Our favorite books of 2013

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Here’s what the Nouvella staff was reading (when we weren’t reading submissions!):

 

Melissa melissa

I don’t read nearly as much as I wish I did (writing a senior thesis is time consuming, who knew?) so I read most of these in erratic spurts throughout the year. Still, I think the fact that I finished them at all is a testament to their quality.

 

Dear Life by Alice Munro

It would have been blasphemy not to read Ms. Munro’s work this year, given her status as the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dear Life centers on the fleeting moments that irrevocably change Munro’s characters’ lives, whether they be as dramatic as a spontaneous affair, or as minor as the pursuit of a specialist doctor in an unknown town. Each of her stories builds to a meticulous climax that leaves a sort of numbing, troubled reverie.

 

My First Summer in the Sierras by John Muir

Long before his activist fame, John Muir was a young Scottish immigrant paid to shepherd sheep through the Sierra Nevada foothills. Muir’s lush, even anthropomorphic descriptions of California’s flora and fauna make this short work surprisingly endearing and paint a vivid picture of California in the not-so-distant past.

 

Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories by John Updike

This collection of short stories should be depressing, seeing how it details the failing marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Maple. Somehow, though, this simply isn’t the case. Written over the course of 20 years, “Too Far to Go” is a masterwork that tidily, and hilariously, demonstrates Updike’s powers of empathy and snide observation. Though the doom of the Maples’ marriage is foreshadowed even from the beginning of the collection, the characters’ paradoxical love for one another develops and evolves until the book’s poignant ending.

 

Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote

Best read in Capote’s native New Orleans with a beignet in hand, “Music for Chameleons” remains a giant in the canon of short story writings.  Capote can rarely escape a review without being deemed “lyrical” – but with good reason. The author’s wit and graceful use of language keep his personality-based stories feeling as vibrant as they did more than 30 years ago.

 

 

EmmaEmma

2013 was a fabulous year for fiction, and I read several books that won’t leave me anytime soon: Shani Boianjiu’s The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, an astonishing debut novel about three girls coming of age in the midst of ancient conflict, left me breaking out in goosebumps on overheated subway cars and pressing it onto anyone I came in contact with with missionary zeal. Another amazing debut work was NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, which I fasted for a day to read because I couldn’t put it down to make hot food. Established favorite authors also came out swinging: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland and Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah both delighted me as much as I’d hoped they would, and Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories brought a Munro-like heft back to the short story form.

 

 

Deenadeena

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. Reading this reminded me of the way I felt when I read The Bell Jar for the first time—a sort of possessive kinship that you feel (unreasonably) protective of. The novel is filled with this recklessness, a disregard that shape-shifts into loneliness, that betrays the characters in an instant. It is imaginative and expansive, and the main character, Reno, is a badass. And there are passages like this:

“Sandro said he couldn’t understand how his mother tolerated this ridiculous man in any capacity. I understood that she did tolerate him, and even why. She was lonely, and his ridiculousness was a form of vitality. It brought something to her life. In any case, men were that way, but I couldn’t tell Sandro that men were ridiculous, and since his mother was not a lesbian they were her only option.”

 

All That Is by James Salter. Here’s something I’ve noticed about James Salter novels: It’s very difficult to summarize most of them without making them sound very boring. It could very well be the summarizer and not the book, but when someone asked me what All That Is is about, it came out something like, “It’s about this man’s life. And love. And loss.” In the most literal sense of the phrase, I suppose James Salter leaves me a little speechless. I’d read somewhere that Richard Ford had to repeatedly put the book down after finishing a chapter and pace the room. I wish I’d known about this pacing tactic before I read it, because after certain passages, instead of pacing I would just sit there with the book resting against my chest, staring blankly at the ceiling. Pacing seems like a necessary activity for the blows Salter’s writing delivers again and again.

 

 

Chris (2)Chris

Enon by Paul Harding

Paul Harding’s 2009 debut novel Tinkers immediately became my favorite book when I read it a couple of years ago, so I was champing at the bit to dive into his second novel Enon when it was released this past September.  While the somberness and relative darkness of Tinkers left me feeling calm and at peace, probably from the power of its spare prose alone, Enon left me feeling unsettled.  The novel follows Charlie Crosby in the aftermath of the death of his 13-year-old daughter and the subsequent failure of his marriage.  Observing Charlie as he sinks lower and lower and not being able to help him is painful.  And while the novel ultimately decides to take it easy on the reader towards the end, it does not offer redemption.  Enon was perhaps best summed up by Mr. Harding himself at a reading I had the pleasure to attend when he said – and I’m paraphrasing here – everyone thinks that tragedy and sorrow follows a predictable plotline where everything turns out fine in the end, and that’s not always the case.

 

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

We’re in the business of publishing novellas so it’s only natural that one of my favorite books in recent history is a novella.  Having first read Denis Johnson’s novel Tree of Smoke a few years back, which was impressive but long and psychologically taxing, I was hesitant to pick up Train Dreams – albeit a much shorter book – for fear of putting myself under the same mental strain.  I was happy to discover though that Train Dreams is unlike Tree of Smoke in terms of complexity.  The novella dreamily, but succinctly, follows Robert Grainier throughout his mostly lonesome life in Idaho during the first half of the 20th century.  The big landscapes, wilderness, wildness and simplicity of life that can be found in the American West have always spoken to me and Train Dreams taps directly into that.

 

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I’m hesitant to write about David Foster Wallace.  His presence in the general population’s consciousness has skyrocketed over the past few years – what hasn’t already been said about him or his writing?  But, alas, I’ve never read a book as long as Infinite Jest so I might as well weigh in based solely on my pride in my accomplishment.  I thought Infinite Jest was a thoroughly enjoyable read that takes place primarily in two locations: a children’s tennis academy and an alcohol/drug recovery house.  While page upon page of prose without a single paragraph break does not cater to my short attention span, I found the book to be highly readable as it drew me into its flow.  Foster Wallace has a way of intertwining his virtuosic stream-of-consciousness episodes with emotional punches that hit you directly in the heart.  Whether Infinite Jest is a literary masterpiece or not, I will leave up to others to debate, but I do know that the chapter in which the friendly tennis game of Eschaton (look it up) melts down into slapstick chaos is the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

Our arms are getting longer

Monday, December 16th, 2013

miceAll this talk about the novella form and where it’s going. Here’s how we’re handling it: The last two years, we’ve seen a thoroughly encouraging reception of our authors and their books that fall in this no-man’s-land of publishing. It’s been a terrific platform to introduce emerging writers to readers, and we can hardly wait to publish the novellas by up-and-comers that we’ve got in store.

 

It’s still the case, though, that it (almost) doesn’t matter who you are when it comes to getting a novella out there: for most publishers, novellas are about as welcome as a mouse infestation. Now we, on the other hand, think mice can be pretty cute, but more importantly, we think novellas are an important form. Essential, in fact. So as of 2014, in addition to publishing novellas by emerging authors through our Launch series, we will be expanding with our Enfant Terrible series to novellas by more established authors. We’re thrilled to announce that Elizabeth Kadetsky will be leading off the series with her novella On an Island at the Center of the Center of the World in the spring of 2014. For more information, the official press release follows:

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT: Chris Czarnecki

Email: chrisc@nouvellabooks.com

 

INDEPENDENT PRESS NOUVELLA TO PUBLISH
NOVELLA-LENGTH FICTION BY ESTABLISHED AUTHORS

 

Los Angeles, Calif.—After two years of publishing critically-acclaimed novellas by emerging authors, independent publisher Nouvella will be expanding to publish novellas by established authors. The new series, Enfant Terrible, will consist of unruly, innovative, novella-length works of fiction by authors that have already seen success with more traditional forms such as the novel or short story.

 

“There is a void to be filled when it comes to novellas in the marketplace,” says Deena Drewis, founding editor of Nouvella. “Novellas have proven to be an excellent genre for raising awareness around emerging authors. But it’s still the case that established authors have a hard time finding venues that will even consider a 30,000-word manuscript, much less publish it as a stand-alone book—even in the wake of novels or short story collections that have done well with big houses.”

 

In keeping with its reputation, Nouvella will publish each Enfant Terrible novella as a 4 x 6-inch well-designed, collectible book. These pocket-sized books emphasize the form’s accessible length and can be taken anywhere. Each title will also be released as an e-book.

 

The first novella in the Enfant Terrible series will be On an Island at the Center of the Center of the World by Elizabeth Kadetsky, slated for release in early spring 2014. Kadetsky’s memoir, First There is Mountain, was released from Little, Brown in 2004. Her short stories have been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best American Short Stories notable stories, and her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, Santa Monica Review, Antioch Review, Post Road, Agni, and elsewhere.

 

About Nouvella:

 

Nouvella was founded in 2011 by Deena Drewis, the former senior editor of Flatmancrooked Publishing. A boutique publishing house currently based in Los Angeles, California, Nouvella was established with the aim of publishing novellas—a form long ostracized for it’s not-quite-a-novel length, despite evidence over the years that it is an essential form for fiction (e.g. Of Mice and Men, Heart of Darkness, Brokeback Mountain, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Awakening, The Dead.) The press is run by Drewis and associate editor Emma Bushnell, along with a small editorial and design staff.

 

Nouvella’s publishing model is an innovative reflection of the evolving demands of print and digital media. Each pocket-sized book is designed with an emphasis on both literary and visual aesthetics—they are lightweight, meant to be read on-the-go and look great on a bookshelf.

 

Authors of the Launch series books have gone on to sign major publishing deals with houses such as Little Brown, St. Martin’s Press and Riverhead, and to receive awards and accolades such as the National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction and an Amazon Best Book of December.

 

Nouvella will expand upon its successful Launch series with the Enfant Terrible series in an effort to bring greater awareness to the novella and to provide a publishing venue for manuscripts of this essential form. Manuscripts may be submitted via http://nouvella.submittable.com. Agent queries may be sent to editors@nouvellabooks.com.

 

More information is available online at. www.nouvella.com.

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