I love teeny tiny books. I love oddball books. I love books about writing that mean something to me (not many of them do). And I love Steve Almond. Put them together, and you’ve got This Won’t Take But A Minute, Honey which I first heard of in Randall Brown’s blog, FlashFiction.Net.
It’s a teeny tiny book, I carry it in my rucksack along with Amie Bender’s “The Third Elevator” and whatever collection I’m reading at the moment, because I never know when I’ll want to look at it. 4½ by 6½ , 37 plus 41 pages. Why not just 78 pages? Because it’s two (snap) Two (snap) TWO books in one (if you weren’t a TV addict in the 70’s, that reference will go right by you). When you’re Steve Almond, you can get away with that.
When viewed from one side, there’s nurse on the cover (the legs of a nurse, at least) dressed in a white uniform, holding a hypodermic syringe. It’s kinda scary, but, after all, this won’t take but a minute, honey. What follows is a series of essays about writing (prescription, see?). Wonderful essays. One of the last discusses titles for stories, and mentions a brilliant student named Ellen Litman who wrote a wonderful story about Russian immigrants titled something bland like “How to Succeed in America” but contained a scene about the narrator’s father clutching a supermarket chicken like it was “The Last Chicken In America” which because the title of the story and the novel-in-stories that resulted. A review of this book on Jon Morgan Davies’s delightful blog “Short Story Reader” reminded me that I hadn’t yet put Steve Almond’s gem of work and play on this blog as a Favorite Read, prompting me to do so immediately.
The essay that meant the most to me, though, was the one about the character alienated from everything living at the bottom of a large hole. It’s his #1 Plot Fail. I was stunned: I thought I was the only one who did this, and now I find everyone does it. “Character in a Hole” is a hilarious essay, about such alienated characters still wanting something, like a really big symbolic fish. His take on the development of the bullshit detector is also special. But every essay is special.
And then we come to the stories. A story about Nixon – yes, President Nixon – that made me cry. Stories about socks, cashiers, various phases of Germany. Amazing stories, so short you can read one while holding your breath, but so long they stay in your head. To read these stories, you must flip over the book, to reveal the cover – the nurse in white with the hypo is now in a black catsuit and heels with a whip in her hand – the Fun side. Or maybe, once you’ve had your Fun, you need your Shot, I don’t know, it’s very entertaining to keep flipping the book (half is always upside down) just looking at the covers, and if you read in public as I do, someone will always stop to stare at you (which, frankly, I could do without, at least when I’m at the supermarket – maybe I need to find a new venue for public reading).
I read somewhere that this magnificent book is available only at Steve Almond’s readings, or through the Harvard Book Store. I don’t remember where I heard that, but I tend to believe it because it isn’t on Amazon. And because Steve Almond self-published it. When you’re Steve Almond, you can get away with that.