Tagged: wendy miller

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What all is stuffed into the mailbox this week? Let’s see . . . mm-hm . . . mm-hm . . . Portland . . . looks like a food issue . . . damn you Doyle!

The winter issue of Portland flaunts editor Brian Doyle’s unparalleled ability to convince world-class writers to contribute to his magazine. This time, damn him, he has pieces from Michael Pollan, Pico Iyer, and Edward Hoagland. Pollan to Iyer to Hoagland—man, there’s an infield. To be accurate, Pollan’s long contribution, “The End of Cooking,” is an excerpted reprint of something he published in The New York Times Magazine, and Hoadland’s “The Top of the Continent” is drawn from the essayist’s new volume, Alaska Travels. But still.

By the way, there’s a lot more to a meaty issue. I especially liked the photo essay by Steve Hambuchen of Pacific Northwest farmers, bakers, vintners, and brewers.

IC View from Ithaca College sports a redesign, as well as my favorite subhead of the week: “Alumni See Trash With Fresh Eyes.” Robin Roger edits the magazine. (Below, new cover is on the left. Relative dimensions are not accurate. The new design has the same trim size.)

The 2013 record for most people smiling and facing the camera on the cover is currently held by The Baylor Line (editor Todd Copeland:

California (editor Wendy Miller) produced my favorite lead sentence of the year, so far, in David Tuller’s “Putin v. Pussy Riot“: “In a cozy, two-room apartment in a leafy Moscow neighborhood, I gathered with half a dozen local gay and lesbian activists on a mid-August evening to drink tea, munch on zakuski (snacks), and discuss the regime of creepy Russian president and former KGB thug Vladimir Putin.” Love the opening spread, too:

Good words alerts:

— Binghamton University Magazine (Diana Bean edits) has a recurring feature called “The Other Side,” and in the Fall 2012 issue devotes it to a four-question Q&A with associate professor Steven Tammariello, who at age 43 still plays football for the semi-pro Cortland Bulldogs. (I know what you’re thinking . . . another story about a PhD biologist who plays semi-pro football?) My favorite line: “I used to be the only player with a PhD, but one of our defensive linemen earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Cornell, so I have some company.”

— My second-favorite lead sentence so far in 2013 comes from Immaculata Magazine: “When Bob Kelly’s radio station asked if he knew a football expert who could be on their morning show The Breakfast Club, he immediately said, ‘I know just the nun!'”

— Extraordinary, moving essay by Mel Livatino, “Dogged by the Dark,” in the latest Notre Dame Magazine, Kerry Temple, editor.

Finally, since I began this post with my nose out of joint—damn you, Brian Doyle!—I will end with this great spread, from the Fall 2012 Medicine at Michigan. The photo illustration is by Clint Blowers; editor of the magazine is Richard F. Krupinski.

A matter of taste

California, the consistently fine magazine from Cal Berkeley edited by Wendy Miller, devotes its Winter 2011 edition to taste. Taste in wine, taste in architecture, taste in decor, taste as predicted by those algorithms that lead Amazon.com to insist that I really, really want to read Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century because at some point in my past I expressed interest in William H. Gass’ Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts. Yeah, I don’t see the connection either, but I’m not an algorithm.

I never read California without finding something that widens my sense of life’s preposterous complexity. The first of the taste stories, “Tip of the Tongue,” is wine writer W. Blake Gray’s compact discussion of how the vocabulary of your native language does not just determine the words you have to describe the flavor of a wine. It changes how you taste it, how you respond to and evaluate whatever’s swishing in your mouth. Your palate doesn’t record sensations that your vocabulary subsequently labels. Your vocabulary determines, or at least influences, your response to the sensations noted by your palate. American wine vocabulary, for example, tends to emphasize flavor by association; a wine has a perfume of black cherries  and subtle oak, with hints of chocolate in the finish. French vocabulary tends to emphasize region; a wine will be highly regarded not because of its big fruit or piquant hint of apricot but because it exhibits all the best qualities of a Rhone or Bordeaux. Chinese vocabulary contains words not found in English to describe sensations in the mouth, and Chinese wine drinkers evaluate a sip of the grape, in part, by how it feels rolling around on the tongue. I know. Who knew.

Reconciling Tastes,” by Adair Lara, is really lovely. It’s a single-page essay about an uncommon living arrangement, but it’s really about being human. Central to the story is Jim, the author’s first husband, 25 years her senior and . . . I’ll let Lara tell it:

He and I met in 1970, when he was an English teacher at College of Marin, in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais. A couple of years later we were dating. One night at the Savoy-Tivoli in North Beach,  he must have grown impatient with my failure to see the obvious. “Have you noticed that the restaurant here is straight and the bar is gay?” I hadn’t. “Well, I’m more like the bar than the restaurant.”

There’s not a bad sentence in the essay, which ends on this grace note:

He kept every friend he’d ever had. Just as he looked at tired carpeting and still saw the gleaming expanse of wool he had installed when Nixon was president, so when he looked at you, he saw the best in you. His worst qualities—refusal to countenance change—were also his best. His love was unwavering, ungrudging. You can depend on it.

And those recommendation algorithms? Those are covered by Tara Duggan in “Taste by Numbers.” Did you know that if you love leather, you also tend to like “movies with a dramatic finish that also have a romantic story”? You do now.

Eight Questions for Wendy Miller

Wendy Miller, editor of the excellent California out of Cal Berkeley, responds to the UMagazinology questionnaire.

How long have you been in your job?

Three years and six weeks.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

Managing my time effectively. After 25 years of riding the adrenaline rush of daily newspaper journalism, I suddenly found myself with bi-monthly magazine deadlines, which then became quarterly deadlines. It was both a gift and a burden, like being a 5-year-old who gets her allowance in a monthly chunk and is expected to spend it judiciously. There was so much time, until there wasn’t. Now I grasp that I need to work far in advance on more than just the conceptual frame of each issue. Which, more or less, puts me back where I started: being agitated all the time.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Working with a small team of exceedingly gifted colleagues.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

California magazine is in an alternate universe. We serve UC Berkeley but we operate under the auspices of the non-profit Cal Alumni Association. CAA is the only independent alumni organization in the University of California system, thus the magazine is the only editorially independent alumni magazine in the system. The benefits to us are enormous: We have a generous and supportive benefactor and a mandate to produce a general interest magazine that covers issues in a broad context, challenges certain institutional assumptions, and asks questions we believe an enlightened readership expects us to ask about the nation’s premiere public university. The downside is that because we are not a pure fundraising or marketing vehicle for UC Berkeley, we don’t get the recognition from the university administration that we have earned. It is particularly frustrating to us because we think there is no better fundraising and marketing tool than a high-quality, general interest magazine.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

“Sather Gate,” the segment dedicated to the university and to the alumni association, is not as well integrated into the rest of the magazine as I would like. We have made it much better over the last two years, but we still need to make improvements in creating a seamless transition from the feature well.

What story are you proudest to have published?

That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child. I like different stories for different reasons. But since we are putting out a quarterly magazine, I guess the ones that I am proudest of are those that are richly layered and feel relevant and timely. Joe Brown accomplished that in the piece “Econo-Art” in our Winter issue. The imploding economy forced the Berkeley Art Museum to abandon a much-ballyhooed blueprint for a destination building and replace it with a more affordable plan. A simple “Tale of two Museums” would have been a perfectly good feature all on its own, but Joe placed that event in the broader context of cities all over the country who responded to the go-go economy with plans for, as he put it, “stately pleasure domes and cutting-edge structural showcases.” Good stuff.

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

Adam Gopnik (whose sister, Alison Gopnik, is a professor here, so I can still dream).

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

As a developmental psychologist working in a baby lab. Maybe after he does the piece for us, Adam could put in a good word for me with Alison.

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I noted two distinctive items in the Spring 2010 edition (I seem not to have the current issue on hand) of Aurora, the magazine of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (managing editor is Kim Davis). One, UAF bills itself as “America’s Arctic University.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s indescribably cool and I now want to go there. Two, this headline, which not too many of our magazines ever have the opportunity to run: “Reindeer Industry Gears Up.” The current issue (left), accessed online, includes these lines from Ned Rozell’s cover story “Rebirth in the Aleutians”:

It’s August 2009, and you’re going to spend the whole day on the island with scientists. This has been a day you’ve thought about for the past year, ever since Kasatochi blew up in August 2008, surprising the two biologists who were living on the otherwise uninhabited island.

I bet they were surprised. (One more thing. UAF fields sports teams in skiing and riflery, and UAF teams are known as the Nanooks. I love this place.)

On Wisconsin, to my knowledge the only university magazine named after a fight song (best lyric: “Stand up, Badgers! Sing!”), has a notable feature from senior editor John Allen, “How to Stage a Lynching.” It’s a profile of theater professor and playwright Patrick Sims, who wrote, staged, and acted a one-man play about civil rights leader James Cameron, who was nearly lynched in Marion, Indiana in 1930. (You may not know the incident but you’ve seen one of the repulsive photographs taken that night, which inspired Abel Meeropol to write the song “Strange Fruit.”) Allen moves gracefully from Sims on stage to the lynching to James Cameron’s story, then to how Sims came to meet Cameron and write his play, Ten Perfect.  Thoroughly reported and deftly written, a fine story. (On Wisconsin co-editors are Niki Denison and Cindy Foss.)

Finally, I’ll have more to say in the future about CASE gold-medalist California, the ambitious magazine of UC Berkeley. But for now, let me just mention what editor Wendy Miller and design director Michiko Toki do each issue with the table of contents. Graphically, the TOC is different every time, and each issue it reflects the cover story. In some cases, I think, concept pushes aside clarity and legibility, but it’s the most creative thing I’ve ever seen attempted with the TOC page. (Click the image to enlarge.)