A Little Help For Our Friends

BY Joe Knowles

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When major newspapers are shrinking their book review sections, and fine magazines like Feed and Lingua Franca have disappeared from the firmament altogether, it’s heartening to welcome, amid the sad fortunes of what we bloodlessly call “economic downturn,” two new vigorous outlets for cultural writing and the arts.

Croonenbergh’s Fly, a journal scrappily published by In These Times contributor Philip Connors, offers a choice mix of fiction, poetry, photography and criticism. His first issue begins with a short story about romantic ennui and prehistoric cave paintings, and ends with a lively tour through the British gangster cinema. In between, we find, among other odds and ends, pictures of burros necking in New Mexico, a poem describing “chess pieces … carved out of bone” and a piece of sports writing taking well-deserved shots at that star pitcher for Team Globalization, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

A strange mix? The journal takes its name from Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It, in which one George Croonenberghs prepares a fly-fishing lure that “had about everything on it, from deer hair to fool-hen feathers.” The novella posits a “curiosity theory” of fly fishing, that “fish, like men, will sometimes strike at things just to find out what they are.” (Stickler grammarians might ask: Shouldn’t it then be Croonenberghs’ Fly? Phil tells me that he “changed the position of the apostrophe for aesthetic reasons, which trumped fidelity to the reference.”) Connors and his diverse gang of contributors, some of whom you already know from the bestseller lists or (more modestly) the In These Times culture section, may well have you hooked.

The Common Review, a new magazine published by the Great Books Foundation, is a very different enterprise, but an equally welcome addition to the conversation. Peter Temes, Great Books’ president, writes in his inaugural letter that “it is the imagination that manufactures the tools of daily commerce, and those tools are far more humane and valuable when the imaginations that craft them grapple with the politics of faraway nations and the meanings of things like art, love [and] justice.”

That democratic and humanist impulse admirably informs the eclectic tastes of editor Daniel Born, who procures literary, cultural and political views from a hotel in Phnom Penh, a jail in San Francisco, a conference in Ljubljana. My particular favorite from the first issue is a penetrating piece on hard-boiled Harlem chronicler Chester Himes, but the biggest eyebrow-raiser, for some readers, may come from cultural studies bigshot Michael Bérubé. In a surprisingly conciliatory and positive review of Tom Frank’s One Market Under God, Bérubé in effect tries to bury the hatchet on the left’s longstanding internecine feud over the excesses of pomo cultural studies—and it’s about time.

—Joe Knowles

Contact Croonenbergh’s Fly at 3410 33rd St. #4B, Astoria, NY 11106. Single issues cost $7; three-issue subscriptions are $18. The Common Review is published quarterly for $3 per issue or $9 per annual subscription; drop them a line at 35 E. Wacker Drive, Suite 2300, Chicago, IL 60601 or at tcr@greatbooks.org. (But please, nobody tell these publishers that a recession’s on.)

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Joe Knowles is a former culture editor for In These Times.

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