“The indie lit stars of today are the bestsellers of tomorrow.” This is how lists like this tend to start out, and it’s a proclamation that may well prove correct in one or two cases. But what’s even more important is that in the last few years, which have found them publishing more stellar books than ever, independent presses have breathed new life into literature (and especially American literature). The authors these small presses publish might be classified as “up-and-coming,” but their individual futures are less crucial to publishing that the movement they’re all a part of: indie literature is changing the landscape radically by allowing writers room to experiment.
Pity the Animal, Chelsea Hodson (Future Tense)
“Sick of balancing multiple roles, some days I wanted to be less than human.” With a single essay that spans all 30 pages of this small (in size, not ideas) chapbook, we welcome the fresh voice of Chelsea Hodson, who sums up the life of a modern artist in a way that few have been able to do.
The Fun We’ve Had, Michael J. Seidlinger (Lazy Fascist)
The champion of the literary underground shows, yet again, that he’s also an author who can wipe away most of the elements most writers find necessary to their plot. This time he’s written an enlightening and mysterious novel featuring just two people adrift at sea.
Black Cloud, Juliet Escoria (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
Unrelenting, violent, often scary: Juliet Escoria’s debut collection of stories will likely have you begging and crying for salvation a few pages in. She’s just that good.
Because, Joseph Riippi (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
You float away in the rhythm of Riippi’s heartbreaking words. With Because, Joseph Riippi has given us the sort of book that slaps us in the face, then hugs us, and then does it all over again. His short sentences read more like laundry lists of things (some attainable, others impossible to get) that we really would all want in our lives. From love and fulfillment to family and dogs, Riippi condenses the human experience into a book that might just change you for the better.
Made to Break, D. Foy (Two Dollar Radio)
One of the best debuts of 2014, Foy’s menacing and cerebral look at friendship and dealing with the past, reads like what we’d imagine a Stanley Kubrick rewrite of a script by Denis Johnson might look like.
The YOLO Pages (Boost House)
The Who’s Who of alt lit, alt poetry, weird Twitter, or whatever you want to call it, with “poems, tweets, image macros, and prose” from Tao Lin, Steve Roggenbuck, Andrew W.K., @horse_ebooks, and a bunch of other people that you could probably call “Human Memes.”
Echo of the Boom, Maxwell Neely-Cohen (Rare Bird/A Barnacle Book)
Remember Adam Levin’s massive book The Instructions? Think of that, but less George Saunders meets Infinite Jest, and more Thomas Pynchon writing a teen drama to be aired at 8 pm every Thursday. This might not appeal to your most literary sensibilities, but Echo of the Boom is strange, fresh, and most of all, it’s a really awesome debut novel.
Faces in the Crowd, Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
In publishing this novel about a translator living in Mexico City, and Luiselli’s superb collection of essays, Sidewalks, Coffee House has helped push into the world a great writer who everybody should know about.
The Old Neighborhood, Bill Hillman (Curbside Splendor)
It’s both sad and strange how Chicago seems to have grown into a world-class city, but writers like Hillman (and also this year, Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski) show that it can still be as dangerous and scary a place as it was in the days of Nelson Algren. This is easily one of the finest books the Windy City has produced.