the best indie press books i’ve ever read

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.

No preamble!

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

twilight of the wolves released today

Twilight of the Wolves - Edward J. Rathke

It’s finally available! Buy Twilight of the Wolves and earn my forever love! If you want to read more about the novel, click over to the page devoted to it where you can find reviews and so on. It’s being released by Perfect Edge Books, the brainchild of Phil Jourdan.

Blurbs:

–Kyle Muntz, author of VII and Green Lights

Twilight of the Wolves is an unusual and poetic epic fantasy, with a world, civilizations, and mythologies all of its own, yet unmistakably reminiscent of our past and current world. Best of all, Twilight of the Wolves puts on center stage the people and socioeconomic classes who are often marginalized, suppressed, or overlooked in other types of epic fantasy and secondary worlds, in a passionate and compassionate study of love, languages, and humanness.

Berit Ellingsen, author of Beneath the Liquid Skin

I think these two blurbs capture exactly how it feels to me, and exactly what it means to me. I’ve always said that I’m more influenced, stylistically, by film than I am by literature, and I’ve always strived to capture that beautiful cinematic poetry of Terrence Malick, and I think, with this novel, I finally reached it. It’s an aesthetic I’ve worked for years to reach, and Twilight of the Wolves is the most perfect representation of that. And then there’s all the postcolonialism surging up through the cracks in the novel. My whole life is in this novel. My entire heart. I’m so immensely proud of it that I want to share it with the entire world, but a part of me fears no one will love or understand it.

So, yeah, I hope you love it. I’d recommend it to fans of experimental and postmodern literature as well as people who just love fantasy. It’s everything I ever wanted one of my novels to be and I’m so very proud of it.

Kyle Muntz also had this to say today over on the book of faces:

I’d add that this book stretches fantasy to the limit–with beautiful writing, formal experimentation, lots of feeling, and a profound look at themes of post-colonialism and sexuality–while always remaining true to the genre, which I think is really important and difficult to do.

Basically: I hope everyone takes a look at this book. I think anyone who does will definitely enjoy it.

So don’t just take my word for it! Mostly, I hope people just give it a chance. I’ve found that publishing a fantasy novel on a literary press is sort of a marketing tool fighting against itself. Literary minded folk aren’t interested and fantasy folk think it’s too high-minded, or something. I think it’s a blending of the two, and I hope it’s enjoyable to fans of both high literary genre and gritty fantasy.

It’s not a book for everyone, but I think it should work well for fans of Ursula K Le Guin, Samuel R Delany, Gene Wolfe, China Mieville, Steven Erikson, and George RR Martin.

Also, join me tomorrow night for my first and maybe last reading ever at The Beat Coffeehouse in Uptown, Minneapolis.

And now promotion for the next novel already begins. I have some amazing secret news about that too.

what about

Two more book reviews have been out for a few days/weeks, so I’ll post the links here.

JA Tyler’s Water:

J.A. Tyler’s Water is not a dream. It is two dreams. A dream of rain and a dream of fire. A prayer for land and a hunt for water. It is a dozen children gathered together, telling stories, finding worlds within one another, waiting for the rain to stop if only for a moment. It is a boy wandering the skies and lands, and a girl hiding from the herds of people who will take her apart for the dream she carries inside. It is the sound of silence, the music of the world, the chaos of rain and calamity of fire.

Berit Ellingsen’s Beneath the Liquid Skin:

Many short story collections suffer from monotony, where the stories all too similar, whether it be in content or tone or emotion, but this little book is one of the most fun reads I have recently encountered. It is a display for Ellingsen’s talent and imagination and yet it is so distinctly itself. These stories belong together for reasons I cannot really name, but if one were to be missing, it would be noticed. Where many writers explore the fantastic by revisiting myths or spinning tropes, it is almost as if Ellingsen herself came from somewhere else, some world beyond ours and carried back the stories of that distant place.