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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Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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“For Big Other on William H. Gass’s Birthday,” by Samuel R. Delany

If one tried to construct the Temple of Literature from only the fifty “pillars” below, it would collapse spectacularly. Nevertheless, here is a contingent group of titles that, to paraphrase Christopher Higgs, if I hadn’t read and reread over the years, I wouldn’t be myself. How much that is worth, I’m not sure.

1)   Djuna Barnes—Nightwood

2)   Charles H. Kahn—The Art and Thought of Heraclitus (an edition of the fragments with commentary)

3)   William Shakespeare—Sonnets, Tragedies, most of the Comedies . . .

4)   Eileen Myles—Inferno, The Importance of Being Iceland.

5)   Charlotte Brontë—Jane Eyre, Villette

6)   Jane Austen—Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion

7)   Marquis de Sade, 120 Days of Sodom, Julliette

8)   Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation” (from Writing and Madness)

9)   Herman Melville—Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, The Confidence Man, and the shorter works

10) Sir Thomas Browne—Urn Burial, Religio Medici, correspondence

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Best of 2011, Part 1

A few days ago, I reached out to writers and other artists across the country to provide me with a list of some of their favorite books, music, films, events, moments, or whatever from 2011, which needn’t necessarily have happened or been made in 2011. So I’m happy to publish this first installment, featuring lists from Gabriel Blackwell, Samuel R. Delany, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Andrew Ervin, Eugene Lim, Brad Listi, Kyle Minor, J. A. Tyler, and Curtis White.

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: The Tree of Life

[By now it was late. The three stars were dimpling the sky. The baby raccoon was crying for its milk (I’d taken in an orphan the week before). But Jeremy and I weren’t finished yet discussing the movies we’d just watched.]

A D: You had a rather serious reaction to this one, Jeremy. Were you crying afterward?

Jeremy: Yes. Crying because I realized how much of my life I had wasted watching movies. What George Lucas did for his own franchise with the prequels, Malick did for all of cinema with The Tree of Life.


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