I remember the first time I ever encountered McSweeney’s. The quarterly journal had just premiered and I found it on the magazine rack of a wonderful bookstore in Toronto called Pages, which no longer exists. I had been hearing about the journal and kept visiting the store to see if it was in. Finally, it was, shrink-wrapped in cellophane. That it was shrink-wrapped is very important in my memory, because even though I bought the issue immediately and was dying to read it, I kept it in its wrapping for several weeks, passing hours examining the front and back covers and spine. Something was happening on those surfaces, a language I was not familiar with, which seemed important and exciting and new. It directly addressed the reader while also questioning itself. I had never encountered an object like this before. I felt, this is how people must have felt upon first seeing a Surrealist painting, but what category did this thing belong to? Something that didn’t exist yet.
Needing to share my obsession (I still hadn’t unwrapped it) I put twenty dollars in an envelope and mailed it to Montreal—to a friend of mine who was living with an ex-boyfriend who I was still in love with, asking my friend if he would buy my ex that issue of McSweeney’s. Knowing my ex, I feared that if I sent the money to him directly, he would either be too lazy or would forget to buy the quarterly or would use the money to buy beer. My friend did as I asked and bought him the issue. It took ten years for me to learn from my friend that my ex had returned the journal to the store—without unwrapping it, immediately upon receiving it—and used the money the cashier had given him to buy two cases of beer.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, I did finally open the Quarterly and read it, but I don’t recall spending as much time on its contents as I had spent staring at its cover. I wanted to be part of that world.
Sheila Heti appeared in Quarterly Issues 4, 6, 28, 32, 42. Sign up today for the Quarterly today and you’re entered to win a complimentary copy of Issue 32, 42, or the Best of McSweeney’s.