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Summer slumber party issues 

The Ides of August mean one thing in North Carolina. Lethargy. Torpor in the Piedmont.
Hard sometimes, to finish a thought. Hard sometimes, to finish a sentence.
Hard sometimes, to remember what you just read. Real hard, sometimes to turn a page.

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Finding reading matter to keep your attention is a sometimes a challenge in our soupy humidity. That's where a few good magazines kick in. Just when you think your mind's gone totally Jello, you hit a good article. Here are some mags that'll keep you awake this month.

Paste is always a fun, entertaining treat, kind of a literary Rolling Stone. Raleigh's Kaye Gibbons is the major highlight of the August issue. The mag sent Kaye to the four-day Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., (in style, too, in an alt-musically enhanced Winnebago) to record her Mom's-eye-view of the party. Not unlike RS's against-type unleashing of Hunter Thompson on middle America, Paste gives Gibbons some great latitude, and she files some wonderful asides, which become story lines. She's a clean freak who dives into an 80,000-strong makeshift Tennessee commune of music lovers.

Her kids won't be home at the end of summer and she's going to miss them a lot. "I'm going to be miserable without them, but this could be the solution--going and doing and writing about it," she posts from her laptop.

With sidebar reviews about the on-stage action (Beck, Radiohead, Tom Petty) written by other contributors, Paste lets Gibbons run wide, with snapshots of the sprawling gathering and its different villages. She gets around. To most of the stages, up early, up late. Lots of random behind the scenes stuff, with local and national name checks (Ben Folds, Cat's Cradle, Ricky Skaggs, Elvis Costello.)

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She jokes about her ill temper and the "whining index" on the RV. A perfect summer story. Eclectic Paste (subtitled Signs of Life in Music, Film, & Culture) is always generous, too, with the freebies. This issue we get their free 21-track music sampler CD and a DVD sampler with short films and videos. Phew.

While we all await Oxford American's "summer" music issue (they invented the oft-copied genre,) we're having no problem finding substitutes. Keeping up with the Limewire and Frostwire movement, magazines toss in CDs with issues like they were candy. It's audio swag heaven, "buyer" beware. The Believer's annual music issue, however, is delicious. Don DeLillo and Greil Marcus discuss (read, gush over) Bob Dylan. The usual Believer band shows up: Rick Moody, Daniel Handler, Sarah Vowell. It's a loft party! The frequent footnotes are funny and cute, the graphics are always sincere, up to brother-pub McSweeney's standards. Not unexpected, this year's music is chosen with a passion--and unique liner notes.

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American Short Fiction is back, stronger than ever. Founded in 1991, twice finalist for the National Magazine Award, ASF reintroduced itself in May in Austin with a new board of directors and a new publisher (the nonprofit Badgerdog Literary Publishing). The quarterly has the same quality writing and reading it did before. Previous works included Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Baxter, Louise Erdich and Naguib Mafouz. The relaunch offers Joy Williams, Desmond Hogan, Susan Steinberg and Mark Binelli. UNC English professor Pam Durban is on the editorial advisory board.

Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at

More by John Valentine


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