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Scampering for crumbs
By Alex Carrigan
Mouse Magazine is a new literary website that premiered earlier this spring. The About page says it was started "as a way of getting friends to finish their projects." The first issue of the publication features a mix of poetry, fiction, nonfiction essays, art (comics and videos), and "reportage," short nonfiction pieces that recount specific moments and conversations the authors had. These pieces are an eclectic mix of creative writing that the Editors' Letter says was made "in order to memorialize, to put in one place, the works and ideas of all the strange people we knew."
Before I proceed, I should disclose that this review will be different from my other book reviews on this site. While this is ostensibly a review of the first issue of a new literary publication, it is entirely web-based and the contents of Issue 1 make up all the content on the website. Indeed, I found this a much more challenging piece to review than any of my past book reviews on Quail Bell, and thus had to adjust accordingly. There is a lot more to address in this review than just "what's the literature like and should others read it?" and to even get to the point where I could review this magazine, I had to stop and start the review process numerous times. So please bear with any and all tangents and points brought up, as these were all matters I found important to address when reviewing and critiquing Mouse Magazine.
Naturally, there is a lot to consider when forming a new literary website that will hopefully stay afloat in the sea of numerous literary publications and websites out there. Mouse's first issue has the responsibility of establishing the team behind the website, showing some commonality between the pieces published on the site, and give an indication as to what pieces they would be looking for in future issues. This should be more of a mission statement of the website than the About page or the Editors' Letter.
The first few pieces on the website do establish an idea of some commonality before the pieces. The first issue doesn't need to hold a specific theme and can be more generalized, but even with the more generalized feel of this collection, there are some common trends and themes. Many of the pieces do focus on an international point of view, being about experiences outside the U.S., or focusing on international artists and movements. As an example, Ariella Katz contributes a few pieces inspired by her time living and teaching in Moscow, while one of the reportage pieces is about a Chinese delivery service similar to Postmates or Grubhub.
Several pieces also contain similar critiques about cultural entities. Cameron Knox Day writes about their experiences going through the online communities of the Roman Catholic faith, particularly Catholic Twitter. "The Theme Restaurant At the End of History" compares and contrasts the Cafe Sabarsky experience at the Neue Galerie in New York City with the amusement park culture of America, particularly Disney parks. A few pieces also bring up Friedrich Nietzsche, primarily as how others have responded to his philosophy and not his philosophy in and of itself.
The main issue that Mouse Magazine has in its first issue is that runs into some imbalance and confusion based on how the site is devised and how the pieces are presented. On the home page, there are links to all the pieces that are categorized for Issue 1. While one can click the tabs on top of the page for the specific categories to find the genre of work they are interested in, it is hard to know which pieces on the home page belong to what category. This can be challenging for readers coming for specific genres of literature, and should be something tey get right away on the home page.
This is also not helped by the lack of contributor information presented in the magazine. The links on the home page only say the name of the piece without saying who authored what. Each individual page and the blurbs in the categorized tabs list the author names, but if one were to click on the author names linked on those pages, they'd only see all pieces attributed to them on the website. There are no author biographies on any page, which can make it difficult for readers to find more information or published work by the authors. This robs the website of the opportunity to promote, highlight, and give the authors the chance to have any work outside Mouse Magazine viewed by readers who want to see more. Even more upsetting, there isn't even a page or biographies about the editorial team behind the publication, which can help establish a brand and give an idea of the community for the team. The Editor's Letter is signed "The Editors," and while one may infer who is on the editorial team by the caption of the image on the page, it deprives the site of showing the "friends" whose desire to finish literary projects brought the publication into existence.
The home page also presents another issue in that, because there are no genre separations or author attributions, if a new reader wants to read the website like a print publication, they'll be encouraged to read the pieces top-down. It's not apparent if the links on the home page are placed in a particular order, but it does run into an issue that if one is encouraged to read the pieces in this order, it leads to a very odd reading order. Most of the first pieces listed are long, nonfiction pieces, with poetry and fiction intermittently mixed in. This wouldn't be so bad if the length and depth of most of the nonfiction pieces made it quite tiresome and quite jarring when it switched to these other genres.
This does lead to one of the biggest issues of the first issue: the non-poetry pieces are way, way, way too long. This isn't to say that all of them are bad because of it or that the length works against all of them. However, many of the essays would take more than ten minutes to read fully and accurately, something that is problematic when presenting content on the internet when most readers are accustomed to quick reads, and reading several in succession may be quite mentally taxing for some readers. One of the main issues with these long pieces is that most of them feel long for the sake of being long, and at times it's hard to get to the thesis of these pieces. There were several pieces that could have benefited from a much more critical editorial process that looked to streamline these pieces or at least rearrange some of the paragraphs.
However, despite all of these criticisms of Mouse Magazine, it's important to remember that this is the first issue of what will be potentially more to come. Mouse Magazine has the foundation to be a great literary website, one that encourages rolling submissions and develops more of an identity from its growing list of publications. Reviewing an entire literary website is much harder than reviewing a book, but the takeaway is that there are priorities and processes to take into consideration for the future, and can bring to light many of the challenges and considerations needed to start an independent literary website.
Mouse Magazine represents a fledgling community of authors who want to bring together their international experiences and points of view, react to current and past art and popular culture trends, and create work that is more auteur-driven and experimental. It has a lot of work to undertake if it is going to progress to a second issue, but it has managed to at least gather a lot of what is needed to form a literary identity. If the website manages to focus on that identity or encourage prospective authors to play with that identity, while also showing a willingness and desire to highlight and promote its authors, Mouse Magazine has the potential to become a very fascinating niche publication, and one that can only grow from its established base.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.