As Summer, sadly, draws to an end, the thought of finishing those last books on your Summer reading list may be hard to manage—the malaise of heat only matched by the languor of picking up another tomme published by one of those big publishing houses. It has become commonplace for the “big books” of summer to emerge from the gargantuan publishers with books as meandering as when Dickens was paid by installment (though let’s not be so trite as to call these books Dickensian). These are, indeed, great books, but they are based on a model where the author gets paid a substantial advance for a book that seems to necessitate a weight equal to the gold paid. And, some might say, these books all seem a bit familiar, a bit safe, and a bit expected. Yet, as reported by The Atlantic in the age of the 7-figure book deals, small presses are providing great literature often noted for their beauty, brevity, and creativity.
In non-fiction, Graywolf, based in Minneapolis, has published such books of essays as Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. In poetry, Graywolf has published 3 Sections, Vijay Seshadri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, and Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine’s important and timely book on race in America (See how instructors have used Citizen in the classroom).
Other notable small presses—though there are many to explore—include Algonquin Books, based in Chapel Hill, NC, which published Julia Alvarez and first published Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Dorothy, based in St. Louis, which publishes authors who are women, and recently published such devastatingly beautiful books as Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo and Nell Zink’s Wallcreeper; Tin House Books, based in Portland, OR, which has sponsored great writers for decades in its magazine Tin House. So explore, and escape into those last days of Summer with a creative and thought provoking new book by one of these presses that helps keep contemporary literature alive.