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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I Shot the Moon, Calamari Press, 41 / 41, SLEEPINGFISH 8

Click through to read the full review of SLEEPINGFISH, the forty-first (and final installment) in this full-press review of Calamari Press, and one in which I excerpt some tremendous work, praise Calamari Press one last time, give away copies of SLEEPINGFISH 8, and publicly offer a book contract to M. T. Fallon.

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New Gary Lutz Interview!

Check out Andrew Martin’s excellent interview with Gary Lutz at The Paris Review Daily, their blog. Once again, Lutz shines as he self-deprecatingly answers questions, claiming to “suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit”; implants the ordinal for zero; and offers glimpses into his perspicacious writing process:

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Pop-up Books: An Homage

Last week, as I was picking up some films from the library of my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, I stumbled onto their small but feisty exhibition on pop-up books (running through Dec. 15th, should you find yourself there). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t the first thing that greeted me, a pop-up book featuring, of all things, the works of M.C. Escher.

Where do you think you're going?

If that wasn’t enough to draw me in, did I mention that the other book at the entrance was pop-up Elvis? Continue reading

Gary Lutz’s Divorcer: A Word-Hoard

Gary Lutz is easily one of my favorite writers. I’ve read each of his collections at least twice, and I find myself revisiting stories from them from time to time; and I’ve sought out and found much, I think, of what has yet to be collected, like small pieces in various issues of The Quarterly, and elsewhere. There is, for instance, HEARTSCALD, collected at Sleepingfish, which is “constituted of phrasing from pieces by Lutz, as well as from interviews with him, that appeared first in The Believer, Bookslut, Detroit: Stories, The Quarterly, Sleepingfish, 3rd bed, and Wag’s Review.” And then there are Gary Lutz’s infamous letters to the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, like one entitled “Borrowed Phrasing” from May 8, 1988, where he witheringly criticizes “Seen,” presumably the paper’s celebrity-sighting column: “The column’s weekly roll call—recorded in illiterate, sycophantic, cosmetology-school prose—does a handsome job of perpetuating the image of Pittsburgh as the city with a simper on its face.” (I suspect that these same editors edited away Lutz’s use of the serial comma in his letter before they published it.)

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Gary Lutz Interview

Gary Lutz, a masterful prose stylist, is the author of three short-story collections: Stories in the Worst Way, I Looked Alive, and Partial List of People to Bleach. A fourth, Divorcer, is forthcoming from Calamari Press. On July 14th, he will be reading  at the Soda Series in Brooklyn with Mary Caponegro and Tim Horvath. From my forthcoming review of I Looked Alive:

Unlike most people’s stories that appear clean and remedial in their telling, Lutz’s have already been lived in, occupied for a long time, and they have a stifling air similar to the curmudgeon’s den in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, where no one dusts, no one keeps house, and the whole enterprise stinks with the ancient odor of paper and page. Their minds ragged and rugged from overburn, Lutz’s unloved, unlived, destitute narrators squawk their findings: “It is said, isn’t it, that you “make” love because it’s otherwise not really there?” (“I Have to Feel Halved” p.45)

In this interview, we spoke mainly about his new story in the 2011 NOON, “To Whom Might I Have Concerned?” A wonderment of  dazzling sentences and rigorous thought, it is 27 pages, one of his longest stories.

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Sentences and Fragments: Sentences I Like

“Dining Room” from Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution (Coffee House, 2004):

“Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, ‘That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?’ to which they replied, ‘Yes sir.'”

Okay, wow, I’ve probably quoted this passage here on Big Other like six or seven times. What I love here is the economy of language. Yes, this is a poem, but it’s also a full story. We learn so much about Willie, about his daughters, about their psychologies. And I love the deadpan delivery, the sonic pleasures (called, daughters, dining, picked, dining, closed, window, window, shattered, said, do, understand, etc.).

from Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life (Soft Skull, 2007):

“Then he sprayed a can into the bag and tied it around his neck over his head. Flopping, he danced. With his face pinkly invisible. We could see his mouth stretched like an O between the letters of the pink writing on the bag, A&P. When he fell down and we were all of us crying, I, being the oldest, called Children’s Protective Services and said, ‘Mr Rubens put a bag on his head.'”

When I first read this book, and when I came to this passage, I think I had one of those formative moments. I liked reading again. I mean, I like to read, but I don’t always love what I read. I think so many students are forced to read books they don’t like, and then they’re taught “how” to read those books (probably as if there is a right or wrong way), and then they grow up hating reading. I was lucky. I had a few great English teachers, and I grew up reading, enjoying reading, long before that. But then there are those moments in my adult reading life where I feel like I’ve discovered something new about reading. That’s what this book did for me. And it has to do with the phrasings. What does it mean, out of context, that “Mr Rubens put a bag on his head”? Maybe it’s funny. Certainly “Flopping, he danced” is kind of funny. But not in this context. I love the simplicity of language, the precision of clarity, and yet the multi-layered reading experiences one can have.

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Amy Hempel’s ‘Offertory’

I’ve read about half of Hempel’s collected stories but none seem so seminal as this one. It’s one of her longer stories, 34 pages, and it hums along quite confidently after this wonderfully evocative and lyrical opening paragraph:

We did it twelve times–made love, all of us, to one another twelve times, the two of them doing everything two people could do to me twelve times. I was going to say only twelve times, but it wasn’t “only,” was it? It was wonderful.

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Over Forty Writers Over Forty to Watch

Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.

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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: On a Sentence from “My Final Best Feature,” by Gary Lutz

I was going to lay off those years for a change, but here were people in what might have been asking attitudes, and from the whole of what I might have told them, I said only that in me they had yet another girl who had gone as far as she could get in life without somebody else’s body to back her up, but I for one had at least come early into the sense, thank goodness, to keep a book open in front of me at all times, a heavyweight paperback I was not so much reading as working a different, less stable shape onto, putting leisurely violences into the turning of pages so that when I was through with a book it was a lopsided thing, something far atilt that could be pointed to, publicly, as an example of someone’s having stuck something out, and then one morning I fed myself far enough into the population, thumbing people, citizenry, aside, until I came to a like-sized, schoolworn girl doing just such pointing, a girl a little unpretty but with a heart dangerously in use behind the buttony blouse, and the way the two of us instantly took to each other gave us a leg up on marriage—we each set out hours for the other to fill with just shy breathing, pinned hopes to the ribbonry we hung wherever there were bulks of hair further discoverable upon us, feigned a unisonal swoon whenever a forearm of either one of us was by chance drawn forward finally against the unsleeved upper arm to produce, at the shadow-lined seam, a mouth, surely, an unbiting mouth which, were it to break into a murmur, would let everything between us be a lesson to us—for what most of what any two people of that age together might do (we were each, you see, a drowned-out, undominant twenty-three), most of what they manage in the way of carrying forward the loveliness in each other, was in sorry, well-known fact addressed to, aimed at, an unseen and unknown but counted-on third party (it was the only progress we could see a point to), and the girl and I were now looking to each other for a glimpse of who that person might turn out to be; and for me, soon enough, it was a man I was sitting only a handbreath away from on a bus, a thick-mouthed man in need of an underling right away, who led me from the bus and down an off-cutting street and into a dark-ceilinged building where he showed me to the plasticized outercoat I was to wear while doing the rudimentary cabinet chemistry itself; and that should have been the extent of things, but the man brought me home to say hello to the sister he lived with, a woman bearing victorious versions of the man’s off-sloping chin, his wide-set nostrils, his gristly ears, and two of them, brother and blinking sister both, were pounding away from their forties under one roof with only a shared kitchen between them, the sister a little more under the weather, hoarse, watery of eye; and in no time the sister and I were impartible, and even though there was a voice she used solely on her brother (a sharp, finite voice that put things straight up into the falsifying affirmative whenever he asked if she was all settled in for the night), and a different voice altogether for persons who brought things to the door (this one bracing, salutatious), she had further voice reserved uniquely for me, a duplexity of voice, complex in address, which might have sounded, up top, to be saying only “He pushes you too hard” or “I should see to supper,” but which, if you went straight to what was lowermost in it, was saying, “Catch my cold, get yourself knocked up by the snot of it, feel it fill you roundly out, carry it round inside of you, bring the thing to term, blow out a mucousy umbilical thing, be sure to have saved every sluttery tissue, because I am going to come to you in demand”; and it was long afterward that she packed the brother off to a faraway bachelorship so the two of us could pass some agreeable, willinghearted months as a close-set couple, keeping each other looking looked-after, building the world up with our home truths and sore points, ready-handed, for instance, in our agreement that a man was just a frame from which a single useworthy but renounceable thing was suspended; she let out the prediction that we would be turning up eternally in each other’s endearances in new, unprompted, uncurbable ways; and then one night after some errands had removed her from the house for a run of days, she began wondering aloud whether our intimateness, agreeable as it might still seem, was in fact just a fluke accord of matching dank genitalia, whether the worst of life in fact gets its start when you’re attaching feelings not to other persons but to feelings those persons have already put out of themselves, whether I had not yet come into the discovery that if only one truly knew what one was doing with one’s eyes, people didn’t actually look like what they looked like, men of course above all.

—From “My Final Best Feature,” by Gary Lutz

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Writers Stew: Mangla vs. Gerke

Joyce, Pound, Ford Madox Ford, John Quinn

Recently I sat down at my computer and had some exchanges with Ravi Mangla. Ravi lives Fairport, New York (near Rochester). His work has or will appear in Gargoyle, Annalemma, Sleepingfish and others. He created a site called Recommended Reading last May. Close to fifty writers have weighed in with lists and entertaining answers to Ravi’s questions. His stories run the gamut from the serious to the absurd. For instance, in ‘Low Brow,’ a Hindu family moves into the space between the narrator’s eyebrows.

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Are You a Grammar, Usage, and Style Junkie?

Have you heard about Ammon Shea, the man who’d read all twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary and then written a memoir about it? When I’d heard about him I became jealous. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to read an entire dictionary. I’ve never done it though. I have, however, read some style and grammar guides from cover like Strunk and White’s The Element of Style (a few times–who hasn’t?), Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (both excellent and fun to read), and, most recently, the technical manual Grammar Desk Reference by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson. Besides a number of dictionaries, I often thumb through the Chicago Manual of Style and Garner’s Modern American Usage.  Which reminds me: check out this article on the so-called usage wars by David Foster Wallace.

So what about you? What grammar, usage, and style guides do you prefer?

Scott Garson’s Best of 2009

1. Best stick-in-your-head line from an ’09 fiction: “The sky was a fucked puzzle,” from Blake Butler’s EVER.
2. Best coinage: To squid (v.i. or v.t). My four-year old son, the baddest four-year old son in the world, made this one up. It means: to move one’s fingers softly over another’s skin…. As in, “No squidding!”
3. Best uncelebrated ’09 fiction: Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “Thiebold,” from The New York Tyrant. Psycho-cultural politics. Who else is writing fiction like this? Fuckin stunner.
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Sage Advice from Gary Lutz

Check out a new interview with Gary Lutz at We Are Champion. An excerpt:

One piece of advice would be to slow down. It doesn’t matter if it takes you all night or two nights or even longer to write one sentence. Every sentence should feel like the nucleus of the story in which it will eventually appear. Another suggestion is to keep hacking away at your paragraphs, cut as much as possible, but save what you’ve trimmed away: a word or a phrase from the trimmings might be enough to get a fresh sentence started. I would also recommend entertaining doubts about every word you choose, and enjoy the entertainment of your doubts; live, in fact, to doubt yourself—so that no one else might take your place as the most damning doubter of you and all you do.

And you’ve seen his incredible essay “The Sentence Is a Lonely Place,” right?