A Thick Magazine to Browse —Lapham's Quarterly

Over a year ago, must have been two, I read an article about the marginalia in medieval manuscripts and found the source: Lapham's Quarterly. I ordered that Spring 2012 issue, "Means of Communication" and another one, Spring 2010, "Arts & Letters" to peruse at will. They are quite thick, about 220 pages each, and cost as much as a hardcover book, but the articles sounded interesting. The magazines remained by my bed until recently. Well, they are still there, but I have read or mostly read one of them (Arts & Letters), and thought I'd share some highlights.

First of all, the majority of content in this magazine is excerpts and reprinted material from books, letters, documents, articles, etc.. Take a look at some featured contributors.

Vincent Van Gogh | Elizabeth Barret Browning | Richard Wagner | Kurt Vonnegut | Suetonius | Andy Warhol | Louis Armstrong | Henry James | Juvenal | Horace | Roberto Bolaño | Knut Hamsun | Aleksandr Pushkin | Salman Rushdie | Wendy Steiner

The table of contents is a bit daunting. No titles are given, just the year, the city, the page number, and the author. Such as, "1957: New York City 79. James Baldwin."

First I flipped through. Then I hunkered down and started at the beginning with a piece from The Writing Life  1989: San Juan Islands, WA 21. Annie Dillard. She says, "You adapt yourself, said Paul Klee, to the contents of the paint box." It seemed an appropriate place to begin. Don't try to force something to be what it isn't. Work with what you have. But first, learn about it.

I wouldn't try to make this magazine be a whole book, and I told myself I didn't have to read every article. I enjoyed the journey. Some other samples that appealed to me and seemed useful to artists and writers:

c. 1900: Vienna 64. Stefan Zweig
An amusing bit of memoir about being in school but learning outside of it. It is entertaining and interesting, and I was glad to hear the writer's voice in it. Zweig was an inspiration for the current Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The excerpt is from The World of Yesterday.

2005: New York City 73. Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut, in his slightly impatient, slightly mocking tone, diagrams the arcs of some typical stories and writes about them while he does it. "Man in Hole," "Boy Meets Girl" "Cinderella" "Kafka" and "Hamlet" are featured. "Man in Hole" starts off with a character who is fortunate, he loses his fortune, but he regains it, a little higher than where he started. Kafka's stories, predictably, start low and end lower. It may all seem simplistic and a little cruel, but hey, it's Vonnegut, what do you expect? The piece is an article called, "Here Is A Lesson in Creative Writing" from A Man Without a Country.

1946: London 91. George Orwell
He begins noting that "an effect can become a cause." Bad writing can become worse if we keep imitating bad writing. He looks at "Dying metaphors" which are metaphors that were once evocative but are now just ordinary words, and "Meaningless words" as another example, such as, " The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something undesirable.'" He's pretty hard-hitting on the bad use of language, but makes some good points. From "Politics and the English Language" which may be found in Politics and the English Language and Other Essays.

1976: New York City 147. Lee Quiñones
This is a piece about creating graffiti with the Fabulous Five, or painting, otherwise known as writing on a long string of train cars in New York City. It's a fascinating look at the culture. From an interview. He was also featured in a film Wild Style.

So, those are a few of the many varied articles in Lapham's Quarterly, Volume III, Number 2. More likely upcoming when I read the other issue.