Friday, November 18, 2005

The redeeming value (at least in theory) of an otherwise disappointing little press

William T. Vollmann won the National Book Award for his new collection of stories Wednesday night.

On the whole, I'm not a big William T. Vollmann fan. (I have neither read nor have I any plans to read any of his work.) Seeing his name in the Times, however, prompted me to think a little about his last major work, a treatise on violence and an attempt at a moral calculus entitled Rising Up and Rising Down.

The original version of Rising Up and Rising Down was a seven volume, 3000+ page set published by Dave Eggers' McSweeney's Books.

I've complained in the past about the fact that books published by McSweeney's are often not very good. Eggers himself often uses McSweeney's as something of a vanity press, exemplified nowhere better than his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, which in its original form was visually striking, but felt rushed to the press. There were major copyediting errors, and the book itself was heavily revised before the paperback was published by Random House's Vintage imprint.

Still, as a lover of books as objects, I'm pleased that a press like McSweeney's exists that is still willing to put something like a seven volume set in print. In practice, I have little doubt that the single volume paperback gives you the heart of Mr. Vollmann's argument, but it is exciting to see that a magnum opus can be given a deserving (and encompassing) presentation.

(11/21/05--BOOKFORUM asks me to reconsider my Vollmann apathy.)

No comments: