Spring 2010: Chronicle Books' illustrated books

Here's the introduction to the Spring 2010 First Impressions series.

The Art of McSweeney's
By McSweeney's
Chronicle Books | 9780811866231 | $45 | March 2010

Longtime fans of McSweeney's fine products know that there is a crew of passionate, book-loving, word-loving insane people working side-by-side with Dave Eggers behind the scenes to make every issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The Believer, Wholphin, and their stand-alone book projects, come out as magically as they do.  I know some of them in a distant-cousin-who-used-to-live-closer-than-they-do-now sort of way, from back when I was a sales rep for PGW, their distributor to bookstores.

When I was sitting in those sales conference meetings and the folks from McSweeney's would come in and pitch their upcoming products to us, describing in maddeningly vague yet tantalizing detail, you couldn't help but be caught up in it.  Possibly my favorite memory of a McSweeney's sales conference was when they described the then-upcoming Issue #22, it of the three separate volumes of poetry-chains, unused F. Scott Fitzgerald story ideas, and current Oulipo experiments.  It went something like this.  They described how there would be three parts, and "well, we're trying to figure out a way to bind each volume into hardcovers with magnets."  Silence.  Then gasps.  Magnets!

And they did it.  They made a book with magnets.

You can learn about that issue of the Concern and more – pick up this inspirational look back at all the amazing creativity that has come out of McSweeney's, an oral history of sorts, with all the players remembering how their favorite projects came to be.

Naturally it's a beautiful object of a book, with dozens of tiny short stories printed on the book jacket.  No magnets that I'm aware of.


Ramayana: Divine Loophole
By Sanjay Patel
Chronicle Books | 9780811871075 | $29.95 | Jan 2010


I first met Sanjay Patel on the Internet.  At the time, I was the above-mentioned PGW sales rep and regular Boing Boing reader.  A Pixar animator, Patel had just put together his own self-published edition of Little India (which eventually became The Little Book of Hindu Deities) and it got a mention on Boing Boing.  I was really interested in how it looked and I ordered a copy from him.  We corresponded briefly about ways to help bring his book to a wider audience, but what happened in the end was that Plume brought out a really charming and beautiful edition of Hindu Deities.

Since then, at least on the book front, there's been silence.  But now, after years of work, Sanjay Patel is back with a wonderfully illustrated retelling of the Ramayana in his own style: Ramayana: Divine Loophole.

Fans of Sita Sings The Blues will definitely find something to love here.


Tiny Art Director: A Toddler and Her Vision
By Bill Zeman
Chronicle Books | 9780811872294 | $14.95 | March 2010

Based on the well-loved blog, this book showcases the parallel development of Bill Zeman's talent as on-demand-illustrator (primarily for his in-house client, his daughter) and her growing skill and imperiousness as a demanding art director. 

The Brief: I want you to draw me a dinosaur! Not a scary one! He's taking a bath. The Critique: I don't like him. Job Status: RejectedBeginning when she was two, Zeman's daughter would give him a brief for a new art assignment, typically involving dinosaurs or crocodiles.  After his piece was complete, she would evaluate his work, frequently with withering disdain, and either accept or reject the work.

Capturing all that is enchanting and frustrating about both parenting and working as an illustrator-for-hire, Tiny Art Director is a fun little book (and still ongoing blog!) with a lot to laugh about.