Lapham's Quarterly: Happiness, Volume XII, Number 3
edited by Lewis H. Lapham
The American Agora Foundation, Summer 2019
$19.00, 224 pp
Lapham's Quarterly is published four times a year by The American Agora Foundation, each issue focusing on a specific theme. Then the magic happens. Drawing from writing across the ages, it presents varying perspectives on the theme of choice. For the Summer issue of 2019, the theme was Happiness. Emblazoned on its cover is a smiling ceramic Mesoamerican figure from seventh or eighth century Mexico. With hand held aloft as if in anticipation of a "high-five", the figurine sports a wide grin, like a New World version of the Buddha. The cover art - like all the art smattered throughout - offers a timeless visual representation of the theme: Happiness.
Divided into sections and subheadings (which are meant to be helpful, but how they determine if a piece is destined for Contentment, Satisfaction, or Ecstasy is anyone's guess), Happiness begins with a section titled Introductory which contains the Preamble, a space usually reserved for the magazine's editor. In its stead is one of the few contemporary pieces in this volume, The Impossible Dream by David Wootton, Anniversary Professor of History at the University of New York, in which he makes a stab at defining happiness by deconstructing the words of Thomas Jefferson:
Jefferson wasn't the first to conceptualize happiness as a process of pursuit. Writing in 1690, John Locke asserted in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that there can be no right to pursue happiness because man will pursue it regardless. As a law of human nature, he reasoned, it can't be granted as a right. Therefore, if you follow his logic, it is no more necessary for a person to have a right to its pursuit as it is for a river to need a right in order to follow the riverbed. Touche'.
Individual happiness is a fairly new concept. Ancient cultures directly connected happiness with a society's success. In City of God (426 AD), Saint Augustine argues Rome's happiness never matched her grandeur because the founders failed to establish a cult of Felicity, the Roman god of happiness. Instead, at the time of Rome's founding, Jupiter - a sociopath among gods - was the deity of choice. As recently as the seventeenth century, it was accepted that an individual's happiness was not of his own making, but dependent on the suffering of others. Writing in 1651, Thomas Hobbes redefined happiness by gearing it to satisfy man's most base desires. Constructed on Machiavelli's theory that humanity's appetites are insatiable, Hobbes applied it across the board from politics to morality to human psychology. He saw happiness as unattainable; pursuit as non-extinguishable. Happiness, if it could be achieved, was fleeting, and could only be measured against the misfortunes of others. A mounting death toll from a global pandemic, for instance, by Hobbes' thinking, would result in bringing us pleasure because we're not one of them. That might explain the recent response (or lack of) to the coronavirus.
than the right to disillusionment phrased in another way."
The goal of Lapham's Quarlerly is not to to offer a rigid definition of happiness. Rather, it's to provide a clearinghouse of ideas on the theme, which they do wisely and well. As Ben Franklin pointed out in 1735, our approach to happiness takes such different methods to attain it and we are so much divided in our notions of it, a simple one-size-fits-all definition continues to elude us, like happiness itself. Perhaps, Aldous Huxley had it right.
Originally published in 1978, How to Get Happily Published: A Complete and Candid Guide by Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Evans is just that. With over 30 years publishing experience between them, Evans and Appelbaum put their expertise to use. Beginning with tips on writing: write what you know, and write it well. Or, in the words of Canadian critic and theorist Northrop Frye (1912-1991), "[Write prose that] is not ordinary speech, but ordinary speech on its best behavior, in its Sunday clothes, aware of an audience with its relation to that audience beforehand." Easy, right? Most people who fancy themselves as writers think they know how to write. Some even do. However, some will need classes, but the authors warn, "writing cannot be taught. It can only be learned." If you do pursue a writing class, find a teacher who believes that, and you'll probably be in good hands. Bear in mind, you're the best gauge of your own skill.
How to Get Happily Published covers all aspects of publishing from magazines to periodicals to books, providing tips on networking, retaining rights, query letters and agents. They also cover vanity presses (don't use them), steering hopeful writers instead toward self-publishing. The big difference between the two comes down to marketing. Vanity presses generally can't be bothered.
Appelbaum and Evans have a disarming writing style. What could have turned out a disinteresting book of advice, instead jumps to life with conversation. Filled with anecdotes and analogies, the information in Happily Published leaps from its pages. Written before the internet, it contains none of the digital wunderwerkzeuge of modern publishing, and suffers none for it. Getting happily published relies on good relationships - even in the digital age. While many of the authors' suggestions seem archaic (in-person visits to prospective publishers), their tips are easily applicable in the digital age. Still, eventually you will want to meet the publisher/editor/ marketer in person, if for nothing else but to establish a chemistry with them that may be lacking in on-screen communications.
As publishers, Appelbaum and Evans have a solid track-record. However, anyone can write a "How To". The best proof the authors have going for them that they are indeed the real thing, is their product. Following their own advice, they accomplished the promises of their book: they got published.
Valrie M. Selkowe and John Sanford teamed up to produce a celebratory book called Happy Birthday to Me!. With text by Selkowe, and illustrations by Sanford, it's a winning story that follows Rabbit, the story's protagonist, through his morning routine. But this day, Rabbit's birthday, is anything but routine.
Upon rising, Rabbit finds a key, and sets out to find the lock it opens. He's lead through a gate, down a path to a great pink house where a surprise party is afoot.
It's a simple story narrated by Rabbit, with bright illustrations that draw out the personalities of the menagerie of farm animals in attendance. The dolls are positively creepy. The dancing joyous. Suitable for ages 3 and up, this short, adorable picture book makes a perfect birthday gift (or card) for any age.