The day began with a comment from a colleague that working with a certain buggy database program made him feel like Sisyphus, and it ended with three pieces of reading. An hour or so after the colleague’s remark, I was trading favourite Onion headlines via email with a friend, and she sent me one from June 2002: Getting Mom onto Internet a Sisyphean Ordeal.
The Onion is a weekly satirical newspaper available at www.theonion.com, or by subscription in print to those who haven’t spent all their money on a high-speed connection. A visit to the Onion will boost your week, even if you only have time to read the headlines: Gaywads, Dorkwads Sign Historic Wad Accord; Customer Awkwardly Accepts One Cent, Receipt; and so on. Onion war coverage is always superb (New Fox Reality Show to Determine Ruler of Iraq) and I particularly like the hilarious fictional opinion columnists, like Jim Anchower, the pothead slacker, or Smoove B, who’s going to sex you up all night. Two references to Sisyphus in one day was interesting, but three was a definite trend.
Issue 2.2 of Collier’s (Drawn & Quarterly) arrived in the office that same day and I read it with pleasure over lunch. Collier’s is a serial comic book written and drawn by David Collier, a resident of Hamilton and regular Geist contributor. His comics tell true stories, and the ones he writes about old friends are always sad, affectionate and easy to relate to. In Issue 2.2 he offers the story of his friendship with Brat X, a doomed fellow comic artist, and describes their hard financial and social lives in early-1980s Toronto. The issue is so sweet and compelling that I managed not to get distracted by the frame that pictured Collier pushing an ice-cream cart up a hill and thinking to himself that he felt like Sisyphus with his rock. I got the final message while I was waiting for some friends at a restaurant after work.
I was occupying myself with the latest issue of The Believer, a new monthly book review magazine produced by Dave Eggers through McSweeney’s, his San Francisco-based empire of heady young publishing. I have my doubts that this new venture will succeed—at least in Canada, where few people in publishing can pony up the US $100/year subscription price—but I hope it takes off anyway. The magazine is Eggers’ West Coast answer to the “snarky” East Coast monopoly of book reviewing that, according to one writer, lauds mediocre books and attacks imperfect, ambitious writing, thus doing all authors and the reading public a disservice. The Believer’s mission is to give “people and books the benefit of the doubt”; its creed is that all books, even flawed books, are inherently good (in a moral sense, if not a literary one). The magazine itself is thick, weighty and lovely in that leather-armchair, cigar-room kind of way. Its mandate notwithstanding, it doesn’t present “hooray for everyone” reviews, but it does offer long, thoughtful essays, punctuated with shorter features that have the Eggers tone: adolescent, but sincere in its excitement about creativity. Eggers’ work reminds me of a precocious child who shouts, “Watch me!” You watch dutifully, but you still smile at what you see. The dense text of the magazine is a bit daunting, and sometimes it takes me a few days of stepping in and out of the mag to get into the flow. But on that day of coincidence at the restaurant, I didn’t get past page 1. In the first paragraph of the first article, the author refers to George Orwell’s “Sisyphean vision of the average book critic.” I took the hint from the fates and stopped reading for the day.