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Dave Eggers is the literary provocateur of his generation. For the past four years, his McSweeney's magazine has charted new waters, tossing old-school routines overboard with each issue. Issue Four arrived last year from Iceland in a shrink-wrapped box. Issue Five came in this month with three different covers. With Eggers once again riding the masthead as editor and designer, it looks like a book, is jacketed like a book, bound like a book and priced like a book, at $16.

Touring recently in support of his New York Times-bestseller memoir, Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers was heckled at a West Coast reading. He calmly dealt with the rude interruptions. Afterwards, his host apologized for the audience's abuse. Eggers smiled and said, "Hey, no problem. That guy was my friend. I asked him to do that."

Laid out cleanly, exquisitely typeset, on high quality paper, Eggers' Issue Five is heckling all of us right back. The ringmaster of print-media standup comedy, Eggers solicits humor, mostly pop-cult irony, from his McSweeney's family--on-call from his San Francisco turf from Might magazine days, his Chicago hometown, the New York City home of his publishing empire ... and Durham, N.C. (Contributing editor Paul Maliszewski moved here a few months ago.)

Humble Timothy McSweeney is now manning a dynamic, popular Web site (updated every day with fast-breaking text, too quick for the hard copy McSweeney's), reprinting early issues and publishing a first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. That everything Eggers touches turns to publishing gold is a fact not lost on bibliophiles. E-bay offers ample evidence of early McSweeney's issues as collectibles. (He was able to print only 2,500 copies of Issue One. Issue Five got a circulation bump up to 20,000.) Semi-nude publicity photos of Neal Pollack have also been auctioned recently.

Deftly hooking the media, with a biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you punch line, Eggers sent Pollack on a cross-country book tour this fall, provoking columnists and readers at each stop. (See the McSweeney's Web site for Pollack's bloodstained tour diary.) Pollack's satiric ego-driven, aging-white-novelist persona initially appeared in the very first issue of McSweeney's, with a piece that included some of the funniest anti-tech prose on the planet, "The Burden of Internet Celebrity." ("How many e-mails will I get today? Two thousand? Three thousand? Thirty-two thousand? I sigh deeply.")

And now, oh culturally assaulted, jaded-but-chuckling, most multi-tasked, omni-observant media gleaner, the classic Eggers twist: Is Neal Pollack really Dave Eggers? A West Coast Columbia School of Journalism grad columnist swears he is. The T. McSwy. Web site published a recent rebuttal from Pollack's mom in Chicago. But we already know that's Dave's hometown, too. He's carried it off pretty well being Mr. Timothy McSweeney, right? What's another identity? Last week in San Francisco, Eggers was signing the Pollack novel with his initials. But on "his" East Coast tour, Pollack didn't "look" like Eggers at all. When is a magazine not a book?

More by John Valentine

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