Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2016!

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.

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William Gaddis Interview

“Saul Steinberg, the artist, said one of the major problems for the creative person is to avoid boredom. . . . If I’m bored, the reader is bored. There are writers that we know—we needn’t name them—I don’t understand why they don’t die of boredom at the typewriter. And they sell millions of copies.” William Gaddis in conversation with Malcolm Bradbury, on the occasion of the publication of Carpenter’s Gothic.

Dalkey Archive, publisher of new editions of both The Recognitions and J R, is doing their 10 books for $65/20 books for $120 winter sale right now. Be not bored.


Contemporary Verse Novels: Jacques Roubaud’s SOME THING BLACK and Alix Cleo Roubaud’s ALIX’S JOURNAL

I first heard about these two books from M. Kitchell’s post at HTML Giant.

I went to the Dalkey Archives website and read:

In 1983 Jacques Roubaud’s wife Alix Cleo died at the age of 31 of a pulmonary embolism. The grief-stricken author responded with one brief poem (“Nothing”), then fell silent for thirty months.

I immediately bought both Some Thing Black and Alix’s Journal, but it wasn’t until tonight that I finished reading them, first Jacques’s, then Alix’s.

It took me the past three days to finally finish reading these, particularly because I began with Some Thing BlackI kept putting it down. Every time I read a few poems I felt the need to get up and walk around, breathe, get air. I kept experiencing terrible waves of sadness. Jacques’s words are overwhelming. Here are two poems that appear consecutively in the book:

First “1983: January.      1985: June” (p. 31):

The rhythmic range of words fills me with horror.

I can’t bring myself to open a single book of poems.

Evening hours should be abolished.

When I wake up it’s dark: still.

Hundreds of dark mornings have been my refuge.

I read innocuous prose.

The rooms untouched: chairs, walls, shutters, clothes, doors.

I close the doors as if silence.

The light rises over my ears.

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Start Suffering

“You suffer The Lime Twig like a dream. It seems to be something that is happening to you, that you want to escape from but can’t.”

– Flannery O’Connor


The stakes get raised again. After reading John Hawkes’s The Lime Twig I’m of a mind with Louise Glück lines from “Mock Orange”:

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?

And ‘odor’ is a very apt word. I’ve never read a book where there were so many scents, so much olfactory maneuvering. Here the narrator speaks of the femme fatales sent to distract the married Michael Banks:

The smell of women–girlish, matronly–and the smell of meat sauce were the same. As soon as it spread across his plate it went to his nostrils and they might not have bothered with their clothes, with procrastination. (150)

“Twenty lines a day, genius or not.”

Who’s this guy? What? You don’t know? It’s Stendhal! Who decided at one time or another that he would write “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” If that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is.

Some time later, Dalkey Archive author Harry Mathews followed in Stendhal’s footsteps and also decided that he would write “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” And he got a book out of it.

From his Preface:

“Like many writers, I often find starting the working day a discouraging prospect, one that I spend much energy avoiding. Four years ago I was reminded of an injunction Stendhal gave himself early in life: Vingt lignes par jour, genie ou pas (Twenty lines a day, genius or not). Stendhal was thinking about getting a book done. I deliberately mistook his words as a method for overcoming the anxiety of the blank page. Even for a dubious, wary writer, twenty lines seemed a reassuringly obtainable objective, especially if they had no connection with a ‘serious’ project like a novel or an essay. For the next year or so I began many writing days with a stint of at least twenty lines, written about whatever came into my head on a pad reserved for that purpose.

“As a background to these intermittent annotations of my life, I should mention that at the time I wrote them I was established in Lans-en-Vercors, a French mountain village half an hour outside Grenoble; that I had been living there since 1976 with the writer Marie Chaix and her two daughters, Emilie and Leonore; that I spent considerable time in or near New York, visiting my mother and teaching at Columbia College; that I made frequent short trips to Paris. In addition to family life, two concerns preoccupied me: the completion of my fourth novel, Cigarettes, begun in 1978, and the death in 1982 of my closest friend, the French novelist Georges Perec.”

So, for the month of November, I invite you to join me in the goal of writing at least “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” Perhaps even think about what two concerns are preoccupying you now (besides your family life), and use the month to reflect and write on those.

I was even thinking it could become a regular thing, every November. I was also thinking, Hey, let’s get really goofy about it and see how many people will sign on to write at the same time every day! I know: that’s goofy. Still, if you like, join me and Lily as we write every morning at 8 a.m. or join me and Rose every evening at midnight. It’ll be a spiritual meeting of the minds. I’ll even say a little prayer for you before we begin.