Saturday, May 29, 2010

What is the What

Day 109 of the "What are you reading, and why?" and Karl, who just had a birthday, is reading What is the What, by Dave Eggers, who rocks. Karl rocks, too. We also have a fancy hardback copy of it at Babbitt's, but I think the link might just take you to the general search page (for some unknown reason), but you can just type in Dave Eggers. (I think this link to the tote bag will work, though.)

Because I don't rock and am not hip or cool, and was in that no-books-no-movies zone of raising young children when he first hit the publishing scene, I did not know very much about Dave Eggers, just the title of that first amazing book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a fictionalized account of raising his little brother after their parents died. There has been lots of trouble in the Eggers family. Dealing with it via genius and humor is the way to go.

Then I saw McSweeney's Quarterly at Babbitt's and went, "Whoa!" Each one is different. Some look like a conventional paperback quarterly journal, some like hardback books, one like a newspaper, one like something that would come in your mailbox, one like a cigar box, etc. We got some in at Babbitt's (some still shrinkwrapped), and I see some are on sale at The McSweeney's Store.

I think it's wonderful that McSweeney's began as a journal that would publish only stuff rejected by other journals! Now it is sought out by writers who love it, major pagers (made-up term), and writers with that peculiar ingenuity in mind. It really makes me wish I were hip or cool.

I could, of course, become more hip by reading the Believer, the McSweeney's magazine (samples online), separate from McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and from Believer Books (which does books, book club, used books via garage sale, etc., and McSweeney's also publishes its own Books, separate from the Quarterly and the Believer Book offerings), and maybe I will. But it might be too discouraging, as in litost, that sudden realization of one's own miserable existence, since Nick Hornby (famous, funny) writes a column called "Stuff I've Been Reading" that of course is hipper and cooler than mine.

I realize we have a stack of Believers on a shelf at Babbitt's. I am going to have to look at those when I get back to work, and maybe become a weensy bit hipper. Sunday afternoon. We are closed Monday, for Memorial Day. I will be picnicking and asking my parents what they are reading. We are taking dessert--blueberries, strawberries, Cool Whip & angel food cake torn up together in a red, white, and blue trifle like thing I will make up as I go along. I am so not hip.

I have hips.

Happy Birthday, Karl. Have a wonderful life, Dave. It's time for breakfast, coffee and le toast.


marydee said...

I subscribe to The Believer and never know what to do with my copies once I am finished. The good news is that Nick Hornby is BACK after an 18 month hiatus from his column in The Believer. It's always the first thing I turn to. I think I have a crush on Hornby and just read 'How to Be Good' not too long ago.

The McSweeney's folks also put out a DVD journal called Wholphin that includes short films, documentaries and general weirdness in every issue- even the DVD menus are part of the experience. I recommend!

I have a stack of McSweeney's, too. They are just too special to get rid of, but I may need to clean house, soon. My favorite issue EVER was the stack of reading material delivered to look like a pile of junk mail, complete with fake advertisements, envelopes and a rubber band around the whole lot. You mentioned it above, I think, and it is excellent.

Well, I suppose I should add Egger's book to my list. I think I need a summer vacation just to read! I love stopping in here-- Have a great weekend.

SarahJane said...

I bought What is the What? for my mother last Christmas, with the hope it would be passed on to me. Hasn't happened yet. I did read "Heartbreaking" and thought it was good, but I didn't explode with awe or anything. But McSweeney's is a different story. It's sooooo good. And I am not hip either. My sister is hip, though.

Kathleen said...

My sister is way hipper than me, and not as hippy. (I am OK with my hips, by the way, just as I am OK with her healthy yogaesque super slimness. I remember once in high school a girl who had a crush on the guy I was sort of...non dating...envied my hips just as I envied her skinniness, but that's all done now.)

Yes, yes, summer reading vacations! My mother, a high school English teacher, now retired, would spend the first month of her summer vacation just catching up on her reading--magazines, books, etc.--and then spread out other activities WITH reading. We are a big reading family. My dad has invented contraptions and tied things on chairs to read by/with/on.

I was like that, too, when a college English teacher. Just stopping, come May, and going into the back yard to READ. I am still like that, though now I space it all out with my bookstore job. I love my life.

I love your mother, Sarah Jane, and I think the Eggers will come your way eventually.

Kathleen said...

Also, I read How to Be Good, with my book group, and now I know how not to be fake good.

Anonymous said...

Believer- another magazine of I wish I could read all of their back issues. The May issue includes 'The Death of a Civil Servant" in Ceylon, one of those historical / social explorations that I love.

I'm glad that it's still around - I enjoyed Wig Wag back in its day (1988-1991), and I gravitate to the old magazine sections of antique stores and used book stores (and estate sales). Not for the covers that people seem to covet, but for the interesting slices of life found between the covers: some retrospective (a la Believer on Leonard Woolf and Ceylon), but some for the perspective on what was then current events, personalities, and literature. (A 1927 edition of Monitor magazine, looking at the changes Mussolini had wrought in Italy; or a somewhat later magazine, featuring an interview with Gene Vidal about the future of aviation, with advertisements for Amelia Earhart luggage.)

I'm trying to adhere to what I think of as "the anti-Collier Brothers" rule: unless I can think of a way of reorganizing to keep the books and magazines off the floor, I need to wait ten minutes before buying more than 8 items at a time. Obviously, this really isn't a rigid rule: not like "one book in, one book out." But it is an economical one - while I'd like a collection as big as the Library of Congress, I don't have the space. (Not even the LOC does. It kills me when I see the carts of stuff they send off to be destroyed; especially when I look at their 1970s-vintage microform collection and see the splotchy, near-illegible copies of now-disposed-of newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s.)

Maybe I'll go down in the basement after mowing the lawn, and pull out the copies of Jack and Jill magazine from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and do a little browsing through stories from the Age of Optimism.


Julie Kistler said...

I have also had "How to Be Good" for a very long time and still haven't read it.


Julie Kistler said...

I think having hips is more important than being hip.

But then, I am an anti-trendite.

Kim said...

Hips are good. They keep our legs attached to the rest of us.