This week I was invited to be a featured reader at Sacred Grounds cafe in San Francisco. Quite the honor, as it is the first anniversary of the literary magazine SF Peace and Hope and honored Al Young, Poet Laureate of Ca. Emeritus as first reader in the line up. The founder of SF Peace and Hope, Elizabeth Hack gave me this book GREAT MODERN SHORT STORIES printed in 1942 by Random House as a gift. It was her mother’s book who recently passed away. And I must admit I’ve been obsessed with it for days.
First of all, the price! 1.95. The price of electronic books, apps and games today. But the satisfaction of holding this very fragile book with the sepia stained edges, glue undone in places, penciled markings from readers… it seriously made me giddy.
The definition of a novel is literary prose in narrative form. I’m drawn in by the meta-story told by this anthology. The fact that Random House editors in 1942 chose to allow for Joseph Conrad’s novella length story “Heart of Darkness” take up 1/4 of the book and that it’s the first story. A rare choice made in today’s anthology climate. There was a lot trust put into the patience of the reader and the prose quality and dramatic tension of Conrad’s writing for it to be the first story.
The front cover lists the TOC – the story and the author. This is so unique and so effective. I know what I’m getting immediately.
Graphically the book breaks all the rules of what’s become standard best practices typographically today. ALL CAPS for the title of the story and the author name with a / (forward slash used in today’s url syntax… if only they’d known!) in between.
Many different fonts used throughout. I counted 8 different fonts. Today 2 are recommended. Yet somehow it just works!
What I love the most is this bedraggled, imperfect, falling apart, imbalanced collection, designed out of context to the stories (the feather for instance on the cover can symbolize in addition to the quill a sense of ‘lightness’ — these stories are ‘not’ that) feels perfect to me. The prose itself is like eating from my favorite restaurant every night—echoing the birth of satire, psychoanalysis, the romance of the literary arts, courtship rituals, scandals that sit on the precipice of repression; locked and loaded for action. It’s all very exciting in that way that you have to practice your ear towards deeper and deeper subtlety. The rewards of these stories are great. The packaging… charming like an old shoe.
I like it!