The Small Press Reviews Holiday Gift Guide

Once again, the holidays are upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably faced with the conundrum of knowing loads of avid readers but not knowing what to give them because, to put it bluntly, they’ve already read everything. But fear not! Small and independent presses have plenty of great books to offer, and chances are good that the readers in your life haven’t yet stumbled upon these undiscovered gems. What follows is a list of my favorite small presses, broken down by their specialties and genres. Peruse their catalogs… You’re bound to find something for everyone on your holiday gift list!

Novels: Followers of this blog know that I’ve reviewed and loved many titles from The Permanent Press — and with good reason. From mainstream to mystery, they have it all. Specifically, books like The Chester Chronicles and Elysiana offer compelling and nostalgic takes on the 1960s, and To Account for Murder is a noirish page-turner set in the 1940s. Though not a novel, Doris Buffett’s memoir, Giving it All Away, offers much insight into what drives Warren Buffett’s sister to, as the title suggests, give so much of her fortune away to those in need.

Short Stories: Featherproof Books just showed up on my radar, and I’m blown away by the care they put not only into selecting the titles they publish, but also in designing their books. Christian TeBordo’s The Awful Possibilities is a heck of a mind-bender, and Patrick Somerville’s The Universe in Miniature in Miniature has to be seen to be believed.

Poetry: For the poetry lover on your list, you can’t go wrong with Write Bloody Books. Write Bloody specializes in poetry collections from touring poets — so, to paraphrase the theme from The Monkees, you better get ready (if you turn your friends on to any of WB’s poets), they may be coming to your town! I recommend Jeanann Verlee’s Racing Hummingbirds and Robbie Q. Telfer’s Spiking the Sucker Punch.

Graphic Novels: Another recent discovery of mine, Conundrum Press is nothing short of awesome. Line Gamache’s Poof! offers a madcap rumination on the relationship between the artist and her muse, and fans of CBC Radio’s Wiretap (with Jonathan Goldstein) will revel in Howie Action Comics by souvlaki aficionado and longtime Wiretap regular Howard Chackowicz. Speaking from experience, I can say that there’s nothing cooler to a comic book geek than “discovering” a new artist, so definitely give Conundrum a look if you have representatives from this species on your list.

Of course, this list of presses is far from comprehensive, but who knows? If you give a couple of these independent publishers a chance, you might end up a fan for life — and the readers in your life will marvel at your good taste!


Straining to Parallel Park in an Empty Field

It comes as no surprise when, a few tracks into Jessica Kane‘s newly released audio book, Straining to Parallel Park in an Empty Field, the author/narrator mentions that she’d been listening to NPR when she spotted a fly dancing on her window ledge — for the  musings, casual epiphanies, and slice-of-life vignettes that Kane includes on this four-CD set are steeped in the tones and cadences of such public radio fare as This American Life, WireTap, and A Prairie Home Companion. Indeed, Kane, whose voice falls somewhere on the spectrum between those of author Sarah Vowell and comedienne Kristen Schaal, would be right at home on any of the aforementioned programs. Her material ranges from the mundane (shopping at thrift shops) to the cosmic (the relationship between forgotten pieces of furniture and the meaning of life), and throughout the proceedings, her observational humor sheds quirky light on the peculiar vanity of the human animal: our toes speak volumes with respect to our ancestral origins, Kane opines on one track, while our fascination with cars and rear view mirrors reflects the insular, hyper-self-conscious mindset of the species as we move into the twenty-first century. As a result, the majority of Kane’s pieces all but insist, we are forever doomed (in a fun way, of course) to obsess over the minutia of our lives — like whether or not anonymous truck drivers find us attractive, our fellow motorists recognize our passing skills, or, as the title of the collection suggests, we’ll ever master the Zen art of parallel parking — in empty fields or otherwise.