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Drag City And Featherproof Put 20 Years Of The Minus Times In One Volume? We Say Crank That Up

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 11, 2012 6:20PM

2012_09_minus_times.jpg The tantalizing list of named contributors on its cover (David Berman, Dan Clowes, Stephen Colbert, Patrick deWitt, Dave Eggers, Robert Frank, Barry Hannah, Sam Lipsyte, and more) guarantees one wants to dive right in. But tackling The Minus Times Collected, the complete anthology of “the most elusive literary magazine in America” put out by Drag City and Featherproof is exhilarating but not necessarily straightforward. With no table of contents or index to facilitate a smooth entry into its 434 pages, the most obvious avenues of approach are either to start at the beginning, with the last issue (the book is arranged in reverse, chronologically), or to flip through the pages at random and slip through whatever opening one finds.

We found it’s okay to go either route, but that the urge to skip around this collection of flash fiction, interviews, journal entries, art and news clipping assemblages proves to be irresistible. Certain things that caught our eye first,, but just whet our appetite. An interview with a not-yet-famous Stephen Colbert. Several alone-worth-the-price-of-admission stories by Lipsyte. Issue 28’s mixtape includes tracks from Britt Daniel, Tim Rutili, Colin Meloy and Jason Molina. Will Oldam’s proposed soundtrack to an imaginary film of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia (Oldham elsewhere gives a great list of suggestions of movies to watch). All manner of great stuff from Brad Neely. The persistent genius of Berman’s epigrammatically matter-of-fact but off-kilter wit: “Play all side 3s off your double albums to create a side 3 vibe in your house.”

Editor Hunter Kennedy began The Minus Times in 1992, when “the Internet was science fiction” and even before “zine” was common parlance, as a single sheet composed on an ancient typewriter, photocopied at Kinko’s and sent hopefully out into the world. Inspired in part by Berman’s similar “Civil Jar,” the carefully assembled little missive wearing its studied crudity on its sleeve like a badge of an outsider status. Kennedy had the voice to make it work, and began soliciting others to complement and foster that voice in 1997 when Drag City offered to distribute a full-fledged magazine as a guinea pig for their nascent small press.

The fit with Drag City was hand-in-glove: “The Minus Times” found its way into record stores and hiper independent booksellers, musicians within the Drag City orbit often found a spot in its pages, which were still painstakingly typed out by hand on Kennedy’s 1940’s Royal standard typewriter and assembled with a DIY spirit intact. Those early issues are impossible to find. The new issues are comparatively sprawling with great material. Getting all of this in one go is just a no-brainer.

For all of the readable gems contained within (and there are many), The Minus Times Collected is something you excavate as much as read. As a chronicle of Kennedy’s staking out of a unique literary space, his boldness in sending it out in search of fellow travelers, his persistence, and ultimate success in cultivating a community of like-minded outsiders (many of whom have gone onto great individual success themselves), this collection deserves celebration and a place on the shelf of anyone who appreciates the truly independent voices of contemporary American literature.

The Minus Times Collected: Twenty Years/Thirty Issues (1992-2012) was officially released on Monday, and after our recommendation last week you shouldn’t hesitate to get a copy for yourself and plan to head to The Whistler on September 27th for a release party featuring readings from many of the collection’s authors.