Few exceptions aside, the most compelling, challenging, absorbing literary art is being produced by small presses and their respective writers. I asked a number of writers, editors, and publishers to send me a list of small press books to look out for in 2016. Below you’ll find my own list, which is informed by Kate Angus, John Cayley, Lauren Cerand, Samuel R. Delany, Rikki Ducornet, Andrew Ervin, Lily Hoang, Sean Lovelace, Scott McClanahan, Hubert O’Hearn, Jane Unrue, and Curtis White.
Below you’ll also find lists from Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Gabino Iglesias, Janice Lee, Dawn Raffel, Nick Francis Potter, John Reed, Adam Robinson, Michael Seidlinger, Terese Svoboda, Jason Teal, Angela Woodward, and Jacob Wren. All the abovementioned people are small press heroes and great writers in their own right. My thanks to all of them.
Here’s my list, which is by no means exhaustive. Be sure to let me know—in the comments below—what I’ve missed!
Nick Potter’s New Animals (Subito Press) was recently unleashed on this old animal. Still recovering from having been fiercely bitten by earlier incarnations of several of these creatures. Looking forward to being eaten alive by all of them.
I loved Claire Donato’s Burial, which I think of as “the thinking that occurs around the so-called unthinkable, what is spoken about the so-called unspeakable,” and so I’m eager to read her second full-length collection, which Amina Cain (whose Creature I described as “full of defamiliarizing compressions and suspensions, the narrator(s) alternately winsomely whimsical and devastatingly deadpan”) describes as “Generous, violent, open, and dark, The Second Body continuously lays clear a self-other, and that self-other continuously extends into the universe. As a person, and a reader, I feel very thankful for that, to be in that kind of space, in that kind of literature.”
Ramsey Scott’s The Narco-Imaginary: Essays Under the Influence (Ugly Duckling Presse) is a collection of “epistolary essays, personal narratives, meditations on avant-garde writers, and unorthodox forays into the ‘narco-imaginary’—the habits and conventions surrounding literary and cultural representations of drug use—attend[ing] to the residue of transient impressions that remain, long after the delirium of creative activity subsides.”
John Domini’s first story collection, Bedlam, “with its ruined men, whether succumbing to PTSD-induced delusions or to their long-arrested imaginations, forced me, after reading it, to temporarily have difficulty distinguishing “suits” from ghosts and other spectralities.” I’m looking forward to being similarly overwhelmed by Movieola! (Dzanc), which has already received nods from Matt Bell, Padgett Powell, David Shields, Christopher Sorrentino, and Amber Sparks. Here’s advance praise from Sam Lipsyte: “Movieola! is a glory—smart, cutting, and funny. John Domini moves through the absurd tropes of modern Hollywood with menace and glee, and eventually gets to that scary place where we all dwell, our delusional but self-sustaining personal movies flickering inside our skulls, all of us bit players praying for a major arc.”
I’m always on the lookout for all things New Directions, but I’m especially looking forward to Vampire in Love, a career-spanning collection of Enrique Vila-Matas’s short fiction; and Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador, which Roberto Bolaño called a “parody of certain works by Bernhard and the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud.”
New Directions is also bringing out two great books in paperback this year: Helen DeWitt’s staggeringly brilliant The Last Samurai; and John Keene’s Counternarratives, a stunning, virtuosic performance, in form and style, and, and, and…
A new book from Rikki Ducornet is always a notable event, so I’m very much looking forward to Brightfellow, which Coffee House Press promises is a “fragrant, voluptuous novel of imposture, misplaced affection, and emotional deformity.”
As demonstrated in his two previous books, Rose Alley and Fancy, Jeremy M. Davies is a stylist par excellence. The Knack of Doing (Godine), his debut collection of short fiction, promises to be a virtuosic exploration of narrative form.
Good to know another of Alexandra Chasin’s genre-trespassing books is on its way this. Assassin of Youth (University of Chicago) is “a lyrical, digressive, funny, and ultimately riveting quasi-biography of [Harry J.] Anslinger,” who “was to drug enforcement what J. Edgar Hoover was to crime more generally” and “was best known for his relentless prosecution of drug offenders and his particular animus for marijuana users.”
I’ve read all of Diane Williams’s books, a library of American absurdities, each concision an incision slicing up American life; and so I expect that despite its title all is not fine in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (McSweeney’s).
Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology, and the End of Architecture (Verso Books) “traces the lost archeology of the present day through the works of thinkers and designers such as Buckminster Fuller, the ecological pioneer Stewart Brand, the Archigram architects who envisioned the Plug-In City in the ’60s, as well as co-operatives in Vienna, communes in the Californian desert and protesters on the streets of Paris. In this mind-bending account of the last avant-garde, we see not just the source of our current problems but also some powerful alternative futures.”
Olja Savičević’s Adios, Cowboy (McSweeney’s) is “the American debut by a poet from Croatia’s ‘lost generation,’ [which] explores a beautiful Mediterranean town’s darkest alleys: the bars where secrets can be bought, the rooms where bodies can be sold, the plains and streets and houses where blood is shed.”
Brian Evenson is the great destabilizer, unsettling genre conventions, upsetting whatever number of certainties; and, like all of his fiction, The Collapse of Horses dramatizes “the terror of living with the knowledge of all we cannot know.”
“For far too long, literature has deemed it inconvenient to speak about the rich and the poor. Jacob Wren’s intriguing novel calls this notion into question. Details, short impressions, the very temperature of fleeting events—these are what make this book great, precisely because it deliberately eschews all bombast. The narrative, in the way it projects the past as a perpetual present, produces in the reader the illusion of being inside a manual of minutiae, being written alongside the act of reading itself. Wren’s ability to speak about the abstruse and unusual, hidden in all that is profane in our social comings and goings, forms the basis of the novel’s magnificent and defining concept, one that does not seek to be a testimony, but rather, to be rapturous metaphor.”
“A wonderfully dislocated read, Quiet Creature on the Corner shimmers through the consciousness of a wounded, and wounding, man who experiences the sharpest impacts of himself with the world and is able to hang on to very little else, including the passage of time. It’s like what might have happened if Werner Herzog had written a hypnotized sequel to Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.” — Brian Evenson
“Noll’s literature doesn’t seek to impart a lesson or demonstrate anything. Above all, it shows the poetry in the fact that no one individual is a permanence but rather many simultaneous things.” — Sergio Chejfec
Annie De Witt’s White Nights in Split Town City (Tyrant Books) is a “coming-of-age story and cautionary tale. In her mother’s absence, Jean is torn between the adult world and her surreal fantasies of escape as she and Fender build a fort to survey the rumors of their town.”
I’ve read and loved all of László Krasznahorkai’s books so I’ll soon be devouring Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens. Subverting the conventions of the travel memoir, Krasznahorkai explores the “chaotic flux of globality.” Can’t wait for The Last Wolf (New Directions), too; it certainly doesn’t hurt that the narrative is constructed as a single-sentence loop.
Memoir? Fiction? The Clouds finds Juan José Saer exploring madness and history and reality, their various intertwistings, in Paris, where “Pinchón Garay receives a computer disk containing a manuscript—which might be fictional, or could be a memoir—by Doctor Real, a nineteenth-century physician tasked with leading five mental patients on a trip to a recently constructed asylum. This ragtag team, which includes a delusional narcissist and a nymphomaniac nun who tricks the other patients into sleeping with her, ploughs full steam ahead on a tragicomic trip that ends in disaster and fire.”
Uncertain Reading: Collected Essays (Semiotext(e)) “brings together for the first time [Robert] Glück’s nonfiction, a revelatory body of work that anchors his writing practice. Glück’s essays explore the ways that storytelling and selfhood are mutually embedded cultural forms, cohering a fractured social reality where generating narrative means generating identity means generating community.”
Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans (Feminist Press) is, among other things, a modern retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette. Samuel R. Delany writes: “Vivid and moving. Novels about the past that can celebrate it with intelligence rather than nostalgia are rare and are themselves to be celebrated.”
Augury Books has two compelling forthcoming books: Sara Schaff’s Say Something Nice About Me, a collection of “darkly beautiful (and often quite funny) stories of modern love, families, and heartbreak”; and Arisa White’s you’re the most beautiful thing that happened, whose poems—which take “their titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians”—“ rework, reenvision, and reembody language as a conduit instead for art, love, and understanding.”
According to Matthew Zapruder, Kate Angus’s So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press) “does not merely describe, but enacts a faith in life, and in poetry’s necessity. This is the poetry for those of us who don’t just want but need to ‘always and silently unseal everything,’ to see what we can feel and know.”
Maggie Nelson writes: “Rarely have I come across tenderness, venom, and fire held so intimately, so exquisitely, as in Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary (CSU Poetry Center). This book would be impressive enough as a collection of finely-forged fragments, but as it weaves itself into an even more impressive whole, my hat came off. Lily Hoang writes like she has nothing to lose and everything at stake.”
I’d never heard of Lola Ridge until I’d heard about Terese Svoboda’s Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press), the first full-length biography—a “lively, nuanced, and complex portrait”—of this influential Irish-American poet; editor of avant-garde, feminist, and anarchist publications; and champion of the working-class.
Mark de Silva’s Square Wave (Two Dollar Radio) “gracefully weav[es] a study of the psychological effects of a militarized state upon its citizenry with topics as diverse as microtonal music and cloud physics.”
Two books to look out for from Relegation Books: Daniel Paisner’s A Single Happened Thing: an “enchanting new novel about neurosis, intimacy, and balancing familial needs while juggling two careers and the demands of modern life.” And Sonya Chung’s The Loved Ones.
Steve Toutonghi’s Join (Soho Press) is a “literary sci fi thriller that brings to life the ‘future of the mind’ in which humans can merge consciousnesses to form permanent ‘Joins,’ expanding life and consciousness—but at what cost?”
Johannes Göransson mentioned on Facebook that he’s “been reading, writing about, and teaching [Dolores Dorantes’s Style] for ages”; and after seeing it described as “a prose book in which a plural feminine voice narrates the vicissitudes of a war designed to suppress that voice,” I’m happy to see it getting published this year in English.
Action Books can be counted on to publish the most challenging, genre-trespassing literature. They have five books forthcoming this year and I want to read each one of them:
taylor jacob pate’s Becoming the Virgin
Jane Wong’s Overpour
Valerie Hsiung’s exchange following and gene flow: a trilogy
Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia (trans. Aditi Machado)
I’ve been lucky to have heard a few of the stories in Good People, read by Robert Lopez, himself, stories whose deadpan humor and cutting sentences provide further proof that Lopez is one of the country’s finest writers of weirdly dark and darkly weird comedy.
The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue Literary Press), the third novel in Norman Lock’s American Novels series “is a gothic psychological thriller whose themes are possession, identity, and storytelling that the master, Edgar Allan Poe, might have been proud to call his own.”
Matt Tompkins’s Studies in Hybrid Morphology (The Newer York Press) “is a story collection trapped in the body of a scientific journal. Presented as a series of faux-scholarly articles, this genre-bending mash-up offers an array of surreal stories and flash fictions exploring the beings we want to be, can be, should not be, and will never be.”
With its “aimless twenty-something,” whose “legs are rotting,” who’s caring for a “human baby that might actually be a dog,” T. Sean Steele’s Tacky Goblin (Curbside Splendor) promises to be engagingly strange. Also from Curbside Splendor is Zoe Zolbrod’s The Telling: A Memoir, an unflinching memoir reflecting on the decade-long molestation she suffered as a child, filtered through a “kaleidoscopic series of experiences as an adult, mother, and feminist.”
A collection of flash fictions featuring “Bogeyman reunions and voodoo dolls to an introspective Superman and godly affairs,” Christopher DeWan’s Hoopty Time Machines: Fairy Tales for Grown Ups (Atticus Books) looks like a must-read. Advance praise from Kevin Brockmeier certainly doesn’t hurt.
Post-apocalyptic poetry? Enough said. A book that’s “a burning down, a kind of end of the world while, at the same time, a new, triumphant beginning”? Ditto.
What Weaponry (Black Lawrence Press): “[Elisabeth] Colen is not timid about addressing the perversities of American culture head-oaps more discomfortn…The subjects are dark, generating perh than comfort, but Colen reminds us that the human heart is still quite functional.” —D. A. Powell.
Timothy Yu’s 100 Chinese Silences (Les Figues Press) rewrites “poets from Ezra Pound and Marianne Moore to Gary Snyder and Billy Collins, this book is a sharply critical and wickedly humorous travesty of the modern canon, excavating the Asian (American) bones buried in our poetic language.”
Judith Butler calls Sara Uribe’s Antígona González (Les Figues Press) a “brilliant and moving book [that] revives the story of Antigone to confront the horrifying violence shrouded within the present landscape—Antigone, a solitary figure before the law, facing certain death, who invokes a way of resistance at once textual and political. Sophocles’ play resonates throughout this act of poetic testimony and fierce interpretation, making emphatic graphic marks precisely where there is no trace of loss.”
“How does one participate (read and write) from within the membranous precinct between our multiple bodies, from within the larger rhizomic field of resonances, where much is sounding and also unsounded? By employing various ‘divinatory generators’ (instructions, methods, trances), the essays in Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics genuflect to practices that celebrate engagement with uncertainty, cultivating strategies through which one might collaborate with rupture and rapture.”
The stories in Samuel Ligon’s Wonderland (Lost Horse Press) are, at turns, whimsical, funny, and outright weird, with all kinds of kooky characters and odd situations. It has the feel of a storybook for adults, where the art sings in counterpoint with the stories, and the stories themselves offer strange takes on tall tales, fairy tales (“The Little Goat” and “Paradise Lost”), the nursery rhyme, the letter, the blurb (I have a piece in that collection as well!), etc. I also really like “This Land Was Made for You & Me,” with its deft play on the term “intellectual property”; and “Exxon, My Love,” which I’m reading as a wry attack on predatory (Is there any other kind?) multinational corporations.
Samuel Ligon’s Among the Dead and Dreaming (Leapfrog Press) is “a dark love story of two damaged people brought together by the deaths of their spouses, and further joined by repercussions of past violence and corruption, leaking, then pouring into the present. The book employs multiple first-person narrators, with characters’ names as section headers, like in As I Lay Dying.”
James Reich’s Mistah Kurtz! (Anti-Oedipus Press) engagingly gives voice to one of fiction’s most enigmatic characters: the petty tyrant, dying demigod, and supposed embodiment of imperialist Europe from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Looking forward to seeing how the eponymous empty-but-paradoxically-still-overflowing vessel of Nice Things by James Franco, edited by Sean Lovelace and Mark Neely (New Michigan Press) thinks.
In Liz Waldner’s Little House, Big House (Noemi Press) “travelogue divides into dirge, into etymology of pop iconography, then multiplies into an other America, one against (the pre-packaged) and for a construction of stories lying ahead of a self, made in an unknown home ‘where I grew to be me.’”
“I loved every story in this collection by Elizabeth Gonzalez. With quiet authority, in prose of luminous clarity, she travels fluidly between the natural world and her characters’ secret interiors. These science-inflected tales include octopus escape artists, ‘reclamation specialists,’ cracked geodes, and the intractable laws of physics. Out of a bedrock of fact, Gonzalez raises a lush set of questions about our mysterious species: why do we stay, when do we go, how do we build our selves and our homes?”
Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan’s The Incantations of Daniel Johnston: A Graphic Novel (Two Dollar Radio) depicts “Johnston’s colorful life, from his humble beginnings as a carnival employee to folk musician in Austin, to his rise to MTV popularity and persistent struggle with personal demons.”
In Madeleine E. (Outpost19), Gabriel Blackwell—genre-trespasser par excellence—offers a “commonplace book, arranging passages from critics considering Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, along with fragments of memoir and fiction. Presented first as random notes on watching the legendary film, the meticulously arranged fragments soon take up multiple threads and, like a classic Hitchcock movie, present competing realities.”
Three books from Deep Vellum Publishing caught my eye:
Jung Young Moon’s Vaseline Buddha, a “tour-de-force in automatic writing”; “Ukrainian literary rockstar” Serhiy Zhadan’s Voroshilovgrad, whose “poetic, expressive prose” mixes “magical realism and exhilarating road novel”; Michèle Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days, whose “narrative oscillates stylistically from chapter to chapter, sometimes resembling a novel, at others a fable, historical research, or a diary, locking and unlocking codes, culminating in a captivating, original reading experience.
“While absurdly funny on its face, Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin (Restless Books) is deadly serious in its implications. [Oleg] Kashin’s experience exemplifies why so few authors dare to criticize the state—and his book is a testament of the power of literature to break the bonds of power, corruption, and enforced silence.”
“Combining elements of poetry, flash fiction, and essay, Anthony Michael Morena creates a collage of music, observation, humor, and alienation. Giving the 38-year-old original playlist a B-side update, Morena’s The Voyager Record calls out to its namesake across the billions of miles of emptiness.”
Susan Daitch’s The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir (City Lights) is a “satiric, post-colonial adventure story of mythic proportions” that “takes place against a background of actual events, in a part of the world with a particular historical relationship to Russia and the West. But though we are treated to visual ‘evidence’ of its actual existence, Suolucidir remains a mystery, perhaps an invention of those who seek it, a place where history and identity are subject to revision, and the boundaries between East and West are anything but solid, reliable, or predictable.”
Will Stone’s Sleepwalkers (Shearsman Books) “ranges across Britain and continental Europe, past, present and future, conjuring extraordinary visions of beauty and despair, joy and horror, revelation and nostalgia. From delicate insight to apocalyptic rage, the glory and savagery of human achievement and destruction is set against the majestic power and fragility of nature.”
Also, be sure to check out two books I’m publicizing: Matthew Binder’s High in the Streets, which Clancy Martin describes as being “as philosophically astute as it is hilariously funny”; and Angela Woodward’s Natural Wonders, which Matt Bell says “beautifully juxtaposes a recounting of a short but intense marriage against a retelling of both the marvelous expanse of geological time and the fraught history of scientific discovery.
Among the books I missed last year that I’m excited about reading this year is Jeff Bursey’s Mirrors on which dust has fallen, set in Bowmount, the fictitious town first introduced in Bursey’s Verbatim: A Novel. The new novel features a “varied cast of characters [who] examine and defend their spiritual beliefs, from God to evolution; their views on art, as painting battles photography for supremacy; and their sexuality, from confusion to pagan flagrancy.”
As a father of an amazing ten year old daughter, I can’t help being interested in Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers (McPherson & Company).
Hope to see books from Ellipsis Press this year. I’ve loved so many of their books. Hoping or the same about Calamari Press for the same reason. Looking forward to checking out their recently published Gotham Grammarian, by the incomparable Gary Lutz. Read an excerpt!
I can’t help wondering if we’ll see new books from any number of my favorite writers, small press heroes all, like Mary Caponegro, Samuel Delany, Jaimy Gordon, John Haskell, Shelley Jackson, Bhanu Kapil, Eugene Lim, Michael Leong, Carole Maso, Joyelle McSweeney, and Ken Sparling.
This work is built on fragments that collide and splinter further, that prop each other up unexpectedly, with a dry humour that slides into pessimism, as the persona of a male essayist comments on art, culture, politics, philosophy, and much else. Allusions and quotations abound, as do dialogues between characters familiar from logical arguments. You don’t need to be a fan of the Frankfurt School or Adorno or Benjamin to enjoy this book. It hasn’t been paid enough attention. Is it because it’s from such a small press and that it’s by a Canadian? It’s a must-read.
Compartment No. 6 (Graywolf), by Rosa Liksom: Train rides and Russia (practically synonymous), a Finnish woman and a former soldier, and conversation that takes them to Mongolia. What’s not to look forward to in this novel, winner of the Finlandia Prize?
This Marlowe (Goose Lane), Michelle Butler Hallett: A historical novel set in the late 16th century, using Marlowe and others, but current in its tone, and in its themes about espionage, Empire, and loyalty, by an emerging Canadian writer.
Norman Lock’s The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue Literary Press): In which Lock’s ongoing project riffing on 19th-century American history and culture intersects the work and obsessions of Edgar Allan Poe.
Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja (Civil Coping Mechanisms): In her earlier books, Excavation and Hollywood Notebook, I was floored both by Ortiz’s prose and her ability to upend expectations of what can be done in a memoir. So I’m very eager to read book number three, which ventures into the territory of dreams.
I’m looking forward to a lot of stuff this year.
The first indie press on my list is Broken River Books. Sure, I’m biased, but BRB puts out consistently amazing books. This year they will continue to put out an amazing array of voices, and that includes books by David Bowles, Marilyse Figueroa, Kelby Losack, and Grant Wamack. I can’t pick one over the other, so keep your eyes on BRB and grab them all as soon as they’re available.
Another indie press that never disappoints is Lazy Fascist Press. They have a lot of good books coming this year, but these are the three I’m most stoked about:
- Juliet Escoria’s Witch Hunt: Escoria’s Black Cloud made her a household name, and now that she knows what her voice is, I expect this to be even better, harder, grittier, and amazing.
- Andrea Kneeland’s The Birds & The Beasts: With How to Pose for Hustler, Kneeland made me a fan for life, and I’ve been waiting for this one since the second I finished the last one.
- Brian Allen Carr’s Lemon Yellow Poison: There’s no one out there who can do what Carr does. Also, his best work has come from Lazy Fascist Press (The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World and The Shape of Every Monster Yet to Come). With such a track record, to say Carr has a new book coming from Lazy Fascist Press is saying “save a space on your best of 2016 list because something truly great is coming.”
The Kingdom, by Fuminori Nakamura: SOHO Press does great things, and translating Nakamura is at the top of the list. This comes out in July and will surely get people talking about Nakamura all over again. And that’s a good thing because he’s one of the best living crime writers.
The Incantations of Daniel Johnston, a graphic novel by Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan: Cavolo + McClanahan + Johnston + Two Dollar Radio = Gold. TDR never disappoints, but this one is already special. McClanahan has a unique voice and Cavolo’s art is fun and very recognizable, so this book is one I’m already incredibly excited about.
Civil Coping Mechanisms puts out great books, and this year is no different. Two I’m especially excited about are You with Your Memory Are Dead, by Gary J Shipley; and Transitory, by Tobias Carroll. Shipley is a master of the dark and bizarre narratives; and Carroll, who we have to thank for Vol. 1 Brooklyn, is a talented storyteller who also stands at the center of indie lit.
The excerpts I’ve read of this are so sensitive and devastating and perceptive, I’m anticipating having my heart turned inside out and can’t wait to hold this book in my hands.
This amazing excerpt from the book:
“Everyone is downstairs crying. I walk upstairs to Grandma’s room. It is dark. Her dirty pink house shoes are lined up by the nightstand like she just got into bed. The covers on her side are pulled back like she just got out of bed. I leave and ask my mom how Grandma died. My mom says she just turned yellow and died. What, I say. You heard me, she says, she just turned yellow and died. I will never eat dandelions again.”
I’ve admired Don Mee Choi for her work both as a translator (she introduced me to Kim Hyesoon’s intense and visceral poetry), as well as a poet (her earlier book, The Morning News Is Exciting, dealt so aptly with complex issues of past, history, trajectory, identity). I admire how she bluntly and honestly deals with questions of “ethnic” identity and hidden traumas, and questions around how to reconcile history with memory.
“I’ve written a little bit previously on this title at Enclave:
This book struck me in a very physical way. As if so many of these actions were happening inside my gut, bowels, heart twisting and stretching in the shadows of contradiction, loss, resentment, conjuration, desire. The poetry in this book is so much about seeking out those grotesque and creepy spaces where, despite the filth and shame, we still must reside.”
Maggie Nelson has said about the book:
“Into what some are calling a new golden age of creative nonfiction lands Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies, which singlehandedly raises the bar for what’s possible in the field. This is a momentous work informed by a lifetime of thinking, reading, loving, and reckoning, utterly matchless in its erudition, its precision, its range, its daring, and its grace. I know of no book like it, nor any recent book as thoroughly good, in art or in heart.”
From the publisher:
“In Milazzo’s linguistic landscape ‘backyards explode with palaces,’ ‘the bones of rationale begin to knob and peep,’ ‘bone dreams merely of a snowmen’s chorus’ and ‘your westward affections run senile like a river.’ Quotidian reality wears a new syntactical and semantic garb as each poem seems to unravel language and a circadian rotation of ‘dreams’— ambiguously of sleep, of aspiration, of nonsense, of the fantastic, or of the banal.”
Cristina Rivera Garza writes:
“Diving into old archives as if into bodies of water, John Pluecker has enticed back images and maps, words turned into cut-ups, wounds. Untranslating, he holds our hands and, gently, never forgetting our basic vulnerability, invites us to walk on page as if on land (or is it vice versa?). There is no innocence in land; there is no blank slate. Our feet always fall on footprints left by others; our words reverberate too with echoes of other voices, struggles, memories.
From the publisher:
“Kim Kyung Ju’s poetry operates in a world where no one seems to belong: ‘the living are born in the dead people’s world, and the dead are born in the living.’ Already in its thirtieth edition in Korea, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World is one of the most important books in the movement Korean critics have called Miraepa or future movement. Destructive forces like social isolation, disease, and ecological degradation are transformed into gateways to the sublime—where human action takes on the mythic and chaotic quality of nature.”
Blind Spot, by Harold Abramowitz (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
This brilliant, poetic novel weaves a new structure for narrative, forces the reader to consider the complex and profound structures hidden in a record of time, each observation of the utterly quotidian transforming into a lyrical evocation of essential significance. Each repetition is a surprise, and each consideration an impossible enigma.
Narrated by a mysterious and clairvoyant consciousness, Blind Spot, is both blind and honest, isolated and compulsive, and achieves with such magnificent beauty a reconceptualization of seeing and reading that one might enter this book through its first lines and wish to never come out again.
Enfermario, by Gabriela Torres Olivares, translated by Jennifer Donovan (Les Figues Press)
Gabriela Torres Olivares is one of the most brilliant, engaged, and sensitive thinkers I know. I’m so excited for her work to be in English for the first time!
Lucy 72, by Ronaldo V. Wilson (1913 Press)
Mark Baumer is the Andy Kaufman of literature. I mean, Mark Baumer is obviously the Mark Baumer of literature. And that’s not easy to do: to have no precedent so as to be self-referential. No one’s doing what Mark is doing, and what he’s doing is amazing. Really, really, really looking forward to this novella.
The genius behind Dorothy, a Publishing Project, my favorite literary press, with a historical-based, lyrical new novel? Yes, please.
Everything that Nobrow puts out is golden. Of their 2016 lineup though, Geis stands out. I think this is a debut full-length from Alexis Deacon, and the art looks darkly gorgeous in a kind of mysterious way. It’s a supernatural, historical fantasy, and the first of three books. I have a feeling Alexis Deacon is going to be getting a lot of attention for this book.
No one anywhere is making comics as gorgeously poetic and utterly bewitching as Aidan Koch. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this collection for years.
Patrick Kyle’s comics are super weird in the best way possible. I really loved his last full-length book, Distance Mover, and Don’t Come In Here looks to be even better. Promises some idiosyncratic weirdo surrealism, to be sure.
Simply put, Eleanor Davis is one of the best working illustrators in the world. Her 2014 collection of short comics, How to Be Happy, showed Davis’s enormous stylistic range, and Libby’s Dad looks to expand that with some amazing colored pencil work and Davis’s amazing sense for comics narrative.
A collaborative comic in which Alabaster Pizzo draws a collection of Kaeleigh Forsyth’s weird notes written in her phone, with bizarre and hilarious results. I’m new to both parties of this duo, but I saw some sample Hellbound pages online and am hooked.
I’m really, really happy Pleiades is putting out new Poetry Comics from Bianca Stone, as she was one of the artists who really introduced me to the wide range of possibilities out there for comics. I’m really excited about this collection already being out in the world.
Adding to pitch-perfect Ley Lines comics series, Medieval War Scenes combines amazing illustration work from Aaron Cockle with W.G. Sebald, Werner Heldt, and Sappho. Best to just subscribe to the whole 2016 Ley Lines series right now.
I’m pretty obsessed with Hitchcock, so to have someone as brilliant as Gabriel Blackwell doing what he does with Vertigo, well, I mean, you had me with “by Gabriel Blackwell.”
This looks good, possibly amazing.
- Pamela Erens’s Eleven Hours (Tin House)—Erens is the real deal. This book about two women during the course of an eleven hour labor has it on every level—language, emotion, composition, and just getting it in terms of a woman’s interior life. The publisher calls it a small masterpiece—but it’s not small. I can’t find a link for the book yet, but here is a link to the Tim House Catalogue and it’s the first book listed: http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/2016-Summer-eCatalog-Final-Correx.pdf
- Norman Lock’s The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue)—Lock is one of the most wildly original thinkers out there and I can’t wait to read his new novel.
- Jerome Charyn’s A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century (Bellevue)—I went to hear him in conversation last night. Among other things, he said, “Language is the music of violence.” So yes, I can’t wait to read his reconsideration of Dickinson.
- Terese Svoboda’s Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge (Schaffner Press)—The biography of a genius literary badass, written by a genius literary badass.
- Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat (Melville House)—This is a page-turner about a child abduction that is also a serious literary work. Hamer takes us inside the mind of an extraordinary child in a feat of language and imagination.
William Lessard’s Rembrandt with Cellphone (Reality Beach)
Presses to look out for:
- Earth Science, by Sarah Green
- Oosh Boosh, by Shannon Burns
- Murder, by Jane Liddle
- Lay Me Low, by Chris Cheney
They’re all poetry, except Murder, which is microfiction. And it has a sweet cover by Edward Mullany.
Another cool press for your radar is Jellyfish Highway, run by Justin L. Daugherty. I just posted an excerpt from their latest book, a collaborative collection of microfiction, which you can see here: http://realpants.com/your-sick-by-carol-guess/
So here are some that I’m looking forward to off the top of my head:
Absinth (Dalkey Archive), by Sébastien Doubinsky
Stomachs (Scrambler Books), by Luna Miguel
Small press books to look out for in 2016:
Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press) is a good read of an overlooked feminist, human rights, modernist poet, if I do say so myself. It was published in this February.
Professor Harriman’s Steam Air-Ship (Eyewear) will come out in September. I became fascinated with this weird air-ship on the cover of a Heritage magazine from the sixties and it took that long to understand why. Sex, of course.
Elizabeth A. Powell won Anhinga Press’s Robert Dana Prize for poetry with Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances. About the erasure of the female voice under the American dream, Powell’s book uses Arthur Miller’s play as a palimpsest and filches both essay and drama for new ways of thinking about verse.
Renee Ashley’s sixth book of dark and beautiful poetry, The View from the Body, presents a view “deluded, distressed, its incontestable world loose in the other world.” Martha Collins says she’s unflinching like Dickinson. Black Lawrence Press publishes it in March.
I loved Shya Scanlon’s The Guild of Saint Cooper from Dzanc. So what if it came out last year—it’s about next year, the future, a mindbender nimbly Twin Peaks-ing Seattle with alternate history and a tender concern for Mom.
I was shamelessly ensnared by Nagamatsu’s “The Return to Monsterland,” revisiting the euphoria daily afterwards and on drives home across the Mackinac Bridge. Nagamatsu’s stories have a penchant for exacting this sort of toll on their readers. “Return to Monsterland”’s section titles introduce the spectacle by species, working as a field guide to Monsterland interspersed with letters from a lost loved one, who had been slain during the King of Monsters’ tirade. The book realizes the full potential of story, and features an orientation manual for new Japanese ghosts alongside short(er) pieces such as a recipe for human placenta, steps for deep sea diving, a dream vacation checklist, and an interview taking place after Godzilla, hero, wreaks havoc on the city. Where its disparate parts might seem to drive the book apart, interludes help hold it together. This is a daring, confident debut that blends high and low culture meaningfully. Nagamatsu’s concern for language sets the book apart from cheap imitators.
I was supposed to be on a bus for thirty plus hours, both ways. I was going to a pedagogy conference. Nick Potter’s New Animals from Subito Press, which had arrived in the mail just a few days before, seemed to pack itself. I devoured this book on the way down, and wished I had more books by the author for the return trip. Before reading, I knew Potter’s short comic work better than I knew his fiction, printing “An Invitation to a Beheading” for Heavy Feather, and expected to see a lot of formal experimentation, judging from his credits publishing with Caketrain and Booth. His work is an instantly liberating variety, defying genre conventions and having an investment in play in fiction, an irreverence that pervades the work. The comics and stories complement each other seamlessly, sometimes colliding in the same piece, such as in “Oops, Isaac,” “Well-Wishing the Weight of Something Kevinly Piecemeal,” and “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph?” A bizarre magic governs story logic throughout the book, a kind of absurdism, but the stories are utterly, uniquely Potter. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys weird fictions by Amelia Gray, Colin Winnette, or Charlie Kaufman, or is anticipating the US release of The Lobster.
I know harris’s work from a small reading I once planned in Detroit at an independent bookstore that shut down soon after the event. I had booked something like seven or eight readers, trying to navigate the Midwest writing scene, but her poetry felt different than others reading that night, or that I had seen before. She is special on the page, and I know very little about this book, coming from Alice James Books, other than I have been anticipating the sophomore effort since 2012, when harris’s first book, allegiance, a book inspired by being from and living in Detroit, was released with Wayne State University Press. I expect something has been made of her Kevorkian series that we had the fortune to publish part of in Heavy Feather—the title seems to invoke their inclusion, or new poems about grief—but I am deliriously happy with anything penned by the poet. NPR calls it “[e]arnest, sometimes frenzied, packed with surprising metaphors …” You’d be remiss not to read anything by this important, inimitable figure. Her work is only growing in recognition. Get in on the ground floor: Start with this exciting new offering.
Murder, clocking in at sixty-eight pages, contains fifty short stories about or involving violence brought on unsuspecting citizens. Its cover comes in six different colors and features type designed by Edward Mullany. I couldn’t think of much more to pack into a book, let alone a debut. 421 Atlanta has delivered the spoils. There is a deadpan that revels in the fatal reveals, but it is never over the top or there to provide tasteless shock. Take, for example, this scene from “The Chick,” which Liddle teased on her Tumblr:
… The chick’s story inspired her to put the legendary guitarist’s band on the stereo. She grabbed her iPod and scrolled through while telling the three dudes how she laughed in the legendary guitarist’s face when he tried to kiss her after they did cocaine in the bathroom. The three dudes laughed and said no way. The chick ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, a sixteen-year-old learning to drive with her dad in the passenger seat. The sixteen-year-old died. The chick got a year in prison, which some people thought was too little and some dudes thought was too much.
Every story I’ve read from the book is teeming with her deadpanned brand of wit, and I can’t wait to see how these deaths build on and thread into one another. Of course Liddle has saved the most intricate, nuanced fates for the book; we will have to read Murder to find out just how deeply meditated those ones are.
Lit Pub called this debut short story collection “wild and wonderful…intriguing on a microcosm sentence level as they are on a macrocosm plot level,” and this about sums up my experience reading Goodrich in other places such as NAP’s Anthology of Etiquette and Terrifying Angels with Many Heads, Passages North, and for a Heavy Feather contest judged by Lucy Corin, for which she was a finalist. She is a harbinger of the dizzying strange scenario, sometimes genre bent, but just as often unprecedented. One of my favorite stories in the book is “Anna George,” which supposes that “[y]our parents go on a trip overseas and your mother comes back as an orange and your father doesn’t come back at all,” and unravels from there, but treats the subject with the utmost sincerity. Daughters of Monsters also sees a family fleeing a wall of toxic gas for several pages, and has siblings running through recently acquired superpowers—as if rivalries weren’t complicated enough.
I had only had a tiny taste of Holly Tavel’s work, and my pulse quickened to learn she at last has a whole book of stories. Tavel’s fiction has the delicious feel of children’s literature, without being child-like, or for children. Her worlds are magically palpable, rendered in precise detail and a moody palette just beyond reach of reality. They elicit an enormous craving to cross into them and abide there. In “Ars Poetica,” a woman finds a “dove-gray mass lightly furred and blurred, as if seen through a pair of smudged glasses” pulsing quietly under the rhododendrons in her garden. This slightly noxious mass is a poem. It won’t go away. The story “Last Words” is in part narrated by a pet macaw, who tells of the destruction of many birds it has known far back in history. Tavel’s voice is both comic and elegiac, with a deep sadness underlining the absurdity. Equus Press is based in both London and Prague, and has published some European heavyweights in translation, including Georges Bataille and Philippe Sollers. My book, ordered on Amazon, came all the way from the Czech Republic, wrapped in foreign paper, label printed in spiky, left-handed cursive, like an object out of a Tavel story.
Moten’s The Feel Trio, also from Letter Machine Editions, was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry in 2014. The Service Porch is the third in Moten’s trilogy, with the second volume, The Little Edges, out from Wesleyan in 2015. The Feel Trio is a gorgeous book, platter sized, with plenty of white space around Moten’s dense, slip-sliding paragraphs. Though it was a library book, I dog-eared many pages, thinking each one I’d picked out was the most spectacular yet. And yet the poems continually out-do themselves. Moten is also a notable literary critic. You can hear his academic eloquence here, in a lecture on the artist Thornton Dial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oRKOhlMmKQ
His poetry moves easily between this high register and snatches of everyday speech, compressed bravura blocks of text, undoing the monoculture to capture life’s exhausted beauty.
The Removals, a film by Nicholas Rombes
This is not a book, it’s a movie. But whatever. It’s by Nicholas Rombes, author of The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, also from Two Dollar Radio (2014). The Absolution is structured as the retellings of films that have been burned by a reclusive film librarian from Penn State. It occurs early on to the narrator that “the stories he was telling me about the films he destroyed weren’t about the films at all, but something else,” and yet the stories about the films are vivid and extravagantly detailed, shot by shot, relayed in a serious drone that is both terrifying and hilarious. This was one of the oddest and most interesting books I came across this year, and I would not want to miss anything else Rombes comes up with.
Knowing the reputation of Two Dollar Radio’s fiction, I got myself an advance copy of The Gloaming. Described as a combination of J.M. Coetzee and Graham Greene, this mystery novel set in Africa and Switzerland promises a curse, a car accident, remorse and revenge. Finn’s prose is sparklingly assured, swift-paced and decisive, careening the reader into inhospitable situations.
A meditation on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” anchors an interweaving of thoughts on being and other, along with first-person vignettes that render all the material tender and approachable. Though in no way sentimental, the poignancy of the stories (in the excerpt here, a lost wallet leads to disaster at airport security) counterbalances the solemnity or film buff obsessiveness of the other voices. The emotion underpinning the erudition makes for an unusual cocktail, with an elegant buzz and a soft sting. Excerpt on the Collapsar:
Marc Anthony Richardson’s Year of the Rat (FC2)
This is Richardson’s first novel, winner of the Fiction Collective Two Sukenick Prize for 2015. The author describes it thus: “An artist returns to his city to tend to his invalid mother, only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings. Unreliably narrated by this nameless antagonist, whose rants, reveries, and Rabelaisian escapades take him on a Dantesque descent into himself, the story follows him and the mother as they share a one-bedroom apartment over the course of a remembered year.” An excerpt is due out in the spring issue of Western Humanities Review. In the meantime, here’s a snippet of Richardson’s tumultuous sentences: “The features of his face and the parts of his body would look much better if they were alphabetized from top to bottom, just incongruously slapped together that way in some expressionistic abstract, for being notably indistinctive he remains fantastically boring, as his mouth, the only thing of distinction, a heart-shaped planchette, glides monotonously over the Ouija board of his thoughts, picking out decrepit quotes like the dried-up mucus from his tear ducts—only to tranquilize himself even further with his own somniloquence: for we are always under the soapbox of his dream and never the other way around.”
Antonio Tabucchi’s For Isabel: A Meditation (Archipelago Books)
A friend recently recommended Tabucchi’s Pereira Declares. An Italian writer who lived in Lisbon, Tabucchi won major literary awards in Europe before his death in 2012. Archipelago and New Directions brought out many of his books in English over the past decade. Pereira Declares is set on the eve of World War II in Lisbon, and concerns a meek intellectual tasked with bringing out a weekly newspaper’s culture page in an era of censorship and fascist terror.
Quietly, steadily, almost nothing happens: it’s hot, he goes to a spa, he meets a woman on a train, he accepts some dubious files, he speaks to his dead wife’s portrait. And then it’s all different. Archipelago’s books are alluring, like petit fours, small, dense, colorful, a delight to hold in the hand. Several other Tabucchi titles are on their backlist, and this one, For Isabel, is on its way some time this year.
Anne Golden’s From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.