Rather than do a year end list or anything like that, I’ve decided to just talk about what books I think are the best ones that I’ve read since I started reading indie back in, like, 2008. These are in no order, but just kind of grouped by writer because it’s easier for me to remember them that way. This is by no means a complete list of the best indie books published in the last however many years. These are just the best of what I read.
Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones, FC2
The Bird is Gone: A Manifesto by Stephen Graham Jones, FC2
I’ve read both of these books by Stephen about four times, and they keep getting better. I’m not sure if I’d love contemporary literature as much without these novels. They’re some of my favorite books written in history, and I rank Ledfeather right up there with anything by Virginia Woolf or Ursula K Le Guin, which is a big compliment, if you’re me.
The Book of Lazarus by Richard Grossman, FC2
Girl with Oars & Man Dying by JA Tyler, Aqueous Press
Water by JA Tyler, Civil Coping Mechanisms
JA Tyler is endlessly underrate and overlooked. He’s maybe the most innovative writer in indie lit, and some day he’ll get his recognition. He published some of the best and most transformative books of the last decade and he wrote several of them too. More people need to love JA Tyler. More people need to be like him.
The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised Men by Gabriel Blackwell, Civil Coping Mechanisms
The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss, MudLuscious Press
I have almost too much to say about this novel. I think it’s the best book to come out of indie lit ever. Like, far and away so much better and impressive than anything else the rest of us are even trying to do.
We Take Me Apart by Molly Gaudry, MudLuscious Press
Beautiful and perfect. One of the books that introduced me to the wonderful world of indie lit and I revisit this book pretty often. Still waiting on whatever comes next from Molly. She’s another secret genius.
Poisonhorse by Brandi Wells, MudLuscious Press
Billie the Bull by xTx, MudLuscious Press
Wasn’t really a fan of xTx until this little book. It’s nearly perfect. It might even be completely perfect.
Black God by Ben Spivey, Blue Square Press
This novel, man. It’s almost too much. It’s like reading your own brain falling apart and rotting in your skull. But somehow beautiful and just as heartbreaking. This is a book everyone should read.
American Monster by JS Breukelaar, Lazy Fascist Press
The closest a book’s come to Samuel R Delany’s Dhalgren probably ever. Breukelaar is one of the best new writers around and I can’t wait for whatever comes next. Read this book. There’s really nothing else like it.
The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan: Volume 1 by Scott McClanahan, Lazy Fascist Press
If you don’t know Scott McClanahan, what have you been doing with your life? Funny and heartbreaking and amazing. These are the kinds of stories I would never be interested in if you told me what they were about, but I’m not sure there’s a better reading experience than a McClanahan book.
No by Ocean Vuong, Yes Yes Books
He makes me want to be a poet again, which is something I gave up on back in high school. Since reading this, I’ve written four poetry collections. So, yes, you should read this.
Collected Alex by AT Grant, Caketrain Press
Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer, Action Books
Dark Matter by Aase Berg, Black Ocean
Butcher’s Tree by Feng Sun Chen, Black Ocean
Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henriksen, Black Ocean
Rather than talk about these books individually, I’ll just say you need to be reading Black Ocean. Every book they put out is pure brilliance.
Edie & The Low-hung Hands by Brian Allen Carr, Small Doggies Press
Brian Allen Carr, another underrate and unknown genius. No one writes like him. No one even thinks like him. I think he may be insane, but it’s the kind of insanity that makes me want to follow him to the ends of the earth.
Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger, MacAdam Cage
Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Lie, Signal 8 Press
Understories by Tim Horvath, Bellevue Literary Press
Quintessence of Dust by Craig Wallwork, KUBOA Press
These three collections by Wallwork, Horvath, and Tieryas are the best collections to come out of indie lit, in terms of quality and diversity. They’re full of big ideas, beautiful worlds, and so much humanity. I don’t typically like short story collections, but these are probably the best ones to read outside of Yasunari Kawabata.
Town of Shadows by Lindsay Stern, Scrambler Books
This little book comes from another dimension, I swear. I’ve Sterns next book as well and it’s somehow even better. Stern is too young to be this good but she writes stories I wish I could write and she writes them in ways I never thought possible. She very well could become my new favorite writer if she keeps this up.
The Empty City by Berit Ellingsen
Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen, Queen’s Ferry Press
Berit’s books are so different but so perfect. Beneath the Liquid Skin is a collection of fantasy stories that are so full of originality and oddness that they feel like they come from nothing and nowhere. And then The Empty City is so perfect in its quietness. It’s a beautiful book about silence. And, if you follow this site, you know that’s probably my favorite thing. I’ve read her next book as well, and it’s perfect. More people need to know Berit’s work, because she’s one of the true originals.
The Word Book by Mieko Kanai, Dalkey Archive Press
Witz by Joshua Cohen, Dalkey Archive Press
A Heaven of Others by Joshua Cohen, Starcherone Books
Discovered him through Steve Erickson, who’s probably my hero, and I fell in love with Cohen’s work. He’s up there with Kloss, writing so much better than the rest of us could ever hope. And these two books are so completely different that it’s hard to imagine one person doing such disparate things so much better than you can do any one single thing.
The House Enters the Street by Gretchen Henderson, Starcherone Press
The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtromer, Graywolf Press
For All the Wretched, Beautiful & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed by Hosho McCreesh, sunnyoutside press
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Mariner Books
We Make Mud by Peter Markus, Dzanc Books
What Precision, Such Restraint by Phil Jourdan, Perfect Edge Books
I hated this book when I read it. If Phil wasn’t a friend, I probably never would’ve finished it. But it’s a collection that keeps brewing in my skull, and it grows on me more and more each month. The entire book is an experiment, and one I’ve never seen attempted. I think the whole is better than the individual stories, but that whole is probably one of the greatest literary tricks I’ve ever experienced. Phil’s a wizard, children. He also makes groovy tunes.
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich, Two Dollar Radio
I think indie lit began here for a lot of us. Again, discovered her through Steve Erickson and I’m so glad I did. I love this novel, though it’s by no means an easy one to read or love. It’s chaotic and beautiful and grotesque. It’s hobo junky vampire teens and it’s absolutely brilliant. I wish she had more novels out because I need more of her. The world needs more of her work.
Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita, Coffee House Press