USUALLY I PICK UP A BOOK BECAUSE I'm interested in the author or the subject or because someone whose taste in books I trust has recommended it. But I picked up this book because it was so beautiful. It's a little book. It could almost fit in your back pocket. The matte-finish cover has a color photo of a girl in a forest, set into a deep, rich, Rothko-red frame. The letters of the title, Ramble Right, and the publisher's name, My Evil Twin Sister, look hand-etched. The inside pages are dusty-textured, speckled, off-beige. The margins of some pages have huge half-page prints that look like old horticultural studies. This book is an art object in itself, lovely to look at, the right heft to hold.

The people who made this book are Amber Gayle and Stacy Wakefield. Though Gayle lives in Oregon (where she works as a conservationist) and Wakefield lives in New York (where she plays in a band called the Turn-Offs and does graphic art), they are third-generation Northwesterners. They were raised on Mercer Island and grew up making art together. They are also twins.

In the early '90s they were living in Amsterdam. Wakefield had gone there to study art. Gayle, who had been an exchange student in Germany in '88-'89, had returned to Europe as a guide for an obnoxious punk band she is kind enough to refrain from naming. While living in Amsterdam, the twins read lots of zines sent from friends in the U.S. and decided to make their own.

In 1994 they made My Evil Twin Sister #1: "Greetings From The Endless Highway." Riot Grrl and DIY music cultures are behind this book. In fact, the work is literally Do It Yourself. It requires participation. Three huge sheets of paper are each folded in half three times, then stapled on the spine. You can't open or read the book until you cut, or as Gayle says, "guillotine," the tops and sides of the pages apart. The words are excerpts from the journal Gayle kept while traveling through Europe with the obnoxious punk band. The visuals are Wakefield's surreal, erotic line drawings, which look like something a female cross between Egon Schiele and Daniel Johnston might make.

The Evil Twins' second book, Transient Songs, is also about travel, but its landscapes are mostly American. Visually, Transient Songs is both more traditional (you don't have to cut your own pages) and prettier (full color pix). The cover image is taken from a postcard of Lake Washington in 1954. A huge gas guzzler squats in a parking spot by the big, wide empty lake. This is propaganda from a time when many Americans believed that the Northwest was an exotic, faraway place, God's country, and that travel was luxurious and liberating. Gayle's poems in this book show that the latter is no longer the case, if indeed it ever was. The title poem begins:

I am a Road Warrior
I am an Interstate Blazer
I am a hobo
and a hip and
frantic chick
with no place to go

This personal narrative takes place in Greyhound buses, vans full of hippies, transatlantic flights. It's about fantasies of travel and travelers more than it's about any trip anyone could actually ever take. Near the end of the poem are the lines: "They all ask/where do I live?" The answer is: "I live in your car." What you may have thought was an exotic adventure, is in fact dull, if perhaps slightly ominous, everyday life.

In their next project, in 1995, the Evil Twins expanded from primarily personal to political subjects. Not For Rent: Conversations with Creative Activists in the U.K. is a resource book containing profiles of anarchists, activists, squatters, and bands in England and Scotland. It's another gorgeous design: a big-format book, around 8-1/2" x 11", with black, red, and blue text, and full-color graphics by Wakefield in collaboration with another designer called Grrrt. Most of the people profiled in this book are identified by first name only. The irony is that the causes and collectives to which they are so passionately committed are mostly obsolete by now. Instead of being a "yellow pages" for underground Brit politicos, the book lives as a document of a bygone time.

I think my favorite Evil Twins project is Cascadia Salmon: A Wild Salmon Fanzine. I love the idea of a zine that's not about music or skateboards or someone's horrible childhood, but about fish. I love the idea of a zine for ecology nerds. Like all the Evil Twin publications, it's printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. And of course it's beautiful, with a hand-sewn binding and a blue and silver silkscreen-looking cover. One of the articles is called "Capitalism and Fish Abuse," and one of the poems is "Holocene Death Beat." What first attracted me to these books was their stunning look. But what continues to make them worth looking at is their weird mix of Earth Mother and Riot Grrrl, of hippie and punk.

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