Since launching in 2005, D.C. literary journal Barrelhouse has been publishing short stories, poems, and essays about all manner of human experiences. But where it’s diverged from traditional literary magazines is in its outright celebration of pop culture—all of it, good and bad, silly and serious, widely revered and widely shunned.
This week, Barrelhouse expanded beyond its magazine format and released its first book, Bring the Noise. The book gathers 13 of the editors’ favorite essays from the first 11 issues, along with five new pieces, broaching subjects from teen idols to professional wrestling.
Why publish a book now? According to Barrelhouse‘s nonfiction editor Tom McAllister, the team has been itching to try something new and hopefully expand its audience in the process. But it didn’t make its entrée into publishing imprudently. “We didn’t want to just settle,” McAllister says. He says the team had another kind of book in mind—-a “kind of weird” one—-but decided to stick to material that wasn’t foreign to Barrelhouse readers. “We thought the best way to kick it off would be to kind of focus on what is more or less our trademark.”
The chosen essays all deal with pop culture in some way, but they’re also deeply personal pieces told through an element of pop culture. McAllister says the best essays “kind of acknowledge that pop culture is part of their lives, but [show] an understanding of how that’s kind of shaped them as a person.” McAllister points to Jill Talbot‘s “Lost Calls,” the last essay in the collection, which references Jim Croce‘s song “Operator” and John Cusack‘s tearful pay-phone call from Say Anything while revealing the author’s complicated relationship with her ex.
A childhood fan of professional wrestling, McAllister is particularly excited for people to read W. Todd Kaneko‘s “Babyface,” a chronicle of wrestling’s heyday in the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, fiction editor Dave Housley is still holding out hope for the perfect Kanye West essay—-though some Kanye-influenced poetry may rear its head in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
What else is in store for the Barrelhouse gang? More magazines, more podcasts, more workshops, and another book project. Even better, business is going so well, says McAllister, that future contributors will finally be paid. Imagine that.
The book is available to order now at barrelhousemag.com.