April started off with a bang thanks to AWP 2016 in Los Angeles, but you can keep celebrating independent and university presses all month long with these 10 fantastic books, most of which we’ll be covering here at the CHIRB via interviews and reviews. From magical realism to nonfiction, here are the best 10 books from independent presses this April, including their first lines.
Septimania by Jonathan Levi
April 5, Overlook Press (New York)
Levi’s first novel since 1993’s A Guide for the Perplexed is my favorite book of 2016 thus far, a globe-spanning intellectual adventure about Sir Isaac Newton, quantum theory, and a secret kingdom centered in contemporary Rome. Our interview with Levi will run tomorrow, April 5.
3 September 1666
One garden. One tree. Two backs against the trunk, two bums on the grass, two mouths sharing a pipe after dinner.
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan
April 5, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill)
The great Appalachian poet-novelist Robert Morgan burst onto the national scene when Oprah chose Gap Creek for her book club in 2000. This time, Morgan turns his eye to runaway slaves trekking from South Carolina to Canada a decade before the Civil War. Our review, from Aaron Coats, will be published later this week.
He was called Jonah because he was born during a terrible storm and his mama said soon as she let go of him and put him ashore in this world of folly and time, the thunder quieted and the wind laid. Trees had broken off their stumps and skipped across fields like dust brooms, and the Saluda River spread wide over the bottomlands. Some of the slave cabins behind Mr. Williams’s brick house got smashed to splinters by the high tempest.
The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson
April 5, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis)
If you liked Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer, this true-crime story is just as compelling. The unsolved murder of Nelson’s aunt, initially blamed on a Michigan serial killer in 1969, gets a new trial in 2004 thanks to new DNA evidence. The Red Parts is a memoir of Nelson’s experience during the months-long trial and a timely indictment of our cultural obsession with violence and dead white girls.
We have every reason to believe this case is moving swiftly toward a successful conclusion. These were the words spoken by a detective from the Michigan State Police, in a phone call to my mother, one afternoon in early November 2004.
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson
April 8, Midnight Ink (Woodbury, MN)
In McPherson’s new standalone mystery, a librarian flees London for a quiet village in Scotland, where she works in “the oldest bookshop in a town full of bookshops” and moves into the gravedigger’s cottage at the local cemetery, where she uncovers decades of secrets.
It was the last thing on her mind when she fled across London. She had her passport and meant to take the train to the airport then buy a ticket for the farthest place on the departure board, to put time zones and maybe the date line between them. If she could have, she’d have blasted off and gone to Mars.
Ear to the Ground by David L. Ulin and Paul Kolsby
April 12, Unnamed Press (Los Angeles)
A Hollywood seismologist discovers evidence of a looming earthquake that will destroy Los Angeles in this clever satire from LA Times book critic Ulin and screenwriter Kolsby. Next week, we’ll run an exclusive excerpt of the entire first chapter.
Los Angeles is the only major city in the world, thought Charlie Richter, heading east on Sunset in his red Rent-a-Corsica, where everybody has to drive. The May morning sun was a laser, confounding even the most creative extensions of his car’s visor, so he looked over at the bus to his right, moving along with him at eleven feet per minute. Its passengers seemed uniformly unhappy, and it occurred to him that Detroit had planned its L.A. marketing campaign carefully. Drive and you’ll be happier.
The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang
April 12, Unnamed Press (Los Angeles)
Wang’s debut explores mental illness and other inheritances in midcentury Brooklyn, Taiwan, and California from a writer who lives with schizoaffective disorder. When David Nowak’s father dies suddenly, he sells the family piano business for a fortune, but spends the rest of his life spiraling toward suicide.
No excerpt available.
Tales of the Metric System by Imraan Coovadia
April 15, Ohio University Press (Athens)
In 1922, Coovadia’s home country, South Africa, converted from the imperial measurements of British colonialists to the metric system. In a book that’s been hailed as the South African equivalent of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children, Coovadia charts the experience of several South Africans on ten separate days spread across four decades. Our review, by Cameroonian writer Dzekashu MacViban, will run later this month.
According to the Durban by-laws, the best beaches along the Golden Mile were restricted to Europeans. Next to the discount hotels, not far from Natal Command, was the fenced-in Indian and coloured section. Logan had taken the trouble to read the municipal ordinances and discovered that the sand was open. The segregation rule applied to the ocean and not to the land. You could step on the sand, be you Indian or African, Chinese or Mexican, without a policeman being able to ticket you. Only if you put a foot into the swirling green water, sliding sideways along the beach and then disappearing into the undertow, could you be apprehended and taken to the charge office. This was the letter of the law.
Call Her By Her Name: Poems by Bianca Lynne Spriggs
April 15, Northwestern University Press (Chicago)
A feminist manifesto in verse from the Affrilachian poet and performance artist Spriggs, featuring women from myth and history, both human and otherwise.
No excerpt available.
Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer
April 19, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis)
This series of essays from of the biggest and brightest names in the industry (writers, editors, agents, and journalists) is like a portable MA in publishing. From Jessa Crispin’s “The Self-Hating Book Critic” to Steve Wasserman’s “The Amazon Effect” and Daniel José Older’s “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the nuances of publishing in the modern era. Our interview with editor Travis Kurowski will run later this month.
Speaking at the Lahore Literary Festival early in 2014, Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, made the observation that modern technology and social media were having an effect on the styles of young writers, at one point asserting: “The way they write today is very different from how people used to write ten or fifteen years ago.”
Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann
April 25, Tin House (Portland)
After losing his baby daughter in a tragic accident, a Manhattan executive and his wife move to New Jersey for a fresh start in Cann’s chilling debut novel. But like the families in Chris Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers or Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, their past returns in unexpected (read: creepy) ways. Our exclusive excerpt will run later this month.
Check back the week of April 25.
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.