12 Great Small Press Books Recommended by Literary Insiders

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According to the literary powers that be, March is Small Press Month, so before the month is out, we decided we’d better get to talking about a few of the great books — and there are many — published by the tinier houses. We reached out to a few publishers, editors, and publicists of small presses and asked them to recommend some of their favorite books recently released by other indie outfits. They responded in force, suggesting novels, short story collections, works of poetry and works in translation to add to our ever growing list of must-read books. Click through to check out twelve amazing books, all published by small presses in the last year or so, and let us know your own favorites in the comments.

The Invention of Glass , Emmanuel Hocquard, trans. Cole Swensen and Rod Smith (Canarium Books)

“It was a wonderful surprise to find that Canarium was putting out this translation of the great Emmanuel Hocquard’s 2003 L’Invention du verre. Hocquard is no stranger to the “small press” scene, on either side of the Atlantic: he’s been an editor/publisher as well as translator of contemporary poetry, and in English has hopped from one legendary press to another: Burning Deck, Red Dust, Marlboro, etc. Condemned though I may be to read Hocquard in English, I have to say he’s had a near-miraculous run of uniformly excellent translators, and this is no exception. It’s very difficult to describe Hocquard’s work or my attraction to it, but I’ll simply say that it falls between the chairs of linguistic philosophy, narrative, and (of course) verse so charmingly and perplexingly that he is one of the few living poets I will drop everything to read.” — Jeremy M. Davies, Senior Editor at Dalkey Archive Press

This is Not Your City , Caitlin Horrocks (Sarabande Books)

“Flavorwire really knows how to ask the tough questions. One of the best small press books I’ve read this year has to be This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks, a short short collection published by Sarabande Books. It hits every single one of my literary pleasure centers with its quirky, beautiful writing that seems effortless, and characters that I neither loathe or love, but for whom I have the most interesting in-between feelings. I love it when you close a book knowing that you’ll be thinking about it for a while, remembering the distinct voices, recalling certain images and feelings, and that’s exactly how I felt after This is Not Your City.” — Tricia O’Reilly, Marketing Director at Coffee House Press

The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self Defense , Tim Kinsella (featherproof books)

“Tim Kinsella’s The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self Defense is a miracle for people who love rich and hefty sentences. It’s a double miracle for those who want their rich and hefty sentences to add up to a dreamy, heavy narrative exploration of a disjointed family and midwestern culture.” — Natalie Edwards, Editor at featherproof books

City of Bohane , Kevin Barry (Graywolf Press)

“In City of Bohane, Kevin Barry has created a possible future that is grimy and grim: technology is absent, and reputations are staked on the cut of your lapel, as much as the cut of your blade. Bohane is a tale of familial ambition and gangland rivalry, of love-triangles and double-crosses. Barry’s story is in a language all its own, one that challenges and rewards the reader. City of Bohane is a fantastic debut novel and I’m excited for what he’ll do next.” — Casey Peterson, Publicity and Events Assistant, Graywolf Press

Barley Patch , Gerald Murnane (Dalkey Archive Press)

“This is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. It’s incidental, really, that I had a behind-the-scenes hand in its being published in this hemisphere. Gerald Murnane is one of the secret masters of English prose, and someday I won’t feel like I’m the only one who believes this. Teju Cole has called him the equal of Beckett, and Teju Cole speaketh sooth.

“Mind you, Murnane isn’t flashy. His fiction builds by slow aggregation of unexceptional words, declarative sentences, actions described without the least concern that they be properly ‘imagined.’ And yet, upon closing a book by Murnane, one realizes one has been skittering through a labyrinth of fractal detail and complexity.

“This is a book entirely about a man sitting and writing and either remembering or imagining things, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” — Jeremy M. Davies, Senior Editor at Dalkey Archive Press

The Last Warner Woman , Kei Miller (Coffee House Press)

“For our own books, I have to tip my hat to Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, one of the most perfectly pitched books on my generation’s artistic sensibility and utter confusion. But the book I might be even more geeked out about is The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller, which actually comes out today. A transatlantic tale that follows warner woman (i.e. prophetess) Adamine Bustamante from Jamaica to England, it is one of the most emotionally wrenching books I have come across that still feels transcendent, magical. Oh, I cannot overemphasize how wonderfully Kei Miller tells a story.” — Tricia O’Reilly, Marketing Director at Coffee House Press

Replacement , Tor Ulven, trans. Kerri A. Pierce (Dalkey Archive Press)

“The only novel by the late Norwegian poet Tor Ulven, and the first of his books to be brought into English — has been and will be (and should be) compared to the mid-century works of Samuel Beckett. But, for all that the two writers share, Ulven remains his own animal: Replacement is a relentlessly intelligent anatomy of modern loneliness, and Ulven himself solitude’s encyclopedist. In fifteen shifting monologues, Replacement’s characters pace the walls of their self-made prisons, distracting themselves with minutiae, with nowhere jobs and dead-end sex, with travel or liquor; and the novel, by braiding these fifteen solipsisms, achieves on the level of form what the author, unwilling to sweeten his characters’ lives, to falsify their bleak trajectories, cannot supply: community. Ulven’s empathy is formal — Replacement, grim though it seems scene by scene, is in truth an act of literary grace, and an unforgettable book.” — Aaron Kerner, Assistant Editor at Dalkey Archive Press

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)

“I disappeared down this rabbit hole for two days straight. Anders Nilsen’s haunting hulking graphic novel is the culmination of 10 years of Big Questions issues, which explore sadness, philosophical quandaries, and plane crashes, mostly through the eyes of a handful of birds. Collected here, the overarching themes and sparse linework are all the more impressive. I can’t think of another novel that holds its breath as long (600+ pages), or as beautifully.” — Zach Dodson, Co-publisher/Creative Director at featherproof books

These Dreams of You , Steve Erickson (Europa)

“I firmly believe that Steve Erickson is a hero of American fiction, and his new novel, These Dreams of You (Europa, February ’12), stands to underline this sentiment. The book is ambient, intelligent, and above all ambitious in the way few modern novels are. Just because it takes someone ten years to write a book or 700 pages to deliver a story doesn’t make it ambitious (which feels too often to be our current measure for use of the word). These Dreams of You presents the splintery confusion of our national identity with grace and precision, and years into the future will be the book we point to as the literary work that best embodies right here right now.” — Eric Obenauf, Publisher of Two Dollar Radio

Nazareth, North Dakota , Tommy Zurhellen (Atticus Books)

“Effortlessly funny and totally original, this novel turns the Biblical story of the Messiah on its head, setting it in the 1980s Badlands of North Dakota (acid wash jeans included). It’s here that we meet Zurhellen’s cast of characters inspired by Biblical figures like Mary (a woman on the run), John the Baptist (her hippie nephew), King Herod (the corrupt Mexican sheriff) and, of course, the Big Man himself. What’s brilliant about this novel is how subtly the author works with his scriptural frame–at the end of the day, this is an honest story of a less-than-traditional family who’s constantly learning what it means to go against the tide in a smalltown set in its ways. And we’re every bit as excited for the sequel, Apostle Islands, coming out Summer 2012.” — Libby O’Neill, Assistant Editor, Atticus Books

Luminarium , Alex Shakar (Soho Press)

“Can the comatose send text messages? Is romance dead? What does Hindu Cosmology have to do with neuroscientific research and/or the video games used to train emergency responders? How should we mourn our lost loved ones? Is there a God, and if so, can we access him/her through technology? Should we all just go get hammered and smash up the buildings in putt-putt courses with borrowed golf clubs in the middle of the night? So many questions! Luminarium is a sprawling, brilliant look at the globally interconnected world we live in, and the protagonist, Fred Brounian, is a wonderful guide to it — a lovable Eeyore of a guy just trying to find a few answers (or at least figure out the right questions). I loved this one—maybe last year’s most ambitious novel, and certainly one of the strangest.” — Sarah Reidy, Publicity Director, Other Press

Meat Heart by Melissa Broder (Publishing Genius)

Meat Heart by Melissa Broder is unbelievable and overwhelming for its imaginative power alone, but if you listen past the weird you can hear all sorts of things: sadness, seriousness, life, death, and a whole lot of laughter. I love it. Broder is a tremendous talent and I’m glad that book exists.” — Patrick Somerville, featherproof books author