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.
At the recent Chicago book release party for Cris Mazza’s new novel Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, from Emergency Press, I arrived late, fresh from a Wicker Park reading at Revolution Books. There, I discussed my novels Drain and Blank with a series of incisive socialist thinkers, and after the event, when I traveled the several miles south to the outskirts of Pilsen, the small restaurant across from the factory already had the closing-time look about the place.
Inside, at the tail-end of a wild party, I found many of my dear Chicago writer friends—reading mates Zoe Zolbrod and Gina Frangello among them—and of course, in a corner booth, Cris Mazza herself.
No doubt, to some of the graduate students also in attendance, this must be Mazza’s 43rd book. She’s written yet another carefully insightful broadside in a series of seemingly endless offerings that each provide, in turn, some new angle to look at landscapes unfamiliar to all but the most observant wayfarers of the human condition. Mazza’s writing always maintains her trademark quiet brutality, her keen-yet-cutting prose with its stark points amid otherwise oddly sculpted valleys. This work is as powerful now as it was 20 years ago; she manages to write about the same obsessions—gender and sex, relations and transactions, human hunters and their quarried prey—in startlingly new ways.
Various Men is no different, but completely different, as will no doubt become evident from the following recipe for desperate living best known to this website’s readers as, wait for it, The Big Other Interview.
A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences
must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).
“I didn’t, couldn’t, catch Sils’s eye—she was standing over with the sopranos—but it didn’t matter, I didn’t have to, because this wasn’t personal, this singing, this light, this was girls, after weeks of rehearsal, celebrating the ethereal work of their voices, the bell-like, birdlike, child-sound they could still make so strongly in unison.” —Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?