Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

From the satirical to the absurd, this McSweeney’s best-of delivers the goods

Illustration for article titled From the satirical to the absurd, this McSweeney’s best-of delivers the goods

After 15 years in existence, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is a unique powerhouse of quirky comedy. Simply designed and published, the website collects submissions of short pieces that range from the bitingly satirical to the downright absurd. It’s been argued, usually derisively, that McSweeney’s, like many successful literary magazines before it, has a particular style. The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency gives proof to that claim, but shows how dynamic and gut-bustingly funny that style can be. If there is a formula for writing McSweeney’s pieces, it’s a winning one.

Many of the pieces in this collection will be known the site’s fans, but having them in book form does creates a kind of thematic linkage that doesn’t exist when randomly searching online. Plus, the anthology has a simple, slim design, unlike many other collections that try to cram in as many stories as possible. Editors Chris Monks and John Warner were judicious, and it shows both physically and how well the various works fit together.

Several of these pieces could be considered classics, including “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers,” “On The Implausibility Of The Death Star’s Trash Compactor,” and “FAQ: The ‘Snake Fight’ Portion Of Your Thesis Defense.” All these, and the other collected works, are, at minimum, quite funny, but many of them also manage to transcend simply being shtick-prone little shorts. “Snake Fight” is beautifully absurd, but it also rightfully mocks the labyrinthine, and sometimes-moronic, rituals of academia. “Passive-Aggressive Vegan Grocery Cashier: A Day In The Life” skewers holier-than-thou attitudes rather than taking easy shots at veganism. McSweeney’s has a high level of quality on its site, so it’s no surprise that the cream of its crop is out to do more than make readers laugh.

Only one of the pieces really falls flat: “Tweet” by Oyl Miller. Ostensibly a humorous take on Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” (it begins with the same line), the piece just apes the original’s style, instead of expanding or satirizing the poem for a modern audience. Recreating “Howl” in the age of Twitter is an interesting endeavor, but Miller doesn’t seem much interested in doing that. “Tweet” is a rare misstep in an otherwise stellar collection.

Avid readers will probably take less than a day to get through The Best Of McSweeney’s, and it may be better to keep the book in the bathroom or on the coffee table, to be perused at leisure instead of read all at once. But no matter how it’s consumed, this anthology can be enjoyed by anyone with a sense of humor, or a fondness for Ernest Hemingway rewriting Toto’s “Africa” in short-story form.