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Laphams Quarterly

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

I've been delving into a certain amount of travel writing lately. More on my reasons for doing so later in this post.

I just finished reading Bill Bryson's Neither Here nor There, a jaunty little memoir about how he retraced the steps of his college-aged trek through Europe. And it just so happens that this quarter's installment of Lapham's Quarterly is themed "Travel."

Lapham's Quarterly is a treasure-trove for AP® Language teachers. Within each themed volume of approximately 200 page lies the most astounding range of excerpts from authors through the ages, most of them nonfiction, spiced up with the occasional poem or slice of short story or novel, and plenty of visuals. The "Travel" volume contains pieces by Christopher Columbus, Ibn Batutta, Elizabeth Bishop, Miguel de Cervantes, Aldous Huxley, Ernest Shackleton, Petrarch, Florence Nightingale, Frederick Law Olmsted, Wu Cheng'en, Catullus, and many, many more.

Each piece runs between a quarter of a magazine page to two or three full pages.  The volume is liberally illustrated with paintings, photographs, and informational visuals like charts and maps (for example a chart comparing "Souvenirs, Then and Now," such as Lourdes, 1858: Holy Water from La Source; Lourdes, 2009: Glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary statuette). In the last sections, excerpts from two writers who focus on the same detail are juxtaposed to demonstrate contrast; and full essays or book chapters are reproduced to demonstrate a lengthier argument on the topic.

Previous volumes have centered on topics such as "Crimes and Punishments," "Eros," "Book of Nature," and, my favorite to date, "Ways of Learning." The "About Money" volume (which I don't have because I subscribed only in time for "Book of Nature") would probably help students extend ideas started by working on the infamous 2008 "penny" synthesis prompt from the AP® Language exam!

How can any AP® Language teacher pass all this up?? Each book is practically a ready-made source for synthesis work!

Well, for one thing, at $60/year, it's not all that cheap -- my fiancé bought me this subscription for my birthday after it first came out, knowing how much I loved reading essays by Lewis Lapham, the now-retired editor of Harper's magazine and founder/editor of this eponymous publication.

So I'm glad to note that the quarterly's Web site appears to be at least as much fun as the book itself, if not more so, with lots of audio and video to supplement the readings and bring them alive for students. Many of the readings are available there, cross-categorized by alternative topics and tags, and there are other supplementary readings.

If this sort of thing makes you geek out like me, you may also enjoy a Web site called Arts & Letters Daily, another compendium of writing on all kinds of esoteric topics from around the world. Their subtitle is "Ideas, Criticism, Debate," and the breadth of sources -- from The Boston Globe to The Beirut Daily Star -- allows students to experience a range of perspectives on topics touching on almost any area of interest or study. It's travel of the mind.

Which brings me back to my original point about reading lots of travel writing. August and September will be busy months for me, but not because I'm preparing to head back to school. Instead, I'm planning my wedding, following which my husband (also a teacher) and I will be taking the year off to travel and experience some things that our heavy commitment to our jobs prevents us from experiencing otherwise.

So, sometime in September, it's Europe-bound for us! I hope to continue blogging from the road, perhaps with a focus more on travel and cultural observations. In the meantime, anyone have some really great travel books to recommend?

®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.