Monthly Archives: August 2020

10 Great Indie Press Releases for Summer (Book Riot)

This post originally appeared on Book Riot.

It’s time for some great new books from independent presses! Below you will find ten new books from ten different publishers. The list includes novels, short story collections, memoirs, and essay collections. The authors come from countries all around the world, including South Korea, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Liberia, and the United States.

Don’t forget that August is Women in Translation Month! If you are celebrating (and why wouldn’t you be??) and are looking for recommendations, five of the books below are translated books by women. You will find great discussion and many more recommendations on the #WomenInTranslation twitter feed run by Meytal Radzinski, Women in Translation Month founder.

Now on to the books. Check out the list to find some great new reads and maybe a new favorite independent press!

Bluebeard's First Wife coverBLUEBEARD’S FIRST WIFE BY HA SEONG-NAN, TRANSLATED BY JANET HONG (OPEN LETTER PRESS)

This collection of short stories combines realism and horror to explore fraught relationships. Many of the stories are about families, especially women struggling with lovers and husbands or examining their feelings about their children. One woman watches her husband quit his job, supposedly to become a carpenter, and then become obsessed with noisy upstairs neighbors to a bizarre degree. Another learns disturbing information about her fiancé after meeting his friends. A mother agonizes over memories of her daughter a year after losing her in a terrible fire. Another story is told from the perspective of a person who has drowned. The stories’ characters and settings are varied, but together they form an eerie, disturbing, fascinating whole.

 

This Is One Way to Dance cover

THIS IS ONE WAY TO DANCE BY SEJAL SHAH (UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA PRESS)

I feel a special connection to this essay collection because many of the pieces discuss living in Rochester, New York, which is where I grew up. This book also impressed me with its insightful, personal exploration of race, culture, family, and writing. Shah writes about joyful dancing at weddings and about moving around the country following jobs and then returning home again. She writes about food, travel, studying creative writing, and what it was like to grow up in a small Gujarati community in a predominantly white suburb. Her essays are sometimes like prose poems and other times more focused on narrative. They are warm, wide-ranging, and a pleasure to read.

 

A Fish Growing Lungs cover

A FISH GROWING LUNGS: ESSAYS BY ALYSIA LI YING SAWCHYN (BURROW PRESS)

A Fish Growing Lungs is a linked essay collection about Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn’s diagnosis of Bipolar I at 18 and her later realization that this diagnosis was a mistake. Sawchyn writes about her experiences with mental illness and drug use. She explores relationships with doctors, struggles with medications, and complicated inheritances from both sides of her family. She also writes about her slow movement toward a more stable place. The essays are often inventive in form, searching for new ways to describe inner states. Their range of tones and subjects—she also writes about music and friendship among other things—keep the book lively and varied. This is a powerful, nuanced, honest take on struggle and growth.

 

 

Mercy by Marcia Trahan cover

MERCY: A STORY OF MEDICAL TRAUMA AND TRUE CRIME OBSESSION BY MARCIA TRAHAN (BARRELHOUSE BOOKS)

Marcia Trahan found herself watching true crime television shows with an obsession that made her wonder why she needed them so badly. This memoir is an account of that obsession and her exploration into a series of difficult medical encounters that left her feeling violated. After battling thyroid cancer and dangerous blood clots, she knew that doctors were there to help her and that they had saved her life, but she felt a level of anger toward them that didn’t make logical sense. The only thing that soothed her were those violent true crime shows. Trahan’s journey toward understanding how these threads connect makes for fascinating reading. Mercy is a sensitive, wise look at the unexpected ways our bodies and minds make sense of trauma.

Disaster Tourist Yun Ko-eun cover

THE DISASTER TOURIST BY YUN KO-EUN, TRANSLATED BY LIZZIE BUELLER (COUNTERPOINT PRESS)

This is a novel about work, feminism, travel, and disasters. Yona’s job is to create travel packages for people who want to tour disaster zones: sites of earthquakes, tsunamis, sinkholes, etc. Yona has done her job effectively for years, but now her boss is sexually harassing her and her work is getting undermined and ignored. She’s worried about losing her job. Her boss suggests that she take a “vacation,” which is really just a working trip to the island of Mui to assess its value as a tourist destination. Once she arrives there, things start to go very wrong. This is a quick, enjoyable read that deals with serious questions about the value of work, of workers, and of humanity.

 

The Bitch Pilar Quintana cover

THE BITCH BY PILAR QUINTANA, TRANSLATED BY LISA DILLMAN (WORLD EDITIONS)

Set in the Colombian jungle, this novel tells the story of Damaris, a woman in her 40s who adopts a puppy to ease her loneliness. Her relationship with her husband is uneasy and they were never able to have children, so she hopes the puppy will provide some companionship. As the puppy grows and becomes aware of the wider world, however, it runs away, and its relationship with Damaris is never the same. The Bitch is a short novel but it beautifully captures the eerie, wild setting near both the jungle and the ocean. The characters are unforgettable, both the people Damaris interacts with in the surrounding towns, and Damaris herself with her combination of loneliness and hope. This is a gorgeous heartbreak of a novel.

 

Grove by Esther Kinsky cover

GROVE: A FIELD NOVEL BY ESTHER KINSKY, TRANSLATED BY CAROLINE SCHMIDT (TRANSIT BOOKS)

Grove is a novel for lovers of contemplative fiction that explores ideas and emotions and for those who love travel and nature writing. The protagonist is mourning the recent loss of “M” while living in a small town near Rome. In later sections she travels through other parts of Italy, thinks about the loss of her father, and remembers childhood visits to the region. The narrator’s descriptions of the Italian landscape are saturated with grief and thoughts about death—she visits many cemeteries—even as they are beautifully evocative. She captures a version of Italy that brims with details of modern life while also holding deeply personal meaning.

 

Pass with Care Cooper Lee Bombadier cover

PASS WITH CARE BY COOPER LEE BOMBARDIER (DOTTIR PRESS)

Pass with Care is a memoir in essays about Cooper Lee Bombadier’s experiences as a trans man. The pieces describe what masculinity means to him and how he moved toward his transition. He writes about what it’s like to be mistaken for a cis man and his complicated feelings toward younger generations of LGBTQ+ people. His life is fascinating to read about: he was a part of the queer scene in 1990s San Francisco, is an artist and performer, worked as a construction worker and security guard, and has lived in many different places and among many types of people. These essays are personal, honest, and sensitive, and full of valuable insights into gender and masculinity.

 

Book of Anna Carmen Boullosa cover

THE BOOK OF ANNA BY CARMEN BOULLOSA, TRANSLATED BY SAMANTHA SCHNEE (COFFEE HOUSE PRESS)

Anna Karenina is the jumping-off point of this novel in which Anna’s children, Anya and Sergei, are characters in the real world (or at least in the “real world” of this novel). It takes place in 1905 right at the beginning of revolution. Characters include working-class activists as well as the upper class Karenins. We watch protests simmering at the same time as Anya and Sergei deal with the legacy of their mother and the Tsar’s request that they give him her portrait. Tolstoy himself haunts their dreams. The novel is clever and entertaining, with vivid characters and an absorbing story and even a short fairytale-like book written by Anna herself. It’s bursting with energy and life.

 

The Dragons, The Giant, The Women cover

THE DRAGONS, THE GIANT, THE WOMEN BY WAYÉTU MOORE (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

At the age of 5, Wayétu Moore’s life in Liberia was upended when her country was plunged into civil war, and her family had to flee. Her father promised her that they would soon see her mother, who was studying in the United States, but in the meantime, they had to walk for weeks until they reached a town in which they could hide. They remained there until a rebel soldier smuggled them across the border. Moore’s memoir tells this harrowing story and then moves to the time after they reach the United States, when she and her family have to adjust to an entirely new way of life. The book is a powerful look at the migrant experience and how its effects reverberate decades into the future.

 


Looking for more books from independent presses? Check out my May indie press round-up and this list of 30 great small press books we can’t wait to read.

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Keeping Track of Books and Reading

I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a post on how I keep track of the books I own and have read. I’ve developed a system over the last decade or so that more or less works to my satisfaction, helping me keep track of what I read when, giving me reading stats, keeping track of books I want to read.

I will admit that I feel conflicted about tracking my reading so closely, in the same way that I sometimes feel conflicted about my reliance on numbers and counting with my cycling. Sometimes I get the urge to just read or just ride and not think so much about how many books I’ve read in a month or a year or whether I’m going to reach my yearly mileage goal on the bike. I have those feelings and then I dismiss them because I love numbers and counting too much to give them up.

My way of keeping track of what I’ve read and what books I own is with LibraryThing. I cataloged my books back in 2010 and have logged every book I’ve acquired since then. Now, this catalog doesn’t include every book that is in my house because I never logged my husband’s or my son’s books. But the catalog contains all the books that I’ve bought for myself (or was given or sent), and if I read a book my husband bought, I’ll add that. I haven’t added books I read with my son because … that’s too much work.

In my LibraryThing catalog, I have a whole bunch of “collections,” the main one being “Your [My] Library.” Books in this collection are print books that I actually own. Turns out I currently have 2,087 of these! Some books I’ve read that don’t fall into this category go into the “Read but unowned” collection. This includes print books I get from the library and those I read and then give away. It also includes ebooks and audiobooks I don’t own, i.e. ones I get from the library or as review copies that have expired. I have separate collections for ebooks and audiobooks I own. I could probably add these to the “Your Library” section, but I kind of like keeping that to print only.

I have a “To Read” collection so I know which books I own but haven’t yet read (it’s a lot). I also have collections for books I’ve read each year starting in 2010, so, for the last 10 years at least, I know what I read when.

The other main part of my LibraryThing account is the tags I give each book. My tagging system was hard to settle on because too many tags are confusing and make logging each book difficult. Too few and I don’t have the information I want. I’m pretty happy with the system I ended up with, which is good, because I’m not changing it! Basically, I tag genre, publication date, author gender, author nationality, and year I acquired the book. I tag books as “Translation,” “From library,” and “From publisher.” I mark books as “POC” for writers of color.

A tricky part was settling on a system for logging the publication date without having too many tags, and I settled on a mixed format where I start with full centuries getting one tag, i.e. “Published in 1500-1599” (because I don’t have many books from that century) and then half centuries starting in the 18th Century (“Published in 1800-1849”), and then decades starting in the 20th (“Published in 1910s”). It’s also tricky to figure out how to tag author nationalities. I wanted only one nationality tag per author so I could make my year-end numbers add up (maybe not a great reason), but when an author has lived in multiple places, it’s hard to figure out where to place them. I basically just … use my best judgment and pick one.

That’s mostly it for how I use LibraryThing. I like how I can search on my phone for books I own when I’m out shopping (it helps that my reading taste is different from my husband’s so he’s unlikely to own what I’m considering buying). I also like how I can easily see reading stats for each year. In each year’s “collection” I can see the tags for the books I read that year to find out author gender and nationality distribution, how many books in translation I read, how many books from which publication dates, etc. It’s how I put together year-in-review posts like this one. (I do wish the site allowed me to search more than one tag at once: that would allow me to search specifically for women in translation, for example, which I don’t think I can currently do.)

But then there’s Goodreads! I use Goodreads in two ways, the first of which is to track what I’m reading currently. I do this because the social media aspect of Goodreads is fun: I get comments on what I read sometimes, I see what others are reading, I see which people I follow have read the book I’m currently reading and what they think of it. I can tweet what I’m reading or have read from the site, and that can lead to fun conversations on Twitter.

I post reviews sometimes (mainly the mini reviews I write for Book Riot), but only when I feel like it. I’ve rated books on Goodreads in the past, but currently I only rate my absolute favorite books because rating is hard and feels unsatisfying without an explanation, which I don’t always have the energy to give. I looked back on old ratings and felt silly about them, so I stopped.

The other way I use Goodreads is to keep track of books I am interested in reading but don’t yet own. I currently have 945 books on this list! I started it in 2010 as well — I was in an organizing mood that year I suppose. Whenever I acquire a book from this list I take it off my Goodreads list and add it to LibraryThing. That way I know what I’m interested in reading but don’t yet own, which is very useful when shopping in bookstores. Occasionally I look through this list and take books off because they no longer interest me, but mostly I keep the list intact because I like knowing that at one point I was interested in reading something. And I also think that perhaps someday I will circle back to that book and find it interesting again.

It seems a little weird that I have my TBR list split across two sites — owned but unread on LibraryThing and unowned but want to read on Goodreads. But I did this (sort of intentionally?) because I want the books I own, unread or not, on LibraryThing because that site is better for cataloging books. And I want books I’m interested in but don’t own on Goodreads because their app is better so it’s easier to use while shopping. Their app makes it easy to find information about particular books as well — publication date and publisher as well as which Goodreads friends have read them and (maybe) what they thought.

So that’s how I (try to) keep some order in my reading life. It takes time to log my reading, but with a system in place, it’s not that much time, and it’s a task I enjoy. One of the things I do when I can’t sleep is look through my Goodreads TBR list and try to remember what the books are about and where I heard of them (I wish the Goodreads app made it easy to enter this information). LibraryThing isn’t really a social site, but if any of you are on Goodreads and we aren’t friends, feel free to add me!

Anybody else want to describe their system??

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Women in Translation Month Updates

I sat down to write this post last Tuesday, planning to write on The Book of Anna, but then we got a tornado warning and lost power, and here I am, four days later, with the power back only just this morning. It’s been a good week for reading, but everything else has been complicated and unpleasant.

Still, I now have three books to write about for Women in Translation month instead of one! Here are some brief thoughts:

Book of Anna Carmen Boullosa coverThe Book of Anna by Carmen Boullosa, translated by Samantha Schnee, is weird, experimental, and meta while also being very readable and a lot of fun, a favorite combination of literary qualities. It’s sort of based on Anna Karenina, or maybe more like a spin-off of the novel. It takes place in 1905 and Anna’s two children, Sergei and Anya, are main characters, both of them dealing in different ways with the legacy of Anna’s death. There are also working-class characters caring for the Karenins as well as protesters and activists trying to get the Tsar to improve their lives. The country is on the brink of revolution.

Sergei and Anna are both characters from a novel and real people living in real life (or at least the “real life” of Boullosa’s novel). They struggle with what their existence means. Tolstoy appears in their dreams, disapproving of their decisions. Later in the book, we get some of Anna Karenina’s own writing, a work that’s briefly alluded to in Tolstoy’s novel. It’s all very fun: he mixing of fiction and “reality,” the glimpses into the beginnings of revolution, and the plot that involves the fate of Anna’s portrait, a plot that brings the novel to a satisfying close.

The Years by Annie Ernaux coverThe Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison Strayer, was my next book. (The cover here is from the U.S. edition but I actually read the British Fitzcarraldo version, which I bought in Rome a year ago…sad sigh of regret since I was supposed to go to Rome again this year but couldn’t.) This is my second Ernaux novel this year, after reading A Girl’s Story this spring. I love her writing! The Years is a sort of autobiography, except that Ernaux never uses “I,” but instead tells the story using “we” and “us,” as though speaking for her generation. She starts with her earliest years as a child in World War II, moves through her schooling in the 50s and 60s, into married life, raising children, getting divorced, figuring out new ways to live. All along, she writes political and cultural history, bringing in elections, protests, technology, music, television. She uses photographs as starting points to remember who she was and what she experienced at different points along the way. She writes about memory and writing itself, interrogating the very project she’s undertaken. The book isn’t that long, but Ernaux manages to tell her own story and the story of her world in a way that feels full and rich, capturing the vast changes that took place over 60+ years.

A Girl’s Story, if you’re interested in reading more Ernaux, focuses on the summer of 1958 when Ernaux was 18 and left home to become a sort of camp counselor. It’s similar to The Years in tone and style, but focuses on a shorter period and looks closely at her early sexual experiences. It, also, is about time, writing, and memory, and is perhaps even more meditative and philosophical than The Years.

Celestial Bodies coverLastly, I read Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn booth. This won the Man Booker International Prize last year. It’s the first novel written in Arabic to win this prize and the first book by a female Omani writer to be translated into English. It’s a family saga, complete with a family tree in the beginning. There are lots of characters, and I found the family tree useful, but it’s not a long book (a long family saga is not really my thing) and it’s not hard to keep track of everyone. It’s set in the small Omani village of al-Awafi and tells the story of three sisters and their fates, bringing in stories of their extended families and their slaves/servants. The sisters’ lives are defined by marriage, two of them following social expectations placed on them, and one rebelling. Each of them tries in their different ways to reconcile their own desires with the roles given to them. Also important is Abdallah, husband of one of the sisters. Most of the novel is in third person, switching from perspective to perspective, but his sections are told in the first person. They describe a life shaped by a cruel father and thwarted love.

The characters around the main ones — their parents, grandparents, in-laws, children, servants — are given their own stories, their moments in the spotlight, so we get a full picture of village life. This is another story of cultural change, as the generations approach love, marriage, and village vs. city life in different ways. Slave families are freed. Children move to the city. Couples divorce. So much changes, but each generation is defined by its struggle to shape their lives around love. It’s an absorbing novel as well as, for international readers, a valuable glimpse into Omani life.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next for Women in Translation Month; at the moment I’m reading Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know because it’s exactly what I’m in the mood for, but after that I think I’ll return to a work in translation. Which one it will be, who knows!

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