The Independent Press

OK, so last week I said I’d be making a post about the NES game Crystalis, in accordance with my unspoken agreement that I would cover books one week and video games the next and that… will not be happening.

I thought… Crystalis is a twenty year old game that I’ve beaten more times than Mel Gibson’s ex-wife…  Certainly, I can clean it in a week, even using emulation.  Well… No.  The game is long, deep, and I’ve recently become stuck trying to remember which mountain I have to explore to get the item I need to continue (and I’m refusing the help of GameFAQs here), so… maybe next week!

For now, I’m going to let you in on a secret…  Beyond Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon and Schuster (OK, you too St Martin’s, you whiny bastard) there are hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller publishers, putting out works of literature that you probably wouldn’t look twice at at your local shop (if your local shop even carried the items.

This is the independent press.  There’s variations… I’ve heard some refer to themselves as indie publishers, small press publishers, art press publishers, and, on rare occasions, the vanity press…  But they are all good.  I’m going to list four of my favorites with recommended titles for each.  Check them out!  Keep the beauty of handmade (and literary!) books alive!

McSweeney’s
http://mcsweeneys.net

This one is kind of a cheat as they have fairly wide distribution, a large number of employees, and a large output on a yearly basis.  But they do all their hardcovers in-house, they have one of the strongest editing teams in the world, and as far as design goes… they’re unmatched.

And to top it all off, they’re having a sale right now.  My recommendations?

  • The Wild Things by Dave Eggers $7
  • The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony $9
  • McSweeney’s Quarterly #15 $3

Europa Editions
http://www.europaeditions.com

An independent press based out of both New York City and Italy, Europa Editions focuses mostly on the translated versions of non-American authors and they make some fantastic choices.  Distinctive covers and spines, interesting and literate works, and a constantly expanding library of books.  Try these!

  • Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky (new book coming from Europa May 15!)
  • A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
  • Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Chance Press
http://chancepress.com

Based in the Bay Area, Chance Press is a mere three years old, but has already made a huge splash by putting out beautiful, hand-crafted books on a variety of subjects (poetry, fiction, a couple art books, etc.).

I can’t do their incredible work justice by trying to describe it here, but I highly recommend you check out their stuff as quickly as possible (and not just because they were kind enough to send me a signed Dan Fante book, either!).

Top picks?

  • A Common Thread: The Poetry of Bukowski.net (and good luck finding a copy)
  • Too Powerful A Thing To Reject: Charles Bukowski’s Transition Years, 1945-1957 by Abel Debritto
  • No. 2236 Flying Wedge by Michael Phillips

Bottle of Smoke Press
http://bospress.net/

Based in Delaware, Bill Roberts’ Bottle of Smoke is pretty much the reason I got into small press publishing.  A chance encounter with one of the Bottle of Smoke books at Powell’s in 2005 set me into a frenzy of collecting (and given the quality of both the writers and the design of these books, collecting these books is only going to get more difficult).

Trying to weed out a top 3 would normally be difficult, but since much of the catalog is sold out and only available on the secondary market (if you can even find some there), my choices are easier (though somewhat limited).

 

  • Marching Unabashed Into The Weeping, Searing Sun… by Hosho McCreesh
  • Renewal by Dan Fante
  • Bottle #4 (Various Authors, a collection of broadsides

If you can track down The Pages Turned To Dust by Father Luke, or any of Bottle of Smoke’s Bukowski output, you won’t be disappointed either.

So there.  Check it all out, take it all in… let me know if you look into any of this and enjoy it!  I’ll be back next week with something video game related (hopefully!).

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The Instructions by Adam Levin

The Instructions
by Adam Levin
McSweeney’s Rectangulars, 2010
1030 Pages

Yes, you read that right.  1030 pages.  I recall reading Jonathan Franzen claim that Americans are afraid of large books (though I can’t at the time of this posting find the damn reference).  And to a certain extent, I believe he is correct.  I don’t believe he is solely referring to the size of books, but also the depth and breadth of ideas.  The Instructions is one of these large books.

Before I get into the review proper, I would be remiss if I didn’t complain about the constant comparisons between Levin and David Foster Wallace.  I think the knee-jerk reaction is to compare the two because of the length of The Instructions and the length of Wallace’s own Infinite Jest.  I can see similarities in the style and inventiveness in language between the two, but most reviews seem to rely only on the SIZE of the books.

Seriously, you reviewers are doing a disservice to yourselves and to both novels if all you can come up with is, “Hey… these books are loooooong.”  So shut up, or try to go a little deeper into the similarities (i.e.: the word-play, the sense of humor, the intelligence in both sentence structure and plot, etc).

I also have to take a moment to talk about the constantly impressive presence that McSweeney’s is within the publishing world.  No one else would give a first time novelist a 1000 page novel, nor would a publisher like Harper Collins or Random House be able to do it justice.  Big props to McSweeney’s for taking the risk and giving us a fantastic new author and a spectacular, jaw-dropping book.

See more from Adam Levin c\o McSweeney’s in their quarterly literary journal (numbers 16, 18, and 36) and in his book of short stories Hot Pink coming out later this year!

Anyhow…

Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee is ten years old.  Gurion is as intelligent as he is violent.  His acts of violence have caused him to be kicked out of three Jewish schools before he ends up at Aptakisic Junior High School, where he has been placed in a special program called The CAGE.  Obvious symbolism aside, The CAGE is where Aptakisic places the most violent and hopeless students to cut them off from the general population.

The novel follows four days in the life of Gurion, in and out of the CAGE.  A brief interaction with Eliza June Watermark, when he realizes that he and she have dual yud birthmarks.  He then falls in love and begins on the road to revolution (the yud is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and a pair of them indicates the name of God, specifically Adonai, a name which Gurion consistently uses when referring to God).

The pacing of The Instructions is unmatched, especially given its length. For such a long book, very little seems wasted.  Each bit of information informs the life of Gurion and tells of what brought him to be the violent child that he is.  One sixty page deviation tells the story of how his parents met and the true story of a crime his father committed when he was younger.

His parents are especially important in his development.  During one scene, his mother defends his violence as necessary to him defending himself from other, larger boys (his mother, as psychologist, also trained in the Israeli Defense Force and has taught him much about self defense).  In another scene, his father (a defense lawyer who defends free speech, even that of hate groups and neo-Nazis) invites Gurion’s constant steam of resistance.  At home, Gurion is constantly told what a good boy he is and what wonderful things he will do some day.  Is it any wonder the kid has a messiah complex?

Levin’s characterization is also very impressive.  Despite complaints from some reviewers that the dialogue of most of the characters being unrealistic for their age(s), Levin keeps their voices consistent.  Intelligent, megalomaniacal Gurion.  Violent, psychopathic Nakamook.  Twitchy, blue-collar Vincie.  Each character has his or her own unique voice, enough that often qualifying a sentence with a speaker is unnecessary.

As the book goes on, Gurion becomes more and more entrenched in the idea of him being the Messiah.  Is he?  In the end, the book is extremely vague.  Even within the final chapter when Gurion confirms that he has been writing The Instructions (constantly referred to as his “scripture”) from Israel, he provides no answers for how he got there, he only writes in questions and suggestions, many less possible than the ones before it.

I highly recommend this book.  Given the length and the way that Levin plays with language, it is a bit of a challenge.  But the writing, the story, and the characters are engaging and it is the most rewarding read I’ve had in quite some time.  Take the time!  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll… probably be disturbed.  But an excellent debut novel.

An Introduction.

Welcome to my newest blog!  If you’ve been following me awhile, you’re probably sick of the name changes, the site changes, and the general lack of updates… and honestly, I don’t blame you.

I am too.  So I’m starting this bastard up and am trying to hit the ground running.  But WordPress is being a jackass and not letting me upload my banner image as an attempt to customize, so… I’m just going to post my first couple of posts and work through it this weekend.

So… Books and Bits.  No, not book reviews combined with nudity.  Unless that’s what you came to see.  Anyone?  No?  I thought I saw a hand?  No?  OK.

Anyway, my two biggest passions in life, since a young age, have been reading books and playing video games.  While I don’t believe the internet needs another blog about EITHER, I thought… why not one that combines the two?

So I’m going to try to make a weekly post here.  I’ll jump between books and games, but to make it a little more interesting, I’m only going to use video games from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, mostly games that I remember, but I’m not sure many others do.

And I’m going to try my hardest not to miss too many posts… So feel free to give me crap if you notice I’m falling behind schedule!

SNEAK PREVIEW!
First Book Post: The Instructions (ETA: Later Today)
First Game Post: Crystalis for the Nintendo Entertainment System (ETA March 11)

Thanks for reading and welcome to hell my new blog!