John "Franny" Francisconi is the store manager at Bank Square Books. Below are his favorite books from independent presses in 2018.
Man with a Seagull on His Head will sneak up on you, jab you in the head & heart, and remind you why you read books in the first place. Anyone interested in the mysteries of memory, art-making, and missed connections will be charmed by Harriet Paige's odd, funny, and wise parable.
Diane Williams is a master of the short-short. This book, miraculously, collects all of her mystifying fictions. Some of her stories go long, but most go small; some are not even half a page. Some are crystalline, and others are unsolvable puzzles. Most, the best, are both.
How do you make room, in a marriage, for the feelings and compulsions that exceed your expectations of one-true-love? Can "openness" be the key that frees couples who feel locked in wedlock? Vanishing Twins explores these and many other questions in propulsive epigrammatic style. Leah Dieterich makes the history of her relationships (with lovers, family, and with herself), her hopes, dreams, and desires, come alive, and she does this without wasting any words.
I love historical fiction that all at once gives you a sense of the big picture -- the biggest, international view of things -- and a close-up look of the human heart, too. Mad Boy's hero is an unforgettable creation, and his adventures move at the most satisfyingly calibrated speeds. You'll want to race through the book to see what Henry does or whom he encounters next, but you'll also want to slow down to savor the storytelling magic -- the way Arvin subtly incorporates the early-republic atmosphere, the twists and turns of his story and history, and his pitch-perfect turns of phrase.
Convenience Store Woman is an enchanting and unsettling single-sitting read. Murata's main character reminded me of one of my favorite fictional creations: the butler-narrator, Stevens, from Remains of the Day. Keiko is one of society's outcasts (single, unmarried, childless, working the same job for 17 years), but her role at the Smile Mart puts her daily in the public eye. Privately, her friends and family pressure her to "cure" herself, and live a more normal life. How she responds to this pressure is surprising. Right in the tonal sweet spot between melancholy and bittersweetly funny, Convenience Store Woman takes a couple hours to read, but will stay with you for a long time.
Some of the most engaging and thought-provoking books being written today can fit in your jacket pocket. Add to this growing list Hard to Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up. Korducki's book-length essay combines high (academic) and low (vernacular) language in a seamless synthesis of memoir and deep research into the history and social science of pair-bonding, and pair-breaking. She gives a remarkably cogent defense of leaving even good partners, and celebrates, with remarkable style, the new freedom of choice we have over "our cultivation of meaningful human connection."
New work from Amy Fusselman is always cause for celebration, and Idiophone doesn't disappoint. In her distinctive wry, word-wise voice, Fusselman charts a course through questions about art-making, mothering, dance, grace, music, and the great good gift of imaginative thinking. She never settles for simple answers, and gives her thoughts and impressions a shapeliness that's either poetry, or prose, or both. A one-of-a-kind essay from a one-of-a-kind mind.
Love and Death in the Sunshine State is the best book of "creative nonfiction" I've read in a long time. Part memoir, part true crime procedural, and part speculation -- the speculation's the best part -- we put the book on our true crime shelves, though it has the depth, characterization, and narrative thrills of your new favorite novel. Shortly after spending a few nights in a motel in Florida, Cutter Wood learned that part of the complex had been burned to the ground. The suspected arson took place only a couple weeks after one of the motel's owner was reported missing. Wood, a budding writer in the throes of Iowa's famed writing program, and new/old love, heads south to investigate, more interested in the story, or stories -- the who, when, where, why, and what the hell? -- than with the thorny problem of justice. Mercy's more Wood's field of interest. Readers of true crime, coming-of-age tales, and literature of place will tear through this incredible debut from a writer to watch.
Blue Self-Portrait ably fits the enormity of one woman's busy consciousness into a compact, highly-readable package. Lefebvre's debut novel, translated into English by Sophie Lewis, has gusto from from the get-go. Blue Self-Portrait's narrator spends these pages, which cover the duration of a flight, chiding (herself and the world), free-associating ("I thought the Wagnerian effect on a cow would be Wagner's effect in its purest condition") and most of all remembering. The narrator's memory is given by Lefebvre a musical pattern, which her reader's eyes and ears will recognize, and be soothed by. Readers will finish Blue Self-Portrait glad for the "polyphony of disjointed timbres" that soundtrack these pages and (I suspect) our own restless minds.
Bless Tin House for getting this jewel of a novel back in print. Right in the Goldilocks zone between fantasy and straight realism, The Seas invents its own mercurial, watery logic. Hunt populates her stiflingly small-town setting with world-weary go-nowhere do-nothings. Everything the reader learns about the town is filtered through the whip-smart voice of Hunt's restless 19 year-old narrator, who's remarkable company from start to eerie finish.