Friday, April 7, 2017

A Powerhouse of Creativity: Rachel and Elizabeth Discuss Tin House

Just about anyone who has spoken with Rachel Kaplan, Avid Bookseller and Events Assistant, has heard her talk about Tin House. I’m not sure how many copies of Before the Feast she’s hand-sold, but I’d wager it’s quite a few. In the following interview, Rachel and I discuss her enthusiasm for this delightfully weird small press, fruit, how Tin House fits into the literary ecosystem, and desert island Tin House books.

Elizabeth Willis: When did your love affair with Tin House begin? What was that first book that kick-started it? Did you know about them before Avid or did you discover them as a bookseller?

Rachel Kaplan: To be fair I didn’t really know much about different publishing houses until I started working at Avid. Just as Avid is different from a Barnes & Noble, each publishing house has its own personality. Tin House was the first press that made me realize that. They turn out really eclectic works; that’s how I think of Tin House: a powerhouse of creativity. 

It all started when I met THE Julia Elliott. I was interning for Avid, and I worked an event at this bar in downtown Athens called The Globe that The Georgia Review was hosting. When I first spotted the cover of the book, I thought it was so beautiful, and became intrigued. And then when Julia Elliott got on stage and started reading in her deliciously creepy reading voice, I was hooked. I couldn’t take my eyes off her the whole reading and immediately wanted to go home and read that book, which was The Wilds. 

The cover caught my eye, the stories drew me in, but meeting Julia sealed the deal, and I wanted to know more about what this press published. And I started to realize that as I read more and got more experienced as a bookseller, most of the books that were really captivating me were Tin House books. They were these new, fresh, creative voices.

EW: What is it about Tin House’s schtick that has so delighted you?

RK: I feel like Tin House definitely takes risks; you can’t confine them to one genre. They don’t just publish one thing. Tin House is the weird artistic kid in class that’s everyone loves. It’s got this strange vision and people think it’s quirky, but it’s still approachable. I feel like the Tin House team must just love taking these risks. It works out, too; they publish new fiction, essays, short stories—

EW: Okay, yes, on the subject of genre: What do you think Tin House does best as a publisher?

RK: See, I don’t think you can pigeonhole Tin House. Maybe I need to read a wider range of genres from them; I do read mostly their fiction, but I have read an array of genres: short stories, novels, their essays. Charles D’Ambrosio is great— also another essay collection coming out is about how Americans relate to movies and media, which then makes a larger commentary on our culture, [Jim Shepard’s The Tunnel at the End of the Light]. I’m trying to think if there’s something I would want to see them do, but I think it’s a mark of how great they are that there’s not much wanting there. And you know their poetry; they publish good poetry, too.

EW: Let’s actually chat further on the subject of Tin House the magazine. I have a couple of author quotes about it. Karen Russell (I know you love Karen) has said: “Tin House magazine is a port in the storm for people who love language. It is unfailingly excellent, and committed to publishing new voices in addition to delivering freaky-fresh work from established writers.” And Jim Shepard said: “As everything goes increasingly haywire in our politics and in our world, we stand in ever-increasing need of the emotional and ethical education that great literary magazines can provide. With each issue you finish, you’re more awake, erudite, socially aware, and alert to exciting new writers.  What more do you want between two covers, anyway?” Thoughts?

RK: I like Karen’s description of “freaky-fresh.” Because sometimes it is freaky how brilliant these new writers can be. Like Annie Hartnett’s debut novel Rabbit Cake is in the same caliber as someone who has been cranking out books for a while. The same, I feel, with Julia Elliott. Like The Wilds. It’s literally, I think, one of the most perfect short story collections, and that was her first short story collection. It’s like they are diviners at Tin House. They know how to source that water from the ground. They pull that brilliance—and obviously it’s the artist themselves, it’s not Tin House making them brilliant, but Tin House just has an eye for talent. And I love that. I think some of the most important work that any small press does is really placing trust in new artists. They are seeking out new talent rather than hounding already existing talent. You see that in big publishing houses; they make a lot of their money from, you know, the twelfth book from David Sedaris—*

EW: Publishing things they know people will buy—

RK: Yeah. Tin House, and other small presses, take risks and it pays off. With the magazine...we talked about genre earlier; they have it all here: poetry, snippets of fictions, short stories, essays. And I think the literary journal is a smorgasbord of everything Tin House is engaging with at the time. I think you get from it a great sampling of what Tin House has to offer.

EW: If Tin House (the press overall, not just magazine) were a type of fruit, what fruit would it be, and why?

RK: This is hard because I love fruit and I love Tin House—

EW: I know you do.

RK: —And I love all types of fruit. I feel like they are un-categorizable. My first gut reaction was to say, you know this, the dragon-fruit, because it has these brilliant colors and wild spikes on the outside, and it’s intriguing. Maybe some would be slightly off-put because you’re just not sure what you’ll get, and then you cut into it and it’s just— it’s another fruit, you know. It’s delicious and accessible and nothing too strange but—

EW: So still accessible, not necessarily so out there—

RK: At the heart of its strangeness lies universality.

RK: Second answer, any other fruit because I love fruit.

EW: Excellent. Any upcoming Tin House titles you’re incredibly excited about?

RK: I am excited for every upcoming Tin House title and I actually kind of try not to seek out their titles. Don’t laugh at me, but I let the titles come to me. Like when we were at SIBA [the bookselling conference], and I just saw Rabbit Cake on a table. It was calling to me. I feel like most of the Tin House books I’ve read and loved the most have kind of just fallen into my lap. I'm convinced Tin House books are magic.

EW: Okay, so the universe will be choosing Rachel Kaplan’s next Tin House favorite. Stay tuned.

RK: Exactly, yes, exactly.

EW: Okay, well, can’t wait to see what the universe selects for you. Keep us in the loop.

EW: Okay, I know this is going to be a hard one, but if you could share a meal with three Tin House authors, which authors would you choose, and why?

RK: Definitely Julia Elliott...Annie Hartnett and Morgan Parker. But backups would by Joy Williams, because she’s wonderful, and Saša Stanišić.

EW: So this is like if Julia’s tending to her chickens and can’t make it.

RK: Right. This is like if Morgan’s hanging out with Beyonce; and Annie’s hanging out with her dog… But my first string would be Elliott, Hartnett, and Parker.

EW: Okay, cool. Now for the tough one, and you’re only allowed to choose one. If you had to pick a favorite Tin House book, what would it be, and why?

RK: *gasp noise*

EW: You’re on a desert island and you can only have one Tin House book—


RK: Let the record show that I hate this question.

EW: I know.

RK: I love you, but I hate this question.

EW: I know.

RK: I’m not a big fan of this question because it really is— That’s really difficult— They’re all my favorites, but I think if I were picking a desert island book, it would be Before the Feast. There is so much to discover within its pages, even if you've read it repeatedly.  It would also be a very comforting book to have while stranded on a desert island.

 *No shade to David Sedaris; we love him.

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.!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

We Are OPEN!!

By now you've probably noticed that we're really, really bad at updating our Avid blog. But we're pros at updating Facebook and Twitter, and we are doing pretty well at actually running a brick & mortar bookshop.

That's right:  after four years of planning and education and preparation and money-gathering, Avid Bookshop has opened at 493 Prince Ave. in in-town Athens. Please drop by!

This week we are open Sunday from 10:30-5:30 and again Tuesday &Wednesday from 10:30-5:30. We will be closed on Monday, Oct. 17 so that we can run lots and lots of errands to prepare for the grand opening weekend.

On Thursday we have our first-ever poetry reading--local poet Ida Stewart will be here to celebrate the release of her new book, Gloss.

On Friday, 10/21 we'll be open from 10:30 AM until late, because Friday the 21st is our Grand Opening Party Part I!  And on Saturday the 22nd we're having the Grand Opening Part II, which is a kids' party.  Come on down!

We're beyond thrilled to be here at last.  Can't wait to see you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bookshop lease now firmly in hand (via the Bookshop Blog)

I recently started contributing to a website called The Bookshop Blog.  My first post there is entitled "Lease Now Firmly In Hand" and talks about the odd timing of the last few weeks--I delivered my signed store lease the same day the Borders news was all over the national radio and TV programming.  Check it out here: