Forget ‘big’ books; read zines


You don’t know where to turn. You’ve been down the library stacks multiple times, and can’t find anything that appeals to you. Everything seems to sing the same tune: vampires, dystopias, wizards, or kinky sex.

While some (or maybe all) of those things may appeal to you, do you really want or have time to read another 500-page novel about teens struggling to survive in a broken world? No, I don’t think so, and neither do I.

Most of these repetitive books come from big publishing houses like HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. If you want something fresh, it’s a good idea to avoid those sorts of publishers for a while. That’s right: it’s time to jump out of the mainstream and try the fringe world of zines.

Zines are handmade mini-magazines on all topics that anyone, anywhere can make, using minimal supplies. They’re often sold and traded at fairs such as Canzine and the Alternative Press Expo.

As they don’t rely on publishers picking them up, I can predict the kneejerk response: “Great, you’re suggesting I read unpublishable garbage.” No, not at all. Zines come in all colours of the written rainbow. While you may falsely assume that most indie work has weak prose, remember that even big publishing companies are known to crank out crap (I’m looking at you, Simon & Schuster imprint. You and your Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend nonsense.)

It’s hard to stray from the safe haven of published books on library and bookstore shelves, but here are some reasons why you should try zines.

They’re usually short and easy to read

As a student, there’s no time to delve into any major texts but course readings. Those Cassandra Clare books are only getting thicker, after all. Zines, however, can usually be finished in one sitting. Writers often incorporate many pictures into their zines, and because they work on a budget similar to yours, most zines are only about 15 pages long. Short stories, poetry, and comics are prevalent, and can be read during your next bus ride or study break.

They’re made with passion

Most people who make zines expect little to no money in return; they do it for fun or to make a statement. Meanwhile, writers struggling to get published or even self-publish constantly worry about making money and producing content that appeals to the masses.

Without this stress, zines are less formulaic and more interesting. Zine creators have the freedom to write about whatever they please, which sometimes, in the case of Pepe the Frog, sparks worldwide discussion and controversy. This brings us to one of their biggest draws.

They’re diverse

After the Fifty Shades of Grey series’ success, writer Scott Haworth admits in his book Writing Journal: A Year in the Life of a Self-Published Author “. . . thousands of pissed off writers like me . . . decided to try their hand at [erotica] because it look[ed] like a quick way to make a buck.” Similarly, The Hunger Games triggered an influx of dystopian novels.

Zines have no reason to follow trends. Anyone with access to paper, pens, and preferably a photocopier can write about what they’re interested in. People create zines in many languages on knitting, biking, bad movies, and women who can predict their futures by looking at menstrual blood and ceiling mold. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a zine out there for you.

They’re more unique than mass-produced books

The format and style of every zine is as unique as the content. Zines can be as small as your pinky, bound in silk or rubber bands, and even come with mixtapes or sticker sheets. A mass-produced publication has a set number of materials to choose from and must have a standardized look.

Aside from all the extra goodies you get with zines, authors often only make limited copies of their work. If you get your hands on one, it’ll instantly become one of the rarest pieces of literature you own.

On average, Canadian provinces have about one well-known hardcopy zine collection. Thankfully for you, there are two in the Vancouver area. Go find them!