I recently had a German houseguest who was visiting the US for the first time (side note: he will be translating a story of mine for an Austrian anthology being released in November in Europe). Of course because the two of us are pseudo-writers, we had to hit up many book stores and I dragged him to literary events around the city. I always thought the books being published in Germany, et al were beautiful and looked like more craft was paid than over here in the States. He mentioned that the US editions were creative and came in all different sizes. But then…
We came across a copy of Anne Carson’s new translation, Antigonick being published by New Directions. A friend showed it to us and it is truly fantastic. In co-production with a visual artist, Antigonick is cloth-bound and offers translucent pages by the artist that cover Carson’s handwritten text. It is a complete artistic experience provided by New Directions. The words become art and the visual art becomes part of the text.
In an age when publishing is going down the tube and the reading audience (myself included), sometimes shops with its eyes, these smaller presses are wise to put exhaustive energy into their product. Many of these smaller presses are doing a great service by publishing long forgotten writers, works in translation, or exciting new writers that need exposure on the market.
Unfortunately, New Directions is no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts or queries, but perhaps, if the book industry gets back on its feet, small indie presses can offer this courtesy once again.
This weekend, I had the pleasure of catching Argos Books‘ celebration of their most recently released chapbooks. The lovely and talented editors held their little shindig at the The Oracle Club which deserves its own post all together. Four readers read from the new books and each had such engaging poems. Two of the chapbooks also were in collaboration with visual artists that offered stunning images to accompany the words. Argos always produces lovely books; besides the words and images, the books themselves are outstanding pieces of art. They are hand-sewn and whenever I pick one up, I just want to touch every inch of the cover and pages. The reading itself was brief which was perfect. The poets kept the audience engaged and each one of them brought a different aesthetic to the event.
Another aspect of Argos that I love is that they take a special interest in publishing works-in-translation. They have a side by side series that offers both the original text and the new translation. They are working hard to bring writers that haven’t been published before in English to a wider audience. The editors at Argos are especially interested in this because of their own personal translation endeavors (one of the lovely Argos ladies works on translating from Swedish!).
Hearing them introduce each poet just showed how passionate they are about their writers and why they chose to publish them. They have a real appreciation and regard for the texts and I hope this small presse can continue producing big things.
Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain himself
(new, never-before published works, Spring 2009)
Chapter 2: “Whenever I am about to publish a book…”
Read by: John Lithgow
Publisher: Harper Studio
Direction and Live Drawing by Flash Rosenberg
video editor: Sarah Lohman
Screened at “How to Live Dada: Andrei Codrescu, Henry Alford and Mark Twain Interview Each Other” LIVE from the NYPL, April 13, 2009
Last week, I was kindly invited to the launch party for Zola Books. I was unable to visit their booth at BookExpo America but all was explained to me at the company’s little shindig. I had heard of Zola about a month ago but I had a hard time understanding the concept because 1) I can be super dense when it comes to technology and 2) I’m not quite sure if there is any other service that is comparable so I had nothing to relate it to. I chatted with a few people but it wasn’t until I got the rundown from founder, Joe Regal (formerly of Regal Literary), was everything illuminated. He and his small group of employees are super passionate about what they are doing (especially about the aspect of Zola that will give more revenue to the author and smaller “brick-and-mortar” bookstores). According to Publishers Weekly,
Zola’s interface, Regal said, is designed to make book-buying a more pleasant and cleaner experience than it is on Amazon…Zola’s e-books are platform agnostic (meaning they can be downloaded on all major devices, including Kindle) and can be read off the site, but readers can also opt for a more interactive experience…Regal is not alone. A number of authors have invested in Zola. One writer who put her money where her mouth is, is Audrey Niffenegger. The e-book edition of her bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife will be available exclusively at Zola when the site launches.
The article continues with a breakdown of some of the other features that Zola Books will offer. One of its goals seems to be a more positive experience for the author, readers, and indie booksellers. The website is not live yet, but I am looking forward to seeing the direction this company takes.