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You Can Judge These Books By Their Covers

abstract:I’ll admit I’ve always been guilty of ignoring the maxim and picking up books whose creative trade paper covers intrigue me. My theory is: creative on the outside, creative on the inside. In the case of anything published by McSweeny’s, the theory holds true.  

article:

March 31, 2005
— McSweeny’s is the San Francisco-based publishing house and brainchild of Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, They Shall Know Our Velocity, and recently a collection of short stories entitled, How We Are Hungry.

The McSweeny Empire

“[Hearbreak’s] extraordinary success allowed Eggers to turn his literary magazine McSweeney's—once slapstick and satirical, now decidedly more serious and mainstream—into what's often referred to as an indie publishing empire…” said David Amsden in his interview of Eggers for salon.com. The McSweeny’s empire he is referring includes a quarterly magazine of the same name which features short fiction, a monthly magazine on literature called The Believer, and a tutoring center for children with locations in LA, New York and San Francisco. All the branches of McSweeny’s seem to share refreshing creativity and originality.

Surprise is Implicit

According to Eggers, surprise is an implicit part of artistic appeal. “I keep thinking we'll wake up someday and everyone will remember that every memorable piece of art we've ever had surprises us in its form.” This is what is immediately appealing about the appearance of the books: I, by Stephen Dixon, for example, has the single-letter title cut out its classy red hardcover. Some books begin right on the inside cover, some have text running all over the front, back, and spine, obscuring the title.

Essentially the traditional format is manipulated and the presentation envelope pushed. What is really exciting about these publications—and I’m referring to the magazines as well as the novels—is the fact that this creative impetus to surprise exists concurrently in the texts themselves. Eggars’collection of short stories includes one story, “There are Some Things He Should Keep To Himself” that is seven blank pages in its body. In some ways it is a “quick gag” but in some ways it recalls the brilliance of Rauschenberg’s all-white canvases.

Talk Calmly, Enthusiastically & Intelligently

This casual sort of brilliance, the concept of not taking itself too seriously but saying original, intelligent things about interesting or—mundane and funny—ideas is what McSweeny’s seems to be all about. According to Eggers in his Salon interview, the Believer was “designed to talk calmly, enthusiastically and intelligently about books…At the beginning, it was very much like The Believer was saying, ‘Hey everyone, let's be a bit more mature and calm when we talk about books, and here's some good stuff you might not have heard about.’”

The magazine is certainly casual. The web version of the publication (definitely worth checking out) begins,"The Believer is a monthly magazine where length is no object. There are book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and that are very often very long. There are interviews that are also very long. We will focus on writers and books we like. We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.”

McSweeny’s seems to be asking and encouraging its readers to do the same… to give the books, and authors the benefit of the doubt, be creative and not so serious and enthusiastically enjoy surprises.

Links 

The Books (click on images to purchase)

 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius   What would you do if both your parents died within 5 months of each other and you were left at the age of 22 to raise your 8 year old brother? That is the true story behind this Pulitzer nominated memoir that disolves into a gen X stream of consciousness, somehow humerous tale that has readers transfixed.   

You Shall Know Our Velocity   "Headlong, heartsick and footsore....Frisbee sentences that sail, spin, hover, circle and come back to the reader like gifts of gravity and grace....Nobody writes better than Dave Eggers about young men who aspire to be, at the same time, authentic and sincere." -- The New York Times Book Review   

Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans  Eggers says the goal of these short pieces, most of which originally appeared on the McSweeney's Web site, is to be "funny without being humorous."

Are We Hungry: Stories  True to his book's title, Eggers has made his task here an exploration of the different ways our behavior is determined by hunger -- for intimacy and connection, to be sure, but more generally for any kind of transcendence, however momentary.

The Future Dictionary of America  This book was conceived by Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers, Nicole Krauss, and the staff of McSweeney's as a way to bring over a hundred authors together to promote progressive causes in the November 2004 election. An imagining of what a dictionary might look like about thirty years hence, when the world's problems are solved and our current president is a distant memory, the book is by turns funny, outraged, utopian, and dyspeptic.

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2004  "The purpose of this book is to collect good work of any kind—fiction, humor, essays, comics, journalism—in one place, for the English-reading consumer."

 

 

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