On McSweeney’s

A bouncer kept the crowds at bay at a recent L.A. reading featuring Dave Eggers and Jim Shephard. (Books signed by both authors that evening are available online; CAAF of Tingle Alley has another Eggers reading story, as does Christopher Monks.)

I’ve never understood why Eggers provokes such obsessive adulation and hatred, although that n + 1 piece I mentioned recently goes a long way toward elucidating the phenomenon. I admired Eggers’ memoir. I had little use for his novel. I have never been able to get all het up about either.

These days it’s fashionable in literary circles to deride Eggers’ publishing endeavors — partly, I assume, because of the aura of clubby, middle-class niceness that seems to surround the entire McSweeney’s/Believer enterprise — but as the weekend’s Sunday Times culture supplement observes:

Dave Eggers [does] something unusual in publishing circles: he [uses] the success of his books to help the careers of other would-be writers. Royalties for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius have gone toward the establishment of 826, Valencia, an academy in San Francisco that encourages and teaches creative writing for those between the ages of eight and 18. McSweeney’s, the literary magazine that Eggers founded and edits, combines high production values with new and sometimes experimental writing. Then, time presumably weighing heavily on his hands, he noticed that mainstream publishers tend to treat authors like “raving morons”, so he set up his own independent imprint.

Make all the generalizations you like about the quality of McSweeney’s titles; say what you will about Eggers’ self-interest. I say that McSweeney’s-bashing is as tired as Eggers worship, and I move that readers consider the books put out by Eggers’ publishing imprint on their own, individual merits. Isn’t that, after all, what reading is about?

Stephen Elliott’s Happy Baby is one of the most moving and unusual books published in the U.S. this year, and is by far the strongest book Elliott has written. McSweeney’s published it (with McAdam/Cage).

So never mind that I personally would have a hard time reading Giraffes? Giraffes! if I had to choose between that and being shackled to a wall. Even if McSweeney’s only puts out one standout book ever year or two, it’s good that it exists.

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