I've been pretty smitten with chapbooks as of late. They are, for the most part, so lovely to look at, so meaty to hold. I especially admire all the effort put into the original artwork, the linen covers, the pages layed out at night on living room computers. Fonts with names like spells or the creatures who cast them: Garamond, Trebuchet, Zapf Humanist, and Medusa. I love how chapbooks are stapled/glued/stitched together, or how POD services have gifted the littlest of presses with the power to put more chaps out into the world. Good, I say. We need them.
In his blog at Pecan Grove Press, Palmer Hall describes the best of chapbooks as "excellent short stories or like a one-person art exhibit at which each painting informs the next and the one before." I also like to think of them as a rocking E.P., something your favorite band might put out between full length records just so you can hear what they're up to.
In his survey on chapbook history, Noah Eli Gordon says the term chapbook most likely came from the rogue peddlers that sold them (and sundry bits) while travelling through towns in the 16th through 19th centuries. Chapmen could frequently be found "bedding in barns, fleeing from dogs, and fending off thefts from other road scoundrels. Yet the visit of a chapman to a rural village, though tinged with suspicion, was a welcome occasion, as he provided many with their sole link to the rest of world, both in his wares and his gossip, a kind of Johnny Appleseed of early literary education."
Here's a list of chapbooks well worth the read. If anyone has their own picks they'd like to share, please post them.
I Give You this Ghost, by Jesse Millner. Pudding House Publications
Bud Break at Mango House, by Jen Karetnick. Portlandia Group