And so McSweeney's is 10 years old (or was in 2009, it's now 11 years old) and they celebrate with (yet another) "Best Of" collection. This is the fifth (there may be more) "Best Of McSweeneys" books to come out in the last 5 years and, ironically, it's a collection of stories that aren't really the best that McSweeney's offers.
Most of the offerings in this book have been reprinted before in previous "Best Of" books by McSweeneys - at least 5 stories appear in "Best Of Vol 2", so this collection is uninspired at best. And then from Nick Hornby's intro (he's the editor) he says that he hasn't read most of McSweeney's, he just buys them and puts them on a shelf. Great, an editor who hasn't even bothered to read the issues! Hornby also mentions that since most of McSweeney's are like ornaments, this book was meant as a normal book to be read as normal. Well, if he's at all familiar with McSweeney's (and that statement says to me that he isn't), he'll know that nearly all of the issues are regular hard and paperback books. Occasionally you'll get something like the newspaper issue, or the junk mail issue, but on the whole they're just regular books so there's really no excuse for not reading them as such.
Hornby gripes aside, what's inside? There are a couple of highlights - AM Homes' "Do Not Disturb" is about a marriage enduring the wife's cancer battle and is mesmerising. Homes is a tremendous writer. Tom Bissell's "God Lives in St Petersburg" is a haunting tale of lost souls in a village in Uzbekistan. Ismet Prcic's "Porcus Omnivorous" is an excellent story of a man who escaped war in the Slavic states only to encounter his enemies once again in America. And that's about it really. There are a whole lot more but they aren't really that great.
What about "The Mysterious Stranger" by Joyce Carol Oates (McSweeney's 21), "The Flying Machine" by Marc Bojanowski (22), "The Guy Who Kept Meeting Himself" by Ryan Boudinot (28), "It's Nice When Someone is Excited To Hear From You" by Brian Blaise (29), "Diamond Aces" by Carson Mells (30), "Survivor" by Douglas Coupland (31), "Raw Water" by Wells Tower (32), "The Wreck of the Beverley B" by TC Boyle (34), or "Alarm" by Roy Jacobsen (35)? With Hornby choosing mostly stories that have appeared in previous Best of McSweeney's books, this book just feels like a lazy effort.
I would direct readers keen to discover McSweeney's to avoid "Best Of" compilations and just dive right in. Pick up the latest issue. It'll give you the full flavour of what McSweeney's is all about and is ten times better than reprinted stories from years gone by. So avoid this book, it's really not that great, but McSweeney's really is a great publication and I heartily point you toward their latest issue - onwards!