So, yeah, the year 2016 was a cold, clammy fever dream of a shitshow, but in the world of books, there was still too much goodness! While we look forward to 2017 and prepare for whatever craziness is in store, a bunch of us at Future Tense want to share with you our favorite small press books that we read this past year. We tried to link straight to the publishers of each one, so you can get the most info direct from the source. It’s pretty amazing that we all had completely different books on our lists. Thanks to everyone who supported small presses in 2016.
Meredith Alling, author of Sing the Song
- L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems by Elisa Gabbert
Nimble and beautiful poems written from the perspective of “Judy,” a character in a Wallace Shawn play. The luscious cover is a bonus.
- Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz
In this “dreamoir,” Ortiz opens the door to her subconscious and the result is a surreal and moving examination of the self.
- The Book of Endless Sleepovers by Henry Hoke
Extremely funny, heartbreaking, and full of surprises and cleverly revealed truths. It stuck to my brain and I haven’t been able to shake it (don’t want to).
Monica Drake, author of The Folly of Loving Life
- Scavengers: Stories, by Becky Hagenston (University of Chicago Press): Beautiful, complicated, delicate and strong strange little stories that won’t let you go.
- Garments Against Women, Anne Boyer (Ahsahta Press): Technically 2015, but this one only came to me recently. Full of sentences worth lingering on, and also that make you want to barrel forward for more.
- Death Confetti by Jennifer Robin (Feral House): These short sketches are compressed brilliance.
Szilvia Molnar, author of Soft Split
Amy Berkowitz’s Tender Points: A book that dares to tackle chronic pain through storytelling. Tender Points is like a beautiful blunt instrument.
Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat: Any book that has a line that goes “A girl who reads is already a lost girl” is a book I need to read, and so should everyone else.
Athena Farrokhzad’s White Blight: Reading this book is like being slapped by your mother.
Wendy Ortiz, author of Excavation, Hollywood Notebook, and Bruja
Jamie Iredell, author of Book of Freaks and I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, as well as Last Mass
Square Wave by Mark de Silva: the precision in this book is something else. There are the music chapters, but also distinct descriptions of things like melted billiard balls. It’s pretty amazing.
A Tree or A Person or a Wall by Matt Bell: Matt Bell continues to play with form in intriguing ways, and he still scares me. I’m not sure if many consider him a horror writer, but I do.
A Bestiary by Lily Hoang: Creative nonfiction continues to evolve, thanks to writers like Lily Hoang, in step here with Maggie Nelson, Kate Zambreno, um, me. Haha. The line where poetry and essay blurs, well, who cares?
Jay Ponteri, author of Darkmouth Strikes Again and Wedlocked
- My Private Property by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)
- Girlfriends, Ghosts & Other Stories by Robert Walser (MYRB Books)
- Calamaties by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)
Tara Atkinson, author of the forthcoming Instant Future ebook, Boyfriends.
- Margaret the First, Danielle Dutton (Catapult). This book is so much like a marble sculpture, a rough and raw and human life chipped away meticulously into something beautiful. I don’t believe there’s a stray word in this precise and resonant book, yet it keeps the realness of its source, the real life of Margaret Cavendish, which is what makes it so amazing.
- Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Yoko Tawada (New Directions). I love Tawada’s strange and wonderful writing any time, but especially this year I’m tired of people.
- 99 Stories of God, Joy Williams (Tin House). This book is so rich and funny and perfect, at first I wanted to save some of the experience of reading it and stretch it out by reading just one section a day. But that would have been a waste, because the order of the pieces is, of course, also so perfect and part of its magic.
Aaron Gilbreath, author of A Secondary Landscape (Scout Book series) and Everything We Don’t Know (Curbside Splendor)
- It came out in 2015, but I loved Michelle Herman’s essay collection Like a Song – Outpost19
- Angela Palm’s mesmerizing memoir Riverine – Graywolf
- Kirk Wisland’s powerful essay chapbook Melancholy of Falling Men – winner of Iron Horse Literary Review’s contest
- Maybe not technically small press, but definitely small size and small series: Joanna Walsh’s Hotel, part of the Object Lessons series, which rules.
Troy James Weaver, author of Witchita Stories, Visions, and Marigold
Kevin Sampsell, Future Tense publisher
- Mickey by Chelsea Martin (Curbside Splendor)
- Oh by Robyn Bateman (dimsummer book club)
- How’s Everything Going? Not Good by Jon-Michael Frank (Ohio Edit)
- Marigold by Troy James Weaver (King Shot)
- Siblings and Other Disappointments by Kait Heacock (Ooligan Press)
Bianca Flores, Future Tense editor/publicist
- Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon): Ocean is a language magician. There is an alluring quiet, a rhythmical enchantment, a constellation of lyricism seemingly in each line. I cried for the pain, I cried for the beauty, and the tears were a baptism. If you need one book of poetry for your final reading list this year, let it be this and always this.
- Eleven Hours, Pamela Erens (Tin House): Dazzlingly written with sharp insight into the complexities of love, loss, and pregnancy, Pamela Eren’s Eleven Hours reads with a blend of poignancy and thunderous roars. This novel is an 11-hour glance into the physical and emotional heroism of women as it follows Lore and Franckline in the wake of their pregnancies. A novel that takes place strictly during a woman’s labor doesn’t happen much in literature… this is a groundbreaking read.
- All the Rage, sam sax (Sibling Rivalry Press): This necessary collection of poems will kill you and revive you with a single line. From Israeli apartheid to police violence, these fearless poems employ a vivid lexicon to bear witness to this world of personal histories, invoking all the violence and passion that has clung to our lives during the madness that has been 2016.
Litsa Dremousis, author of Altitude Sickness (Instant Future)
Full disclosure: Yes, I’m close friends or good pals with the authors on my list. That’s because friendship doesn’t preclude admiration.
- Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin) One of Leavitt’s many gifts as a novelist is that she makes the unlikely seem probable. Also, whenever I read her work, I quickly feel like I know the characters because her details and ear for dialogue are so keen. Like many of Leavitt’s novels, Cruel Beautiful World explores how and why we propel ourselves when grief finds us. It takes place in the late Sixties, but its story is timeless.
- The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin) I read it when it first came out three years ago and loved it even more when I read it again this year. Evison has enormous affection for his characters, but his depiction is free of sentimentality. He doesn’t stitch a silver lining around kids who die or live their lives in wheelchairs. Improbably, he finds great and true humor in common horror. (Also, the film adaptation is good–if you don’t love Paul Rudd, you’re a psychopath–but Evison’s novel is truly great and the film falls short. So, if you’ve only seen the film, definitely read the book. And, if you’re like me, then wait and read it again. Love.)
- Welcome Thieves by Sean Beaudoin (Algonquin) A short story collection that is consistently great. Beaudoin’s customary wit–dryer than the Mohave and sharper than a claw–underscores the absurdity in the extraordinary and the banal. Would love to see what Beaudoin would do with a children’s book.
- The In-Betweens by Matthew Simmons (Civil Coping Mechanisms) First on my list for 2017! I’m enamored of Simmons’ previous books–particularly Happy Rock–and can’t wait to dive into his latest.