Such was the case recently with Stop Smiling, which bills itself as "The Magazine for High-Minded Lowlifes," which is right up my ally. The editors note that their journal appears five or six times a year from Stop Smiling Media, based in Chicago.
To say I'd never heard of the magazine, which is large and glossy and full of surprises, is putting it mildly. Take No. 22, which was dubbed "The Downfall of American Publishing" issue; the phrase is what probably caught my eye in the first place.
Hunter S. Thompson was featured on the cover, along with the dates of his birth and recent death. The editors had compiled a huge oral history of the man as the centerpiece of this issue. But also featured on the cover were Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's; Barney Rosset of Grove Press; The Paris Review's new editor Philip Gourevitch; Simon & Schuster editor David Rosenthal; The New Yorker's founder Harold Ross; 50 years of City Lights Books; and a tribute to the late Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow. If this is the downfall of American publishing, give me more.
There wasn't a dull page in the lot, and many of the interview subjects were Jewish. I was especially drawn to the interview with Gourevitch, the recently appointed editor of The Paris Review, the highly respected literary quarterly begun by George Plimpton and his friends. Plimpton edited it from its beginnings in Paris in the 1950s until his recent death.
Gourevitch, aside from being a staff writer at The New Yorker, began his career at the English language Forward newspaper, editing the culture pages and doing lots of incisive reporting on a variety of subjects.
In the interview, he said he would make several format changes at his new job, in addition to relocating the editorial offices. But the most interesting portion of the report was his assessment of the special tone that The Paris Review established over its 50-plus years.
"George Plimpton had this wonderful balance between being iconoclastic on one level, and on another level, everybody's image of an establishment figure. He was at home in the world. There was something playful and there was something generously big-hearted and open-door about his whole approach to literature. It was almost always a celebration without ever sacrificing seriousness. That's something a lot of people find tricky. The world is often divided between serious people, who are grumpy critics, and frivolous people who are blithe appreciators. George was both – he was iconoclastic without being controversial."