I wrote this thing for a kind-of online book club for Videogum commentors about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: MOBFD | Opposites Attack
(other write-ups will appear next week, and then no one will talk about this book again for twelve years)
OMISSIONS: Some really great sex scenes were omitted, at the request of those who are now married or involved. Also removed was a fantastic scene—100 percent true—featuring most of the piece's primary characters and a whale. Further, this version reflects the omission of a number of sentences, paragraphs, and passages. Among them:
SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE: Reading him made me speak and even think like him – only DFW and Thomas Pynchon had previously done that.
AND THEN A LITTLE LATER: And then this great, great takedown in the New York Times that I still go back and reread sometimes and about which movie Napoleon Complex once used the F word at me. ON THE INTERNET WHERE IT STAYS FOREVER.
AND THEN STILL LATER: Donnell Alexander read from Ghetto Celebrity, a book that was slated to be one of the first books published by McSweeney’s, and he paused – maybe in mid-sentence, sure, why not – and looked at the crowd and said, “I just realized this isn’t a very McSweeney’s style book.”
There were non-white, non-male writers, though, I think? Amanda Davis springs to mind and Zadie Smith hung around the main office for a while. I guess there were a few ladies, but two of the ones that seemed most striking at the time –
(1) Lucy Thomas, whose slice-of-life stories (collected in “Jokes told in Heaven About Babies”) become distracted and undercut their own narratives with non-sequiturs, and
(2) Elizabeth Klemm whose “Mr. Squishy” reads like if Infinite Jest was a short story
– turned out to actually be by dudes (Eggers and David Foster Wallace)
IN THE "BACKLASH" SECTION: Issue 16 of McSweeney’s in 2005 came with a free comb (a throwback to the Galapagos haircuts?), and when I bought it, the employee at the McSweeney’s store rolled her eyes when she showed it to me.)
AND SOMEWHERE TOWARD THE END:
Thorn: When I first got your book, um, in the mail, when I asked for them to send it to me, because I’d heard it was quite finny, I was worried that it would be another one of these McSweeney Asshole Books, where it’s just a lot of unnecessary verbiage …
Hodgman: You mean it’s not?
Thorn: …Well, I, you know, I mean to some extent it is, I don’t mean to underplay the McSweeney aspect quality of it. But were you worried that it would just fall too deeply into that kind of house style of McSweeney’s?
Hodgman: I wasn’t worried about that because McSweeney’s was the venue that allowed me to explore this voice and this subject matter to begin with. I mean, obviously without McSweeney’s, I never would have written “Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent”; I never would have developed, I think, this sort of, this particular voice of the eternal authority who’s also kind of a blinkered idiot. But more to the point, McSweeney’s gave me this sort of excuse to write funny, because before that I was writing serious short stories that had some comic stuff in it, but McSweeney’s was, as a literary journal to publish serious fiction against experimental fiction against sheer absurdist comedy, I mean, it was very liberating for me. So if it had only reached people who appreciated McSweeney’s, I would probably be pretty happy, because (a) I owe those people a lot as it is and (b) I think there are quite a few of them, you know, who dig it. But I also felt going into it, that I wanted the book to reach as many people as possible and it would be inevitable and I think not unreasonable to compare it to McSweeney’s. I had no idea what that audience might be and I did suspect that it might just reach those people who are already attuned to that McSweeney’s style, who would like it but I’m glad to say that it has reached those people and a little beyond too.
[and then later]
I am lucky, I suppose, that I’ve evaded the McSweeney’s Asshole Book label because I know that there are people out there who, no matter what the quality of the work and no matter what the particular point of view of the individual author they just hate hate hate McSweeney’s. It just really bugs some people. And I guess the worry I had was that the book would find its way into the hands of a journalist or a reviewer who felt that way and simply because they would associate me with something – that I believe in – but because of that, they would be mean about it. And luckily that hasn’t happened. Until right now, actually. So thanks.