One of the greatest joys of being a reader is falling in love with a new author and settling in to read everything they’ve written. There’s something decidedly satisfying about reading somebody’s whole catalogue. You get to know an author by reading all of their books. If they’ve been writing for a long time, you get to see how their style has evolved over the years. You become familiar with the themes and ideas they return to again and again. You start seeing connections between books. There’s an intimacy to it.
Recently, I’ve started working my way through the (sometimes extensive) backlists of indie presses I love. This isn’t as common a practice (as far as I know) as reading the backlists of favorite authors, but it brings me a lot of the same satisfaction. Indie presses often have a personality. Some focus on specific kinds of books (poetry, books in translation, etc.), but even small presses that publish a wide variety of genres often have a particular angle, an affinity for certain books. Finding a press you love is a bit like finding an author you love. You’re not guaranteed to love everything they publish, but there’s a good chance you will. And while there are some tiny presses that only publish a few books a year, most small-to-midsize presses put out 15–30 or thereabouts. In other words, small presses have more extensive backlists than all but the most prolific authors.
If you’ve never taken a deep dive into the catalogue of an indie press, you’re in for a treat! I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my favorite presses and the books I’ve used as jumping-off points to get to know them. First up: Arsenal Pulp Press.
Arsenal Pulp Press is a small press based in Vancouver, BC, in Canada. Founded in 1971, they’ve got about 400 titles currently in print. They publish widely across genre, including fiction and nonfiction, poetry, cookbooks, regional history, graphic novels and nonfiction, and more. They focus on books by BPIOC and LGBTQ2S+ authors, as well as books that address social issues and current events. “We are interested in literature that engages and challenges readers, and which asks probing questions about the world around us,” they say on their website.
Arsenal Pulp was the first press I fell in love with. Queer literature is my wheelhouse, and I stumbled upon Arsenal Pulp accidentally. Browsing through my reading spreadsheet one year, I noticed I was reading a ton of books by this little Canadian press. It didn’t take me long to realize I was reading so many of their books because they publish the kind of stories I crave: complicated queer books, books by BIPOC queer and trans authors, experimental work that reflects the lived experiences of people from diverse backgrounds.
So far, I’ve only read about 30 books out of Arsenal Pulp’s catalogue of 400+ titles, so this list is just a drop in the bucket. But if you’re ready to get to know this fantastic indie publisher, here are 14 books I wholeheartedly recommend.
If You Love Contemporary Fiction, Start With:
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Full of mouthwatering descriptions of food and vivd scenes, this novel follows three Nigerian women, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Taiye and Kehinde. Taiye and Kehinde were close as children, but are estranged as adults. The book opens when they return to Lagos to see their mother and each other for the first time in ten years. The narrative moves between the present and the past, as Taiye and Kehinde move from country to country, falling in and out of love, building lives, but always missing each other.
Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton
Messy and heartfelt, full of selfish characters, big mistakes, tons of processing, and sex, this is my favorite kind of queer book. It follows two queer couples over the course of a weekend spent at their small cottages on a remote lake. One longterm couple has just had a baby; the other, newer couple is celebrating their first weekend away together. It’s amazing how much life Hamilton manages to pack into this one book.
If You Love Short Story Collections, Start With:
Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji
This collection of linked short stories is about the life of a Congolese Canadian woman as she grows up with her family near Toronto. Each story beautifully captures a different moment in her life, exploring friendship, cultural traditions, immigration, sexuality, and work. Together they add up to a complex picture of a young woman looking for her place in the world. Mutonji’s clear, direct prose makes it sink into the world of this beautiful, if sometimes bleak, book.
Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person by Daniel Zomparelli
This is a collection of linked stories that does one thing really, really well. All of the stories are about gay men searching for connection — with each other, with themselves, with friends, with family. It’s about online dating, falling in and out of love, heartbreak, sex, hookup culture, and grief. Some of the stories are only a page long, recounting a single date. Others have a magical or speculative twist. They all echo other, building into a symphony about the joys and challenges of a particular subset of gay male culture.
If You Love Speculative Fiction, Start With:
The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai
This is one of those books that’s so dizzying that you just have to sink into it and let Larissa Lai take you where she wants to go. If you like the slightly strange and/or queer dystopias, this is the book for you. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Vancouver, a harsh world ravaged by climate change. The story follows two women who are desperately trying to protect themselves and those they love from a mysterious plague sweeping through the city. It’s fast-based and creative and constantly surprising.
She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
This is a strange and beautiful book that’s not exactly speculative, but it does blend genre in a way that’s hard to pin down. It’s an illustrated novel consisting of two parallel narratives: a contemporary queer coming-of-age/love story, and a reimagining of several Hindu myths. Shraya uses prose, poetry, and art to tell a powerful story about self-discovery and self-love.
If You Love Memoir, Start With:
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote
This is not the only Ivan Coyote book that Arsenal Pulp has published, and I had a lot of trouble picking which one to highlight — they’re all so good! I chose this one because it’s the first book of theirs I read, and still one of my favorites. Coyote writes about growing up in Yukon, finding queer community as a young adult, and their lifelong journey of gender discovery. There’s a warmth to the way they write that’s hard to articulate. Reading this book feels like sitting down to chat with an old friend. It’s funny and tender, even when it’s about hard stuff.
How Poetry Saved My Life by Amber Dawn
Amber Dawn is a filmmaker, writer, and performance artist. In this memoir, written in poetry and prose, she recounts her time as a sex worker, and reflects on queer and survivor identity and the impact of poetry and literature in her life. It’s a book that’s not easy to define or contain. Dawn refuses to simplify or compartmentalize herself or her story, and the result is a memorable book that challenges, opens, and inspires.
If You Love Graphic Novels and Memoirs, Start With:
Dear Scarlet by Teresa Wong
In this smart, vulnerable, and moving memoir, Teresa Wong recounts her experience with postpartum depression in the form of a letter to her daughter. It’s a short but powerful read; Wong writes beautifully and openly about some of the hardest months of her life. Full of impactful art and moments of levity, this is a compelling, poignant book, and an important one, as postpartum depression is such a common but still not often talked about experience.
Our Work Is Everywhere by Syan Rose (April 6)
This book isn’t out quite yet, but I couldn’t resist including it because a) it’s brilliant and b) it exemplifies everything I love about Arsenal Pulp (and indie presses in general). It’s a gorgeous collection of interviews with queer and trans artists, activists, and healers. The work and stories represented are messy and joyful, reflecting so many diverse experiences. Syan Rose’s art is luminous, bringing something new to each of the pieces collected. It’s a stunning book that showcases everything graphic storytelling can do.
If You Love Nonfiction, Start With:
Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
While many of the pieces in this book are traditional essays, Piepzna-Samarasinha also includes interviews, lists, letters, and other writings that expand the definition of “essay.” The book as a whole is about disability justice, but Piepzna-Samarasinha approaches this complicated and broad subject from so many angles. She tells personal stories, engages critically with current and historic movements for disability rights, and offers concrete steps for ongoing activist work.
Like A Boy But Not A Boy by Andrea Bennett
In this collection of essays, Bennett writes about parenting as a nonbinary person, their experiences of pregnancy and breast feeding, mental illness, struggling to be taken seriously as a writer, partnership, family, and a whole lot more. Bennett revisits similar themes in different ways, but there’s also a wonderful diversity of subject matter. Some of these essays are about queer and nonbinary identity, and some are not. It’s always a joy to read a book like this by a queer author, one that explores queerness, but also recognizes the parts of a life that have nothing to do with being queer.
If You Love Poetry, Start With:
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
This is one of those books that I simply want to shove into everyone’s hands. The way Thom plays with language, imagery, and from is stunning. I eventually gave up underlining because nearly every line had me nodding along or pausing to take a deep breath. Thom writes about family, violence, desire, trans womanhood, queerness, history. As in her nonfiction, she’s especially good at writing hard truths about queer and trans communities. These poems are painful and celebratory at once, which makes them both urgent and vibrant.
Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain
In this beautiful collection, Cicely Belle Blain writes about geography, Blackness, queerness, multiracial identity, activist, and a whole lot more. Many of their poems are rooted in the physical, whether they are writing about their body, a city, a neighborhood, or a piece of art. It’s a collection that’s both personal and critical. Blain engages with history and opens dialogues with other queer artists, as well as writing about their own intimate relationships with people and places.