Weird Magazines (and Small Presses)

Nikkitha Bakshani takes a look at the fascinating world of niche magazines put out by very small presses. Bakshani had trouble finding them at first:

I was under the impression that I could walk into any news stand in New York and find a slew of oddly titled publications—something about ferrets or specially-authorized Bavarian buses—something effortlessly niche. But digging through piles of magazines in some of the city’s most well-equipped magazine purveyors, I mostly came across high art-ish titles that seemed too keenly aware of their presence in print.

Internet to the rescue! What I found most interesting, apart from the fact that there are human beings dedicated to putting out these things in print, is that each publication has sought (and found!) a different market, whether through a laser-like focus on a particular animal (Donkey Talk) or hobby (Miniature Railways), or by meeting the needs of individuals dealing with a distinct emotion (Grief Digest).

We’ve seen this in the literary world with our small press shout-outs, which appear to do best when they develop their own brand (like Kaya Press). Indie authors, too, can thrive by developing their own brand.

And is it too much for my dream bookstore owners to incorporate a selection of specialty magazines in their displays? I know they likely won’t sell many copies, but I can’t be alone in wanting to leaf through some of these, every now and then.

Image Credit: The Morning News

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Small Press Shout-Out: Atticus Books!

Today’s small press spotlight turns on Atticus Books. Yes, it was named after Atticus Finch, but that’s not all – it was also named after the Atticus (i.e., Cicero’s friend), as well as a chance encounter with a bookstore that apparently changed founder and publisher Dan Cafaro’s life.  All three inspirations get their due on the Atticus Books website, which (in addition to looking great) has a kind of rolling, storyteller’s garrulousness that one suspects mirrors Dan Cafaro’s inspired mind and varied interests. After spending some time roaming around the website it’s easy to guess why Cafaro felt stifled by his corporate job and headed out for the territory of small press publishing.

Cafar0 originally started out with the idea for a combination of bookstore and publishing house. He even investigated the use of an Expresso print-on-demand bookmaker among other research:

As he mounted thousands of miles on his SUV and continued his hunt of a physical location for Atticus Books, Dan stayed focused on the goal of building a book business that served authors, readers, and the offbeat literary community. The more he pursued the goal of opening a retail operation, though, the more he was foiled by the exorbitant price of commercial space in highbrow places like Bethesda, Md. Not to be derailed by the harsh economic realities of starting up a brick & mortar retail business during an abysmal, nationwide economic stretch, Dan opted instead to concentrate his efforts solely on publishing books.

After he decided that a bookstore wouldn’t make sense for what he wanted to do, he focused on an “implausible” idea: the “[creation of a] viable book business whose purpose was to discover voices otherwise lost in a crowded, unforgiving marketplace.”

Atticus also puts out a weekly online journal called the Atticus Review.

What’s especially interesting to me about Atticus Books is that they unapologetically publish literary fiction – poetry, short stories, novellas and novels that (presumably) would not be at the top of an MBA’s business plan. Why? You’d have to ask Cafaro, I suppose. But if I were to guess, I’d say it was the decision of a man who loves literature and figured there’s no sense taking a risk if the reward isn’t going to be what you want it to be. Let’s hope things go well for him.

So on this day of roaming around, as everyone in America buys like crazy before the shelves empty, why not think of those readers in your family – you know, those people in your life who would appreciate something thoughtful and heartfelt and with a little homegrown spirit to it – and check out Atticus Books Online and their catalog.

What They Knew #15

In honor of yesterday’s post about the great city of London

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

— Samuel Johnson

A Tale of Two Cities: London and New York in 2013

Image Credit: Alamy

Just got back from a quick trip to London. I’ve always loved London, but this time I was overwhelmed. Not from the bookstores one stumbles upon, although those were fantastic as usual. Not because I look out of my hotel window and think I see where the Beatles held their rooftop concert. Not because of the glories of clotted cream. No, there was something else this time.

There’s a passage somewhere in which an English author (Martin Amis?) attempts to convey the vastness of America to a U.K. audience.* He starts by saying that you could match up London with New York well enough, but after that you’d quickly start running out of reasonable comparisons. Boston would be the equivalent of Edinburgh. Chicago would be Manchester. Detroit would be Glasgow. But what would be comparable to Los Angeles? And you’d still have San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston – the list goes on. If I remember correctly he ticked through several of these, each comparison getting more ludicrous, before delivering the clincher: “New Orleans would be Hull.”

That’s right. New Orleans is not Hull. And although I adored London, the jingo in me thought, “Jeez, you probably can’t even give them London.”

New York just seemed to rule everything, in those days. It was the engine that powered the world’s economy and its culture. Bigger, better, smarter, tougher. More excitement, more energy than anywhere else in the world.

That’s what I thought twenty years ago when I was traveling around the world, engaging in conversations with fellow backpackers in youth hostels:

“What’s the best city in the world?”

“Do you mean best or my favorite?”

“Well, let’s hear both – we have time!”

Rome was always my favorite, with London usually coming in second. A soft spot for Chicago. But I had to credit New York as the best, and so did everyone else, and we didn’t take arguments to the contrary very seriously. If there was a championship belt worn by cities, New York had claimed it – probably sometime in the 1940s, if not before. Since then there had not even been any serious contenders. New York reigned as the Greatest City in the World, fighting only with historical Rome and Athens and Paris and London for a position as Greatest City of All-Time.

I didn’t think that during this trip. And what saddened me is why.  Continue reading

Small Press Shout-Out: Kaya Press!

Hard to top the logo of the great Kaya Press:

A little puzzling? Not after they explain:

“When tigers used to smoke…” is a traditional Korean phrase used at the beginning of folk tales, similar to “Once upon a time.” Korean folk paintings often feature images of tigers smoking long, bamboo pipes, often accompanied by helpful rabbits. The Kaya logo replaces the Asian-style pipe with a stogie or cigar to show the meeting of traditional and contemporary sensibilities.

Kaya is a small press that recently moved from New York to Los Angeles.  They strive to publish “the most challenging, thoughtful, and provocative literature being produced throughout the Asian and Pacific Island diasporas.” Their books are great, and their website is absolutely fantastic.  We’ll definitely have a display table for them at our dream bookstore.

Check out Kaya’s smoking new website and their catalog of books today!

Image Credit: Kaya Press

What They Knew #14

“Everything intelligent is so boring.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The Writer’s Mind: Sharing the Creative Experience

I’ve been following the many discussions recently of why we like long novels. And while those are interesting and fun, I think they’ve missed something important about the length of the creative work and its impact on the reader. My moment of truth was handed to me by that fabulous liar, Edgar Allan Poe.

I’ll get to that in a minute. But first let me give you a flavor of the discussion. Here’s Laura Miller writing about the full-immersion experience of reading a long novel:

But I believe there’s also an inherent appeal in fat novels, something that only written fiction can offer and that short stories, for all their felicities, aren’t able to provide. You can be swallowed up by a long novel, immersed in the world its author has created in a fashion that no other medium can rival.

Richard Lea wonders if Aristotle would have favored longer or shorter works of fiction. While Lea seems to lean toward the former, he gives both sides their say:

It’s not hard to find writers who resist this kind of logic. For George Saunders “A novel is just a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief,” while Borges seems to suggest Aristotle’s argument actually favours the short story, arguing that short fiction has the advantage because it “can be taken in at a single glance”. For the novelist Ian McEwan – who made the 2007 Booker prize shortlist with his 166-page “full length novel”, On Chesil Beach – the novella is “the perfect form of prose fiction … the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant”.

Laura Miller again on why longer works are better for readers:

It takes a while to become so invested, and it often doesn’t happen at all. Getting there is work, like pulling a sled up a hill, but when (and if) you crest the top, it’s a splendid ride from there. The problem with a short story is that even if the author does manage to seduce you into believing in her fictional mirage, it’s over almost as soon as you take a seat on the sled. A long novel promises an extended tour, and the ratio of ramp-up to glide is much lower.

And Ian McEwan (again via Richard Lea), on the other side:

“The poem and the short story are theoretically perfectible, but I doubt there is such a thing as a perfect novel (even if we could begin to agree among ourselves on what comprises a good sentence). The novel is too capacious, inclusive, unruly, and personal for perfection.”

The novella, which according to McEwan has much in common with “watching a play or a longish movie”, can at least be envisaged approaching perfection, “like an asymptotic line in co-ordinate geometry.”

Whew. What are they missing? The key to me was provided by our old friend Edgar Allan Poe. In particular, by what I now realize is a misremembering one of his essays.

Continue reading