Happy New Years! It’s that special time of the year–where everyone is sharing their “Best of List.” Well here is one more list to help you spend that gift card at your local independent bookstore. The texts in this list are curated through my personal interest and recommendations from publishing companies, authors, and publicists. Please contact me with upcoming releases. Understand that I will only include two texts per publishing company. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black Lawrence Press
[Gates] by Sahar Muradi
34 pages – Black Lawrence Press
“Gate: threshold, corridor, barrier. Sahar Muradi engages power, war, illness, and language to evoke the physical and literary passages that accompany individual and collective loss. In [ G A T E S ], the loss of a homeland meets the loss of a dying father meets the loss of meaning amidst war, racism, and environmental degradation. Muradi’s highly charged, deeply transformative poems interrogate the contemporary moment’s collapsing of space, where near and far, private and global are no longer distinct. In the sometimes elliptical, sometimes rapidly changing spaces inhabited by these sixteen poems, languages of politics and intimacy exist in constant tension so that the sweeping violence of an occupied Afghanistan cannot, for instance, be separated from the intimate violence of the dying of a loved one. Muradi’s speakers call out to us from a world of tightly-braided oppressions to ask how language can be a function of (in)justice, how a life is valued, and how poetry, like a gate, may function as a passage from pain to pain, promise to promise, truth to truth.” – from the Black Lawrence Press website
What Replaces Us When We Go by Julie Doxsee
96 pages – Black Ocean
“In Julie Doxsee’s What Replaces Us When We Go, the urban poet invites transformation into a seaside forest home. Meanwhile, city grit continues to haunt her as cows and dogs roam the coast. Later, the poems travel through deserts as the speaker inhabits animal bodies, alternating between freezing and burning while moving through mechanical and serpentine landscapes in a perpetual state of wish.” -from the Black Ocean website
A Cool Customer by Jacob Bacharach
156 pages – Fiction Advocate
“Reading Joan Didion’s iconic memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, Jacob Bacharach’s thoughts are never far from his brother, Nate, who died of an opioid addiction. Although he tries to be a “a cool customer” like Didion, he finds Nate’s story breaking through the text, stirring memories of their tight-knit childhood and defying his attempts to uncover “the truth” about a tragic death. In A Cool Customer, Bacharach turns The Year of Magical Thinking into a blueprint for grief and self-discovery that anyone can follow.” –from the Fiction Advocate website
An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom by Jonathan Russell Clark
152 pages – Fiction Advocate
“After devouring 2666 by Roberto Bolaño on the New York City subway, Jonathan Russell Clark does what any good literary critic would do—he reads everything by Bolaño he can get his hands on. But the more he learns about the writer’s unlikely life, the less it makes sense. Bolaño cultivated ambiguities and false identities, almost as if he were laying a trap for his future biographers. Clark’s investigation into Bolaño’s magnum opus is a stumble through a labyrinth where fiction and self-mythologizing converge.” – from the Fiction Advocate website
A Brief Alphabet of Torture by Vi Khi Nao (Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize)
152 pages – FC2
“Like all of Vi Khi Nao’s acclaimed and award-winning work, A Brief Alphabet of Torture bleeds across many modes and genres—poetry, essay, fiction, drama—and itself almost constitutes a novel of a different kind. Each tale captures the emotional, physical, psychological, political, and artistic concerns that pervade life like breath and which, even when very beautiful, are filled with pain.
These stories are all facets of Nao’s imagination that define the way she views creation, sexuality, violence, and the role of life in an ontological system that relies heavily on cultural, social, and artistic duress. Some stories like “Winter Rose” and “I Love You Me Neither” rise above the boundaries of pain to places of beauty and grace and love, where pain has no place, but make clear how rare such moments appear in life.” – from the University of Alabama Press website
The Awful Truth by Diana Hamilton
152 pages – Golias Books
“In this book, Diana Hamilton extends her previous explorations of ethics and techniques of self-control (Okay, Okay and Some Shit Advice) onto the fraught terrain of authorship and selfhood: in two long pieces, The Awful Truth draws with wry seriousness on psychoanalytic theory, film criticism, memoir, and self-help literature to interrogate contemporary bromides drawn from philosophy, online forums, CBT, and Women’s Health alike. Part homage to influences like Bernadette Mayer, part restless meditation on love and identity, “Write in Your Sleep” is a verse ‘annotated bibliography’ in which the narrator ardently catalogs her dreams in an attempt to discover a link between life and art that dodges both. In the second piece, a novella titled “Fear and Trembling,” a woman who styles herself a therapeutic innovator forces her friends to re-enact Hollywood classics, only to be rebuffed by one friend’s adaptation of Kierkegaard as paranoiac sci-fi erotica centered around a Bartleby-esque refusal to perform free emotional labor. With a keen sense of both the consolations and the limits of the various genres that animate her work, Hamilton surveys the semiotic scramble of 21st-century subjectivity—obsessions with health and productivity, privacy and commodification—and lays bare the masochism implicit in moralistic imperatives to improve ourselves and to capitalize (literally) on our repressions.” -from the Golias Books website
Can of Human Heat by Mark Francis Johnson
184 pages – Golias Books
“Mark Francis Johnson’s Can of Human Heat takes the traditional worldbuilding function of speculative writing and distorts it around its most far-flung, self-reflexive poles. It isn’t a book about a fantasy world or alternative timeline; it reads instead like the appendical traces of one sent back across dimensions—back-stories, info-dumps, and other explanatory narrative niceties are dispensed with. At times hazily suggesting the romance involutions of Sidney’s Old Arcadia, at times refashioning tropes of the fantasy or nautical adventure novel into a kind of absurdist underclass siege diary, Can of Human Heat presents a landscape that is neither utopian nor dystopian but instead something queerly sketched by an alien phenomenology. And yet within this damaged environment, Johnson has created a cast of characters that are part lumpen Candide and part Beckettian tramp—strangely likeable lifeforms manifesting an utter desensitization to the biological and ecological degradation whose consequences have totally altered them. In its paralogical epiphanies, Johnson’s poem refashions classic modernist lyricism as high farce in which the comic intransigence of everyday objects extends even to the body—and to consciousness—itself.” – from the Golias Books website
The Adventures of Form and Content by Albert Goldbarth
224 pages – Graywolf Press
“Albert Goldbarth’s first book of essays in a decade, The Adventures of Form and Content, is about the mysteries of dualities, the selves we all carry inside, the multiverses that we are. This collection takes its shape from the ACE Doubles format of the 1950s: turn this book one way, and read about the checkered history of those sci-fi and pulp fictions, or about the erotic poetry of Catullus and the gravelly songs of Springsteen, or about the high gods and the low-down blues, a city of the holy and of the sinful; turn this book the other way, and read about prehistoric cave artists and NASA astronauts, or about illness and health, or about the discovery of planets and the discovery of oneself inside an essay, or about soul ships and space ships, the dead and the living; or turn the book any way you want, and this book becomes an adventure of author and reader, form and content.
Goldbarth’s essays have pioneered and inspired new forms of nonfiction writing for thirty years. Robert Atwan, series editor for The Best American Essays, praises his work by stating, “These essays are a whole new breed. . . . Goldbarth has spliced strands of the old genre with a powerful new genre—and the results are miraculous.” The Adventures of Form and Content is a new, ingenious work of hilarity and humanity that reminds us of the capabilities and impossibilities of art.” –from the Graywolf Press website
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young
576 pages – Graywolf Press
“Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon—the legacy of P.T. Barnum’s “humbug” culminating with the currency of Donald J. Trump’s “fake news.” Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, with race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.
Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and frauds invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. This brilliant and timely work asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a contagious cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.” – from the Graywolf Press website
Mother Walked into the Lake by Alana I. Capria
100 pages – Kernpunkt Press
“Mother Walked Into the Lake, Alana I. Capria’s second novel, merges fantasy, feminism, and horror into a brilliant but disturbing allegory on motherhood and mental illness. The story follows three children who come face-to-face with the consequences of their Mother’s drowning. The novel explores the complicated nature of Motherhood and how women uniquely carry this onus of self-sacrifice, responsibility, and all-consuming love.” -from the Kernpunkt Press website
Indictus by Natalie Eilbert
113 pages – Noemi Press
“Natalie Eilbert’s Indictus summons what cannot be said while finding a way to articulate, with ferocity and exuberance and a clear and brutal vision, the violence of misogynistic systems and cultures and the ways in which they devour and destroy their inhabitants. Its not just that this book doesn’t waste words. It goes further than that. Each sound, line, breath is charged with an energy that is explosive. Indictus lays all its cards on the table so there are no doubts about just how high the stakes here are: “I didn’t mean to assemble my whole career on lies, so now I blast holes in the men.” Yet in this world of broken bodies, Eilbert’s tenacity, her sheer drive to get to the end of a thought, to get the words onto the page, conveys a demand: to be honest, to resist, to live.”
The Horse Eaters by Ayodele Nzinga
56 pages – Nomadic Press
“Adodele Nzinga clings to metaphors with the same force that forms diamonds out of sand. Not letting them go until their value is apparent. Her plain-spoken flow is bereft of pretension, yet clearly a linguistic gift. In the eponymous essay which opens The Horse Eaters, Nzinga holds truth close to her heart, and it explodes onto the page like a bomb—or better yet, a balm, salving at a centuries-old wound which can only be healed by understanding, compassion, and the manifestation of racial equity. She abstracts her expression in the prose poems which follow, each one ringed with emotional resonance and resilience born out of her ancestors’ struggles—as well as her own lived experience.”– Eric Arnold, writer and photojournalist
Rare Bird Books
Where Night Stops by Douglas Light
288 pages – Rare Bird Books
“Orphaned by a brutal car crash, a young man lives with no plans for the future. Leaving his small town of Windstop, Iowa, he finds his way to Seattle, where he ends up broke and sleeping in a homeless shelter. There he meets Ray-Ray, an Iranian with a shadowy past, who initiates him into a new life. When Ray-Ray disappears, the young man is left to fend for himself through carrying out clandestine drops for cash from an anonymous source. At first, it’s perfect: living without the responsibilities of a real job or a proper home. But then the scope of his travels widens to Europe, Brazil, and China, leading him deep into a conflict of international proportion.
Soon, he finds himself targeted for death, but from whom or for what reason, he’s not sure. The only thing that he’s sure of is that if he wants to survive, he needs a plan―now. Because at noon, they’re coming to kill him.” – from the Rare Bird Books website
Two Dollar Radio
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
222 pages – Two Dollar Radio
“In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.
In the wake of the nightclub attacks in Paris, he recalls how he sought refuge as a teenager in music, at shows, and wonders whether the next generation of young Muslims will not be afforded that opportunity now. While discussing the everyday threat to the lives of black Americans, Abdurraqib recounts the first time he was ordered to the ground by police officers: for attempting to enter his own car.
In essays that have been published by the New York Times, MTV, and Pitchfork, among others—along with original, previously unreleased essays—Abdurraqib uses music and culture as a lens through which to view our world, so that we might better understand ourselves, and in so doing proves himself a bellwether for our times.” -from the Two Dollar Radio website
White Dialogues by Bennett Sims
202 pages – Two Dollar Radio
“With all the brilliance, bravado, and wit of his award-winning debut, A Questionable Shape, Bennett Sims returns with an equally ambitious and wide-ranging collection of stories.
A house-sitter alone in a cabin in the woods comes to suspect that the cabin may need to be “unghosted.” A raconteur watches as his personal story is rewritten on an episode of This American Life. And in the collection’s title story, a Hitchcock scholar sitting in on a Vertigo lecture is gradually driven mad by his own theory of cinema.
In these eleven stories, Sims moves from slow-burn psychological horror to playful comedy, bringing us into the minds of people who are haunted by their environments, obsessions, and doubts. Told in electric, insightful prose, White Dialogues is a profound exploration of the way we uncover meaning in a complex, and sometimes terrifying, world. It showcases Sims’s rare talent and confirms his reputation as one of the most exciting young writers at work today.” -from the Two Dollar Radio website
Two Lines Press
Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig (Translated from German by Isabel Fargo Cole)
120 pages – Two Lines Press
“What falsehoods do we believe as children? And what happens when we realize they are lies—possibly heinous ones? In Old Rendering Plant Wolfgang Hilbig turns his febrile, hypnotic prose to the intersection of identity, language, and history’s darkest chapters, immersing readers in the odors and oozings of a butchery that has for years dumped biological waste into a river. It starts when a young boy becomes obsessed with an empty and decayed coal plant, coming to believe that it is tied to mysterious disappearances throughout the countryside. But as a young man, with the building now turned into an abattoir processing dead animals, he revisits this place and his memories of it, realizing just how much he has missed. Plumbing memory’s mysteries while evoking historic horrors, Hilbig gives us a gothic testament for the silenced and the speechless. With a tone worthy of Poe and a syntax descended from Joyce, this suggestive, menacing tale refracts the lost innocence of youth through the heavy burdens of maturity.” – from the website of Two Lines Press