Content Tagged ‘books’

WHAT WE’RE READING: AWP 2017 EDITION

In early February, more than 12,000 writers, editors, teachers, and publishers descended upon Washington, DC for the annual the 50th Annual AWP Conference and Bookfair. Taking a break from the action (read: filling tote bag after tote bag with new books), four UNCW MFA candidates stopped by the Lookout + Ecotone booth to share with us those titles that carried them into the new year.

Station Eleven was suggested to me by a trusted reader friend after hearing my complaints about literary depictions of post-apocalyptic worlds that leave civilization in a survivalist state. The narrative follows Kirsten, a traveling performer, twenty years after a viral outbreak killed most of the human population. She tours with a band of actors and musicians who perform in the villages and settlements they rest at within the Midwestern United States. The troupe’s go-to performances are Shakespeare plays. I had my copy of the book signed by Emily St. John Mandel at last year’s AWP, even though I hadn’t finished it at the time. What I admire most about Station Eleven’s narrative is its devotion to the survival of the arts instead of just that of humans. It defines being human as preserving these arts, which make up our culture. Without drama, music, writing and art, what would our existence be?

—Will Dean, MFA candidate in fiction


George Harrison said, “Music should be used for the perception of God, not jitterbugging.” In Robert Ostrom’s latest collection of poems, Ritual and Bit, we see an artist not only challenging us to perceive a God but also talking directly to a God in prayers, an artist inserting himself into the story of creation. What is it to be homesick with spiritual memory, being fully aware that we’re reconstructing our memories every time we retell them? Ostrom leads us through with intimacy: “Trust me, says what you’re about to read to your beautiful ear.” He takes us to a place where words are relics—each one holding a little life, beauty, loss. And we leave haunted, but in a good way. We’ve felt an exquisite purpose.

—Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, MFA candidate in fiction


Over the summer I began reading What About This? Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Stanford was a Southern writer who, because of his early death by suicide in 1978, was not widely read during his lifetime. This collection was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2015 and includes previously published and unpublished fragments of poems. His poems are relatively short, usually less than thirty lines, but because of their cryptic language they speak above and beyond any single moment. Stanford has the ability to talk about these strange characters from the South and Midwest without being anchored in an exact time or place. I read his work and know that whatever sense of understanding I glean could still be so far from the vast map of meaning he had in his head at the time of writing, and that is the exciting part. I am left with raw emotional data every time I read his work. His poems are like circus freak shows moving through the night on an open train; there is a history in each word but the reader only can glimpse it for a passing second.

—Graham Irvin, MFA candidate in poetry


I’d been meaning to read Eula Biss’s first book, The Balloonists, since reading her essay collection last year. The Balloonists works as a series of prose poems, one long poem, or a lyric essay; her Anne Carson-like genre defiance is one of the reasons I keep returning to her. She studied nonfiction under three poets and after reading this book—about married couples as people “not especially interested in intimacy, who somehow ended up married,” and about Biss’s mother, who tells her that she is “not a liar, but that she is not what [Biss] writes about her”—I think poetry may be the most insistent way to learn how to write in prose.

—Rachel Castro, MFA candidate in nonfiction

 

Behind the Scenes: How To Be Independent

I’ve worked at a local bookstore as long as I’ve known about UNCW’s Publishing Laboratory. They’re both small, independent, and full of people I want to be when I grow up. They both give loving homes to books that might be ignored at larger institutions.

Store photo blue

But here’s the thing about being small: it takes big effort. Huge, in fact. Let’s just go ahead and call it a gigantic labor of love. Small presses like Lookout compete with larger publishers before the book even makes it to the shelf (if it does that). Most indie publishers have limited budgets from which to offer authors advances for their manuscripts, and it’s not surprising that big numbers consistently compel great writers to sign with the big houses and their imprints.

Even when indie publishers bring great titles into the world (or, like Lookout, only one per year), it’s especially difficult for bookstores to sell the books of small presses. At Pomegranate Books, where I work, we often receive boxes of press kits and advance reading copies for the big books that big publishers want us to stock. Sure, we’d love to shelve every novel by our favorite indie presses, but will those titles move as fast as the mass-marketed books that everyone and their cousin want to read?

Pomegranate Books is small, but even for larger independent stores with more shelf space and more customers, there are different challenges to selling indie books. Trade publishers often offer volume discounts, or additional in-store advertising money to incentivize stocking and prominently displaying their books. So big-publisher books get coveted window display and shelf space even if a bookseller would prefer to give attention to her new favorite by an indie press. The New York Times wrote about this back in 1996, and it’s still a tiresome obstacle.

Instead of advertising money, Lookout offers gratitude to indie bookstores in the form of author visits, signings, and readings in their stores. At Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, Lookout’s publisher and editors tagged along with authors Steve Almond and Matthew Neill Null to offer free publishing workshops and to serve on panels after the authors’ readings. And Lookout celebrates indie stories such as Brookline Booksmith, which to date has sold almost six hundred copies of its first title, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman! That collection found its way into the hands of hundreds more readers thanks to the generous support of booksellers at Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, and Politics & Prose, which hosted Edith Pearlman for one of her first public readings from Binocular Vision.

Millions of books exist in this world—in fact, I encourage everyone to purchase So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid, an exhilarating read published by another indie press, Paul Dry Books—but our store has fewer than five employees. Perhaps, if we had the time and human capital to dedicate regular hours to discovering new books by small presses, we’d be able to better hand sell their books. Instead, we struggle simply to stay up-to-date on the titles brought to our attention through large mailings and marketing budgets.

The better an independent press can convey its mission, purpose, and we-consider-every-little-detail attitude, the more inclined a bookstore’s owners and staff will be to share that appreciation for thoughtfully made books with their customers. It’s extremely difficult to verbalize or advertise that feeling, but Lookout serves as proof that it can work.

These five best practices from Lookout Books include things I wish I saw more of as a bookseller—from every press, big or small.

RiverBendChronicle1.    Authors

Lookout seeks works by emerging and historically underrepresented writers, as well as overlooked gems. Unlike large trade publishers, they aren’t beholden to stockholders or corporate owners, so they tend to be less motivated by profit margins. Bookstores know that they consider their publications works of art by literary artists, not just best-selling retail items (though they hope for that too!).

 

2.    Marketing

coasters
In developing media kits, Lookout makes or buys materials, when they can, from local or independent sellers. If a bookstore receives a promotional kit that includes unique, handmade materials, they’ll be more likely to give it attention. When Lookout staffer Anna Coe created coasters to celebrate the recent release of Matthew Neill Null’s Honey From the Lion, she ordered the wood slices from a supplier on Etsy and personally stamped and sealed every coaster!

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News Roundup

It’s been a week of wild weather for most of the country, and wild things have been happening for Ecotone folks too.

Paul Lisicky is getting RAVE reviews for his memoir, The Narrow Door, released last week, a section of which appears in our Anniversary issue. This book is about the big stuff: friendship, for sure, but also “Writing. The chaos of sexuality. Competition and envy, dying and grieving. The high (unrealistic?) expectations we have of those we love, with our needs becoming so great we drive them away.” Check out the full NYT review, and then get your hands on a copy.

Ecotone‘s founder, David Gessner, recently hosted a one-hour episode of National Geographic’s “Explorer: Call of the Wild,” which discusses how “As humans become more addicted to technology and withdrawn from nature, our brains are becoming rewired.” Here’s a short clip of David from the show.

 

Awards are wild for our contributors! Hearty congrats to National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Lauren Groff, and to Wendell Berry, recipient of the Book Critics’ Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award!

On a very sad note, farewell to Eva Saulitis, who died in Alaska last week. Eva was a passionate advocate for orcas, Prince William Sound, and all things wild, as well as beautiful and immensely talented writer. Eva’s work appeared in Ecotone 15,  but we’d like to share this podcast from Orion, in which she reads an essay that appeared in their March/April 2014 issue.

We hope your week is filled with less shoveling (we didn’t get a flake here on the coast, we’re sad to say!) and more of wonderful wild things. Thanks for tuning in!

Making a List: Books for Everyone in Your Life (and a Giveaway!)

Struggling with ideas for what to get your friends and family for the holidays this year? Want to share your love of books with loved ones who don’t crave the strictly literary as much as you do? Look no further than this list of stellar books, examples of great literature, yes, but also fit for readers of all kinds. From poetry to prose, indie to mainstream, there’s something for everyone on your list.

cheryl-strayed-Brave-Enough-ftrFor your bestie who always knows the perfect thing to say:

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

In her three previous books and her “Dear Sugar” column, Cheryl Stayed dished honesty, spirit, and ample tough love, encouraging her readers to “Be brave enough to break your own heart,” “Keep walking,” and “Ask yourself: What is the best I can do? And then do that.” This book gathers more than 100 of Strayed’s most inspiring quotes and thoughts.

-1For the mad-scientist foodie:

The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt

If you know someone who’s always looking to get better in the kitchen, and who loves to understand the science behind their successes and failures with food, here’s the cookbook they’ve been waiting for. Full of fun experiments, gorgeous photos, and perfected recipes on American standards, this book will provide hours of delicious fun long after the holidays are over.

19351043For your budding-feminist, comic-loving teenage niece:

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

From a niche web-comic to a 2015 National Book Award finalist, Nimona is as big in heart and scope as this book’s success. The story of a superhero sidekick in training, it’s both funny and dark—medieval meets sci-fi adventures of a shape-shifting girl with a kick-butt haircut!

 

alimon_brightdeadthingsFor your mom, who reads a poem every night before bed:

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón: 

There is ferocity in Ada Limón’s poems, a revelatory jazz. As she grapples with the most profound of losses—the death of a loved one—she also uncovers intimacies: a desire for for beauty and change, and for something “disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

 

91vNobn7V7LFor your sibling who always wanted to be an astronaut:

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean

Part history, part elegy, Dean chronicles the end of manned space exploration with details that will make you think, make you angry, and make you feel like you were there. The next-best thing to being in zero gravity is having a writer this good take your breath away.

51Y+oqFz24L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_For anyone who loves a good, literary page-turner:

The Last September by Nina de Gramont

Set against a desolate Cape Cod landscape, The Last September tells the story of Brett, a wife, trying to reconcile her feelings for her husband after his untimely death. Delving through Brett’s psyche into a complex emotional mystery, this book promises to keep you in chilling suspense until the last page.

UprightBeasts_FRONTCOVER-356x535For your coworker, who loves a quirky, well-told tale:

Upright Beasts by Lincoln Michel

From the respected indie press that loves this book enough to produce this trailer, Upright Beasts is a wild ride. With advice on how to work through your relationship during a zombie invasion, and a baby growing up in the stomach of a fox, these twenty-one stories offer snippets of poignant absurdity, perfect for reading over lunch and thinking about all day.

511hTh9riDL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_For the new parents and their little one:

The Menino by Isol

When “the Menino arrives naked and yelling, as if to make sure everyone notices,” everyone does notice. Menino is Portuguese for “child” and this book by an internationally award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books—and new mom—is all about the arrival of baby, the family’s response and adjustment, and the shocking perfection of our bodies. A humorous, wry exploration of the new baby’s reality.

Didn’t find your someone special or favorite title on our list? Well, tell us about it! Go to Lookout’s Facebook page and post the name of a book you’re giving your tall-tale-telling grandfather or your party-like-a-rock-star boss this holiday. We’ll randomly select three people to win two books of your choice from the Lookout catalog—one for you and one for a friend! Enter by December 15 to be in the running.

What We’re Reading: the SIBA Edition

This fall the Lookout team headed to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show to talk up our titles and to highlight our debut novel, Honey from the Lion, to hundreds of smart and enthusiastic bibliophiles. After allowing them first dibs on all the galleys (of course!), we couldn’t help nabbing a few for ourselves. In this special SIBA edition of What We’re Reading, Lookout staff members share the new books that caught their eye.

SIBA post pic

I’m reading Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which just came out (October 20) from Harper Perennial. I listen to the podcast and enjoy the part-Lovecraft, part-Scooby Doo, and part-psychological thriller world that they’ve created. Books are easier for me to digest than podcasts, because I’m a visual learner. So I’m excited to see how I interact with Night Vale as a reader rather than as a listener.

Megan Ellis, MFA candidate and Lookout intern


While wandering the trade show floor, I was able to get my hands on a galley of Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, due out in January 2016 from Harper. I met Sari at the AWP conference last spring, so I was thrilled to find her new novel about a young ballerina coming of age in 1970s NYC. Sari was a Provincetown Fine Arts Center fellow, keeping good company with Lookout’s novelist, Matthew Neill Null, who now coordinates the writing program there. “She’s one of ours,” Matt said when he saw me holding the book. Girl Through Glass no doubt marks the beginning of her bright career.

Bethany Tap, MFA candidate and Lookout intern


I first read about Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dover (FSG) on Kirkus’ list of books that shouldn’t be overlooked this fall, full as it is of new books from literary heavy hitters. The description of the book’s ten stories—each told from an animal’s point of view, during human conflict, spanning the last century, and connected somehow to a writer—was so strange, so audacious, that it rose above the other books on the list and took up lodging in my head. In a lesser writer’s hands, the stories could feel gimmicky, sentimental, overwrought. But the reviews I read said otherwise, and I wanted to see the concept pulled off. When I noticed its stunning cover at SIBA, it absolutely sealed the deal. I wasn’t going home without it.

Beth Staples, Associate Editor of Lookout Books

NaNoWriMo

While National Novel Writing Month is a few weeks away, a little mental prep never hurt. Stop making excuses and start writing. Chronicle Books has the top five excuses people make when copping out on NaNoWriMo. You know what helps our staff? Coffee. Lots of coffee.

chroniclebooks:

Ready, Set, Novel!

November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), and founder/author Chris Baty has some words for those who are planning to use any of the following excuses to sit it out this year:

1) “I’m too busy.”

2) “I’m not a writer.”

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John Rybicki Begins North Carolina Book Tour

Lookout is proud to announce that poet and Lookout author John Rybicki will be heading out on a North Carolina tour this coming week. The tour, made possible with generous support from the North Carolina Arts Council, will include stops at oncology centers, a library, and a bookstore.

Planning this tour for John has been such a pleasure, and we are so excited about creating some new platforms for him to read his incredible work and to share his powerful messages of grief, hope, and healing.

(For the full tour details, including venue addresses, please go to http://www.lookout.org/Rybickireadings.html.)

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Above: Tour kits sent to reading venues

On the evening of Sunday, April 7, John will be a guest on “That Cancer Show,” which airs from 8 – 9 p.m. on WPTF 680 AM in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and WSJS 600 AM in the Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point area. You can listen to the program on the “That Cancer Show” website: http://www.cancersupport4u.org/that-cancer-showtrade.html. “That Cancer Show” is a program from Cornucopia Cancer Support Center in Durham.

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River Bend Chronicle Playlist up at Largehearted Boy

Ben Miller has a playlist for his memoir, River Bend Chronicle, up at Largehearted boy, a music blog that also has interest in the literary world. Here are some of our personal favorites from the list:

Carry On Wayward Son” – composed by Kerry Livgren – performed by Kansas

Sudlow Junior High lunch room. Again I’ve beaten the rest of the losers to our table because I don’t push my flab through the line anymore. I bring an apple only. The words of this, my latest eating theme, runs over and over in my aching head. There will be peace when you are done. That is, finish what I am starting.

Moonshadow” – composed by Cat Stevens – performed by Cat Stevens

When the anger bubble bursts there’s the quiet of this hymn – blue bringing blue out of black and black bringing black out of blue. Prayer prowling in a pulp grotto. Melody configuring my sensation of being shipped through weeks like a box not sealed, stuff spilling out…phosphorescence of spent emotion behind the postman, eyes calmly rolling on a sidewalk, mouth a tired rubber band draped over a curb.

Free Man in Paris” – composed by Joni Mitchell – performed by Joni Mitchell

In her I heard the ire of my sisters reborn as direction, heard a mother’s keen reformed or resolved – ebullient demise of conflicted voices and the paralysis. “Alive,” she sang to my head on a pillow of notebooks. “Alive and unfettered.”

One Story picks Ben Miller as LIterary Debutante

One Story picks Ben Miller as LIterary Debutante