This weekend I managed to read all of the Art of McSweeney’s monograph, and I unsurprisingly loved it. It features, in equal measure:
- Lots of talking about extrapolating books into crazy, conceptual forms.
- Lots of discussion of design choices, production compromises, and why they were made.
- Thorough oral histories of collaborative projects, organized chronologically.
These probably aren’t the bullet points that Chronicle Books would pull for the dust jacket, but that’s what I was looking for, and that’s what I got. The only other book that has ever brought all of these things together in quite the same way for me is Chip Kidd’s Book One Monograph. To me, the unusual (?) balance of experimentation, design, process, and first-hand documentation that these two books share is inspirational in the unguarded, overtly-earnest sense of the word. They are easily among my favorites, ever.
Not hurting things, either: the oral history bits of the McSweeney’s monograph also hold some interesting insights from my favorite people working in publishing. Chris Ware and Jordan Crane both talk through the production processes of their elaborate book design projects (McSweeney’s #13 and Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends, respectively); with plenty of mock-ups, rejected versions, and diagrams illustrating the journey from concept to product. My favorite excerpt, though, is of Paul Collins – a favorite of mine ever since I discovered his writing in the pages of McSweeney’s #4 – sharing the details of how his work first ended up in the quarterly:
PAUL COLLINS: I wrote to Dave the day after buying Issue 1. I’d been sending this piece about Victorian astronomer Thomas Dick all over the place, and getting rejected everywhere. I was a total unknown who’d never published anything, and the piece had absolutely no news hook. It had unhookedness of biblical proportions. So I sent Dave the article with a cover letter that read, in its entirety: “Everybody hates this. Maybe you will too.” About a week later I got an email from him asking me to send him everything I had. For the next couple years, every new piece I wrote went straight to him and into McSweeney’s.
DAVE EGGERS: This was when we were still sort of figuring out what the focus, if anything, would be. At the time, I was just opening the mail and reading everything. The MO hasn’t changed much over the years, I guess. My advice to any aspiring writer is to do some research and write about something other than relationships and living in New York. Those are worthy subjects, sure, but journals get a massive amount of similar material. When, like Paul, you send a series of stories about history’s most peculiar inventors and explorers, then the work stands out markedly.
The series of stories in question went on to form the basis for Banvard’s Folly, another of my favorite books.
[This has been Adam forcing himself to write something and publish it in one sitting. Carry on.]