What I’ve Been Reading: The San Francisco Panorama (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 33)

You know, sometimes McSweeney’s can get a little too cute. Ask the poor souls who subscribed to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and ended up with the “Pretending It’s a Pile of Mail” issue. Or the “Three Books in One Connected by Magnets” issue. Or the “Who We Should Invade Next Parody” issue. And while I love the Quarterly Concern and would defend it to death, you’d be right if you assumed McSweeney’s focused on the package more than the writing.

Sometimes. You’d be right sometimes.

So, yeah. Of course McSweeney’s would be presenting Issue 33 as a newspaper. A real newspaper, on newsprint, with journalists and newsy things. Of course they would. That’s what they do. See the above paragraph. The one that talks about being too cute.

The San Francisco PanoramaTo say I was a little skeptical, despite McSweeney’s consistent track record of great writing, is an understatement. This could have failed miserably. This could have been a waste of a Quarterly Concern.


Turns out this idea was absolutely fantastic. I stand corrected.

Printed on oversized, thick newsprint, the Panorama is a beautifully designed “new-newspaper” prototype, filled with in-depth reporting and high-dollar contributors. Originally designed to show what newspapers could be, the viability of a 120-page newspaper (not including a 96-page Panorama Book Review and 112-page Panorama Magazine) with 218 contributors seems rather low. The ten-section/two-magazine publication cost $80,000 in editorial costs, with a unit cost of $7.98.

It sells for $16. One issue. $16. A bargain compared to the typical Quarterly Concern hardcover price, but still – seemingly expensive for a newspaper. Even as a weekly publication, its life would be cut short by penny-pinching subscribers and lack of mainstream coverage.

But let’s be honest. This isn’t just a newspaper. Dave Eggers, editor and McSweeney’s chief, understands this. He understands that this is a special edition, that this test is more than just a prototype, but also a tribute to the craft of newspapering.

And it’s beautiful. It’s easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it enough – especially for those who have grown tired of their local paper (those not lucky enough to get a real one like the New York Times or Washington Post or even Minneapolis Star Tribune) but still miss the feel of those oversized pages, those hyper-timely articles, those “can’t miss” moments and random-yet-brilliant Style pages.

So all I can say is this: get this, if you have a chance. It’s pretty great.

And now, A list of the best things in the San Francisco Panorama (not including the Panorama Magazine or the entire Panorama Book Review, both of which I haven’t even finished reading.)

• “The Tragedy of Mendocino” by Jesse Nathan, about California’s Emerald Triangle and its hidden and environmentally dangerous marijuana trade.

• “Golden State: Transition Basketball” by Free Darko

• “On the World Series” by Stephen King (including a fantastic retro Converse ad on the back page)

• “Living With a Yellow Dwarf” monster two-page infographic on the unusually quiet solar cycle

• The Death Cab for Cutie infographic

• Let’s face it: EVERY infographic

• “Can a Paper Mill Save a Forest?” by Nicholson Baker, about the possibility that digital information may be harder on the environment than paper

• “KPOO,” by Chinaka Hodge, on San Francisco’s long running independent radio station, KPOO

• The Comics (which, on their own, retail for $10) including Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman and Erik Larsen

• “The End, The End, The End, Etcetera,” by China Mieville, about the overabundance of movies about the apocalypse

• “The Desperate Art of DVD Covers,” by Moze Halperin, on the difference between marketing and art as it relates to film posters and their respective DVD covers

• “I Participate in TV Studio Audiences,” by Kevin Collier, a mini-memoir about jumping from studio audience to studio audience, from Maury to Paula Deen.

• The Food Section, which includes stories like “Water: A Road Trip” by Lisa M. Hamilton, about once-fertile California farmland now rendered useless thanks to a drougt-imposed restriction on aquaduct water; “Lambchetta in 58 Steps” by Ryan Farr, on knowing, slaughtering and cooking a lamb from beginning to end; and “Roadkill Stew” by L. E. Leone, on hitting a deer – and then cooking it.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 29th, 2010