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The book release party for Hang Glider & Mud Mask at Southern Exposure should have been a bust. Scheduled for 6 p.m. at the end of a long work week, the elements were colluding: Steady rain poured down from above, parking involved several passes around the venue, and the nearest BART station was 11 blocks away. A poor turnout was all but guaranteed, and yet, they came. They all came, and they were happy they did.
This is McSweeney's we're talking about. They are not known to disappoint.
It has been some time since were were children, and neither of us currently has the human kind. I scanned the room in search of consultants, but they were hard to catch. Still clad in rain boots and slickers, tiny bodies ran around the open floor plan in swarms, flashes of red and pink and blue and green moving en masse.Enter Alex and Samantha. With a determined look, the girls walked straight across the room to the first work, standing no more than two feet away, and 10 seconds later, as if on cue, they side-stepped right. As it happens, Alex, age 9, and Samantha, 5 ¾, are regulars on the book party circuit.
"But this is my first children's book party," Alex clarified. She had read the book, and found it to be clever. With a furrowed brow and expressive gestures, she explained that the book opened from two sides and the stories merged in the middle, something she had never seen before.
I sought out other families, trailing a father across the room as a child pulled on each arm, determined to make their way toward the table covered in book-themed edible goods. He appreciated that the story was slightly different than others he read at bedtime, confessing an acute aversion to farm-centric titles. Sure, the book required a bit more explanation than usual, but the parents are more engaged than usual. This exchange sets the stage for meaningful conversation that lasts long after the 32 pages of exceptional prints conclude. Hang Glider & Mud Mask accomplishes the loftiest goal a picture book with few words can: It greatly enriches the experience of gathering together as a family.
McMullen, himself a father of two, explained the genesis of the imprint in an e-mail as he would any project at McSweeney's. "Somebody on our dozen-person crew follows a personal interest or excitement, and the act of following that interest leads to a concrete publishing project." He named additional examples, equally innovative in format and content, including the quarterly food magazine, Lucky Peach, and the forthcoming Song Reader by Beck, which consists entirely of sheet music. They are not necessarily "programmatic about this," he furthered. "Whatever works works."
In this case, Hang Glider & Mud Mask most definitely works.