Sponsored by A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, published by Counterpoint Press.
These 100 books lists always sound easy in theory, but then when I sit down to write one I discover compiling a list of, say, 100 science fiction debuts that are worth reading is a bit more work than I imagined.
That’s not the case with this post! Indie publishers are amazing and there are sooooo many books out there worth your time. I wrote down the first 100 books that popped into my head that I have actually read and loved, and I bet I could easily do another list of 100 more. (I smell a sequel!)
I’ve included a brief description from the publisher with each title. There are so many stunners here, this list should keep you busy for a while. Tell us in the comments about which of these you’ve read or other indie books you loved. Yay, books!
- Fifteen Dogs
by André Alexis (Coach House): And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings.
- Only the Strong by Jabari Asim (Bolden): Against a 1970s backdrop of rapid social and political change, Only the Strong portrays the challenges and rewards of love in a quintessential American community where heartbreak and violence are seldom far away.
- We Show What We Have Learned and Other Stories by Clare Beam (Lookout Books): As they capture the strangeness of being human, the stories in We Show What We Have Learned reveal Clare Beams’s rare and capacious imagination—and yet they are grounded in emotional complexity, illuminating the ways we attempt to transform ourselves, our surroundings, and each other.
- The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky, Tim Mohr (Translator) (Europa Editions): In her second novel, Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive. The narrator of this rollicking family saga is the outrageously mischevious Rosa Achmetowna, whom The Millions calls “one of the most fascinating women in the world.”
- Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Translators) (Open Letter Books): Set in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, the novel relates the dissolution of a once proud patriarchal family that blames its ruin on the marriage of its youngest son, Valdo, to Nina—a vibrant, unpredictable, and incendiary young woman whose very existence seems to depend on the destruction of the household. This family’s downfall, peppered by stories of decadence, adultery, incest, and madness, is related through a variety of narrative devices, including letters, diaries, memoirs, statements, confessions, and accounts penned by the various characters.
The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr (Lazy Fascist Press): Welcome to Scrape, Texas, a nowhere town near the Mexican border. Few people ever visit Scrape, and the unlucky ones who live there never seem to escape. They fill their days with fish fries, cheap beer, tobacco, firearms, and sex. But Scrape is about to be invaded by a plague of monsters unlike anything ever seen in the history of the world.
- I’ll Tell You in Person: Essays by Chloe Caldwell (Emily Books): Flailing in jobs, failing at love, getting addicted and un-addicted to people, food, and drugs—I’ll Tell You in Person is a disarmingly frank account of attempts at adulthood and all the less than perfect ways we get there. Caldwell has an unsparing knack for looking within and reporting back what’s really there, rather than what she’d like you to see.
- The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington (Dorothy a Publishing Project): Surrealist writer and painter Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was a master of the macabre, of gorgeous tableaus, biting satire, roguish comedy, and brilliant, effortless flights of the imagination. Nowhere are these qualities more ingeniously brought together than in the works of short fiction she wrote throughout her life.
- Florence in Ecstasy by Jessie Chaffee (Unnamed Press): A young American woman arrives in Florence from Boston, knowing no one and speaking little Italian. But Hannah is isolated in a more profound way, estranged from her own identity after a bout with starvation that has left her life and body in ruins. She is determined to recover in Florence, a city saturated with beauty, vitality, and food—as well as a dangerous history of sainthood for women who starved themselves for God.
- Home by Leila S. Chudori, John H. McGlynn (Translation) (Deep Vellum Publishing): Home examines the tragedy of political exiles during Suharto’s regime (1965–1998) forced out of Indonesia after the 1965 massacre of presumed leftists and sympathizers, alternating between Paris and Jakarta, delving into the lives of the exiles, their families and friends. A story of longing, lust, and betrayal, but also love, laughter, adventure, and mouthwatering descriptions of Indonesian food, Home further illuminates Indonesia’s tragic twentieth-century history made known in the West by the Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing.
Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp): In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancé Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.
- The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau (ECW Press): Now in one volume, Lockpick Pornography and its thematic sequel, We all Got it Coming. Lockpick Pornography is a genderqueer adventure story, and We All Got It Coming is about a young couple dealing with the aftermath of an act of violence. From kidnapping the son of a “family values” politician in Lockpick Pornography to the violent confrontation of We All Got It Coming, these are characters who fight back.
- Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (Dorothy a Publishing Project): This is the story of the Willoweed family and the English village in which they live. It begins mid-flood, ducks swimming in the drawing-room windows, “quacking their approval” as they sail around the room. “What about my rose beds?” demands Grandmother Willoweed. Her son shouts down her ear-trumpet that the garden is submerged, dead animals everywhere, she will be lucky to get a bunch. Then the miller drowns himself…then the butcher slits his throat…and a series of gruesome deaths plagues the villagers. The newspaper asks, “Who will be smitten by this fatal madness next?”
- The Redemption of Galen Pike: Short Stories by Carys Davies (Biblioasis): From remote Australian settlements to the snows of Siberia, from Colorado to Cumbria, restless teenagers, middle-aged civil servants, and Quaker spinsters traverse expanses of solitude to reveal the secrets of the human heart. Written with raw and rigorous prose, charged throughout by a prickly wit, the stories in The Redemption of Galen Pike remind us how little we know of the lives of others.
- Grace by Natashia Deón (Counterpoint Press): Grace is a sweeping, intergenerational saga featuring a group of outcast women during one of the most compelling eras in American history. It is a universal story of freedom, love, and motherhood, told in a dazzling and original voice set against a rich and transporting historical backdrop.
- Eve Out of Her Ruins
by Ananda Devi, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) (Deep Vellum Publishing): With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.
- A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, Christina E. Kramer (Translation) (Two Lines Press): At once extraordinary and quotidian, A Spare Life is a chronicle of two girls who are among the first generation to come of age under democracy in Eastern Europe. Written in touching prose by an author who is also a master poet, it is a saga about families, sisterhood, immigration, and the occult influences that shape a life. Funny, poignant, dark, and sharply observed, Zlata and Srebra reveal an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.
- This Must Be the Place by Sean H. Doyle (Civil Coping Mechanisms): “Sean H. Doyle is a punk rock sailor shaman with a message from way down below decks where the guys with horns and hooves go jet skiing on a lake of fire. This Must Be the Place is a ferocious testament to love and loss written with razor blades and backed with blood. An unputdownable debut.”
–Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune
- The Folly of Loving Life by Monica Drake (Future Tense Books): Following her acclaimed novels Clown Girl and The Stud Book, Monica Drake presents her long-awaited first collection of stories. The Folly of Loving Life features linked stories examining an array of characters at their most vulnerable and human, often escaping to somewhere or trying to find stability in their own place. These stories display the best of what we love about Monica’s writing-the sly laugh-out-loud humor, the sharp observations, the flawed but strong characters, and the shadowy Van Sant-ish Portland settings.
- Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton (Catapult Press): Margaret the First dramatizes the life of Margaret Cavendish, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional 17th-century Duchess. The eccentric Margaret wrote and published volumes of poems, philosophy, feminist plays, and utopian science fiction at a time when “being a writer” was not an option open to women. As one of the Queen’s attendants and the daughter of prominent Royalists, she was exiled to France when King Charles I was overthrown. As the English Civil War raged on, Margaret met and married William Cavendish, who encouraged her writing and her desire for a career.
- Black Cloud by Julia Escoria (Civil Coping Mechanisms): “Reading the stories in Black Cloud is like getting punched in the throat; Juliet Escoria leaves you speechless. Her honesty teaches us that beauty can be found in violence, truth in pain, and life where we’ve always been afraid to look.” –Benjamin Samuel, co-editor of Electric Literature
- Windeye by Brian Evenson (Coffee House Press): A woman falling out of sync with the world; a king’s servant hypnotized by his murderous horse; a transplanted ear with a mind of its own—the characters in these stories live as interlopers in a world shaped by mysterious disappearances and unfathomable discrepancies between the real and imagined. Brian Evenson, master of literary horror, presents his most far-ranging collection to date, exploring how humans can persist in an increasingly unreal world. Haunting, gripping, and psychologically fierce, these tales illuminate a dark and unsettling side of humanity.
- The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator) (Europa Editions): A national bestseller for almost an entire year, The Days of Abandonment shocked and captivated its Italian public when first published. It is the gripping story of a woman’s descent into devastating emptiness after being abandoned by her husband with two young children to care for. When she finds herself literally trapped within the four walls of their high-rise apartment, she is forced to confront her ghosts, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never return to normal.
- The Gloaming by Melanie Finn (Two Dollar Radio): Pilgrim’s husband left her for another woman, stranding her in a Swiss town where she is involved in an accident that leaves three children dead. Cleared of responsibility though overcome with guilt, she absconds to Africa, befriending a series of locals each with their own tragic past.
- Cottonmouths by Kelly J. Ford (Skyhorse Publishing): But when Jody’s business partner goes missing, and the lies begin to pile up, Emily will learn just how far Jody is willing to go to save her own skin—and how much Emily herself has risked for the love of someone who may never truly love her back. Echoing the work of authors like Daniel Woodrell and Sarah Waters, Cottonmouths is an unflinching story about the ways in which the past pulls us back…despite our best efforts to leave it behind.
- Patricide by D. Foy (Stalking Horse Press): Beyond the story of a boy growing up in a family derailed by a hapless father, Patricide is a search for meaning and identity within the strange secrecy of the family. This is an existential novel of wild power, of memories, and of mourning-in-life, softened, always, by the tenderness at its core. With it, Foy’s place among the outstanding voices in American literature is guaranteed.
- Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Europa Editions): Sir Edward Feathers has had a brilliant career, from his early days as a lawyer in Southeast Asia, where he earned the nickname Old Filth (FILTH being an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong) to his final working days as a respected judge at the English bar. Yet through it all he has carried with him the wounds of a difficult and emotionally hollow childhood. Now an eighty-year-old widower living in comfortable seclusion in Dorset, Feathers is finally free from the regimen of work and the sentimental scaffolding that has sustained him throughout his life.
- Fat City
by Leonard Gardner (NYRB Classics): When two men meet in the ring—the retired boxer Billy Tully and the newcomer Ernie Munger—their brief bout sets into motion their hidden fates, initiating young Munger into the company of men and luring Tully back into training. In a dispassionate and composed voice, Leonard Gardner narrates their swings of fortune, and the stubborn optimism of their manager, Ruben Luna, as he watches the most promising boys one by one succumb to some undefined weakness; still, “There was always someone who wanted to fight.”
- The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez (City Lights Publishers): This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.
- Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, Ursula K. Le Guin (Translator) (Small Beer Press): In eleven chapters, Kalpa Imperial‘s multiple storytellers relate the story of a fabled nameless empire which has risen and fallen innumerable times. Fairy tales, oral histories and political commentaries are all woven tapestry-style into Kalpa Imperial: beggars become emperors, democracies become dictatorships, and history becomes legends and stories.
- We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory (Tachyon Publications): No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.
- Guapa by Saleem Haddad (Other Press): Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover, Taymour, into his room. One night Rasa’s grandmother—the woman who raised him—catches them in bed together. The following day Rasa is consumed by the search for his best friend Maj, a fiery activist and drag queen star of the underground bar, Guapa, who has been arrested by the police.
- The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison (Counterpoint Press): The Widow Nash is a riveting narrative, filled with a colorful cast of characters, timeless themes, and great set pieces. Europe in summer. New York in fall. Africa in winter. And the lively, unforgettable town of Livingston, Montana. This is a book that surprises with its twists and turns, a ribald sensibility, and rich historical details. And in Dulcy, Jamie Harrison has created an indelible heroine sure to capture the hearts of readers everywhere.
- Elegy on Kinderklavier
by Arna Bontemps Hemenway (Sarabande Books): Arna Bontemps Hemenway’s stories feel pulled out of time and place, and the suffering of his characters seem at once otherworldly and stunningly familiar. Elegy on Kinderklavier is a disquieting exploration of what it is to lose and be lost.
- All Backs Were Turned by Marek Hłasko, Tomasz Mirkowicz (Translation) (New Vessel Press): In this novel of breathtaking tension and sweltering love, two desperate friends on the edge of the law—one of them tough and gutsy, the other small and scared—travel to the southern Israeli city of Eilat to find work. There, Dov Ben Dov, the handsome native Israeli with a reputation for causing trouble, and Israel, his sidekick, stay with Ben Dov’s recently married younger brother, Little Dov, who has enough trouble of his own.
- What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland (Graywolf Press): In What Narcissism Means to Me, award-winning poet Tony Hoagland levels his particular brand of acute irony not only on the personal life, but also on some provinces of American culture. In playful narratives, lyrical outbursts, and overheard conversations, Hoagland cruises the milieu, exploring the spiritual vacancies of American satisfaction. With humor, rich tonal complexity, and aggressive moral intelligence, these poems bring pity to our folly and celebrate our resilience.
- Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban (NYRB Classics): William, a clerk at a used-book store, lives in a rooming house after a divorce that has left him without home or family. Neaera is a successful writer of children’s books, who, in her own estimation, “looks like the sort of spinster who doesn’t keep cats and is not a vegetarian. Looks…like a man’s woman who hasn’t got a man.” Entirely unknown to each other, they are both drawn to the turtle tank at the London zoo with “minds full of turtle thoughts,” wondering how the turtles might be freed.
- Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson (Tachyon Publications): In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.
- Escape from Baghdad!
by Saad Hossain (Unnamed Press): With a satiric eye firmly cast on the absurdity of human violence, Escape from Baghdad! features shades of Catch-22 and Three Kings while giving voice, ribald humor, and firepower to to people often referred to as “collateral damage.”
- A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (NYRB Classics): Richard Hughes’s celebrated short novel is a masterpiece of concentrated narrative. Its dreamlike action begins among the decayed plantation houses and overwhelming natural abundance of late nineteenth-century Jamaica, before moving out onto the high seas, as Hughes tells the story of a group of children thrown upon the mercy of a crew of down-at-the-heel pirates. A tale of seduction and betrayal, of accommodation and manipulation, of weird humor and unforeseen violence, this classic of twentieth-century literature is above all an extraordinary reckoning with the secret reasons and otherworldly realities of childhood.
- Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany edited by Jay Jennings (The Overlook Press): For those who care about literature or simply love a good laugh (or both), Charles Portis has long been one of America’s most admired novelists. His 1968 novel True Grit is fixed in the contemporary canon, and four more have been hailed as comic masterpieces. Now, for the first time, his other writings—journalism, travel stories, short fiction, memoir, and even a play—have been brought together in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, his first new book in more than twenty years.
- Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson (Lazy Fascist Press): You weren’t always an agent of the apocalypse. You used to be a banker. Who knew that too much coffee and a few bad decisions would lead to the end of the world? Life as a corporate drone was killing S.P. Doyle, so he decided to bring down the whole corrupt system from the inside. But after discovering something monstrous in the bank’s files, he was framed for murder and trapped inside a conspiracy beyond reason.
- Prelude to Bruise by Saaed Jones (Coffee House Press):
“Prelude to Bruise works its tempestuous mojo just under the skin, wreaking a sweet havoc and rearranging the pulse. These poems don’t dole out mercy. Mr. Jones undoubtedly dipped his pen in fierce before crafting these stanzas that rock like backslap. Straighten your skirt, children. The doors of the church are open.”–Patricia Smith
- Vow of Celibacy
by Erin Judge (Rare Bird Books): Clever, sexy, and hilarious, Vow of Celibacy delves into the perilous terrain of love and relationships, the uncertainty of early adulthood, and the sustaining force of friendship. This is an irresistible novel about the stories we can’t help but tell ourselves about others, and it captures in perfect pitch what it’s like to be a young woman coming of age in America today.
- Almost Crimson by Dasha Kelly (Curbside Splendor Publishing): From a young age CeCe copes with her mother’s crippling depression, their severe poverty, an absentee father, and her own insecurities. With gorgeous language, a vivid cast of characters, and an eye for poignant detail, Dasha Kelly tells the story of CeCe’s struggle to break free from the grips of codependency and poverty to find confidence and success in her career and her personal life, finally becoming the strong woman she’s always dreamed of being.
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Nation Books): In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists.
- Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury, Humphrey Davies (Translator) (Archipelago Books): Gate of the Sun is the first magnum opus of the Palestinian saga. After their country is torn apart in 1948, two men remain alone in a deserted makeshift hospital in the Shatila camp on the outskirts of Beirut. We enter a vast world of displacement, fear, and tenuous hope. Khalil holds vigil at the bedside of his patient and spiritual father, a storied leader of the Palestinian resistance who has slipped into a coma. As Khalil attempts to revive Yunes, he begins a story, which branches into many.
- The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk, Christopher Moseley (Translator) (Black Cat): A bestseller in the author’s native country of Estonia, where the book is so well known that a popular board game has been created based on it, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is the imaginative and moving story of a boy who is tasked with preserving ancient traditions in the face of modernity.
- The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss (Dzanc Books): Robert Kloss’s The Alligators of Abraham is a fever dream built from the fly-strewn corpses of armies, the megalomania of generals, the madness of widows, the fires of mourning, the fury of the poor, the indifference of the wealthy, and the ravenous hissing of those alligators who have ever plagued the shores of our national nightmares.
- Archivist Wasp
by Nicole Kornher-Stace (Small Beer Press): Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.
- The Last Wolf & Herman by László Krasznahorkai, John Batki and George Szirtes (Translators) (New Directions): Two short masterworks by the most recent winner of the Man Booker International Prize: here, in miniature, is every reason why he won.
- Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator) (New Directions): Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash shows Eka Kurniawan in a gritty, comic, pungent mode that fans of Quentin Tarantino will appreciate. But even with its liberal peppering of fights, high-speed car chases, and ladies heaving with desire, the novel continues to explore Kurniawan’s familiar themes of female agency in a violent male world dominated by petty criminals and a corrupt police state.
- The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham (Milkweed Editions): In The Home Place, readers meet these extraordinary people, including Drew himself, who over the course of the 1970s falls in love with the natural world around him. As his passion takes flight, however, he begins to ask what it means to be “the rare bird, the oddity.” By turns angry, funny, elegiac, and heartbreaking, The Home Place is a remarkable meditation on nature and belonging, at once a deeply moving memoir and riveting exploration of the contradictions of black identity in the rural South—and in America today.
- How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others by Kiese Laymon (Bolden): Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and powerful new voices in American writing. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a collection of his essays, touching on subjects ranging from family, race, violence, and celebrity to music, writing, and coming of age in Mississippi. In this collection, Laymon deals in depth with his own personal story, which is filled with trials and reflections that illuminate under-appreciated aspects of contemporary American life.
- Not Your Sidekick
by C.B. Lee (Interlude Press): Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain.
- Preparations for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Tyrant Books): Zou Lei, orphan of the desert, migrates to work in America and finds herself slaving in New York’s kitchens. She falls in love with a young man whose heart has been broken in another desert. A new life may be possible if together they can survive homelessness, lockup, and the young man’s nightmares, which may be more prophecy than madness.
- The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, Katrina Dodson (Translator) (New Directions): The recent publication by New Directions of five Lispector novels revealed to legions of new readers her darkness and dazzle. Now, for the first time in English, are all the stories that made her a Brazilian legend: from teenagers coming into awareness of their sexual and artistic powers to humdrum housewives whose lives are shattered by unexpected epiphanies to old people who don’t know what to do with themselves. Clarice’s stories take us through their lives—and ours.
- Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, Christina MacSweeney (Translator) (Coffee House Press): Valeria Luiselli is an evening cyclist; a literary tourist in Venice, searching for Joseph Brodsky’s tomb; an excavator of her own artifacts, unpacking from a move. In essays that are as companionable as they are ambitious, she uses the city to exercise a roving, meandering intelligence, seeking out the questions embedded in our human landscapes.
- Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall (Feminist Press at CUNY): Written by and about an African-American woman, this coming-of-age story unfolds during the Depression and World War II. Its setting—a close-knit community of immigrants from Barbados—is drawn from the author’s own experience, as are the lilting accents and vivid idioms of the characters’ speech. Paule Marshall’s 1959 novel was among the first to portray the inner life of a young female African-American, as well as depicting the cross-cultural conflict between West Indians and American blacks. It remains a vibrant, compelling tale of self-discovery.
- The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan (Tyrant Books): “McClanahan’s prose is miasmic, dizzying, repetitive. A rushing river of words that reflects the chaos and humanity of the place from which he hails. He writes in an elliptical fever dream so contagious that slowing down is not an option. It would be like putting a doorstop in front of a speeding train. This is not a book you savor. It is one you inhale.” –The New York Times
- The Book of Harlan
by Bernice McFadden (Akashic): The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre–affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians—Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
- McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (Fence Books): Salem, Massachusetts, 1851: McGlue is in the hold, still too drunk to be sure of name or situation or orientation—he may have killed a man. That man may have been his best friend. Intolerable memory accompanies sobriety. A-sail on the high seas of literary tradition, Ottessa Moshfegh gives us a nasty heartless blackguard on a knife-sharp voyage through the fogs of recollection.
- Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa (The New Press): In small-town suburban Australia, three young men from three different ethnic backgrounds—one Samoan, one Macedonian, one not sure—are ready to make their mark. Solomon is all charisma, authority, and charm, a failed basketball player down for the moment but surely not out. His half-brother, Jimmy, bounces along in his wake, underestimated, waiting for his chance to announce himself. Aleks, their childhood friend, loves his mates, his family, and his homeland and would do anything for them. The question is, does he know where to draw the line?
- Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Transit Books): First published in Kenya in 2014 to critical and popular acclaim, Kintu is a modern classic, a multilayered narrative that reimagines the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. Divided into six sections, the novel begins in 1750, when Kintu Kidda sets out for the capital to pledge allegiance to the new leader of the Buganda Kingdom. Along the way, he unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations.
- Lions by Bonnie Nadzam (Grove Atlantic): Bonnie Nadzam—author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning debut, Lamb—returns with this scorching, haunting portrait of a rural community in a “living ghost town” on the brink of collapse, and the individuals who are confronted with either chasing their dreams or—against all reason—staying where they are.
- Sins of Our Fathers by Shawn Lawrence Otto (Milkweed Editions): Sins of Our Fathers follows small-town banker J.W., who has been caught embezzling funds to support his gambling addiction. J.W. is on the verge of losing everything when his boss offers him a scoundrel’s path to redemption: sabotage a competing, Native banker named Johnny Eagle.
by Wendy C. Ortiz (Civil Coping Mechanisms): CCM is pleased to announce Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz, the author of the critically acclaimed Excavation: A Memoir and Hollywood Notebook. With Bruja, Ortiz continues to upend and reinvent the memoir in inventive and deeply emotional ways to better fit the terms and trajectory of her exploration.
- Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello (Sarabande Books): From Farinelli, the eighteenth century castrato who brought down opera houses with his high C, to the recording of “Johnny B. Goode” affixed to the Voyager spacecraft, Let Me Clear My Throat dissects the whys and hows of popular voices, making them hum with significance and emotion. There are murders of punk rock crows, impressionists, and rebel yells; Howard Dean’s “BYAH!” and Marlon Brando’s “Stella!” and a stock film yawp that has made cameos in movies from A Star is Born to Spaceballs. The voice is thought’s incarnating instrument and Elena Passarello’s essays are a riotous deconstruction of the ways the sounds we make both express and shape who we are—the annotated soundtrack of us giving voice to ourselves.
- Red or Dead by David Peace (Melville House): In Red or Dead, the acclaimed writer David Peace tells the stirring story of the real-life working-class hero who lifted the spirits of an entire city in turbulent times. But Red or Dead is more than a fictional biography of a real man, and more than a thrilling novel about sports. It is an epic novel that transcends those categories, until there’s nothing left to call it but—as many of the world’s leading newspapers already have—a masterpiece.
- Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito (Other Press): A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. Eighteen-year-old Maja Norberg is charged for her involvement in the massacre that left her boyfriend and her best friend dead. She has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. How did Maja—popular, privileged, and a top student—become a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of the public? What did Maja do? Or is it what she failed to do that brought her here?
- Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (Bolden): Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam—a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army—decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged.”
- Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Graywolf Press): Part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter’s extraordinary debut combines compassion and bravura style to dazzling effect. Full of angular wit and profound truths, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is a startlingly original and haunting debut by a significant new talent.
- Black Sheep Boy: A Novel in Stories
by Martin Pousson (Rare Bird Books): A young boy in the Louisiana bayou is different than all of the men in his life: small, weak, effeminate. Through his eyes we see everything, from the mundane to the fantastical, the intricacies of Cajun life on the bayou, the trappings of masculinity, and the consequences for not adhering to those strict customs.
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press): Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.
- The Free-Lance Pallbearers by Ishmael Reed (Dalkey Archive Press): Ishmael Reed’s electrifying first novel zooms readers off to the crazy, ominous kingdom of HARRY SAM a miserable and dangerous place ruled for thirty years by Harry Sam, a former used car salesman who wields his power from his bathroom throne. In a land of a thousand contradictions peopled by cops and beatniks, black nationalists and white liberals, the crusading Bukka Doopeyduk leads a rebellion against the corrupt Sam in a wildly uproarious and scathing satire, earning the author the right to be dubbed the brightest contributor to American satire since Mark Twain.
- The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson (The Overlook Press): Thomas Penman is enduring a very bad adolescence. Growing up in dark, dingy 1950s England, Thomas has problems. These include an unspeakable personal hygiene issue, an eccentric, ailing grandfather who speaks to him in Morse Code, an unrequited passion for the lovely Gwen Hackett, and an incriminatingly large stash of pornography. To cap it all, his warring parents are having him followed by a private investigator. It’s hard to believe that things could get much worse for him, but, in fact, they are about to…
- Oreo by Fran Ross (New Directions): Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery like no other.
Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books): Over the course of fifteen years, Mary Ruefle delivered a lecture every six months to a group of poetry graduate students. Collected here for the first time, these lectures include “Poetry and the Moon,” “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World,” and “Lectures I Will Never Give.” Intellectually virtuosic, instructive, and experiential, Madness, Rack, and Honey resists definition, demanding instead an utter—and utterly pleasurable—immersion. Finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.
- Thrown into Nature by Milen Ruskov, Angela Rodel (Translator): A blackly hilarious novel that hides its pessimistic reflections on the power of money, the evils of charlatanism, and the gullibility of humanity behind the comic observations and adventures of the always striving and forever bumbling Da Silva, Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature is a comic tour de force.
- A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press): Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.
- Problems by Jade Sharma (Emily Books): Dark, raw, and very funny, Problems introduces us to Maya, a young woman with a smart mouth, time to kill, and a heroin hobby that isn’t much fun anymore. Maya’s been able to get by in New York on her wits and a dead-end bookstore job for years, but when her husband leaves her and her favorite professor ends their affair, her barely-calibrated life descends into chaos, and she has to make some choices. Maya’s struggle to be alone, to be a woman, and to be thoughtful and imperfect and alive in a world that doesn’t really care what happens to her is rendered with dead-eyed clarity and unnerving charm. This book takes every tired trope about addiction and recovery, “likeable” characters, and redemption narratives, and blows them to pieces.
- A Jello Horse by Matthew Simmons (Publishing Genius Press): When his new roommate’s brother dies tragically, the unnamed narrator of A Jello Horse offers to drive him home to the Midwest. Feeling anxious and displaced, he embarks on another roadtrip to visit the bizarre attractions and quirky museums in America’s heartland.
- A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio): Mazoch discovers an unreturned movie sleeve, a smashed window, and a pool of blood in his father’s house; the man has gone missing. So he creates a list of his father’s haunts and asks Vermaelen to help track him down. However, hurricane season looms over Baton Rouge, threatening to wipe out any undead not already contained, and eliminate all hope of ever finding Mazoch’s father. Bennett Sims turns typical zombie fare on its head to deliver a wise and philosophical rumination on the nature of memory and loss.
by Alexis M. Smith (Tin House): Glaciers unfolds internally, the action shaped by Isabel’s sense of history, memory, and place, recalling the work of writers such as Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, and Virginia Woolf. For Isabel, the fleeting moments of one day can reveal an entire life. While she contemplates loss and the intricate fissures it creates in our lives, she accumulates the stories—the remnants—of those around her and she begins to tell her own story.
- Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith (Nation Books): In Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, Mychal Denzel Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during these tumultuous years, describing his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity. Smith unapologetically upends reigning assumptions about black masculinity, rewriting the script for black manhood so that depression and anxiety aren’t considered taboo, and feminism and LGBTQ rights become part of the fight. The questions Smith asks in this book are urgent—for him, for the martyrs and the tokens, and for the Trayvons that could have been and are still waiting.
- Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press): These poems reveal the realities of life lived here, on the ground, where a daughter is imprisoned in the basement by her own father, where celebrities and pop stars walk among us, and where the poet herself loses her father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. With this remarkable third collection, Smith establishes herself among the best poets of her generation.
- The End by Fernanda Torres, Alison Entrekin (Translator) (Restless Books): In this deadly-funny debut novel by renowned Brazilian actress Fernanda Torres, five macho friends in Rio’s Copacabana reflect on their hedonistic glory days—now supplanted by the indignities of aging—in what turn out to be their final moments.
- The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker (ECW Press): Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
by Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade): Zazen unfolds as a search for clarity soured by irresolution and catastrophe, yet made vital by the thin, wild veins of imagination run through each escalating moment, tensing and relaxing, unfurling and ensnaring. Vanessa Veselka renders Della and her world with beautiful, freighting, and phantasmagorically intelligent accuracy, crafting from their shattered constitutions a perversely perfect mirror for our own selves and state.
- Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer’s Awakening by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (The New Press): Birth of a Dream Weaver charts the very beginnings of a writer’s creative output. In this wonderful memoir, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o recounts the four years he spent in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda—threshold years where he found his voice as a playwright, journalist, and novelist, just as Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and other countries were in the final throes of their independence struggles.
- Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (NYRB Classics): In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster’s struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while adding a dimension of the supernatural and strange. Warner is one of the outstanding and indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a writer to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the fantastic flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.
- Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson (Other Press): From the award-winning author of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, the story of a young boy who believes two things: that his Nigerian birth mother loves him like the world has never known love, and that he is a wizard.
- The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang (Unnamed Press): In booming postwar Brooklyn, the Nowak Piano Company is an American success story. There is just one problem: the Nowak’s only son, David. A handsome kid and shy like his mother, David struggles with neuroses. If not for his only friend, Marianne, David’s life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame—beautiful, sharp-tongued Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California’s Polk Valley.
A Twenty Minute Silence Followed By Applause by Shawn Wen (Sarabande Books): In precise, jewel-like scenes and vignettes, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause pays homage to the singular genius of a mostly-forgotten art form. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and meticulously observed performances, Wen translates the gestural language of mime into a lyric written portrait by turns whimsical, melancholic, and haunting.
- The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even by Chris F. Westbury (Counterpoint Press): Two charming, over-anxious, germ-phobic friends, Isaac and Greg take a road trip from Boston to Philadelphia. They are both obsessed with Marcel Duchamp, his art and his ideas, and thus the destination has to be the largest collection of Duchamp in the world, The Philadelphia Art Museum, the actual place “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” was to be delivered when it was cracked and broken in shipment. The piece is sometimes known as The Large Glass, and today it sits in the middle of a large gallery proudly displayed in its broken state which Duchamp repaired and then certified had been his intention all along.
- Stoner by John Williams (NYRB Classics): William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.
- Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams (Tin House): Most of Williams’s characters, however, are like the rest of us: anonymous strivers and bumblers who brush up against God in the least expected places or go searching for Him when He’s standing right there. The Lord shows up at a hot-dog-eating contest, a demolition derby, a formal gala, and a drugstore, where he’s in line to get a shingles vaccination. At turns comic and yearning, lyric and aphoristic, Ninety-Nine Stories of God serves as a pure distillation of one of our great artists.
- Damnificados by JJ Amaworo Wilson (PM Press): Damnificados is loosely based on the real-life occupation of a half-completed skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, the Tower of David. In this fictional version, 600 “damnificados”—vagabonds and misfits—take over an abandoned urban tower and set up a community complete with schools, stores, beauty salons, bakeries, and a rag-tag defensive militia.
- A Planet for Rent
by Yoss, David Frye (Translator) (Restless Books): In A Planet for Rent, Yoss critiques life under Castro in the ‘90s by drawing parallels with a possible Earth of the not-so-distant future. Wracked by economic and environmental problems, the desperate planet is rescued, for better or worse, by alien colonizers, who remake the planet as a tourist destination. Ruled over by a brutal interstellar bureaucracy, dispossessed humans seek better lives via the few routes available—working for the colonial police; eking out a living as black marketeers, drug dealers, or artists; prostituting themselves to exploitative extraterrestrial visitors—or they face the cold void of space in rickety illegal ships.
- The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, Megan McDowell (Translator): The Private Lives of Trees tells the story of a single night: a young professor of literature named Julián is reading to his step-daughter Daniela and nervously waiting for his wife Verónica to return from her art class. Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees to tell Daniela before she goes to sleep, and each Sunday he works on a novel about a man tending to his bonsai, but something about this night is different. As Julián becomes increasing concerned that Verónica won’t return, he reflects on their life together in minute detail, and imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at twenty-five, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel.