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166: Short Stories from Puerto Rico

December 16, 2013

Here is another gem unearthed at Brooklyn’s best bookstore, Book Thug Nation. The title is a bit contested, as the cover says it’s Short Stories from Puerto Rico, and the inside claims Cuentos: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Short Stories. Either way this is a collection twelve stories by a half dozen authors. It’s edited by Kal Wagenheim, who was a journalist with the New York Times, and went on to write a popular biography of Babe Ruth. This book was published in 1971 by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in San Juan, and according to Wagenheim’s intro, it’s the first English language collection of Puerto Rican stories, which is both shocking and pathetic. Although I guess it has generally not been that common for the colonizer to be particularly interested in the creative writing of the colonized.
I think what originally drew me to this book was how much it feels like a volume printed in Cuba. The design, Continental style, and raw and rough printing all harken to revolutionary Cuban books produced in the 60s through the 80s. That said, Cuban design is generally much more nuanced. The print used on the cover here is strong, but it is reproduced too dark, so it gets lost. Meanwhile, the titling is too plain, and the box within a box visual motif makes the title and image seem diminutive, it contains them too effectively. In some ways I actually prefer the back cover, with it’s big blank box and simple title of Short Stories at the bottom, but outside the box.
The design on the inside is still raw, but smarter. The white box on the red background pops significantly more inside, and the variations in the titling and color scheme from page to page are enjoyable.


The book would have—or at least could have—doubled as a nice, small survey of Puerto Rican printmaking, with an image reproduction at the start of each story, but the images seem haphazardly chosen and are unattributed. The printing is also sloppy, with the duotone-printing imposed by the book’s design structure sometimes making the print images too light and ethereal, and sometimes muddy and hard to read.

This image of the bull is masterful.



Per Continental book conventions, the table of contents is in the back of the book, as is information about printing and edition. The playful cascading title in-between seems like pure bonus.



Although a US colony, if this book is any indication of the broader world of Puerto Rican publishing in the 70s, it had much more in common with the rest of the Caribbean than the rest of the US. A broader distributed edition was eventual published years later by Schocken Books. The initial cover is below to the left, and the cover of a more recent reprint is to the right. It’s interesting that they use an image of a bull on the cover of the earlier edition, but not the bull from the Puerto Rican print. The new edition does use a variation of an illustration from the Puerto Rican edition, but not, in my opinion, one of the stronger ones.

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