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I love everything about McSweeney’s – the concept, the variety, the intelligence of it all – and so I really I had high hopes for the “Best of”. It comes in at over 600 pages, a monster of a compilation, and will probably have a little something for everyone. I have to say though – and this may be because initial expectations are so important in one’s ultimate evaluation – this edition is good, and certainly worth reading, but it didn’t blow me away as much as I was hoping it would. I’m not sure if it’s because, like a rock group who releases a Greatest Hits album and then includes songs from later (and lesser) albums that really shouldn’t be on there, editors Eggers and Bass opted for completeness and breadth over quality. I do think it could have been tightened up, understanding that it must have been a very difficult task, and in the end it may be just a matter of personal taste.

How the contributions stack up for me, which also gives an idea for how hard it is to assign a single rating to the overall collection:

Favorites (4.5 stars)
“Retreat”, and “Retreat #2”, Wells Tower
“The Girl With Bangs”, Zadie Smith
“Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events”, Kevin Moffett
“Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?”, John Hodgman
“Two By Two”, Gunnhild Øyehaug

Solid (4 stars)
“The Ceiling”, Kevin Brockmeier
“New Boy”, Roddy Doyle
“Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington”, Jess Walter
The assorted sampler of comics / graphic novels from #13
“The Bees”, Dan Chaon
“Gentleman, Start Your Engines”, Andrew Sean Greer
“Coop”, Glen David Gold (one of several 20-minute stories from #12)
“Bored to Death”, Jonathan Ames
“There is No Time in Waterloo”, Sheila Heti
“The Double Zero”, Ricky Moody
“Girl and Giraffe”, Lydia Millet
“Hot Pink”, Adam Levin
“The New, Abridged Dictionary of Accepted Ideas”, E. Rozic and A. Hemon

Meh (3 stars)
15-20 other contributions that are too tedious to list

Ugh (1 star)
“They All Stand Up And Sing”, Julie Hecht
“Mr. Squishy”, David Foster Wallace (this one was so poor it had me traumatized and curled up in the fetal position after slogging through it…Eggers seems so proud of himself to have gotten “DFW” to add a few ‘newlines’ to his paragraphs during the editing process and the fact that it was originally published under a pseudonym that he doesn’t critically evaluate it – and omit it – as he should have done)
“Notes From the Middle World”, Breyten Breytenbach

And, as a side note, I love Eggers’ relating the story about the inspiration for how his publication tries to select writers; he quotes Maura McSweeney, who he met (along with her husband Timothy) in Galway, Ireland, about a writer she liked: “He writes like he’s seeing the world for the first time.” … love that one.½
1 vote
gbill | Nov 25, 2016 |