This and That, Stuff to Read

As promised, I’ve been meaning to write a post specifically about the Philippines-related articles in the October, 1900 issue of Colored American Magazine (the issue with the Pauline Hopkins’ short story “Talma Gordon” in it).

Filipino Business Woman, from Colored American Magazine, October 1900
“A Typical Filipino Business Woman”
Printed in Colored American Magazine, October 1900. It was apparently sent to the magazine from Manila by a clergyman(?) C.S., who wrote a brief (and somewhat patronizing) note entitled “Filipino Women”

But in the end, I can’t think of anything to say, except: read the articles for a view of what some contemporary Black American writers had to say about U.S. expansionist policies at the time, and about their various perspectives on the world in general. Read multiple issues from The Digital Colored American Archive, for that matter. I’ll just quote a passage that caught my eye, from the article “Negro and Filipino,” which was reprinted in the October 1900 issue from the Lewiston Journal (author unknown):

Political demagogues who cry upon the corners for liberty to the Tagalogs and the Sulus shut their eyes and ears to the disfranchisement of this people whom Lincoln freed.

Anti-imperialists who sweat blood because McKinley, in obedience to the Senate, assumes to place the flag in Manila and to defend it there, are silent over the act that Louisiana and Mississippi pass laws that admit the vote to white men who cannot read or write and deny it to black men because they cannot read or write.

The fact is, that here in this nation the very sins which they wrongfully impute to the Republican party in the Philippines, they cultivate and promote within the body politic of the states of the nation that hate the Negro and seek to relegate him to ignorance and superstition in order to perpetuate his servility and his dependence.

What else?

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A Trip to the Virtual Attic

When the world feels like it’s falling apart around you, it feels good to solve little problems that are completely under your control. And that’s what I’ve been doing this past week. I migrated ninazumel.com away from WordPress to a more appropriate host (Github Pages); I merged the old Win-Vector sites (there were two of them, self-hosted) into a single sleek new site — ironically, now WordPress hosted. And I reconstructed a very old and neglected site, mzlabs.com, and set it up here (The address mzlabs.com should still reach it).

All this virtual housekeeping turned up some old writing of mine, and of John’s, that I think is worth revisiting again. So here’s a little (non ghost-related) reading list for you, if you are in the mood:

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Stories for the Short Attention Span

I took a Greyhound bus to New York and stayed at the YMCA, fifty cents a night. I took my stories around to a dozen publishers. Nobody wanted them. They said, We don’t publish stories. Nobody reads them. Don’t you have a novel? I said, No, I don’t. I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I was ready to go home when, on my last night, I had dinner with an editor at Doubleday named Walter Bradbury—no relation. He said, Wouldn’t there be a book if you took all those Martian stories and tied them together? You could call it “The Martian Chronicles.” It was his title, not mine. I said, Oh, my God. I had read Winesburg, Ohio when I was twenty-four years old, in 1944. I was so taken with it that I thought, Someday I’d like to write a book like this, but I’d set it on Mars. I’d actually made a note about this in 1944, but I’d forgotten about it.

— Ray Bradbury, interview in the Paris Review.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Bradbury.

I haven’t read The Martian Chronicles in years, and Winesburg, Ohio has been on my to-read list for several months, now. This has finally inspired me to start it. I’ll probably re-read The Martian Chronicles again, after that.

Winesburg

I’m a bit surprised that it’s taken me so long to get to Winesburg, Ohio, since it’s a form I’m quite fond of: the short story cycle. I wrote a post about them once — another time, another blog — and since I’ve been remiss about posting here, I’ll share it again. I haven’t revised the post at all, although of course I’ve finished The Goon Squad by now. Melancholy, lovely; “Found Objects” (the book’s opening chapter) is still my favorite of the stories.

Anyway, here’s the original article.


I’ve always preferred short form reading — short stories, essays, magazine articles — to the novel. I like to blame this on my busy life; my downtime comes in short intervals, spaced far apart, which prevents me from really swimming in the long, leisurely stream of a novel-length narrative.

But let’s be honest: it’s my short attention span. It’s not that I don’t care about the protagonist’s struggle and emotional journey; really, I do care. Let’s just get to the point already, okay?

But novels are the fiction form of choice in the publishing world, it seems, and my tastes mean that I don’t get enough of authors who prefer novels, or write long form better than short form (Margaret Atwood, say). I also think that the prejudice towards the novel does a disservice to authors who are really much better at writing short sweet pieces than they are at long narratives (hello, Stephen King!).

The compromise: the short-story cycle. Linked short pieces that, together, form a longer coherent narrative. Short-story cycles are good for readers who like their reading in bite-size pieces, but still want the gradual plot unfolding and character development that is best done in a novel. They also work well for for writers who like to wrap their chapters up in pretty foil wrapping, like a chocolate kiss. This year’s Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is a short story cycle; I recognized the first chapter as a story I’d read in the New Yorker some time ago. Each chapter focuses on a different character, at a different time of their life. I’m about a third of the way through it now, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. It should be interesting to see how she ties it all together.

For those of you who are like me, here’s my list of novels for the short-story lover. The list is in no particular order, except maybe how I found them on my bookshelf, and of course it’s completely prejudiced by my own tastes. Some of these are truly novels that feel like linked short stories, some of them are really short story collections pretending to be a novel. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of great books, but this is a start.

Enjoy!

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