You Should Read This: Americas by Jason Lee Norman
Lori from TNBBC asked us if we wanted to take part in the Americas blog tour. Amy, smitten with one of the author’s short stories, had already asked him if she could review his book, so it seemed the stars were aligned! The first post of the tour is an essay for Lori’s “On Being Indie” series by Jason Lee Norman. We’re next on the list, woo! If you’re interested in finding out more about this book, Lori will be tweeting the links from @TNBBC.
Author: Jason Lee Norman
Published: April 2012 by Wufniks Press, 55 pages
Date Read: June 2012
First Line: “In Canada they teach Canadian history to their people in dramatic vignettes that air between commercials during Jeopardy reruns.”
Genre/Rating: Short stories; 5/5 Paul Newmans (of an indeterminate age) hiding out in Bolivia, waiting to listen to all of your prayers
(Copy provided by the author)
Review: Lori at TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog posted a short story by Jason Lee Norman in early June, and I was just blown away. He had such a poetic use of language and such a mastery of it – such beauty in such few words – that I wanted more. I went to his website and read the sample story from this collection and knew I had to read it. “You know,” Susie said, “you can email the author and ask if he’d send us a review copy.” What? I thought. What dark sorcery is this? This is a thing a book reviewer can do? So I thought, I will try this. This is a thing I will try! And it worked! It was like magic! Wee little book-loving Amy who still lives deep inside of me would be so impressed with grown-up Amy right now.
Even better? This book was WONDERFUL. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Americas is a collection of short stories, one for each of the 22 countries in the Americas. Each story is 1 to 4 pages long. The book is small; about the length of your hand. Each story feels like it was polished and edited until it shone like a jewel, and then placed into the perfect setting of the beautiful little book. The typeset is gorgeous. The design is gorgeous. It’s a feast for the eyes, this book.
The stories are hard to describe. They’re part fairy tale, part magic realism, part prose poetry. There’s a very Allende or Márquez feel to the writing, which of course works well when writing about Latin American countries. (And, since I’m an unabashed Allende and Márquez fangirl, I was delighted with the similarity in tone.) The author uses the run-on sentence in a way I’ve never seen before: he uses it masterfully, beautifully, like a child would use it, to show abandon and release. Some of them make you laugh with their whimsy and childlike wonder; some of them tear your heart out with the beauty and the truth hiding behind the exaggeration of the words. The last story, the last paragraph? I had tears at the spare, haunting beauty of it. The author knows how to pack a punch, and knows very well how to leave you with his words echoing in your mind.
I wanted to give you a couple of examples of his prose, to show you some of the gorgeous writing in the collection. I seriously want to start handing this out to people as if I’m a door-to-door Bible salesman, I’m most serious. But then I realized, if I do, you won’t discover his words in their native habitat, surrounded by the other words, where they belong. His stories are so sparse, and edited so perfectly, that if I pull some of the sentences that resonated with me most strongly, they’re going to pale out of context. You need to read them where they belong. You need to come upon them like I did, unspoiled, unexpecting, so that when you read them for the first time, you are surprised and startled and, ultimately, completely satisfied.
I want you all to read this. I want you all to be as delighted and emotional and filled with wonder with this collection as I was.
It is books like this that make being a reader an utter and absolute joy.