Tiny Words vs. The Robot

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With [C.] An MLP Stamp Stories Anthology, Mud Luscious Press conducts an experiment in the limits of form: magnificent stories the size of stamps.

I am worried, because everywhere I go, the e-reader sits, mocking me. And not just me, but you, and everyone, for ever having had the nerve to crack the spine of a book and fully immerse ourselves in the weight of that object, and what that object can provide, not only intellectually, but on a sensory level—on a level of touch and sight and even smell. The e-reader asks, why would you ever bother? The e-reader is reductionist, and symbolically declares the book to be nothing more than a physical limitation, a burden you don’t need—literally—to carry.

[C.] An MLP Stamp Stories Anthology feels like an antidote to this discriminate thinking. Its premise is simple: Mud Luscious Press solicited stories from 100 writers, printed them on 1×1 card stock, and then released the goods in a collection, which went to press this past November. These stories are miniature. They are no bigger than, say, a grown man’s thumb. (Or a stamp, if, again, you want to be literal about it.) These stories are figurines of precision, but also fingerprints of imperfection and imbalance. This is not bad, but rather reveals the pure joy of the conceit at hand. By limiting each story to 50 words or less, each author is forced to focus on the aspect of syntax that piques their interest the most, or that makes the most contextual sense. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it is always fascinating to observe a writer in motion, caught within specified parameters, devising ways to make you, the reader, want more, through an act of providing so little.

In this way, [C.] is as much about the act of reading as anything. There are no clear thematic patterns in this anthology, but there are clear questions. The most obvious of these questions is: how do we read? The book itself is stripped down, its minimalist formatting intentional. Each page contains a block of text meant to represent a “stamp.” There are often a few sentences, but sometimes the writer breaks with convention and offers a run-on, or plays with repetition and punctuation to the point of linguistic incoherence. In a vein similar to imagist poetry, each story, through the book’s actual sparseness and through the sparse nature of the stories themselves, asks the reader to pay close attention to its crafting. Words are important, but the sounds letters make, the moods certain words evoke, and the placement of a particular word in tandem with another, or a semi-colon used rather than a comma, are all given equal weight.

Jimmy Chen

Jimmy Chen

Because of this meticulous construction, [C.] asks its readers to be active. Even though we are living in an age where we aren’t supposed to bow down to a book’s demands, an anthology is actually asking its reader to read. Imagine that. The book requests that the reader not only ingest the words on the page, but the white space surrounding the words, and even the way the book feels: light, feathery, taking up such little room between that packed lunch and the client presentation in your bag.

It isn’t difficult to submit. At a slim 100 pages, it also isn’t difficult to read each story multiple times, lest we make an acute discovery we missed the first time around. Take, for instance, Lauren Becker’s contribution:

She wrapped herself in

eggshell & waited, the

epicenter to what she

thought was him. Flayed,

his screams could break

her. He barely made a

sound.

Or Tim Horvath’s:

She told me what to do if

she was seizing, what it

would look like, but not

what to do in the event

that she left me with a

note like in a kid’s lunch-

box except without the

Transformers nor any

sandwich nor any note,

really, just the snapping

mechanism.

Or Jimmy Chen’s:

Let’s say you’re God & this

is my tombstone. Let’s say

I haven’t died yet & you’re

just planning ahead. Let’s

say I’ll choke to death. Let’s

say these things into

clouds, imagining a fine

mist looping the sky like a

huge halo: never worn,

never warned. Let’s say I

am eating an apple & not

my tongue. Let’s say I

screw up.

They are indicative of the kinds of miraculous writing you will find in [C.], if you allow yourself the pleasure. They are also indicative of other questions the anthology seems intent on addressing, particularly when it comes to reception and what we think of when we hear the phrase “short story.” Because what, really, makes a story? Is it the traditional beginning, middle, and end? And, furthermore, where do we draw the line between poetry and prose? When does a poem become a prose poem, and when does fiction become verse? {C.} gives occasion to all of these queries, but its best question, perhaps, is: at what point do we cease our attempts to categorize the stringing together of words?

Who is to say one sentence cannot make a story? [C.] grandly challenges the assumption that stories must be “this” or “that.” It knocks down the doors of graduate school writing workshops, of literary criticism and theory, demanding to know who set these limitations in the first place. It isn’t interested in a witch hunt, however, so much as a clarification that a story is what we make of it—what a writer makes of it and what a reader makes of it—and that this call to aesthetics deserves more than just a traditionalist viewpoint.

At its best, [C.] is a knowing smile, a satisfactory exhale. The stories that pop are rife with the potential for added length. (And some actually are excerpts.) But most of these stories also hold their own as self-contained pieces, and that is their crowning feat. They leave you wanting more, while slyly giving you enough.

It is, of course, to the writers’ credit that this is achieved, but also to Mud Luscious Press’s, for producing an anthology that dares to examine the way we connect with text in an age of mass distraction, laziness, and reluctance to cling to the past. Here is a small press that wishes to make its own declaration: books are meant to be handled, observed, and to bear interaction. A machine cannot replace this relationship. There might be an attempt at replication, but at the end of the day, it will never be the real thing.


Rebecca Rubenstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Midnight Breakfast. When not reading books made of paper, she can be found thinking aloud on Twitter. She resides in San Francisco and maintains a healthy relationship with the fog. Rebecca is Interviews Editor Emeritus for The Rumpus. More from this author →