Dispatches | October 19, 2006

When I was asked to put together a collection of The Missouri Review’s travel essays to use as a perquisite for our subscription offer, I thought to myself, “Sure, not a problem.” It didn’t strike me as a huge editorial challenge. The essays had already been edited and proofread for publication. Some had even won awards and been reprinted in Best-of anthologies. All I had to do was select the best of the best, oversee the layout and design, find a cover, and order up the print run.

As with most seemingly easy endeavors, there were immediate snags. Some of the essays I selected went back a few years, in fact, all the way back to the days of floppy disks. Most of these only existed in perfect form between the covers of the published magazine. This meant scanning and then carefully proofing to reinstate dropped italics, change hyphens into dashes and correct crazy paragraph returns. The same sort of scramble happened when the newly corrected text was dropped into the designer’s template for page layout.

Also suddenly there were many choices to be made about headers, footers, typeface, etc. The same was true when dealing with the printer; paper weight and color was only the beginning. The phrase “tyranny of choice” comes to mind.

Next it became evident that I would need to write a foreword. I am the least likely candidate to write in praise of travel. I am a lame adventurer. As I say in the piece, I wish I were someone who could trot out door with a few clean pairs of underwear and a credit card in one pocket and my passport in the other, but I’m not — never have been, never will. I explain my reluctance in the foreword, which, of course, you can read for yourself when you receive a free copy of The Best of the Missouri Travel with your two- or three-year subscription.

For the cover, Speer wanted something “plainly splashy.” The graphic designer initially selected a painting by Arshile Gorky of a geometric rendering of the United States. Unfortunately, the Newark Museum, the painting’s copyright owner, would not allow any alterations to the image, which is necessary for cover art. In frustration, I turned to cover artist Mark McManus. His design features a wooden labyrinth game, a good metaphor both for travel and book publishing.