Friday, March 31, 2017

9 Small Press Books Avid Thinks You (Specifically) Should Devour Right This Second

Small Press Month is drawing to a close, but the time for reading these outstanding books is all year long! Below you'll find nine of Avid's current Small Press obsessions; you should definitely *run* to your favorite local indie bookshop and get all of them.

1. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker (Tin House)

These poems consider sex, depression, black womanhood, religion, racism, beauty from angle after angle after angle. They also consider Beyoncé. Turning a compassionate, aware, questioning gaze on Beyoncé, Parker finds that place where pop icon flows into human flows into poet.

“Sometimes I wonder/ Is Beyoncé who she says she is/ Will I accidentally live forever/ And be sentenced to smile at men/ I wish were dead.”

"There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé: self-awareness,/ Leftover mascara in clumps, recognizing a pattern...Lavender, education, becoming other people,/ The fucking sky”

2. The Waitress Was New

This book is April's pick for Small Press Book Club at Avid!! Observational and mundane, this is a novel that inhabits the mind of an ordinary man for three days as his life abruptly changes. For all those who need a dose of Parisian café in their lives.

"Let the world turn around us, beyond our spotless bars, in the end every day will be carefully wiped away to make room for the next."

3. Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf)

These poems breathe and grow and puncture; they consider grass and atonement for genocide and language and writing. They are a song against silencing, against over-simplification, against misremembering, against nationalism.

"I climb the backs of languages, ride them into exhaustion..."

4. The Crown Ain’t Worth Much by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (Button Poetry)

These poems are imbued with music and youth, humor and elegy. They're thick with language and honesty and the city, the force of feeling a knife that will twist within your gut as you read.

"this is what is happening / in our America right now"

5. Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green (McSweeney’s)

I was over the moon to discover that McSweeney's has published a beautiful edition of such a rad comic. It's for anyone who wants to read about the bizarre effects of Catholic sexual repression, and for all fans of comic book history. Many penises reside within.

"Maybe if they read about one neurotic's dilemma in easy-to-understand comic book format these tormented folks will no longer see themselves as mere food-tubes living in isolation."

6. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (New Directions)

Dreamy and philosophical and bittersweet, this book makes me wish I could get my paw-hands on more memoirs written by polar bears.

"After the death of all living creatures, all our unfulfilled wishes and unspoken words will go on drifting in the stratosphere, they will combine with one another and linger upon the earth like a fog. What will this fog look like in the eyes of the living? Will they fail to remember the dead and instead indulge in banal meteorological conversations like: 'It's foggy today, don't you think?'"

7. An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)

Luiselli is the brilliant author of a number of books from Coffee House, both fiction and non-fiction. She also volunteers as an interpreter for child migrants in a federal immigration court in NYC. This essay contains details of her experiences, and her thoughts regarding human rights violations in the U.S. It is a 2017 must-read.

"Why did you come here? I asked one little girl once. 
Because I wanted to arrive."

8. Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger (Dorothy, A Publishing Project)

This slim book is everything: biography, fiction, film criticism, memoir. It originated from an encyclopedia entry, and evolved to pursue a means of knowing Barbara Loden, the creator of cult classic film / underground feminist masterpiece, Wanda. As it grasps at the fragments of a life, this little book will suck you right into its obsession. . .

“I felt like I was managing a huge building site, from which I was going to excavate a miniature model of modernity, reduced to its simplest, most complex form: a woman telling her own story through that of another woman.”

9. Humanimal by Bhanu Kapil (Kelsey Street Press)

Dissecting the story of two young girls raised by wolves, this book of poetry considers what it means to be "wild" or "civilized," and what it means to be human. Its language is thick, heavy, like a jungle suffused with red light.

"Notes for an animal-human mix: 'Reaching and touching were the beginning actions.'"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MEET THE PRESS: And Other Stories

Avid would like to formally introduce you to And Other Stories, a small press located in England! This team of cool-sounding people publishes mostly works in translation; their mission is to increase access to world-class titles that are not currently available in English. Founder Stefan Tobler says: “It has been said that the reason to start a publishing house is normally an editorial impulse. There’s the sense that something is missing in the world of books and a company is born. That is true in And Other Stories’ case, and is no doubt true of all the other publishers who publish literature in translation as part of their list.”

The press is classified as a not-for-private-profit “CIC” (Community Interest Company), which basically means that they have more freedom to take risks with editorial decisions rather than catering to “Richard & Judy’s taste,” or to the dictates of investors. A focus on community is truly at the heart of their operation, as they allow readers a role in their editorial decisions through reading groups, and are partially funded by their subscription program.

Personally, I consider the subscription program the most captivating aspect of the press's business model. I'm a little biased, as I'm a member of the team that runs the Avid Book Subscription Program, which is such a wonderful means of connecting Avid to a nationwide literary community. In the case of And Other Stories, subscribers pay up front, and then receive first edition copies of new titles months before their publication dates. They're also thanked by name inside the books they supported! Tobler calls the work of the press “[a] social enterprise,” and shares that subscribers: “trust us to find new writers for them.” Beautiful.

Side note: They have some really compelling cover art. Feminist Press’s U.S. edition of Michelle Tea’s Black Wave is near and dear to my heart, but check out And Other Stories’ cover. Too good.

Want to know more? Head over to their website and read their “11 Commandments.”

Avid Staff Pick: And Other Stories Edition
Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World 

Signs is a slim novel, a quick fuse. It involves crossing borders, shifting identities, and weaving languages. It follows a badass female protagonist as she travels an allegorical landscape, exposing the un-truths and silences and willful ignorance inherent in the construction of borders and of "American-ness." One image is burned into my memory: A woman, undocumented, detained by border control, writes and recites a poem of protest. For this scene alone, you should read this book.

What sold me on Signs, though? A blurb from another incredible author, Valeria Luiselli (check out her novel, her other novel, her essay collection, and this article she wrote for Lithub). Here are her lovely words on Herrera: ‘Yuri Herrera must be a thousand years old. He must have travelled to hell, and heaven, and back again. He must have once been a girl, an animal, a rock, a boy, and a woman. Nothing else explains the vastness of his understanding.’

Final fun fact: Lisa Dillman, the translator of this book, lives in Atlanta!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Conversation with Will Walton: Small Press Edition!

Will Walton wears many hats: novelist, Avid bookseller extraordinaire, cat dad, and kind friend to everyone in Athens and beyond. He is also our local small press expert. As curator of Avid on Prince’s small press section and moderator of our small press book club, he possesses a wealth of knowledge about many tiny, amazing publishers. In addition to these concrete responsibilities, Will is also possibly the greatest champion of small press on a daily basis. Stop by Avid on Prince any time he's working, and I guarantee he'll have a new and strange and wonderful small press title to share with you.

Following is an interview with Will about the nature of small press inspiration, recent discoveries, favorite presses, and the importance of reading small press in these politically charged times.

EW: So, you love small press. What kick-started this obsession?

WW: When I went to Winter Institute 2015 [a book selling conference] and sat around with the staff of Diesel in Oakland. Brad, who works at Diesel, just started talking about all these amazing-sounding books, and I was like, "Why haven't I heard of these?" I remember he spoke about The Wallcreeper in particular, and that book blew my mind.

EW: Can you talk to me about the ways in which small press inspires you specifically?

WW: Small press titles force me to look up and look beyond. The term "great American novel" is too BIG for me, and it feels relative to a gaze that's specifically white, cis-male,  hetero,  and . .  . oh yeah, American! I don't need it. I need a story that feels human and personal, and I don't need to feel like the author sweated over it for ten years in order to produce it . .  If it's a little rough around the edges, so what? It's liberating! And so is life!

EW: You brainstormed the idea and carried through the reality of Small Press Book Club. Avid has nine book clubs (!), but, in my opinion, this one is really unique and exceptional. Discussions are so vibrant and thought provoking; it’s perhaps the most provocative of all our book clubs (and I say this as moderator of my own club, which I adore). Would you talk to me about how you conceived of your vision for the club, how you see it now, what has surprised you about it, etc.

WW: Yes! I'm so happy you love that club, and that it has delighted you! It has delighted and surprised me, too. I think, given the nature of the books we read, our discussions tend to be sprawling! We get a lot of ground covered! And we get to talk about form, which I LOVE doing. Form and style. If we talk about plot and character, too, well . . . that's just gravy.

EW: Would you tell me about the small press you’ve most recently discovered and fallen for?

WW: That's hard! I've fallen for so many! Lately, though, it's Sarabande Books.

EW: You’ve done so much great work building Avid’s small press section from the ground up. Has the active curation this physical section of the shop taught you anything new about small presses that you’re care to share?

WW: Aw, thank you! . . . Well, it has taught me how hard it is to curate a section in a bookstore! Haha. I'm always looking to see what's sold and trying to order it promptly back in again. And I'm getting a sense of what our customers like the most, which is always good!

EW: Okay, here’s a tough one: If you were absolutely forced to choose a favorite small press title, what would it be? Then, if you would, explain why everyone should RUN to their nearest indie bookstore and buy this book.

WW: Yes, that is tough! Ooh, ooh, ooh . . . hmm . . . Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave Books). You know why, Elizabeth Willis! [EW: Of all of the books, Bluets is my favorite. Click that link to read my staff pick on Avid's website, and you'll find out why].

EW: Do you believe that there is any particular necessity in increasing support of small presses and their authors post-election? Clearly from this question, I do, but maybe you think small press was as vitally important in 2015 as it is in 2017. Please, feel free to disagree with me! I’m eager to fight it out.

WW: I definitely do. I mean, the arts are going to take a hit in the next four years. And the new regime is corporate. So, yeah, anything small that ferries goodness into this country--whether it's a press, a bookshop, or an art house cinema--we need to make a conscious effort to support. Especially over the next four years. As believers in free speech, we're all in this together.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Happy Small Press Month!

On the first of March, Avid began a month-long celebration of small presses. Each week, we're featuring a different press at our Prince Ave. location. At the end of the week, we'll be raffling off a prize donated by the press itself (the prizes are, therefore, very awesome)!!

Avid loves small presses because they're run by teams of smart, passionate people dedicated to championing bold, outstanding, diverse literary voices. They're responsible for opening up exciting new possibilities in the publishing world, and putting writers in print who might be passed over by major publishing houses. The Avid family would like to personally thank independent publishers for putting crazy, weird, "out there" books in the hands of grateful readers like us. Small Press Month at Avid on Prince Ave. is our "Thank you."

Week 1: Catapult Press

It just so happens that March's Small Press Book Club is reading a Catapult title. Danielle Dutton's Margaret the First is a work of beauty. Read it to connect with Margaret Cavendish, 17th century writer, thinker, and all-around strong female; read it to immerse yourself in a shimmering fairy tale.

Catapult itself is an entire literary ecosystem: they publish books and an online literary magazine, offer writing workshops, and host an online writing community open to the public. Their beautiful mission statement is available online, part of which states: "We publish stories that celebrate life. In its continuously evolving, spontaneously rearranging development of possibilities. Stories that reveal all the layers—the sinews and hairy knuckles, the iron and meat of history and influence...Most of all, we publish stories that land us squarely, concretely, in someone else’s shoes." Oh, yes, they do.

Week 2: Dorothy, A Publishing Project

Founded by none other than Danielle Dutton (yes! That Danielle Dutton, author of the mind-bogglingly good Margaret the First), Dorothy has been called one of the small presses "slyly changing the industry for the better" (FlavorWire). Avid wholeheartedly agrees. They publish "works of fiction, or near fiction, or about fiction, mostly by women." Every fall, Dorothy publishes two books simultaneously. The books are paired intentionally as two works coming from differing "aesthetic traditions." Dorothy says: "A large part of our interest in literature lies in its possibilities, its endless stylistic and formal variety." Heart eyes emoji forever.

What's in a name? Dorothy "is named for head librarian, author, gardener, animal- and art-lover, bookmobile-driver, and great-aunt Dorothy Traver, who on every birthday gave a book with an owl bookplate."

Week 3: Coffee House Press

Coffee House is a rad press for all you "adventurous readers, arts enthusiasts, community builders, and risk takers" out there. They're based in Minneapolis, which means that a few lucky members of the Avid family had the privilege of meeting the Coffee House team back in January (during Winter Institute, a bookselling conference that was located in Minneapolis this year). They're truly lovely people. They also have an amazing imprint, Emily Books, a publishing project that publishes "weird books by women." This could not be more my jam if it tried.

Week 4: Two Dollar Radio, "Indie Book Publisher, Film Producer, Culture Maker"

Avid truly hearts this rad, family-run small press. They're bold and bright, publishing books in accordance with their motto "too loud to ignore." They also have some of the best cover art in publishing. Here I must quote them at length: "Our books and films aren’t for everyone. The last thing the world needs is an indie press releasing books that could just as easily carry a corporate colophon. Our work is for the disillusioned and disaffected, the adventurous and independent spirits who thirst for more, who push boundaries and like to witness others test their limits. We know we’re not alone. Let’s make some noise."

Pro tip: Check out their cool daily blog, "Radio Waves." My personal favorite is the weekly feature "Death Rattle of Culture."

Avid is abuzz with excitement for their upcoming release They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib. Don't even try to tell me that's not the best book cover you've ever seen... The pub. date is 11/14; pre-order today!

Week 4: Tin House

Tin House is a small press located in Portland, Oregon. It's also a really, really amazing literary magazine. They've published some weird, wonderful books that have captured the hearts of many an Avid bookseller. Rachel K. in particular is completely and irrevocably in love with Tin House.

I've also loved Tin House for quite some time, but they recently gained even more respect points in my book. The home page of their website currently displays the poem "Evil" by Langston Hughes, along with a heartening message in response to the 2016 election, part of which relates: "Now, more than ever, we believe in the power of story, in empathy, in inclusion, in the belief that all voices have the right to be heard." They have also began frequently posting incredible, timely poems on their blog. Check it out!

What's in a name? Tin House was named for its Portland home, an old Victorian with corrugated zinc siding known in the neighborhood as "the tin house."

Week 6: Graywolf Press

Graywolf, also located in Minneapolis, is a small press that particularly excels in the realms of poetry and essay. This is why we've chosen to feature them during the first week of April as an ideal bridge between Small Press Month and Poetry Month. While I don't play favorites... Graywolf is one of my absolute favorites when it comes to small, independent publishers. According to their mission statement, they publish books that "nourish the individual spirit and enrich the broader culture." Sign me up! Stay tuned for more Avid fangirling over Graywolf during the first week of April.

If you, dear reader, call Athens home, please stop by during the next month and help us celebrate small press at Avid Bookshop on Prince Ave.!