Sometimes I feel like the last person on earth to discover cool stuff.
Last week I was at Chapters and I saw a few hardcover story collections on the sale rack. (It always happens to me at Chapters – I leave with arms-full of discount books. I have two laundry baskets full of books that I want to read.) A quick look through made it obvious these were not just ordinary story collections. Not only was the writing high quality (I read a few random pages) but the design of the books themselves were radical and clever. Like book covers that are magnetic; or that come off and open up into a poster, or books that are miniature and illustrations that are graphic. And in one collection, actual letters once sent to Ray Charles, in-between stories to liven it up.
What were these magical books? I scooped them all up. Then I found out and I googled it: they are McSweeney’s. These are quarterly publications – literary journals – published in the United States and started in 1998 to publish works rejected by other publishers. From their website: “But after the first issue, the journal began to publish pieces primarily written with McSweeney’s in mind. Since then, McSweeney’s has attracted works from some of the finest writers in the country, including Denis Johnson, William T. Vollmann, Rick Moody, Joyce Carol Oates, Heidi Julavits, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Ben Marcus, Susan Straight, Roddy Doyle, T.C. Boyle, Steven Millhauser, Gabe Hudson, Robert Coover, Ann Beattie, and many others. Today, McSweeney’s has grown to be one of the country’s best-read and widely-circulated literary journals, with an expanding, loyal subscriber base and strong independent bookstore following.”
But not just publishing great fiction. Also winning design awards for the fun and creative way they present the stories. And explaining in each issue how they ended up that way.
McSweeney’s has other divisions – including a DVD collection and an IPhone app. But I’m starting where I first fell in love – with the Quarterly Concern.
I’ve cracked the first volume: McSweeney’s 21. Not for the faint of heart. Stories that push the edge of decency, but are so well-written you feel like they read you.
Am I the only late-comer to this treasure trove? Let’s blame it on being stuck in the cultural backwaters of Canada. Never too late though – thanks to Chapters. I’m scooping up all the issues of McSweeney’s I can. I’m now an offical McSweeney Quarterly Concern collector. Check it out at http://store.mcsweeneys.net