I’M ON A TREASURE HUNT. I’m tired of hearing people say there are “no good books left.” Yes, the market is inundated right now, but I’m on a mission to find the best literary fiction out there provided by the “little guys.” I’m digging through the muck to find rare gems: meaningful and culturally significant literature that engages and says something more than vampire love.

Today the book market is dominated by Amazon and big publishing houses, so I want to give a nod to the small presses who are fighting the good fight. ALL the books I read here have been published by small presses and (whenever possible) purchased from local bookstores.

You won’t find negative reviews here. The market is too vast to waste anyone’s time with bad reviews. Rather, you will find that I am selective about the books I read, and if I don’t like something, I won’t review it. In other words, I won’t give you the dirt, only the plunder.

I will be posting quarterly book recommendations for writers, avid readers, and anyone who thinks good literature is dead. I will also have "Throwback Thursdays" to show some of my old book collection to promote the preservation of classic stories and the art of beautiful bookbinding.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stories by Jerry Wilson

Publisher: Mongrel Empire Press
ISBN: 978-0-9833052-5-5

When author Carter Revard reviewed Blackjacks & Blue Devils, he wrote, "Steinbeck could have learned a lot from this book." So, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I mean, that's really something to say about one of the Great American Novelists, and it sets up quite the expectations.

It's possible that Revard was referring to the idea that Steinbeck could learn brevity from Jerry Wilson. Where John was notoriously long-winded, Jerry was VERY short and sweet. But all jokes aside, here is my take on Revard's comparison: both Steinbeck and Wilson set out to encapsulate the spirit of America's past. Our pioneerism (I looked that up, and it is NOT a word apparently, but I like it anyway. What can I say, perhaps I'm a linguistic pioneer?) These stories reveal American heart. Our cruelty, our greed, our lust. Our assiduous work ethic. Wilson's theme takes us through the landscapes of Oklahoma, those stretches of dry earth where history rises like a dust storm. And yes, The Grapes of Wrath begins in Oklahoma, too - but I believe Wilson's book accomplishes something very different.

While I am refuting Carter Revard's claim, I am also giving a nod to Wilson, who is genuine and true to his own style - not copying Steinbeck or attempting to beat out other novelists of the frontier. Instead, he is shining new light on old backdrops, illuminating voices that strike the heart in a different way.

Wilson's book is a series of snapshots. It is a flip-book through Central American history. His fluid writing style and piercing descriptions pulled me into quick breaths of time: The Dust Bowl, Oklahoma Land Runs (which, to be honest, I didn't know about before reading this book), the Depression and bootlegging. These quick snapshots of the past are characterized by strong emotion and people who just as well could be real.

Mongrel Empire Press strives to find quality, thoughtful literature without regards to genre, discipline, or author biographies. As its name implies, its publications are a wild mix of styles, genres, and topics - though the press does admit to a little favoritism toward Oklahoma authors. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a press that isn't concerned about sticking to a marketable theme, but merely high-calibre writing.