Literary MagNet

by Kevin Larimer

News and Trends

Posted 9.1.06

September/October 2006

Due in large part to the Herculean efforts of the most charismatic of its three founding editors—the late George Plimpton—the Paris Review (www.parisreview.org) has amassed a considerable booty of cultural cachet since it was established fifty-three years ago. To claim it's a household name may be an overstatement—though it is likely a recurring topic of dinner table conversation in the household of John Q. Literature—but the quarterly can certainly be labeled, without raising the dander of too many literary magazine aficionados, as vital. In recent years, the magazine has parlayed that prestige into a line of books, making repeated hops, skips, and cross-promotional jumps from magazine to anthology. There's The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy…—the title goes on ad nauseam—published in 2003; The Paris Review Book for Planes, Trains, Elevators, and Waiting Rooms (2004), and The Paris Review Book of People With Problems (2005), all of which were released by Picador, plus the Writers at Work series published by the Modern Library. But the literary behemoth, now edited by Philip Gourevitch, isn't the only magazine to successfully repackage "the best of" its contents as a line of books. It's unclear whether anyone—founding editor Dave Eggers included—would call McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (mcsweeneys.net) vital. Certainly anyone who looks at—or rather, sorts through—the magazine's nineteenth issue, published last winter, will notice that Eggers is up to something special. An artfully designed cigar box holds wartime pamphlets, brochures, postcards, and other curiosities, including the issue of the magazine itself, which features a novella by T. C. Boyle. Nevertheless, vital doesn't jibe with the McSweeney's aesthetic—equal parts serious lit, irony, humor, and horseradish—so perhaps iconoclastic is a better adjective. Any way you slice it, it's an endlessly interesting magazine, and it has spawned the following books: McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (Vintage, 2003), McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (Vintage, 2004), Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's, Humor Category (Knopf, 2004), and now Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists, forthcoming later this month from Vintage. Among the several hundred lists compiled by the editors is "Proposed Nicknames for the Today Show's Matt Lauer: Mr. Smuggy Pants; Smugly Grinning, Esq.; Smug-o; Rich Smugly, President, Above It All, Inc." With the publication of such riches, the Paris Review may soon have some company at the top.

When subscribers of the Iowa Review (www.iowareview.org), the thirty-six-year-old literary journal edited by David Hamilton at the University of Iowa, received the Spring 2006 issue, they found not only selected essays from the university's 2005 NonfictioNow Conference, but also a CD, titled Donald Justice: In Pursuit of the Ideal. Produced by Iowa City public radio station KSUI, the CD features readings by the late Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and the recorded memories and observations of poets Marvin Bell, Robert Dana, James Galvin, William Logan, Mark Strand, Charles Wright, and others. Justice was for many years the senior poet at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He died of pneumonia on August 6, 2004.

The Loft Literary Center, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis, recently announced that the Summer 2006 issue of Speakeasy (www.loft.org), the four-year-old quarterly print magazine edited by Loft literary director Bart Schneider, would be its last. "It's no secret that the economics of single-title, independent magazine publishing are tough," Schneider wrote in a press release announcing the decision. "And eventually it became clear that we could carry Speakeasy's work forward, multiplying both the audiences we're able to reach and the resources we're able to offer them, by exploring the potential of new formats." That is to say, the Loft plans to relaunch the magazine online later this month.

Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.