Notes from the McSweeney’s Representative
Hi. This will be a new semi-weekly kind of column thing I’m hoping to write. I will do my best to maintain some sort of schedule. Thank you for your indulgence.
DAVID BYRNE EVENT SUMMARY, SAN FRANCISCO
It was just two days after the Philly event that we had scheduled an event in San Francisco to celebrate the release of David Byrne’s The New Sins.
Stacey Lewis of City Lights Bookstore had secured a night at cellSPACE, a warehouse sort of venue at 18th and Bryant, and Byrne was in town for a few concerts, so it was the best time, probably the only time, to do it.
To round out the bill, we were able to entice Michael Chabon, who recently won some award or other, and who lives in the area, and who’s pretty much the nicest guy anyone knows. The plan was that I’d read, Chabon would read, Byrne would do his Powerpoint Presentation, and afterward we’d all sit on a panel, answering audience members’ questions about either a) relationships or b) ancient Iranian linguistics.
Most of the latter brand of query were fielded by Dr. Martin Schwartz, a professor of history and linguistics at UC Berkeley who agreed to come and sit on the panel. Strangely enough, many of the audience members had questions for him, and lucky for us, Schwartz knew his stuff.
As did Chabon, who read a grisly but still very funny story about the murder of a clown, and as did Byrne, who had, incredibly, prepared his seamless and haunting Powerpoint show while on the road. The audience of about 500, sitting and standing and literally hanging from cellSPACE’s warehouse rafters, were rapt.
The night ended, for the first time, when the second of two audience members asked Byrne if he would sing a song, presumably a cappella. Byrne demurred, so instead we asked the questioner if, in lieu of Byrne’s singing, he himself would do the honors.
And he did. His name was Jonathan, he was in high school, I’d met him at a reading in Santa Cruz a month earlier, and he did an unforgettable version of “Heaven,” a song an 18-year-old has no business knowing.
Afterward, just as Byrne starting signing books and Dr. Schwartz was being surrounded by new fans, the venue’s doors burst open and a 25-piece marching band entered. A band of dancers and drummers. No joke. There were amazing. And we hadn¹t even hired them. Byrne stood on his chair and clapped and danced, and the audience danced, and at one point one of the drummers shoved his snare in our faces, and it was loud.
By the way, if you have not seen cellSPACE, and live in the Bay Area, go there. If you live within 1200 miles of this place, go there. It’s the sort of place you’d create, in your dreams, for stuff like this. It’s huge, and has a gallery, and has all kinds of weird levels and rooms, and reminds one very distinctly, and in the very best way, of Bartertown.
We desperately hope to be doing events there pretty much all the damned time. I’d like to thank everyone at cellSPACE, for their incredible hospitality, and also Stacey Lewis and everyone at City Lights, for their endless patience with us, and their continued and unwavering support.
So. We’re not sure of the precise program for Track 16 in L.A. on Sunday, but please know that any and all marching bands, or even a steel whistle, are welcome. Hope to see you there.
We’d like to mention how much fun we’re having doing all this stuff, and how much we’ve appreciated your support thus far.
We are still relatively new to the book publishing process, and so every new book we get, and every event we do, makes us giddy, and we continue to be amazed by how well everything’s been going. We hoped to publish books we love and get them into the hands of those who like books. And that’s what has happened so far. We thank you for giving us a chance.
Thank you everyone in Philadelphia. I defer to Neal’s account of the event. That was damned fun.
PAUL MALISZEWSKI AND ISSUE NO. 7
A long time ago, Paul Maliszewski, prolific writer, resident of Durham and one of our contributing editors, sent a proposal our way for a book, to be a collection of pieces, fictional and nonfictional, that would toe and blur the line between fact and fiction. He’d already collected a bunch of work, and thought it would make a great book. We agreed, but then realized it would also make a damned decent issue of McSweeney’s.
So we asked and he said yes, he’d edit this collection, which would constitute our next issue. And he’s done an amazing job. This is a fantastic mix of stuff, featuring new work by Gabe Hudson, Aleksandar Hemon, Ben Marcus, Samantha Hunt, Rick Moody, Rachel Cohen, Jonathan Ames, Darin Strauss, Lynne Tillman, Paul LaFarge, J. Robert Lennon, Steve Featherstone, Kevin Guilfoile, and regulars Lawrence Weschler, Colleen Werthmann, Todd Pruzan, Sean Wilsey and Kevin Shay, among many, many others.
This issue will be out in September.
LYDIA DAVIS, COMING SOON
Lydia Davis’s new book, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, is finished and will go to press soon for a mid-October release date. This is a mesmerizing book. Good God, if you’ve never read Lydia Davis, but have heard of her deeds, please dig in, now. Her previous books are all available through FSG, and will only create, in you, hunger for this new one. The book collects her work since Almost No Memory.
If you have questions about this book, or are a reviewer and would like a galley, or would like to see about an interview, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE FUN IN HOLDING DAVID BYRNE’S BOOK
One of the first times I visited the Oddi Printing plant outside of Reykjavik — it’s actually, technically, within Reykjavik, but it’s a few miles from the city center — I remember noticing how many very different things Oddi printed. On the factory floor were as-yet-unbound pages from novels, calendars, magazines, coupons, yearbooks, maps — pretty much everything that would need printing in a small country. Or a large country. I’m not sure why I said small country in the first place. I am sorry for that. I do not mean to diminish Iceland for its size. Which is small.
And they printed Bibles. I have a thing for Bibles. For the most part, my Bible-collecting is limited to 19th-century models, but I like them all, especially when their publishers include etchings, paintings, colored type and maps. And I love the faux leather covers so common with Bibles printed in the last 40 or 50 years. I remember asking Bjossi, our point-man at Oddi, if the cost of covering a book with that faux leather was prohibitively expensive, and was surprised to hear it was actually very affordable. In the back of my mind I hoped we could, at some point, be able to use the material ourselves.
But I never thought it would come so soon, and with David Byrne.
Elsewhere on the site we’ve talked about The New Sins (Los Pecados Nuevos), David Byrne’s book, due out very soon. When we first announced our partnership with Byrne, we were in the middle of designing the book, and we subsequently sent it to press, under the supervision of Danielle, who works with Byrne at Todo Mundo.
Well, we have seen the first copies of the book, and we’re overwhelmed. Thanks entirely to Danielle’s attention — she traveled to Iceland to oversee production — and to everyone at Oddi Printing, the book is just gorgeous. It really looks like a mini-Bible, which was the hope, but good lord, when you get a book back from the printer and it looks this good, you just want to jump around for a while. Byrne’s 80 or so photographs look perfect, and the cover looks perfect, and there is, around the cover, what’s called a “bellyband” — a thin, removeable band, this one in gold, that includes the book’s author, price and bar code. Even the bellyband looks great.
I focus on the book as physical object first because Byrne himself already covered the creation of the text in his diary, and second because the project was originally conceived by Byrne as a piece of art, with the text and format and look of it all important to its success as an object. That it looks precisely like the sort of bound religious tract handed out at an airport or available, for a $1 donation, in the lobby of a church is just as crucial as the fact that it also reads like such a tract.
Which it does. The New Sins is a passionate and strange and funny book. If you read Byrne’s account of its creation, you can see how committed he was to writing this book in a way that will strike his longtime fans as startlingly raw. It’s really a feat, this. If you follow Byrne’s work as an artist and provocateur, don’t miss this book.
The New Sins will be available in all stores soon. David Byrne will be doing more events related to the book, in many cities where he’s appearing during his concert tour.
Please check often to see if he’ll be doing a book-related event in your city. The next one will be Austin, at Bookpeople, on August 15.
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