Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: "McSweeney's, Vol. 33"

The 33rd installment of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern comes in the form of The San Francisco Panorama, a full-size Sunday-style newspaper. An enclosed informational pamphlet on the publication notes that the editors wanted to show all the various things for which large-scale print newspapers may still be not only a viable form but also the most appropriate. They write at one point "This process has provided great insight into the magnificent operations that daily newspapers do. How they do this every day we will never know. That they must continue has never been clearer."

This newspaper was designed as a way to allow writers to "go deep," and there are several long-form pieces of journalism here, including an encyclopedic article by William Vollman on a battle between mining interests and Native Americans, a long essay on the Afghan elections, and a report on the Bay Bridge renovations (through a partnership with the non-profit SF Public Press project). Shorter journalism pieces include an article on a disastrous real estate strategy in SF, and as good an infographic on the Congo military conflict as any I've seen.

Like any newspaper, this includes several key sections, including Sports (profiles of some SF teams, plus a very funny 8-page retrospective on the 2009 World Series written by Stephen King); food (a full-page illustrated procedure manual for butchering a lamb, a piece on SF's farmers' markets, and L.E. Leone on "roadkill stew"); comics (all original pieces, including "Sorro, The Gloomy Bandit") and a 3-D crossword puzzle. The Arts section included a very funny look at the differences between movie posters and DVD covers, and an essay by Kevin Collier on participating in t.v. studio audiences.

The 112-page stand-alone magazine section included some excellent writing, including a day-by-day account of hiking Spain's Camino de Santiago, a profile of the AK muckraker who dogged Sarah Palin's gubernatorial term, and some interesting short features, including a call for the penny's value to be increased to 2 cents, and Chip Kidd making some suggestions for a redesign of the Amtrak ticket.

In the 96-page book review section, also standalone, along with a tremendous selection of reviews, the editors have included a list of book titles translated into other languages and then retranslated, with hilarious results, several pieces of new fiction (including a story by Roddy Doyle) and an essay on choosing the cover models for romance novels.

All told, the package contains 120 broadsheet pages, plus 96 pages in the book review and 112 pages in the magazine. The year-long project brought in more than 200 contributors, and must stand, in these difficult times for the form, as a monument to the overstuffed Sunday newspaper that continues to have so much potential.

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