A Literary Buffet

Do you know what a chapbook is? I didn´t. Apparently, "a chapbook used to be a small booklet containing short works from various authors. Back in the olden days (which I think means like pre-2008), publishers would use chapbooks to showcase their authors’ best work." So writes Joshua Fields Millburn of Asymetrical Press. (And I checked with Wikipedia, they have a slightly different, more substantial history of the chapbook. I suppose it would´ve been the paperback book of it´s day.)

View while reading chapbook: holidaymakers on the ice.
Having been a reader of the Minimalist blog for some time, I have also payed attention to their new publishing venture, and a few free publications have come my way. I haven´t had time to read it all yet, but I´m getting there, and it seemed a good idea to start with this buffet of taste-size servings from all their authors.

So, "Chapbook, Volume 1", what´s in it? What´s my impression? Well, it´s a good mix of fact and fiction. All the authors are young. They are all men. They are all ambitious. They question society, and try to live as they teach. They are all good writers. What they write isn´t all to my taste, though. A few days after I finished it, three pieces stand out in my memory:

First, there is a short story by Joshua Fields Millburn, called "Echo Lake". He is clearly ambitious, and he is not making it easy for himself, choosing to write in second person narrative. This second person is a woman, she is an older woman, she is crazy (swimming outdoors in winter? how old is she, really?), she is sexy, she is rebellious (in a kind of juvenile way, but ok). It unclear who is talking, but this woman/you/I/the reader, is having an affair with this younger man, who is a writer, who seems distracted and a bit tortured, as writers should be. It ends, of course, the story and the relationship.

Second person is hard, and you should have a real good reason to use it. And I don´t think it works well here. But I admire the effort, and the guts. The only one I can remember who used this technique to good effect is Torgny Lindgren in his "The Way of a Serpent". A book that I should re-read, come to think of it. Anyway, Millburn´s story doesn´t really do it for me. He just tries too hard, I think, and I suspect he is a bit of a romantic. I have more from his pen, and I will return to him eventually.

Then, there is "Requirements and Expectations of Excellence" by Shawn Mihalik. Here we meet a young man returning to his home town, getting a job at a restaurant. I don´t know why it grabbed me. I liked the way Mihalik tells a story, I guess. We get a flashback of how his father stole his mother´s university scholarship money, and how she went from having a bright future to having no future at all, just a kid to raise on her own. It´s an excerpt from a coming novel, "Brand-Changing Day", and I might read it.

Last, there was Colin Wright´s "Xerxes", a sample from a speculative science fiction series called "Real Powers". This bit is about how a sect leader decides to, himself, infiltrate a group that is taking his disciples away from him. This sounds like a bunch of fun, actually. And it´s been a long while since I read any sci-fi. But I have a lot lined up, so I have added it to my wish list on amazon. We´ll see.

I enjoyed the "Chapbook, volume 1" - or most of it. But I wouldn´t have paid for it. If it had been a proper short story collection, fine. But excerpts? No. That´s a  bit like paying for advertisments.


  1. "Back in the olden days (which I think means like pre-2008)"


    2nd person _is_ hard and rarely done. i certainly haven't seen much of it.

    the chapbook experience sounds like a fun sampler -an introduction to works you might not see otherwise- but there are so many works available online for free it'd be hard to justify paying for excerpts. these days, some authors put short stories or novels online free for a short period to give people a taste of their writings. or magazines put a story online free to encourage subscriptions.

    1. Yes, there is a lot out there that is free. And so many who wouldn´t dream of paying for anything "electronic". It will have to change, though, newspaper subscriptions have gone down 50% just where I live in a few short years. We are fast approaching the point where it will be too expensive to deliver it to the door every morning. That really will be an epoch ending moment. But I do think the death of the newspaper is what will eventually change attitudes toward e-published writing in general. We live in exciting times...

    2. our local newspaper has just put up a paywall, and i'm not going to pay. they don't offer anything i can't get elsewhere for free: local bloggers do a great job on politics and entertainment/culture. local tv news is not outstanding, but they cover everything the newspaper does for free. and we have the world's best free weekly paper in "the flyer".

      to get me to pay, the local "rag" will have to offer something i don't already have free access to.

    3. Yes, exactly. What I´m hoping for is better journalism in the end. At least the ones we have around here are, frankly, rather lazy, and not particularly clever. I dream of a weekly published local magazine where the news are inquired, investigated, analyzed. There is nothing like that now. But it will take journalists that know something about most things. The real art is to know how to ask the questions.