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Most Anticipated Small Press Releases: February 2021

Here are some compelling forthcoming February 2021 small press books that captured my attention:

 

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Harold Jaffe’s BRUT: Writings on Art & Artists

From Anti-Oedipus Press: “Harold Jaffe is well-known for his docufiction, which is at once personal and detached, serious and satirical, familiar and esoteric. He has been recognized for pinpointing and even aestheticizing the media pathology that informs and increasingly determines our daily lives. In BRUT, Jaffe addresses an extraordinary range of films, writers, painters, philosophers, and ‘outsider’ artists, each with the brevity, clarity, and dramatic understatement that typify his prose. Nina Simone, Marlon Brando, Albert Camus, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, Jean Genet, Sylvia Plath, Clarice Lispector, Dick Gregory, James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, Mark Rothko, Alberto Giacometti, William Blake, Greta Thunberg, Frantz Fanon, Antonin Artaud, Man Ray, Dada, Che Guevara, John Coltrane, Pasolini…in every instance, it is not just the mind of the artist, but the heart-mind, the felt passion, that Jaffe teases out of his subject with uncanny nuance.”

 

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Suzanne Ahn’s Heading for Bilbao

From Center for Basque Studies: “In early 1937, a young Canadian journalist is disenchanted with life in Paris and accepts an assignment to go to Madrid. Friends offer advice. A Basque medical student tells him of the determined anticlericalism prevalent in Madrid; a German exile suggests he take an extra pair of glasses. In Madrid, the journalist is moved by the misery of the working classes but disturbed by the power wielded by the Communist Party. After his first air raid, he finds himself shaking at the sound of airplanes. Wounded by shrapnel, the journalist returns to Paris. Recovering, he suffers as much from shame of his fear as from the physical pain of his wounds. When faced with an unexpected request from a friend, his sympathy for the Basques’ plight challenges him to take action.”

 

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Histories of Racial Capitalism, edited by Destin Jenkins and Justin Leroy

From Columbia University Press: “The relationship between race and capitalism is one of the most enduring and controversial historical debates. The concept of racial capitalism offers a way out of this impasse. Racial capitalism is not simply a permutation, phase, or stage in the larger history of capitalism—since the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade and the colonization of the Americas, capitalism, in both material and ideological senses, has been racial, deriving social and economic value from racial classification and stratification. Although Cedric J. Robinson popularized the term, racial capitalism has remained undertheorized for nearly four decades. Histories of Racial Capitalism brings together for the first time distinguished and rising scholars to consider the utility of the concept across historical settings. These scholars offer dynamic accounts of the relationship between social relations of exploitation and the racial terms through which they were organized, justified, and contested. Deploying an eclectic array of methods, their works range from indigenous mortgage foreclosures to the legacies of Atlantic-world maroons, from imperial expansion in the continental United States and beyond to the racial politics of municipal debt in the New South, from the ethical complexities of Latinx banking to the postcolonial dilemmas of extraction in the Caribbean. Throughout, the contributors consider and challenge how some claims about the history and nature of capitalism are universalized while others remain marginalized. By theorizing and testing the concept of racial capitalism in different historical circumstances, this book shows its analytical and political power for today’s scholars and activists.”

 

Postprint

N. Katherine Hayles’s Postprint: Books and Becoming Computational

From Columbia University Press: “Since Gutenberg’s time, every aspect of print has gradually changed. But the advent of computational media has exponentially increased the pace, transforming how books are composed, designed, edited, typeset, distributed, sold, and read. N. Katherine Hayles traces the emergence of what she identifies as the postprint condition, exploring how the interweaving of print and digital technologies has changed not only books but also language, authorship, and what it means to be human. Hayles considers the ways in which print has been enmeshed in literate societies and how these are changing as some of the cognitive tasks once performed exclusively by humans are now carried out by computational media. Interpretations and meaning-making practices circulate through transindividual collectivities created by interconnections between humans and computational media, which Hayles calls cognitive assemblages. Her theoretical framework conceptualizes innovations in print technology as redistributions of cognitive capabilities between humans and machines. Humanity is becoming computational, just as computational systems are edging toward processes once thought of as distinctively human. Books in all their diversity are also in the process of becoming computational, representing a crucial site of ongoing cognitive transformations. Hayles details the consequences for the humanities through interviews with scholars and university press professionals and considers the cultural implications in readings of two novels, The Silent History and The Word Exchange, that explore the postprint condition. Spanning fields including book studies, cultural theory, and media archeology, Postprint is a strikingly original consideration of the role of computational media in the ongoing evolution of humanity.”

 

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Sushma Subramanian’s How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch

From Columbia University Press: “How to Feel explores the scientific, physical, emotional, and cultural aspects of touch, reconnecting us to what is arguably our most important sense. Sushma Subramanian introduces readers to the scientists whose groundbreaking research is underscoring the role of touch in our lives. Through vivid individual stories—a man who lost his sense of touch in his late teens, a woman who experiences touch-emotion synesthesia, her own efforts to become less touch averse—Subramanian explains the science of the somatosensory system and our philosophical beliefs about it. She visits labs that are shaping the textures of objects we use every day, from cereal to synthetic fabrics. The book highlights the growing field of haptics, which is trying to incorporate tactile interactions into devices such as phones that touch us back and prosthetic limbs that can feel. How to Feel offers a new appreciation for a vital but misunderstood sense and how we can use it to live more fully.”

 

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Alex Dimitrov’s Love and Other Poems

From Copper Canyon Press: “Alex Dimitrov’s third book, Love and Other Poems, is full of praise for the world we live in. Taking time as an overarching structure―specifically, the twelve months of the year―Dimitrov elevates the everyday, and speaks directly to the reader as if the poem were a phone call or a text message. From the personal to the cosmos, the moon to New York City, the speaker is convinced that love is ‘our best invention.’ Dimitrov doesn’t resist joy, even in despair. These poems are curious about who we are as people and shamelessly interested in hope.”

 

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Natalie Shapero’s Popular Longing

From Copper Canyon Press: “The poems of Natalie Shapero’s third collection, Popular Longing, highlight the ever-increasing absurdity of our contemporary life. With her sharp, sardonic wit, Shapero deftly captures human meekness in all its forms: our senseless wars, our inflated egos, our constant deference to presumed higher powers―be they romantic partners, employers, institutions, or gods. ‘Why even / look up, when all we’ll see is people / looking down?’ In a world where everyone has to answer to someone, it seems no one is equipped to disrupt the status quo, and how the most urgent topics of conversation can only be approached through refraction. By scrutinizing the mundane and all that is taken for granted, these poems arrive at much wider vistas, commenting on human sadness, memory, and mortality. Punchy, fearlessly ironic, and wickedly funny, Popular Longing articulates what it means to share a planet, for better or more often for worse, with other people.”

 

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Cécile Coulon’s A Beast in Paradise, translated by Tina Kover

From Europa Editions: “A haunting novel about a lineage of women possessed by their land. Winner of the Le Monde Literary Prize, this French bestseller tells a feverish, whispered story about characters and places haunted by madness, desire, and liberty.”

 

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Angela Buck’s Horses Dream of Money

From FC2: “Horses Dream of Money is a daring collection of tales, darkly humorous, that eerily channels the surreal and sinister mood of the times. Preoccupied with the fault lines between life and death, and veering often into horror, Angela Buck brings a raw energy and witty sobriety to these accounts of human life and connection with the intimacy of fireside-storytelling, gimlet-eyed revelry in bloodletting, and a masterful sleight of hand between the fantastical and the quotidian. ‘The Solicitor’ reinvents the coming-of-age story as a romance-for-hire between a girl and her ‘solicitor,’ a man whose services are demanded by her mother and enforced by a cruel master. ‘Coffin-Testament’ is a fabulous futuristic account of the extinction of human life on earth written 1,667 years later by a group of lady robots channeling Sir Thomas Browne to muse on their own mortality. ‘The Bears at Bedtime’ documents a compound of cuddly kind worker-bears and their ruthless doings. ‘Bisquit’ imagines today’s precariat as a lovable horse who is traded from one master to another until a horse race brings his maddeningly repetitive adventures to a violent conclusion.”

 

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Dorthe Nors’s Wild Swims, translated by Misha Hoekstra

From Graywolf Press: “In fourteen effervescent stories, Dorthe Nors plumbs the depths of the human heart, from desire to melancholy and everything in between. Just as she did in her English-language debut, Karate Chop, Nors slices straight to the core of the conflict in only a few pages. But Wild Swims expands the borders of her gaze, following people as they travel through Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and elsewhere….

 

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Jackie Wang’s Spell To Save Us from the Void

From Nightboat Books: “The poems in The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void read like dispatches from the dream world, with Jackie Wang acting as our trusted comrade reporting across time and space. By sharing her personal index of dreams with its scenes of solidarity and resilience, interpersonal conflict and outlaw jouissance, Wang embodies historical trauma and communal memory. Here, the all-too-familiar interplay between crisis and resistance becomes first distorted, then clarified and refreshed. With a light touch and invigorating sense of humor, Wang illustrates the social dimension of dreams and their ability to inform and reshape the dreamer’s waking world with renewed energy and insight.”

 

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Asiya Wadud’s No Knowledge Is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body

From Nightboat Books: “Part transcript, part transmission, the poems in No Knowledge Is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body explore the intelligence of the body, especially the body under duress. Drawing on the multi-disciplinary performances of Okwui Okpokwasili, Wadud evokes experiences of transmission to explore methods and modes of continuum, endurance, claustrophobia and stillness. She asks, how does a thread of logic form? How do we extend it on either end? How do the ends carry their own propulsion?”

 

Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory, translated by Sasha Dugdale

From New Directions: “With the death of her aunt, the narrator is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century. In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms—essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue, and historical documents—Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.”

 

Georges Perec’s Ellis Island, translated by Harry Mathews

From New Directions: “Georges Perec, employing prose meditations, lists, and inventories (of countries of origin, of what the immigrants carried), conjures up in Ellis Island the sixteen million people who, between 1890 and 1954, arrived as foreigners and stayed on to become Americans. Perec (who by the age of nine was an orphan: his father was killed by a German bullet; his mother perished in Auschwitz) is wide-awake to the elements of chance in immigration and survival: ‘To me Ellis Island is the ultimate place of exile. That is, the place where place is absent, the non-place, the nowhere… Ellis Island belongs to all those whom intolerance and poverty have driven and still drive from the land where they grew up.’ Ellis Island is a slender Perec masterwork, unique among his many singular works. The acclaimed poet and scholar Mónica de la Torre contributes an afterword that keeps Perec’s writing front and center while situating Ellis Island in the context of current fierce battles over immigration.”

 

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Manuela Draeger’s Eleven Sooty Dreams, translated by J. T. Mahany

From Open Letter Books: “In Manuela Draeger’s poetic ‘post-exotic’ novel, a group of young leftists trapped in a burning building after one year’s Bolcho Pride parade plunge back into their childhood memories, trading them with each other as their lives are engulfed in flames. They remember Granny Holgolde’s stories of the elephant Marta Ashkarot, who travels through the Bardo to find her home and be reincarnated again and again. They remember the Soviet folk singer Lyudmila Zykina and her melancholic, simple songs of unspeakable beauty. They remember the half-human birds Granny Holgolde called strange cormorants, the ones who knew how to live in fire, secrecy, and death, and as the flames grow they hope to become them.”

 

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Olga Tokarczuk’s The Lost Soul, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, andIllustrated by Joanna Concejo

From Seven Stories Press: “The Lost Soul is a deeply moving reflection on our capacity to live in peace with ourselves, to remain patient, attentive to the world. It is a story that beautifully weaves together the voice of the Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and the finely detailed pen-and-ink drawings of illustrator Joanna Concejo, who together create a parallel narrative universe full of secrets, evocative of another time. Here a man has forgotten what makes his heart feel full. He moves to a house away from all that is familiar to him to wait for his soul to return.”

 

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Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021: Events of 2020

From Seven Stories Press: “The human rights records of more than ninety countries and territories are put into perspective in Human Rights Watch’s signature yearly report. Reflecting extensive investigative work undertaken by Human Rights Watch staff, in close partnership with domestic human rights activists, the annual World Report is an invaluable resource for journalists, diplomats, and citizens, and is a must-read for anyone interested in the fight to protect human rights in every corner of the globe.”

 

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Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Voices & Other Poems, translated by Kristofor Minta

From Sublunary Editions: “In The Voices, Rilke presents a series of portraits of pariahs, outcasts, the down-and-outs, turning his often inward gaze toward The Other in a way that pleasantly undermines our notions of his poetic interests. In this new translation, Kristofor Minta breathes new life into these poems, which exude a kind of heat, if only enough to warm your hands by. Includes the original German on facing pages.”

 

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María José Ferrada’s How to Order the Universe, translated by Elizabeth Bryer

From Tin House: “For seven-year-old M, the world is guided by a firm set of principles, based on her father D’s life as a traveling salesman. Enchanted by her father’s trade, M convinces him to take her along on his routes, selling hardware supplies against the backdrop of Pinochet-era Chile. As father and daughter trek from town to town in their old Renault, M’s memories and thoughts become tied to a language of rural commerce, philosophy, the cosmos, hardware products, and ghosts. M, in her innocence, barely notices the rising tensions and precarious nature of their work until she and her father connect with an enigmatic photographer, E, whose presence threatens to upend the unusual life they’ve created. María José Ferrada expertly captures a vanishing way of life and a father-daughter relationship on the brink of irreversible change. At once nostalgic, dangerous, sharply funny, and full of delight and wonder, How to Order the Universe is a richly imaginative debut and a rare work of magic and originality.”

 

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Nancy Folbre’s The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems: An Intersectional Political Economy

From Verso Books: “Why do patriarchal systems survive? In this groundbreaking work of feminist theory, Nancy Folbre examines the contradictory effects of capitalist development. She explains why the work of caring for others is under-valued and under-rewarded in today’s global economy, calling attention to the organisation of childrearing, the care of other dependants, and the inheritance of assets. Upending conventional definitions of the economy based only on the market, Folbre emphasizes the production of human capabilities in families and communities and the social reproduction of group solidarities. Highlighting the complexity of hierarchical systems and their implications for political coalitions, The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems sets a new feminist agenda for the twenty-first century.”

 

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.

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