“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Literary Links: Rethinking Self-Publishing

Despite my love of all things small press, like most people who've worked in the publishing industry, I've tended to remain suspicious of self-published books. Part of my reasoning is ideological: to me, creating a small publishing house is about building a community of readers and, ideally, even creating a dialogue between the publisher and readers. Self-publishing, on the other hand, seems more an act of individual self-expression--the very kind of libertarian ideal that strikes me as an essential characteristic of neo-liberalism. (I realise this logic is tenuous at best, and also more than mildly hypocritical since blogging is a form of self-publishing, albeit a form that is inherently community-minded. And given that this blog was initially created to generate some extra publicity for my book--although I hope it's clear that I've ended up doing something more than that--who am I to talk?). Mostly, though, I've just worked on the (unsubstantiated) assumption that self-published books would, you know, suck.

They say it takes a big man to admit when he's wrong, but I'm about to disprove this rule: despite being generally small-minded and self-absorbed, I've been forced to admit that my above assumptions are untrue. This proof has taken the form of two books. The first is Sergio De La Pava's A Naked Singularitywhich I just got yesterday. Sure, the book itself does look amateurish in some aspects: the cover is all wrong for the genre (it looks more like a mass-market paperback than a literary novel) and the gutter is so narrow that you have to hold the book wide open to read to the end of the line. But, wow, the novel itself is great so far. I've only read 100 pages or so, but if the rest of it is even half as good, it will quickly become one of my favourite books I've read all year. The book is largely about a public defense lawyer in NYC, but the style recalls David Foster Wallace and Evan Dara...

And speaking of Evan Dara, I also read his first novel, The Lost Scrapbookthis year. But his second novel, The Easy Chainappears to be effectively self-published. Technically, Dara has created a publishing house called Aurora, but so far it only publishes his own work. The website claims that Aurora will be bringing out two Italian novels in English translation, but I can find nothing about either the authors or translators anywhere online. But, given that Evan Dara is a pseudonym, and no-one even knows who he or she really is, the whole thing is pretty murky.

One thing both of these books have in common is that they are long (over 600 pages) and 'difficult'; I wonder if we will see more and more books of true literary merit, especially of this type, being self-published. Anyway, I now admit I was wrong, and as a penance, here are this week's literary links:

  • Richard Nash's imprint Soft Skull seems to have temporarily folded since its owning company, Counterpoint Press, has ceased to exist. He does, however, already have something new called Cursor on the boil, which appears to be a cross between a publishing venture and an online community (Hey, didn't some really smart dude argue this was a good direction for publishers in the digital age?). 
  • You can now officially pre-order David Foster Wallace's The Pale King on Amazon. The release date is set for April.
  • Another upcoming book that I am very interested in is Mathias Enard's Zonewhich will be published in English translation in December. Infamously, the 500-odd pages of the book comprise one single sentence. It should definitely be worth a look. You can get some more info here.
  • The Quarterly Conversation, a great online journal, has started releasing a weekly list of notable new releases, which skews toward world literature and avant-garde lit.
  • And lastly, the National Book Award is about to be announced, so check for updates here. As more or less the last U.S. Award with a modicum of literary credibility (the Pulitzer has been a joke pretty much since Gravity's Rainbow didn't win in 1973), it's at least usually worth checking out (even if only one small press book made the shortlist).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Counterpoint still very much in existence. they've simply closed the Soft Skull office in New York.


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