Chapbooks have been around since the 16th century, and, save the implementation of staples, their basic design hasn’t changed much since. Recently the form has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, with smaller publishers like Ugly Duckling Presse and Future Tense (to name a very few) putting out the majority. Low production cost is a big part of the draw; heck, they’re so inexpensive, you can make them at home! The chapbook trend correlates with the increasing ubiquity and ephemerality of the written word; in an age where hard copies are more difficult to sell, chapbooks are convenient, efficient alternatives, especially for lesser-known writers. Plus, they’re cute and easy to carry, and who doesn’t love those qualities? In this interview from 2012, writer Sampson Starkweather says, “Chapbooks are the currency of underground poetry publishing, and tied to a sense of community and gift-ish economy…” That’s still the case, but, increasingly, essayists and fiction writers are putting out chapbooks, too.
One of the freshest, most exciting pieces I’ve read recently just happens to be in chapbook form; it’s Chelsea Hodson‘s Pity The Animal, out now on Future Tense. Hodson’s essay explores sexuality, sexism, the commodification of the body, and capitalism as enslavement, all in a discursive, halting 32 pages. “I always thought I wanted to be free, but as soon as I was free, I longed to be corralled, guided,” she writes. “Pity The Animal” grapples with this and other contradictions, circling but rarely landing; there’s a koan-like quality to the paragraphs. It’s a story, too, touching on Hodson’s experience with “sugar daddy dating websites” and Marina Abramovic’s performance art, among many other topics. You can buy Pity The Animal on Future Tense’s site, or download the e-version for two bucks. Read a conversation between her and Tobias Carroll here.
Next, turn to Melissa Broder for some darkly comic (also non-fictional!) relief. “A Review Of Nicotine Gum” is the poet’s confessional, sort-of-hopeful ode to Nicorette, which she is very addicted to. “Imagine you have a special friend you can take with you into any situation,” writes Broder. “This friend makes you comfortable in your own skin. It helps you not need other people so much. The friend protects you from life and nobody has to know about it but you. Just put the friend in your mouth.”
Juliet Escoria also wrote about addiction and medication recently, in an essay on Hobart called “True Life: I Married Scott McClanahan”. It’s also (of course) about being married to writer Scott McClanahan, and, more broadly, the difficulty of finding good help for depression, especially if you don’t live in New York or California. In one scene, Escoria tries to convince a psychiatrist’s receptionist that she’s worthy of treatment: “I feel like I’m in a weird job interview, one where you need to sound crazy but not too crazy.” Escoria’s piece is ultimately a little discouraging, but so is the state of mental healthcare in the U.S.
On to fiction! Ben Lerner’s new novel 10:04 has pretty much received global praise; The New York Times called it “frequently brilliant”, Flavorwire said it was “so, so good”, and Maureen Corrigan called it “mind-blowing”. Much like Lerner’s first novel, Leaving The Atocha Station, 10:04 is a semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical, very self-aware account of a writer living in a city. And, like Lerner himself, the “I” of “10:04” is an author whose first novel was critically acclaimed, and who is a given a large advance to write a second. Lerner is a poet first, and it shows in his almost indulgent language, his long sentences, his rhythms. This is painstaking interiority at its best.
If you like the book, see the author in conversation with director of the LIVE From The NYPL series with Paul Holdengraber on September 16 at 7pm at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. Watch out: ticketed!
James Ellroy, the legendary crime fiction author who invented a new way of writing (clipped, fat-free, alliterative) is important to read even if crime fiction isn’t your thing. His latest, Perfidia is set in L.A. on the eve of World War II, and has gotten good press. Another place to start is Crime Wave, a collection of shorter pieces that serves as an introduction to Ellroy’s fixations, especially his mother’s 1958 murder.
Back to stuff you can read right now: Rachel Klein wrote Lord of the Flies fanfic (not the first, but definitely the best) for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, titled “Missed Connection: Boys 6-12 (?), Lived With Me on Nameless Tropical Island in Pacific Ocean at End of WWII“.
Speaking of Blake Butler, his recent piece for VICE on the Dalkey Archive Press, in which he talks about some of his favorite books from the publisher, is indispensable.The Archive prints the work of many fringe writers; explains Butler: “[The Dalkey Archive Press] keeps all its titles continuously in print, regardless of commercial success, focusing instead on giving life to works it finds culturally valuable.”
I’ve said it before, but read Joe Brainard’s experimental memoir “I Remember“, in which every new paragraph begins “I remember…” Even if you don’t read it, listen to this eerie, crackling recording of yore. That’s Brainard’s actual voice!
I remember many Septembers… I remember one very cold and black night on the beach alone with Frank O’Hara. He ran into the ocean naked and it scared me to death.
In the archival vein: artist Katie Paterson has faith in Our Literary Future, so much that her latest project, Future Library, is premised on a readership that doesn’t yet exist. Paterson is overseeing the planting of a forest in Norway, which, if the world isn’t totally over yet, will be chopped and culled for book paper in the year 2114. And, each year from now until then (100!), Paterson plans to solicit work from a writer, to be held, unread, in The New Oslo Public Library that will be printed, in one hundred years, on the chopped-down trees. The first contribution is from none other than prolific living-legend Margaret Atwood. Watch a short video about the project here.
“Western Beefs” of North America is a perplexingly-titled lit-thing, and whoever runs it publishes a lot of good authors. The coolest installment of late is a series of poems (six) by author Rachel B. Glaser, whose poetry is playful and conversational and not “poetry” in the way you are thinking, “you fogey.” The first is called “Teenage girls hot for the Eiffel Tower.” Writes Glaser, “these girls use the little lock on their doors/ though their parents never bother them”.
What would this post be without a Mellow Pages plug? Lesser. David Feinstein will read from his new poetry chapbook Woods Porn: The Adventures of Little Walter (sounds really dirty!) at the famed library on Friday, September 12th, at 8pm. Joining him will be Dolan Morgan, Colleen Barry, Emily Toder, and Emily Skillings.
Dolan Morgan’s first collection of stories, “That’s When the Knives Come Down“, saw publication in August; check out this excerpt, a heady, electric story about a man on a train (it’s about more than a man on a train), published at Electric Literature.
Author Tiphanie Yanique read from her new novel Land of Love and Drowning at a recent Franklin Park Reading Series, and it was really good, so go see her do it again at the NYU Creative Writing House, this Friday, September 12th, at 5pm.
The Disagreement is a themed reading series run by Bodega Magazine editor Melissa Swantkowski and writer Bryant Musgrove. The upcoming installment (theme: Decay (!)) will feature Emily Cementina, Dustin Luke Nelso, Tobias Carroll, and Rachel Pelz.
Chelsea bar The Half King hosts a reading series with installments every Monday; Caitlin Doughty wrote the boldly-titled Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a nonfictional account of undertaking, and she’ll read from it at The Half King on September 22nd at 8pm.
If you don’t have time for any of this, just read Megan Amram’s tweets.