A few years ago when I was reading nonfiction almost exclusively, I tended to get book recommendations via the magazines I read. Reviews in publications like Outside, Orion, etc. always lauded books about adventure and the environment, stuff like that. Then I took a couple fiction workshops and got interested in novels again — and short stories really for the first time ever — which coincided with my introduction to social media. I dove into that, followed a bunch of writers, made some writer friends, and my TBR pile exploded.
Then it got kind of boring and started to feel like a massive time sink. Follow a lot of people in the same circle and you soon find yourself wading through a lot of conversations and flirtations and all that that you may prefer were going on more privately. Or a writer’s book comes out and you hear about it over and over again, every review, every appearance . . . it gets tedious. And a lot of writers (not all, I’ve met some fantastic folks) just want to talk about books and writing, or how many words they wrote that day, or give advice, or pontificate about the latest change in publishing, etc. I find that tiresome.
Jeff McElroy isn’t one of those writers. In fact I don’t know if the dude even has a twitter account. I discovered his book Californios, a collection of short stories, because a picture came up in the Instagram feed of a surfboard maker I follow that is based in Ventura, CA, advertising the book’s availability, release, or something like that. It interested me, because the stories are billed as “surf noir.” A couple bucks for the Kindle version wasn’t much of a risk, so I grabbed a copy. Saw McElroy had an Instagram account and followed him. For some reason he followed me back, then a couple days later commented on one of my pictures. When I replied, I mentioned I had his book and was looking forward to checking it out. Then I got around to actually reading the book.
And really friggin’ liked it.
Californios is a self-published collection of 17 stories that capture the vibe of California like few others. Don Winslow does a good job of that too, but this isn’t Winslow. These stories are more about the down and out, the regular folks just trying to get by while spiritually and physically attached to the ocean. Surfers, old timers, migrant workers . . . the whole picture. What makes the stories so vibrant is that this is the world McElroy lives in, and like any writer worth his salt has spent a lifetime with his eyes open and his mouth shut, just soaking it in, because it really feels like this world feels. I’ve spent a very limited time in Southern California, and Ventura, but the stories took me right back there. I could see the beauty, and the ugliness, and it made me pine for the salt air and sound of waves; for good Mexican food served with tequila and Pacifico.
Often self-published books, or even books published by smaller indie publishers, are riddled with errors both editorial and technical. This one is not. I don’t recall any little glitches or typos in the Kindle version, and my wife, who read the hard copy, doesn’t recall any there either. She liked the book as well, and we spent a good 20 minutes last night discussing its merits, disagreeing over what a couple of the stories might have been about, etc. I also love the physical version — it’s small, a little bigger than a mass market paperback, and slips easily into the pocket. Aesthetically, I dig it.
Californios is highly recommended. I ordered a hard copy from McElroy, and he sent me two. I’m keeping one for myself, but if you are interested in the other one (it’s signed!) then leave a comment on this post and I’ll randomly select one of you to mail it out to.
I urge everyone to check it out. I really enjoy McElroy’s work.