Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winter Institute 8 Galley Haul

Winter Institute is an annual booksellers educational conference that features workshops, panels, meals, authors, presentations and, much more importantly, books, talking, drinking, eating, drinking, talking, and books. Never having been to any other conferences I can't say, with any empirical data, that WI is the best conference that happens anytime anywhere, but you'd have to present some apple on the head kind of data to convince me otherwise. (I'll accept water flowing over the sides of the bathtub as well, but only if you show your work.) Afterward, I always find myself lugging a now full suitcase of books home, though lugging isn't quite the right word as lugging generally does not imply the level of joy I feel in the transportation process. Here are some of the highlights. (Also, I have the next issue of Lucky Peach. Figured I'd get that bit of gloating out of the way.)

The Arcadia Project edited by Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep. I bumped into Meg, the sales representative for Small Press Distribution, and she said, “I've got one copy of this galley and it's for you.” As someone who matches books to readers for a living, that might be the single best sentence I can hear. I love G.C. Waldrep's poetry, especially Archicembalo and think he'd bring a fascinating curatorial gaze to the project. Also, the first truly American poets, Uncle Walt and Aunt Emily, brought a daring, experimental edge to looking at the world around them and wrote a lot of pastoral poems from that perspective. If you really look at Frost (especially his angrier poems) and some of Bishop, you can see traces of that perspective on nature, but for the most part, American nature poetry tends to be the most vacant works committed to paper. The Arcadia Project could, not only, reveal an important current of American poetry I have just missed, it could reclaim and revitalize what should be a fundamental genre of American poetry. (Just noticed this is actually a finished copy. Do you think it would be poor taste to ask Meg to marry me in a blog post?)

Ravickians by Renee Gladman. The Ravickians is the second volume in Renee Gladmans series set in the strange and shifting city of Ravicka. The first volume Event Factory is like walking through the Escher print with all of those stairs; you know you're moving through space, but it's hard to see where you are going. As such, it was a little difficult to know exactly how I felt about the book. What I hope from this volume (and I believe there's a third as well) is a deepening and expanding of that experience so that I can be, to use a very strange phrase, more constructively lost. And my real hope is ultimately, the books maintain the quality of the first and are published in a single volume, because that book would gather much wider reader, critic, review, and award attention than the separate small volumes.

Surfaces & Essences: Analogy as the Fuel of Fire & Thinking by Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander. As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about how meaning is made, both in the literature artistic sense and the neurological psychological sense. The question always being something like, “Are we narrating our life, reading a narration of our life, or a paradoxical combination of both?” The function of analogy plays into this question in a challenging way because you are lead back to wonder what the original thing was that was used to understand the next thing. (Which could lead into the critical essay on House of Leaves and The Raw Shark Text that's been kicking around a bit in my head.) Hofstadter has done this kind of big thinking book before so if anyone can pull this off, he can.

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell. This was the galley that made it on the plane ride home (which there should be an award for somehow) not just because Matt Bell, also an editor at Dzanc Books let me pitch my novel to him at the hotel bar, not just because it has one of the best, if not the best, cover design of the books I saw, and not just because the title is so intriguing; I also opened it and started reading. (Early plot description: Rustic, folktale, Eraserhead. Yep.) Bell writes in a very challenging voice I like to think of Neo-Folklore, where the prose takes on the voice, tone, and rhythm of a story that has been told around campfires and bedsides for centuries. To make matters even more difficult, unlike Jesse Ball perhaps the best practioner of this style, who tends to use a distant perspective, Bell's novel is in first person and so the voice has to be ignorant of some of the mysterious forces driving the events in the story, and have a voice that differs distinctly from contemporary speech, and still have enough insight to communicate events and ideas. So far, Bell is balancing on that tiny pinnacle.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. To roll out a little jargon for you, this book is an Advanced Reader's Edition with french flaps, deckle edges, AND an embossed cover. I don't think I've ever seen a publisher spend this much money on a galley and in such a way that clearly states, “We really, really, really, believe in the quality of this book.” Marra has won a number of big awards for a relatively young writer. Set in strifeworn Chechnya this book is calling to the squalor connoisseur in me and if it also pays off in literary quality and significance, I will gladly help make it a bestseller.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. There are lots of typical reasons for this to end up on the highlight list; the author is a cute 20-something Brit still at Oxford, Bloomsbury signed her up for seven books in the series, they've already sold the movie rights, it's being published in a gillion countries, etc. It makes my highlight list because Kenny Coble (@kennycoble) told everyone to get it. At breakfast it came out in conversation I review poetry, he asked me what I was working on, I told him Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, he responded that he'd read every book put out by that publisher. To sum up: a bookseller who is intimately familiar with the list of a small poetry publisher insistently recommended a book marketed, essentially, as the next Harry Potter. I don't know exactly what it is, but something is definitely up with that.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. As a book about sexual identity in teenage girls in Iran, this novel could be a powerful prism through which we can find a new perspective on the challenges of sexual identity in our much more open, but still rather closed, society. For a number of years now, I've sold books for the Lesley Low-Residency MFA Faculty readings, sitting out in the lobby of a theater with a couple of tables worth of books, watching young writers pass back and forth. Sara is the first graduate of the program who has come across my radar as a published author. It was very cool to see her at the start of what should be an awesome career.

I also got my mom her birthday present, which I will discuss no further here.

Click here to see all the other books I brought back with me.

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