28 On Small Press Books

In which our heroine rambles, possibly more than usual

I struggled with what to write about today. My brain is still attempting to emerge from the mental fog that always comes with a cold, which descended on me not twelve hours after Thanksgiving dinner was eaten, while it was probably still being digested. That always seems to be the way with my body; give it a four-day weekend, let it take a breath and it will immediately take the opportunity to ache and fill with snot.

At first I was inclined to talk about a theme I’ve been chewing on for a while, questions of work, ethics, capitalism—you know, real juicy stuff. But that turned out to be a theme I don’t feel confident musing over aloud, not yet, even in the context of books I haven’t read, which by design implies I am woefully under-educated on the topic.

I considered writing about some of my favorite books I read this year. But if I don’t feel up to the task of writing about books I haven’t read, you can bet I will have insufficient words for the ones I have. A new year’s resolution of mine is to write, even just a bit, about every book I read; in a place where no one else will find it so I don’t feel so self-conscious. That, and to read at least one goddamn book of poetry.

I settled on examining my galley shelf and admitting all the 2018 titles I still haven’t picked up—I’m already moving on to 2019 titles, so it’s more or less curtains for them, the least I can do is honor them in my archive of intent. But then a special order I’d placed came in and settled the matter. Today we’ll talk about a few small press books I’ve been meaning to read.


Wave Archive by Emmalea Russo

I am not too proud to admit that the author’s name is part of what drew me to this book. I’ve been asked what Emma is short for. And I find this, unreasonably, incredibly irritating. It’s short for nothing; two syllables is a perfectly adequate number for a name. But I guess I could have been short for Emmalea.

And the other thing was, of course, the title. Wave Archive. Bring me your dusty archives, your exhaustive indexes, your rigorous footnotes. As I’ve discussed before, I am drawn simply to the concept of, what, academia? I like data, and I like organizing it. (I once read a book that featured a main character whose job was to write indexes; I have since tried to find out if I am or could be qualified for such a job.)

But surely I would not have ordered this book for myself, with every intent to purchase, on name and title alone. (I might.) Wave Archive was also featured in the SPD (Small Press Distribution) newsletter, which I subscribe to in the hopes that I’ll be exposed to very small presses, those not distributed by major publishers. (Also in the misguided belief that I need to know about even more books.)

Is it possible to archive the invisible symptoms of an illness? Is the archive emotional? … Here, Russo invokes her own experiences with seizures, photographs and art-making, archival and indexical processes, brain waves, and the very personal need to document and store while simultaneously questioning the reliability of memory and language.

Is the archive emotional?? What are “archival and indexical processes”? I want to know. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the actual substance of the book. I understand very little about seizures, but, as far as I do know, that’s true even for doctors. I did not realize until a few years ago that epilepsy is less an understood disorder and more a word that indicates a person suffers from seizures—it’s a symptom, not a diagnosis. Again, my understanding of the subject comes from a couple actual humans and one intense, heart-wrenching graphic novel called Mis(h)Adra. But hey, that’s one reason I ordered this book.

The Crying Book by Heather Christle

I should have read this book before it came out. You’ve heard this song before. I downloaded the galley, I love the press and want to support their every effort. But I need to admit that I didn’t necessarily realize what this book was about. It’s about crying, yes. And I am both intrigued and put off by this subject.

I am quoting an Adventure Time episode when I say crying is my superpower. This episode made me feel much better about my inability to react to anything quite exciting or kind of upsetting without tears (this episode, and Kristen Bell reacting to a sloth in her home). I know it’s ok to cry; but it is frustrating when a thing so blatantly emotional is completely out of your control and happens more often than you wish. Which is to say, a book about crying is both something I want to avoid and want to immerse myself in.

I knew the book was an examination of why we cry. But I didn’t know that Christle, as subject, was pregnant with her first child. I am intrigued by books about motherhood as a new state of being. I knew Christle was being compared to Maggie Nelson, but I didn’t really think about how much I would enjoy a book that uses crying as a lens to examine so many aspects of life. I’m thinking about it now.

I feel like small press books are able to take the risk of being difficult to pin down subject-wise. A book about crying can cover mental illness, motherhood, racism, and moths. Which isn’t to say larger presses don’t publish books that are expansive and take risks. But I think the team behind a small press doesn’t feel the need to package a book a slickly as the big five do. They have more room to wend and wind.

Socialist Realism by Trisha Low

I still have no idea what this book is about, but I continue to be drawn to it. It’s put out by Coffee House Press in conjunction with Emily Books, both of whom I trust. And it is, to keep with the theme, a book that claims to not fit within the bounds of a single genre or subject, a poetic work that spans the subjects of memoir and more.

I know it’s about moving and the concept of home. This is a concept I’m interested in exploring, as someone who has moved quite far from their original concept of home.

Trisha Low has been leaving us periodic notes about what we can keep of hers if she should happen to go off the deep end. She's also been leaving us her email password, her ATM PIN code, and an astonishing amalgamation of amatory fiction, IMs, craft patterns, magic spells, and film noir in which every romantic interest is a MacGuffin. Low says her virtuosic appropriations owe less to conceptual poetics than to her adolescent days of punk vandalism. Never mind if this booty was shoplifted, its stunning, and I promise you'll want to keep everything she gives you.

-Barbara Browning

I have no idea if this quote is meant for Socialist Realism or an earlier work, but I think it gets at why I am intrigued as well as why I seem unable to write anything coherent about this book I haven’t read.


Featured Bookstore

Each week, I link all books to a specific store. This week I’m featuring Third Place Books, aka the store that currently employs my partner. When I first visited Seattle, I was immediately enchanted with their second location in Ravenna, but their flagship store, where his office is located, is pretty good too.

Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets

I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.

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