Books

Quarterly Concerns

Fifteen Years, 45 Issues, and The Best of McSweeney's

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A FEW YEARS AGO I moved out of a small apartment and into a tiny apartment. Roughly 95 percent of what I tricked my friends into moving was, for lack of a less sterile word, media: dusty DVDs, white longboxes of yellowed comics, and, more than anything else, boxes and bags of books. Books are the most important things to move, and the worst: They are heavy and take up far more space than you think they will. When my friends left, I was left in an apartment so full of books that I didn't have room for my bed; in a forced culling of possessions, entirely too many books were resold or given to Goodwill. One rule decided which books were sent away: If I hadn't read it in the past year, or wouldn't read it in the next year, someone else got the chance. One of my regrets is that this rule applied to a shelf of McSweeney's issues. Hopefully someone else has, by now, had the chance to read them.

More than any other publication, McSweeney's both dovetailed with and informed my tastes in contemporary writing, boasting work from some of my favorites (David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Sarah Vowell, Adam Levin) and introducing me to more (Wells Tower, Sam Lipsyte, A.M. Homes, Lydia Millet, George Saunders, Sean Wilsey). The mutable journal—sometimes a hardcover, sometimes a paperback, sometimes a cigar box—is now 15 years old, and with that anniversary comes The Best of McSweeney's, a 600-page-long, clothbound hardcover that contains exactly what the title says. It won't be leaving my shelves, even when I move. Inside are pieces from everybody I just mentioned, plus Chris Adrian and Lydia Davis and John Hodgman and more, alongside selections from the comics-themed edition (featuring Joe Sacco, Adrian Tomine, and Chris Ware), that time they were a newspaper (Nicholson Baker's "Can a Paper Mill Save a Forest?" is still required reading for anyone who reads), and things you won't find anywhere else, like Lipsyte and Millet's stories inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's abandoned ideas. You'll have to work pretty hard to find a better way to spend $30.

This Tuesday at Powell's, there'll be a reading to celebrate the book's release. On hand will be McSweeney's Managing Editor Jordon Bass; Portlander, filmmaker, and McSweeney's contributor Arthur Bradford; and author Jess Walter, whose contribution to the collection, "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington," is one of the high points of a book that's full of them.

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