Monday, October 20, 2008


Clockwise from upper left: (1) the upper layer of small book backs, a painting by Danica Novgorodoff; (2) the front covers of the upper layer books; (3) the lower layer of small book backs, another painting by Danica Novgorodoff; and (4) the front covers of the lower layer books.


McSweeney's is one of the smartest independent publishers. They publish interesting fiction and nonfiction works in various formats—books in all shapes and sizes, a literary journal (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern), a literary magazine (The Believer), and a DVD magazine of short films (Wholphin). They have given voice to new authors, such as Deb Olin Unferth and Dave Eggers (who is the founder of McSweeney's); established authors in new formats, such as art critic Lawrence Wechsler and 90-year-old first-time novelist Millard Kaufman (who helped create Mr. Magoo and wrote many screenplays); and the marginalized, such as persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent FEMA debacle and illegal immigrants, who might not otherwise be given a format to speak.

In all of their various forays into contemporary literature, however, they have been very keen on the aesthetic elements of their books. They truly see these books and journals not only as literature, but as objects of beauty and admiration.

McSweeney's 28 is a perfect example of this.


Each of the eight small books contains a modern fable. Each book is illustrated by an artist who has been paired with one of the eight authors. These brief tales surprise and fascinate and intrigue because they are succinct and true.

And if that were not enough, the back covers of four of the books form a painting, as do the back covers of the other four. These pictures are a visual fable in their own right, and also perhaps fables independent of one another.

The attention to detail of color and typography and bookend papers and binding and construction and theme and illustration and story combine to form a sum that is truly greater than its parts. The care given to each element makes the whole exponentially greater than the individual stories or paintings. Each piece is valuable in its own right, but even more so when considered with the others.

I could read and reread these books and examine their drawings and marvel at their beauty for hours. In fact, I have and will continue to do so.

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