Below I have posted the covers of the books for my classes this semester. It is quite a load and it will be accompanied by many other renaissance documents from a database online (see the bottom of this post). I thought I would just catalog my undertaking for this semester and hopefully post occasionally on some of my reading. it will be quite an adventure.
An L-shaped card comes wrapped around the left and back sides of the “head.” Side one, visible through the shrinkwrap, is an illustrated table of contents. Side two is a brief introduction to the issue. Once removed, this card tucks neatly into the box. And it serves the admirable function of keeping words off the box itself. (The box is wall-to-wall art; not a line of text anywhere.)
2. FOUNTAIN CITY, A NOVEL WRECKED BY MICHARL CHABON
Four chapters of Chabon’s abandoned-in-1992 second novel, published here for the first time. Half of this 112-page mini-book consists of the novel excerpt, and it’s good fun to read. The other half — the truly inspired half — consists of Chabon’s blow-by-blow notes on the excruciating six-year process of writing the book before giving it up to write “Wonder Boys” in a matter of months. Reading this, I felt like I was taking a tour through the author’s mind. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. As a bonus, the booklet is wrapped in a handsome jacket that folds out into a mini-poster of the drawing that inspired Chabon to try writing the book in the first place.
3. A FOUR-POSTCARD PAINTING OF A CATFISH-SHAPED SUBMARINE
A sweet little painting by Ian Huebert, broken into four postcards. It’s nice to see some straight-up art in McSweeney’s from time to time. I was a big fan of McSweeney’s recent box of 100 art postcards, and I like these four cards a lot, too. I wish they’d included two sets: one to mail and one to keep.
4. A BOOK OF LETTERS AND STORIES
Because this booklet is contained within a human head, I found myself noticing head- and mind-related themes in many of the pieces. For example: Jesse Eisenberg, star of the recent Facebook movie, has a funny letter in this Facebox about psychotropic drugs. I hope it’s fiction. Ismet Prcic’s disorienting story about a play was disorienting and open-ended. Is it a hallucination? Ricardo Nuila’s story features a character who insists that “the brain is a box.” Colm Toibin’s story is sexually, sensually head-involved. Davy Rothbart’s letter is a kind of mental sketch for a last will and testament. I really liked the selection here and read it all in one sitting with the exception of the Toibin, which took me a couple of tries to get through.
5. EARLY MORNING AT THE STATION, BY ANDREW KENNEDY HUTCHISON BOYD
“A nineteenth-century Scot’s meditation on irreality,” according to the table of contents. In other words: a neat six-page essay about how it’s sometimes hard to believe in the things that are right in front of our faces. At one point, the author expresses frustration with “blockheads,” and I took a fresh look at the sweaty block-headed box in my lap.
6. DON’T GET DISTRACTED, BY SOPHIA CARA FRYDMAN
This mysterious illustrated story booklet feels, in the hand, like a religious tract. A young female artist meets a probably-crazy guy on the street. He claims to be a retired cop and offers unsolicited tips on sidewalk-walking etiquette. It takes about a minute to read, but the artwork (drawn by the author) is painstakingly detailed, and I keep coming back to it.
7. THE DOMESTIC CRUSADERS, BY WAJAHAT ALI
A stage play about a day in the life of a Muslim-American family, written by a young Muslim-American writer, that feels like an episode of the Cosby Show, but with the kind of more-serious twists you might expect to find in a play (and not, say, in an ’80s sitcom). I enjoyed this booklet in itself, but it feels especially good in context, as one of many objects floating around inside a head, behind a balding white guy’s stressed-out facial expression.
8. A FORTY-INCH SCROLL OF FORTUNE-COOKIE FORTUNES
A bunch of very, very funny fake fortune-cookie fortunes “to clip and use.” As with the postcards, I wish they’d have included two: one to keep and one to use. Extra points for the paper and printing style. The scroll, if you were to cut it up, would look exactly like a bunch of little fortunes.
9. THE INSTRUCTIONS, BY ADAM LEVIN
The first chapter from Levin’s new 1,000-page novel of the same name. I’ve been calling my loogies “gooze” all week thanks to this text. Haven’t picked up the actual whole book yet.
10. JUNGLE GERONIMO IN GAY PAREE, BY JACK “L. P. EAVES” PENDARVIS
A ridiculous Tarzan-esque tale, written by the hilarious Jack Pendarvis (of “The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure” and “Awesome” fame) as though it is a 1960s abridgment of a book written in the 1910s. This is a headache-inducing conceit in the best possible way, with illustrations by frequent McSweeney’s collaborator Michael Kupperman. This booklet was unabashedly Jack Pendarvisy for nearly 100 pages, and I laughed out loud and loved it.
11. MA SU MON
A brief first-person narrative from Ma Su Mon, a student protester in Burma who was detained and physically abused by the government because she supports democracy. This is an excerpt from a longer narrative in a forthcoming book on Burmese human-rights crises from McSweeney’s “Voice of Witness” series of oral history books.
12. BICYCLE BUILT FOR TWO, BY TIM HEIDECKER AND GREGG TURKINGTON
This is a fake screenplay (full-length!), “written for Dana Carvey and Mike Myers” (not really — it’s soooo corny) by Tim from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and Gregg Turkington, a.k.a. Neil Hamburger. If you are, like me, a sincere fan of (1) Neil Hamburger’s signature flat-tire humor, and (2) the movies “Wayne’s World” and “Major League,” then I bet you’ll like this booklet, too.