Monthly Archives: December 2015

2015: A Banner Year for Indie Presses

I have been very quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks because decking the halls and wrapping the gifts have taken up much of my time.  But like my fellow bloggers on the web, I have been thinking about my list of favorite books for 2015.  As I was looking through my reviews and thinking about all of the fantastic books I have read throughout the year, I immediately noticed a similarity among the books: most of them are published by independent presses.  I have gravitated more and more to independent press releases and have come to the point at which I seek out books from these brave, hardworking and smart publishers.  So here is my list for 2015.

Indie Press Favorites for 2015:
I have to start out with one of the very first small press books I read in 2015 and absolutely adored and that is Guys Like Me from New Vessel Press.  When I read this book I was so moved by its simple, character driven plot that I wanted to read anything else I could get my hands on by this publisher.  And I was not Guys Like Medisappointed.  I have read many of the books in their catalogue and I would add two more of their titles to my 2015 favorites list as well:  I Called Him Necktie and Alexandrian Summer.  If you want books with interesting characters and thought-provoking, emotional themes then I highly recommend giving these titles a try.

Next up, I have on  my list two titles from Gallic BooksGeorge’s Grand Tour and Nagasaki.  Gallic Books was founded in 2007 and it’s mission is to find the best books written in French and make them available to the English-speaking world.  Both of these titles will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity.  They are actually great books to read around the holidays.Nagasaki

The Physics of Sorrow appealed to me because of the parallels drawn between the main character in the book and the Greek mythological figure of the Minotaur.  However, I learned so much more in this book than I ever expected.  The lasting effects of communism on a country like Bulgaria are astounding.  This book made me reflect on the fact that as Americans we oftentimes take our freedom for granted and we forget what citizens of countries like Bulgaria suffered under decades of oppressive regimes.  This title is published by Open Letter and since reading this I have been very excited to explore their wide range of translated titles.

Speaking of communism and its aftermath, another favorite title of mine this year was Calligraphy Lesson, which is actually a collection of short stories.  In this Calligraphy Lessoncollection, Shishkin, one of Russia’s most famous contemporary authors, offers stories about himself and various members of his family and the devastating impact of Soviet rule had on their lives for generations.This title is brought to us by Deep Vellum , which has a catalogue rich with titles in translation from all over the world.

A list of small presses with fantastic titles published in 2015 would not be complete without a mention of a  Melville House title.  You might have heard of them because of their famous Twitter war with Penguin Random House.  If you haven’t read this little exchange, it is definitely worth a quick look for the hilarious jokes and barbs.  My first introduction to their books was through the novel The Scapegoat.  This novel is translated from the Greek and not only contains an interesting murder mystery, but it also teaches us an important lesson about what we can learn from history.  In addition,  Melville House has also published a fantastic collection of classic novellas which are definitely worth a look.  I have bought and reviewed several titles from their novella collection this year as well.

I must give a nod to Peirene Press, which I discovered by reading White Hunger.  This small British press specializes in publishing novellas translated into Looking Glass SistersEnglish.  Their books may be small, but they pack a powerful, emotional punch.  One of the best books of the year, in my humble opinion, is their novella The Looking Glass Sisters.  This book did not get as much attention as I think it should have; it is one of those reads where you think about its plot and characters long after you close the last page.

And the final independent press that I discovered late in the year thanks to Joe over at Roughghosts, is Istros Books.  I would say that their novel Dry Season is one of my favorites of the entire year.  Since finishing this book I have acquired several more of their titles which I am very excited to read and review in 2016.  Istros specializes in translating fiction from Eastern Europe.

There are two very special small publishers that I must mention from whose catalogues I own many, many books.  These two publishers deserve their own special categories as they have entire shelves on my bookcases dedicated to their titles.

Persephone Books:
Original-Greenery-Street-cover-422x600A friend of mine, who is always spot on with his recommendation for me, turned me on to Persephone Books.  Persephone is an Independent British publisher that specializes in reissuing lost classics which are mostly written by female authors.  I fell in love with the first book I read from them, Greenery Street, and even since I have read one or two of their books per month.  I just can’t get enough of them.  It was very difficult to come up with only a couple of my favorites from 2015 but I have to go with Greenery Street and Patience.  Both books are funny, sweet and so well-written.   Persephone has quite an extensive catalogue and I would eventually like to work my way through all of their books.  There will most definitely be many more Persephone reviews to come in 2016.

 

New York Review of Books Classics:
AkenfieldThe first book I read from the NYRB classics collection was Stoner and ever since then I cannot get enough of their books.  This year I once again read several titles from their catalogue.  The Door, a book translated from the Hungarian which has been on many top ten book lists of the year, was also one of my favorites.  I would also add two additional books to my favorites list which they published in 2015.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Blythe was on of my favorite non-fiction books of 2015.  This book gives us a glimpse into all the of aspects of an English village in the 20th Century.  This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of British Literature.  The final book on my list for 2015 from NYRB classics is  Ending Up by Kingsley Amis.  This book is absolutely hilarious as it chronicles the final days of a group of septuagenarian roommates.  I have big plans to review several more of the NYRB books in 2016!

That pretty much wraps it up for me as far as 2015 is concerned.  In the new year I have titles on my TBR piles that include books from all of these Indie Presses.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Io Saturnalia and Happy New Year!

-Melissa, The Book Binder’s Daughter

 

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literature in Translation, Literature/Fiction, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Novella, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Short Stories

Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

My Review:
Our Spoons come from WoolworthsThis book is narrated by Sophia Fairclough, the main character of the book and deals with her rather difficult life during the 1930’s in London.  The language is very simple and straightforward, which is so fitting for Sophia; it’s as if we are reading her diary or sitting and listening to her story over an afternoon cup of tea.

Sophia meets Charles and they instantly fall in love and decide that they want to get married.  Even though they are only twenty-one years old and his family does not approve of her at all, they decide to get married.  They settle on a “secret” and “private” marriage at the local church, but they tell so many people that on the day of the ceremony the church is full of friends, family and odd acquaintances.

The book starts out on a very humorous tone as Sophia is extremely naïve about marriage, sex and motherhood.  Charles is an artist, a bit of a delicate genius, who can’t possibly put aside his art to get a proper job to support his wife.  Sophia is the main bread winner of the family and Charles is a terrible manager of their money.  Whenever they have a few extra shillings he spends it on frivolous things like painting supplies, wine and dinners.  Sophia is too naïve about living life as an adult to ask that her husband go out and get a job.  When she becomes pregnant and is forced to quit her job Charles is annoyed at having a baby in the house and having his only source of income cut off.

The scenes in which Sophia finds out about her pregnancy are absolutely hilarious.  She is genuinely surprised that she could be having a baby at all;  she thinks that if she wills herself not to be pregnant then she won’t have a baby.  When she goes to the hospital to have the baby she is shocked by the poking and prodding and the indignity of the whole process, right down to the horrible hospital bed clothes that she is forced to wear.

It is obvious from the very first sentence of the book that Sophia and Charles’ marriage does not end well.  As their marriage becomes increasingly difficult financially, emotionally and physically, Charles stays away from their home for longer and longer periods of time.  The humor that was spread throughout the first part of the book is noticeably absent in the send half of Sophia’s tale.  She suffers a great deal as her marriage disintegrates.

But in the end, Sophia learns an important lesson about resiliency and happy endings.  Even though she has suffered many trials and tribulations with and because of Charles she never becomes jaded or bitter.  She is guarded, yes, but never bitter.

The New York Review of Books has brought another brilliant classic to our attention.  I highly recommend this book for its humor, interesting storyline, and strong female character in the form of Sophia.

 

About the Author:
B ComynsBarbara Comyns Carr was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947. She also worked in an advertising agency, a typewriting bureau, dealt in old cars and antique furniture, bred poodles, converted and let flats, and exhibited pictures in The London Group. She was married first in 1931, to an artist, and for the second time in 1945. With her second husband she lived in Spain for eighteen years.

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Literary Fiction, New York Review of Books

Review: Boredom by Alberto Moravia

This book was originally written and published in Italian in 1960 and this English translation has been done by Angus Davidson.

My Review:
BoredomThis is another selection from the New York Review of Books Classics category.  My first experience with Moravia was another NYRB Classic release of his entitled Agostino  which I thoroughly enjoyed.  One notices immediately from these books that Moravia is an author who is interested in exploring the depths of the human, male psyche.  He is not afraid to explore taboo subjects and depict flawed characters who are trying to grapple with the trappings of their own minds.

Dino has grown up in the lap of luxury due to the fact that his mother is rather wealthy.  She lives in an opulent home on the Via Appia in Italy and employs several servants, a gardener and a cook.  Dino, however, decides that he wants to be a painter and he rejects his mother’s wealth and lives on his own in a shabby apartment in Rome.  Since he is a thirty-five year old man, it should come as no surprise that he wants freedom from any type of parental control.  But his rejection of wealth does not come from an altruistic motivation to spread social and economic equality.  His basic problem, as he tells us, is that he is bored.  Dino has been bored for as long as he can remember, going all the way back to early childhood.  Even when he takes up something for which he has an initial passion, like painting, he inevitably becomes bored with it.

Dino’s long and tiresome explanation of his boredom was, indeed, boring.  He is not a sympathetic character at all and at times his boredom comes across more as depression than as boredom.  He has no interest in things around him, he alienates himself from his family, especially his mother, and he suddenly wants nothing to do with tasks that he used to have a passion for.  This sounds more to me like depression than boredom.

When Dino meets a very young woman named Cecelia he begins an intense sexual relationship with her.  She shows up at his flat every day at the same time, takes her clothes off, and they instantly make love.  But after a while, Dino finds all of this terribly mundane and he becomes bored with her.  In order to make her seem more interesting he even experiments with treating her cruelly, but he quickly comes to his senses and decides that the best thing to do is to end the relationship.  This is the point in the story where things become interesting for Dino.

Just as he is about to break the affair off with  Cecelia she starts to become detached from him and begins missing their daily meetings.  Dino is convinced that she is having an affair with someone else behind his back.  All of a sudden Dino’s boredom has turned to an obsession- an obsession to find out more about this woman, an obsession to find out what she does when she is not with him and an obsession to find out what her family is like.  At this point Dino can’t think of anything but Cecelia and he actually longs for boredom and to be rid of what he calls his love for Cecelia.  He proposes marriage to her because, in his twisted sense of logic, he feels that she will settle down and have children and then he will finally be bored of her and can finally cure himself of this love.  To use marriage in order to fall out of love and become bored with one’s spouse is Dino’s twisted, ridiculous and morally backwards plan.

The book does not have a conclusive ending, as one might expect with an existential novel such as this one.  But Dino does vow to get over Cecelia, one way or another.  But in the end, it was I who became bored with his never ending desire to attain boredom in his relationship with Cecelia.

Has anyone else read any other Moravia titles?  I have enjoyed both Boredom and Agostino.  Let me know if you have any other recommendations in the comments!

About the Author:


Alberto Moravia, born Alberto Pincherle was one of the leading Italian novelists of the twentieth century whose novels explore matters of modern sexuality, social alienation, and existentialism.

 

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Filed under Literature in Translation, Literature/Fiction, New York Review of Books