Am really very excited for Reading Independent Publishers Month, which is being hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy. It seems like the last few years have brought about an explosion of new indies – although perhaps that is because social media makes it easier to discover them – but some of my favourite reads of the last few years have come from independent publishers. While not blessed with the kind of marketing budgets that the larger players can command, they are finding creative ways to entice readers and support themselves and their authors, often by offering subscriptions or membership packages, or crowd-funding backing for a book before it is published. The indies increasingly take on the big names when it comes to long- and short-listing for prizes, with Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport from Galley Beggars impressing the Booker judges and winning the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019 as one example.
To start this Reading Independent Publishers Month, I had a delve in the ten million hardbacks archives to find the books from independent publishers that I have already enjoyed and reviewed. There are quite a few more to come that I have read but not reviewed, as well as a nice selection sitting on the ‘to be read’ list. So I am not sure that one month – and the shortest one at that – is going to be enough… but here are my selections to get you started.
What are you planning to read for #ReadIndies? Follow this tag on social media to find more recommendations.
Specialise in bringing forgotten books back to life, digitally. I enjoyed What About Reb by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, an at times Mad-Men-esque story of a young man finding navigating life, friendships and love, while putting into practice the political beliefs he has been raised with after his call-up papers for Korea arrive.
And Other Stories
With a mission to bring readers ‘innovative contemporary writing,’ there is bound to be something on their list that appeals. I have written about Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home here, which the Booker judges also long-listed, deservedly, as it is a moving read.
Rónán Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul has become a success by word-of-mouth – make sure you do not miss it. On the strength of how much I enjoyed this tale of two friends finding their way in life, another three Bluemoose Books were bought.
Darf has a focus on the Middle East, Africa and Asia and I really loved Ahmed Fagih’s Maps of the Soul, set in 1930s Libya, and Hurma, a tale of a young woman being pulled between the sacred and the profane in modern Yemen from Ali Al-Muqri.
Fitzcarraldo’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants are just two of the gems to be found on their list. With their distinctive covers and custom typeface, they make beautiful collectors items or gifts.
Finding George Orwell in Burma is an illuminating read at any time, especially when you learn how Emma Larkin managed to conduct her interviews and make notes for the book, but more so now as the military takes over the country again. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata explores the world of Keiko, an employee at a convenience store with her own particular ways of seeing things.
Innovative and diverse in their books and authors, Influx also have a subscription available, which guarantees members great reads throughout the year. As a subscriber, I have quite a few Influx books waiting for me to read and review them. One from last year is Fernando Sdrigotti’s collection Jolts.
London Books mixes new fiction and classic reprints, including Simon Blumenthal’s tale of 1930s East London life: Jew Boy.
New York Review of Books
When Read Independent Publishers Month was announced, there was some debate about whether the NYRB counts as an indie, but let us do so, because then the wonderful Transit by Anna Seghers can appear on this list.
OR publishes books with a political or progressive slant, including Alex Nunn’s The Candidate, about Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour leader and Patrick Cockburn’s collection of journalism about the rise of ISIS, Chaos and Caliphate.
Ms Ice Sandwich is Mieko Kawakami’s novella about an unnamed narrator, his schoolfriend Tutti and his obsession with a lady who works in a local store.
NY-based Restless Books have another list with much temptation on it, including How to Travel Without Seeing.
Sadly it doesn’t seem like Revenge Ink’s website is still live, but they did publish Erinna Mettler’s Starlings, a story of linked lives through the years of Brighton’s history that is worth tracking down.
It would take more than a month to list all the great Seagull Books that I have my eye on… A good place to start is my review of The Book of Mordechai and Lazarus.
Unbound has a unique funding model, kind of a ‘Kickstarter for books,’ where books are backed on the basis of a pitch and then – hopefully – reach 100% and go through the publication process. It has really illuminated for me the amount of work that goes into bringing books to readers. I loved Conversations with Spirits and Eileen: The Making of Orwell.
After joining the Verso Book Club last year, I am now ashamed of how many of their amazing titles are waiting for me to read them. Their books range from academic texts to ones for more general readers, on a range of political and social history topics. The membership is worth every penny! I recently reviewed We Fight Fascists and The Weight of Things, and a bit less recently, Manituana by Wu Ming.
Find all of these reviews, along with any new ones as the month progresses at the #ReadIndies tag. I hope you enjoy discovering new presses and books this month.