Home > Lapham’s Quarterly: The Death Issue
When I heard the Fall issue of Lapham’s Quarterly was to be called the Death Issue I knew I had to have it. It’s my introduction to the literary journal so I thought I’d put down my thoughts.
This being my first experience with any literary journal (and being an unemployed individual) my initial reaction was to the price ($16US) but it’s over 200 pages of high-quality material (both physically and content-wise) so after the shock subsided, I took it home.
It is truly a thing of beauty. The covers are that texture that’s become quite popular for electronics and book covers that feels like rubber and suede had a few too many drinks and decided to spend a freaky night together. (It’s called Soft Touch.) The paper is a heavy-weight stock, as well–it’s not the sort of periodical that finds its way to the recycling bin after it’s been read.
The layout is artful–nearly every page has a photograph or artwork concerning the issue’s theme. There are small poems and quotes tucked amongst larger pieces, as well. Longer poems get their own pages, like Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’.
Besides poetry and quotes there are facts about death rituals from around the world, graphs and timelines about causes of death and numbers of deaths during various catastrophes and tables of resting places of some of the most famous people in history, amongst other things. It’s a macabre trivia-lover’s dream.
There are non-fiction pieces–letters, diary entries, interviews and excerpts from books. The section on How We Die was spectacular. Mary Roach’s excellent Stiff was excerpted. Anatole Broyard’s excerpt is heart-breaking. A piece on the funerary rites of the Rus written by Ahmad ibn Fadlan in 922 was quite interesting.
And fiction, of course. The entirety of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ was included, much to my delight. There was an excerpt from Nabokov’s The Eye and Philip Roth had a darkly comic bit from Sabbath’s Theatre .
There are also myths and tales from philosophers and histories meant to teach the reader about living wisely. A bit of Herodotus’ The Histories was particularly enlightening.
Entries are widely varied both in time (the earliest is a section of ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ by Euripides written in 1200 BCE) and scope, as they come from many nations and cultures–some long extinct.
There is nothing negative to say about this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. The selections come from people approaching death–some literally, some only in contemplation, some in the wake of losing someone close to them. And the contents reflect the myriad ways humanity responds to those situations. I highly recommend this one.