue, at least in Canada, is probably its annual music number in which a whole lotta great writers get to shake, rattle and roll on various southern acts, past and present, white and black, famous and obscure. The latest issue, just out, devotes most of its 196 pages to the music and musicians of Mississippi. As ever, it's a bounty of infectious enthusiasm and erudition, the only place in the world where you're going to find Canada's Sheila Heti waxing eloquent on Harold Dorman, Roseanne Cash setting the record straight on daddy Johnny's prison stints, and ex-Creem editor Billy Altman extolling the tunesmithery of Jim Jackson ( Old Dog Blue, Hesitation Blues). If there's a tour de force here, it's probably Peter Guralnick's energetic ode to the late Howlin' Wolf, 300-plus pounds of ferocity in size-17 shoes and, he writes, one in the "pantheon of performers who just tore down the house every time."

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Winter 2011-12

Historically, Montreal gets a lot of snow – an average of about 2.2 metres each winter – so it's not surprising that its removal is a big deal not only for its citizens but for the private companies responsible for clearing half the city's roads. It's also something of a dirty business, according to a report here by ex-Montrealer Selena Ross, marred by collusion, bid-rigging, intimidation, vandalism and occasional violence. Ross's report is the result of a year-long investigation in which she and fellow journalist Anthony Lecoissos analyzed 250 snow-removal contracts for Quebec municipalities and interviewed private contractors, their employees and civic bureaucrats. Understandably, names and full attributions are next to non-existent, but, despite all of the times it says "alleged" and "sources say," the research seems thorough, the writing solid and the findings disturbing. As Ross notes, Montreal is known for its turf wars, especially in the construction industry, "which have brought fire-bombings and shootings to some rather unexpected places: daycares, funeral homes, pet stores. Snow removal is no exception." Indeed, construction and landscaping companies often operate, as subsidiaries, the very snow-removal companies that are the subject of her report.


Winter 2011-12

Fittingly, for a publication devoted to the art of photography, Aperture is one of the most beautifully produced magazines in the world. Not that the content of its photographs is necessarily beautiful (often it's not), but the layouts invariably honour the images and their reproduction, on a 24 cm-by-29 cm trim size, is the equal of what you'd find in a superior catalogue or fine-art book – minus the fetishism often inherent in those kinds of publications. Of course, it's pricey, $14.95 an issue. But the ads are few and unobtrusive, and the contents, stimulating to eye and mind, are rich enough to reward repeat visits. Among the highlights in the latest issue is a 10-page showcase of colour photographs by Nick Waplington documenting the contentious occupation by Jewish settlers of what we call the West Bank and they call Judea and Samaria. Also winning are Vince Aletti's salute – it's a sort of review/tribute – to famed New York street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who was the subject of a documentary last year, and a soul-baring e-mail, sent to the legendary Mary Ellen Mark, from a woman she photographed a quarter-century earlier.

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