Friday, November 27, 2009

'Tis the Season for Short Story Collections

Black Friday – I’m here to help. You may have been in line today at 5:00 a.m. waiting for your chance to snag the latest hot (and rapidly disappearing from the shelves) gewgaw for your holiday list; or you may be lying low, putting off the inevitable shopping trip until the last possible moment, already suffering from seasonal malaise and credit card shock. In either case, you probably need some suggestions and since La Bloga is first and foremost a literary forum, how about a list of books?

To make it even simpler, allow me to present short story collections that the recipient can savor story-by-story, as long as it takes, without the commitment phobia that a novel sometimes can engender. In my opinion, a good short story provides the ultimate reading experience; these selections strive for that point of perfection. And, even better, each of these collections was highlighted here on La Bloga in 2009 by one of the knowledgeable blogueras or blogueros, often in a review, occasionally a pre-publication notice or other announcement.

The stories in these collections don’t fit any easy category; the authors are from around the world, with world-class imaginations; the themes are as diverse as the multitude of characters; and the writing is universally excellent. They aren’t high tech; they don’t make noise or flash lights. They won’t provide an aerobics workout or urge the user to “jack the perp” for the highest score. These anthologies aren’t for kids (maybe one of La Bloga’s other contributors can compile such a list, I know I’d find it helpful) and some adults won’t be able to handle the mental exercise. But a book never fails as a gift. They always are the right size, the color is perfect, they go with everything else in the house, and there are no batteries to recharge. They can be passed on without offense – literally, the gift that keeps on giving. Do something for the environment - give at least one book this holiday season.

The list, in order of mention on La Bloga:


Vermeer's Milkmaid by Manuel Rivas,Overlook Press, 2008: "Rivas uses abrupt time shifts, diverse points of view, sometimes from inanimate objects, to narrate his tales. Always with a lot of trust that his reader will know where the story is at any particular moment or paragraph. Typically, a story appears as a straightforward narrative but then it ends with a twist. Rivas specializes in twists." Review by Michael Sedano.


Zoetrope: All Story -- The Latin American Issue, edited by Daniel Alarcón and Diego Trelles Paz: "When you start putting together something like this, you never really know what to expect. Any anthology is always a bit arbitrary, a snapshot of the editors’ tastes at any given moment, and this one is no exception. ... [W]e selected these stories because they moved us, they taught us things we didn’t know. They made us laugh, they made the places we recognized seem new and startling and humane. I’m not really much of a literary critic, but it’s easy to note some overlapping sensibilities among the writers, particularly in regards to the influence of film and music and migration. One striking fact: at least half of these writers live outside the country of their birth, and that’s not counting Diego and I, Peruvians by birth who both live in the US. The most pleasant and reassuring surprise was that no single style reigns. There is no unified voice in Latin America, and I don’t believe there ever was—in a region this large and diverse, how could there be?" From Daniel Olivas's interview of Daniel Alarcón.

Latinos in Lotusland, edited by Daniel Olivas, Bilingual Press, 2008. “I'm still flying high from our wonderful Latinos in Lotusland book reading at Librería Martínez this last Saturday. I want to thank our guest authors who wowed the crowd with their writing and thought-provoking comments and answers to audience questions: Manuel Ramos, Lisa Alvarez, Alejandro Morales, Sandra Ramos O'Briant and Victorio Barragán (unfortunately, Conrad Romo couldn't make it but he was there in spirit). Also many thanks to Reuben Martínez for being a fantastic host.” Daniel Olivas posting about an event for the well-received and popular collection of Los Angeles stories that he edited.


San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, edited by Peter Maravelis, Akashic Books, 2009. “Akashic and Maravelis have put together a worthwhile anthology, despite the less than felicitous subtitle. … an excellent collection.” Review by Michael Sedano.


Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez, Arte Público Press, 2009. “Space constraints do not allow for a description of each story in this landmark anthology. Suffice it to say that the stories in Hit List will engross, entertain and fully satisfy any lover of mystery fiction.” Review by Daniel Olivas.


Live from Fresno y Los: Stories, by Stephen D. Gutierrez, Bear Star Press, 2009. “Stephen D. Gutierrez's new book of short fiction … bears witness to the excitement and pain, exhilaration and disappointments, of growing up Chicano in Fresno and Los Angeles during the 1970s. … He renders his world in honest, eloquent brush strokes, creating stories that are simultaneously grounded in a particular culture while remaining universal in their message. He does this without sacrificing his trademark sense of humor.” Review by Daniel Olivas.

From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert, by Aaron Michael Morales, Momotombo Press 2008. “This is subversive and sly work, as knowing in its effect as it is exciting to read. For all its thrilling nature, and for all his hard-edge style, this is a deeply moral effort. Morales wrestles with nothing less than the parameters of the human soul.” From the Introduction by Luis Alberto Urrea posted by Manuel Ramos.

Needles & Bones, Drollerie Press, 2009. “Needles & Bones is a collection of poems and short fiction by a double handful of brilliantly creative artists-with-words. It begins gently, with fairy tales, but its tendrils of surreality spread from the stories of our childhood, into our adult world, and on to places beyond our own. We visit heaven, and hell, and places we might never imagine, peopled by creatures who are only sometimes like us." Publisher’s blurb posted by R. Ch. Garcia, whose short story Memorabilia is in this collection.

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Álvaro Uribe; translation edited by Olivia Sears, Dalkey Archive Press, 2009. “Sixteen of Mexico's finest fiction writers born after 1945 are collected in this compelling bilingual anthology, offering a glimpse of the rich tapestry of Mexican fiction, from small-town dramas to tales of urban savagery. Many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never before appeared in English.” Publisher’s blurb posted by Daniel Olivas.


Cuentos del Centro: Writing from the Heartland, Latino Writers Collective, Scapegoat Press, 2009. "There's a lot to be said for the output from well-funded ventures, editors, and agents. Quality, however, is not exclusive to the big bucks process. Case in point, Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective and its recent anthology of local writers, Cuentos Del Centro [that] features twenty-four stories from fifteen writers. ... You owe yourself and friends the opportunity to enjoy these stories and writers." Review by Michael Sedano.

Simpáticos: San Miguel Stories, Elva Treviño Hart, Bilingual Press, 2009. "Elva Trevino Hart introduces us to the people of San Miguel de Allende. Nestled in the eastern part of Guanajuato in Mexico's mountainous bajio region, the town has a mild climate and an accommodating culture that attract wealthy Americans and Canadians seeking relaxation and escape. In this picturesque setting, we meet a variety of well-to-do Anglo retirees: some are haunted by ghosts, others by their own pasts, some find renewed meaning and purpose, and still others explore their sexuality. Witnessing it all are the maids of San Miguel, the women charged with making visitors' stays carefree and luxurious.The maids work magic to heal or redeem their employers, but sometimes the sorcery of others trumps their own. Simpáticos movingly describes two extreme socioeconomic conditions and reveals the universal journey we all ultimately share." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.


A Dozen on Denver: Stories, edited by the Rocky Mountain News, Fulcrum Publishing, 2009. "In this original tribute, twelve talented authors celebrate Denver’s 150th anniversary, each creating a unique story based on a different decade in the city’s colorful history. Ranging from the pioneer days to WWII aftermath to a haunting vision of the future, this lively volume offers an eclectic mix of exceptional storytelling, each complemented by contemporary illustrations. Edited by the Rocky Mountain News and featuring twelve Colorado authors: Margaret Coel, Pam Houston, Sandra Dallas, Nick Arvin, Joanne Greenberg, Connie Willis, Manuel Ramos, Arnold Grossman, Robert Greer, Diane Mott Davidson, Laura Pritchett, and Robert Pogue Ziegler. Illustrated by Charles Chamberlin." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos. I'll add that this book is nicely done -- a comfortable hardcover with the art work that was published with the stories in the newspaper. A good-looking book.

Anywhere But L.A., by Daniel Olivas, Bilingual Press, 2009. "In this collection of short stories, Olivas gives us a vivid and honest portrait of modern Latinos as they search for their place in the world. Funny yet touching, these skillfully rendered characters remind us of our own vulnerability. Individually, the stories are punchy and sharp; collectively, the stories create a colorful mural of a thriving Latino community." Kathleen de Azevedo blurb posted by Daniel Olivas.


La Ranfla & Other New Mexico Stories, by Martha Egan, Papalote Press, 2009. "Martha Egan and Papalote Press have put together a seven-story collection of enjoyable, readable short fiction. Two of the stories feature automobiles, hence the ranfla title, and all take place in the state of New Mexico, hence the New Mexico stories subtitle. But for the latter add a subtle flavor of insider-outsider seasoning that I find curious. This doesn't diminish the pleasure of reading the collection, it adds an unsettling dimension that, perhaps, is another New Mexico element." Review by Michael Sedano.

Lavanderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash, and Word, edited by Donna J. Watson, Michelle Sierra, and Lucia Gbaya-Kanga, San Diego City Works Press, 2009. "This anthology initiates us into one of the most sacred domestic rituals of our mundane world—the purging of physical and psychic stains, or the art and work of doing laundry. The writers' voices rise above the sounds of washing machines, non-televised daytime dramas, and laughter. Removing the clothespins from their mouths, these women reveal their secrets, fears, loves, and regrets in poem and story form. As finely detailed as the vintage sleeve of a rummage sale find, the work in Lavanderia brings the circle closer to home as you find yourself nodding and remembering and thanking every woman who ever sat next to you in a laundromat and made conversation." Publisher's blurb posted by Liz Vega. This collection features the story Goddess of Filth by La Bloga contributor Olga Garcia Echeverria.

Marielitos, Balseros, and Other Exiles, by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, Ig Publishing, 2009. "In her debut collection, Milanés tells varied, often heartbreaking tales of Cuban-American exiles. ... Complex and woeful, Milanés's rich ensemble act may remind readers of Junot Diaz's Drown and Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son.” Publishers Weekly review posted by Daniel Olivas.


Phoenix Noir,
edited by Patrick Millikin, Akashic Press, 2009. "Brand-new stories by: Diana Gabaldon, Lee Child, James Sallis, Luis Alberto Urrea, Jon Talton, Megan Abbott, Charles Kelly, Robert Anglen, Patrick Millikin, Laura Tohe, Kurt Reichenbaugh, Gary Phillips, David Corbett, Don Winslow, Dogo Barry Graham, and Stella Pope Duarte. Sunshine is the new noir . . . . From its frontier origins, Phoenix has always had a dark, lawless side. It is a city founded upon shady development deals, good ol' boy politics, police corruption, organized crime, and exploitative use of natural resources. Close proximity to the Mexican border makes the city a natural destination spot for illegal trafficking of all kinds--narcotics, weapons, humans." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.

War Dances, by Sherman Alexie, Grove, 2009. "[A] heartbreaking and hilarious collection of stories that explore the precarious balance between self-preservation and external responsibility in art, family, and the world at large. Brazen, and wise, War Dances takes us to the heart of what it means to be human." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.

Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories, edited by Jorge Hernández, Tezontle, 2008. "The editor has done a marvelous job of selecting stories that offer snapshot scenes of Mexico’s soul. This slim volume indeed portrays a land and people authentically, with passion, agony, insight, and smooth prose that blisters the heart. ... [T]his book was a revelation ... I recommend it highly and suggest you pick up a copy soon; at $10 it’s more than a bargain." Review by Manuel Ramos.

The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories, Rudolfo Anaya, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. "The stories in The Man…, some previously published in the ever elusive and long out of print, The Silence of the Llano, may very well showcase Anaya at his finest. Intermingled with poignant folklore, religion, magic, and spirituality, readers of all walks of life now have an opportunity to join Anaya as he travels among people and places not often found in his novels. Undeniably influenced by the cuentos of his youth, Anaya’s stories cease to be merely words in print, but rather voices which will echo long after the book is shelved." Review by Jesse Tijerina.


Lorraine M. López, Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, BkMk Press, 2009. "A reader gets what the title proposes, a dank dark collection mirroring the debilitating heat and humidity of Southern weather. Unexpected will be the characters. Lopez’ central characters--many of them women-- are struggling everyday gente surrounded by, or engaged with losers. ... I’m raising my index finger in Lorraine López’ direction--not the bird nor a Packer's foam rubber prop, but the “you’re number one” finger--in appreciation of a finely honed collection of short fiction any reader will find absorbing." Review by Michael Sedano.

There you have it - a list of 20 short story collections guaranteed not to disappoint. Click on the links above and you will find the information you need to order the books; or take a walk over to the independent book store and pick up a few copies firsthand. If you get behind and are still looking for gifts after the New Year, let me suggest Mexico City Noir, edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, coming from Akashic Press in early 2010. I'm reading it now, and it's killer. Just right for the holidays, maybe even Valentine's Day.


Six word story contest: thanks to the excellent few who submitted a six word story last week; they were great. The winner of a fresh copy of The King of the Chicanos is Liz Vega for this poignant word play:

Saddest sun set when they married.

Congratulations, Liz - the book is yours when it comes out in the spring.


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