I just learned about County Highway. It’s a “magazine about America in the form of a 19th century newspaper. According to the site’s website:
County Highway is a 20-page broadsheet produced by actual human beings, containing the best new writing you will encounter about America. It features reports on the political and spiritual crises that are gripping our country and their deeper cultural and historical sources; regular columns about agriculture, civil liberties, animals, herbal medicine, and living off the grid, mentally and physically; essays about literature and art, and an entire section devoted to music.
Our newspaper comes out six times a year and will be delivered to your home in a transparent envelope. Once the paper is removed, you can hold it in your hands, fold it into quarters, and read it on your porch on a sunny afternoon accompanied by your favorite cup of coffee, cigarette, or can of beer.
What you can’t do is find our stories on the Internet. You can only get them by subscription, or by purchasing individual copies from our network of bookstores and record shops at the price of $8.50 per issue.
Here’s more from the editors:
County Highway was born during the Covid lockdowns, when many of our friends and acquaintances became disillusioned by large cities. Some of us found new places that we loved. Some of us have always preferred the countryside or wild places. Some of us stayed in cities but began seeing how the ways of living and thinking that they cultivate might be a threat to the basic human pursuit of happiness and pleasure, and our ability to create without crippling self-censorship.
Some of us fear the specter of an incipient totalitarianism emerging from our laptops and iPhones. Some of us are simply allergic to conformity and brand-names. What we share in common is a revulsion at the smugness, sterility, and shitty aesthetics of the culture being forced upon us by monopoly tech platforms and corporate media, and a desire to make something better. We encourage you to think of our publication as a kind of hand-made alternative to the undifferentiated blob of electronic “content” that you scroll through every morning, most of which is produced by robots.
The name County Highway is inspired by what we believe is the perfect-sized place for the enhancement of life and art. A county is a chunk of earth big enough to allow for a variety of human types, but small enough to get to know a decent number of your neighbors, where they come from, what they’re proud of, what they fear, what they smoke, what they drink, and what they love. Counties are the right-sized places for telling stories. Mark Twain had Calaveras County, which is a real place in California. William Faulkner had Yoknapatawpha County, a made-up place in Mississippi. Edmund Wilson had Hecate County, a seductive place in Connecticut. Philip Roth had Essex County, New Jersey.
The county where our newspaper is located is somewhere between all those places, real and imaginary. It’s the scale of the place that’s important to us, and also the idea of traveling from one to another with an eye towards finding new answers to the founding American questions of who we are, and why we are here.
Inside our newspaper, you will find reports by people who picked themselves up and went somewhere else, in the hopes of discovering something new about America and meeting people who are not cookie-cutter copies of themselves, with the same approved viewpoints, living under different names. You will find regular columns about agriculture, animals, herbal medicine, and living uncommon lives. We even have columns like “Bouquets and Brick-bats” and “America by the Numbers” for people who shiver at the thought of being cut off from their daily dopamine drip of political party propaganda and bold-faced names. Some of our articles are funny, and others are written by people who are seriously pissed-off or who believe that the world is coming to an end. Because Americans are a musically gifted people, we have an entire section devoted to music and musicians.
While we are inspired by American places, writing and songs, we are not pretending to be backwoods innocents, or to convey homespun wisdom for the ages. Garrison Keillor is not one of our editors. We are not an agricultural paper, or an outdoor sporting publication, although we welcome family farmers, hunters, and fisherman along with residents of both blue and red states.
We hope to advance the same relationship to America that Bob Dylan had when he wrote his versions of folk songs, or that Gram Parsons and Neil Young had when they wrote their versions of country songs. We have the same relationship to our subjects that Mark Twain and William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison and Tom Wolfe had when they wrote about America and Americans. We are deeply and personally bored to death of hyperbolic chatter about politics, gadgets, and the semiotics of Taylor Swift from people who know nothing and come from nowhere. We believe in the wisdom of the Americans, who produced not only the congeniality of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse but also the lunatic wildness of Yosemite Sam and Roadrunner and the Ramones.
We are the happy recipients of a great gift, which is the message of human liberty and practical genius that is present in the way that Americans tell stories, crack jokes, play music, and make stuff. While our country’s educated classes define themselves as heralds of a new and better world, we are more than glad to claim the vastness of the American creative inheritance as our own. Please join us. —DAVID SAMUELS AND WALTER KIRN
One quick thought: I grew up in a county bordering Essex County, New Jersey. My father was born in Essex County. If you asked me to guess the American county an editor of newspaper called County Highway hailed from, Essex County would probably be my last guess. 🙂
I learned about County Highway from this interivew with editors. Here is a taste:
The tone ranges from Wendell Berry–ish refusal to Whitman-esque acceptance, with one obvious outlier. In the preface to Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a 2008 collection of his best magazine work, Samuels confessed that one of his “failings as a writer” is a tendency to become a “moonstruck adolescent” around his favorite musicians. And Kennedys, he might have added. There is nothing wrong with a newspaper talking to a presidential candidate, whatever their views, but Samuels’s Q&A with R.F.K. Jr. is indistinguishable from a campaign ad. Why pretend the interview is “On Falconry”—a subject that doesn’t even come up until more than halfway through—when it’s obviously just an editorial endorsement for their favored anti-Establishment candidate?
Attentive readers will notice that County Highway heralds no news, and with a six-times-a-year frequency, it’s not well equipped to break any in the future. So why publish on newsprint, the drywall of paper stocks? “People read differently on a printed page than they do on a screen. You’re not sitting there liking, disliking, being aware of social pressure,” Samuels says. “And because the cost of printing a newspaper is wildly cheaper than printing a glossy magazine or a perfect-bound literary journal, there’s actually the chance to build an audience and make money with far fewer subscribers.”
Read the entire interview at Air Mail.
The next time I am in Harrisburg I might pick-up a copy of County Highway at Full Circle Record Shop.