A Small Press Tasting Platter

Small presses are an indie bookseller’s bread and butter. They do the literary heavy lifting in the publishing industry, with more diverse, radical and experimental lists than the household name publishers. Here’s a little bit about some of our favourite small presses, plus a good starting point for the curious reader.

Charco Press: Elena Knows, by Claudia Piñeiro

Is it possible to have a crush on a publisher? Yes, yes it is. Charco publishes translated fiction from Latin America that hasn’t yet made it over the Atlantic. Charco Press’s books are satisfying to collect: they look great together on a shelf with their excellent jacket designs. But most importantly they haven’t, to our knowledge, ever published a book that wasn’t utterly brilliant.

Elena Knows is an agonisingly good novella set over the course of a single day. After Rita is found hanged in the local church, Elena refuses to believe her daughter died of suicide. Hampered by the ebbs and flows of her Parkinson’s disease, Elena embarks on a torturous journey to the other side of Buenos Aires looking for answers. For fans of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Death in Her Hands.

For more of Charco Press’s publishing, click here.

Tilted Axis Press: Strange Beasts of China, by Yan Ge

Tilted Axis Press are a Sheffield-based not-for-profit founded by Deborah Smith (the Booker International winning translator of The Vegetarian). They publish a multitude of translated fiction, non-fiction and poetry from Asia that would not otherwise make it into English for being too transgressive, radical or experimental (read: too good).

Strange Beasts of China was one of our recent favourite subscription books. An exquisite and unconventional detective drama that plays out in a fictional city populated in part by the richly described beasts of the title. Each chapter relays the sad history of a different breed of beast, all while the tension in our cryptozoologist hero’s personal story threatens to topple her attempts to catalogue their behaviour.

For more of Tilted Axis Press’s publishing, click here.

Fitzcarraldo Editions: The Netanyahus, by Joshua Cohen

It’s no secret that we’re fans of the blue and whites of the Fitzcarraldo catalogue, and we’re not the only ones. Fitzcarraldo have deservedly garnered a cult-like following for their ambitious publishing and striking design. Something about the simplicity of the jackets (blue for fiction, white for essay) just demands attention and respect.

The Netanyahus is a perfect example of a Fitzcarraldo book: prose-driven, devastatingly intelligent, clearly written by a genius. Ruben Blum is reflecting on his career and life and especially his association with one Benzion Netanyahu and his family, with detailed wit, academic, know-it-all-ness and maybe just a pinch of Pooterishness?

For more Fitzcarraldo Editions, click here.

Based at the University of East Anglia, Boiler House Press exists to champion new and as-yet-undiscovered talents in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, all with uniform and pleasingly stark cover designs. Named after one of the most visually striking landmarks of the campus environment, the ethos of their publications is similarly stark – unusual books, self-contained ideas, fair deals for writers.

Though their contemporary list is full of gems, we were particularly delighted by the first of their ‘Recovered Books’ series, a forgotten classic from 1937 with a backstory every bit as poignant and tragic as the book itself. Herbert Clyde Lewis’ antiheroic dork of a main character falls off a plush steamer into the sea, and waits patiently for the boat to swing around and pick him up, detailing his thoughts and recollections as he does. The wait is agonising, the prose perfectly melancholy.

For more Boiler House Press, click here.

Sheffield-based press And Other Stories are a founding member of the Northern Fiction Alliance, a collection of independent presses who are determined to create a “northern powerhouse” of literature, and shifting British publishing’s focus away from London. They publish a mixture of originals, translations, and represses including Cesar Aira, Yuri Herrera, Ann Quinn and Deborah Levy.

Barn 8 is an unconventional heist novel with a huge cast of plucky characters, a hard-boiled crime caper with a cracking plot. (Just in case it wasn’t clear, the precious cargo in this particular heist just so happens to be 900,000 chickens.) Our guides on this adventure to liberate an entire chicken farm are a pair of auditors gone rogue, jaded and incompetent animal activists, corporate megafarmers and, if you can believe it, one especially defiant chicken. Deb Olin Unferth’s riotous prose and freewheeling storytelling perfectly complement what is in fact a heartfelt book about the motivations behind activism.

For more And Other Stories, click here.

Daunt Books: Bear, by Marian Engel

A publishing outfit sprung from the iconic London-based bookselling mini-chain, Daunt Books publish original fiction and narrative non-fiction, as well as bringing lost classics back into print. They are behind many of our recent favourites including Real Life, Indelicacy and The Coming Bad Days.

Bear is a wild Canadian folktale-esque novel about a disenchanted librarian and, yes, a bear. Escapist, intellectual, sexy, and with just the right amount of archiving content.

For more from Daunt Books, click here.

Honford Star: Cursed Bunny, by Bora Chung

Honford Star are the small press behind two of our 2021-so-far favourites: Cursed Bunny and Tower. They bring classic and contemporary East Asian fiction into English, always making a point to employ artists from the book’s home country to design their striking covers (therefore, implicitly avoiding cliché-ridden trends that western publishers use to signify Asian writing).

Beyond the disturbing neon cover, Cursed Bunny houses a collection of genre-defying short stories that jump between the ridiculous and the terrifying. Dive in to find Angela Carter style fables, body horror, ghost stories and science-fiction.

For more from Honford Star, click here.

Influx Press: I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett

Influx Press are the radical, innovative press behind such intelligent and incendiary debuts as Boy Parts by Eliza Clark and Attrib & Other Stories by Eley Williams. We were most enamoured by their re-discovery of Percival Everett’s oeuvre, a much underappreciated American novelist for fans of Paul Beatty.

In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the lead character is literally called Not Sidney Poitier. He looks a lot like the actual Sidney Poitier, he is extremely wealthy, and he is desperate to make something of his life. That’s the set-up for this wildly inventive and multi-layered story of oppression, privilege, race and societal mania – shockingly funny in its expression, prescient and brave in its execution.

For more from Influx Press, click here.

Cipher Press: 100 Boyfriends, by Brontez Purnell

Cipher Press launched in 2020, mid-pandemic, as a response to a current lack of queer-dedicated publishing in the UK. Their small but ever-growing list aims to amplify work by queer and trans identifying authors and writing that tells old stories in new ways.

100 Boyfriends is punk, literary and devastating. Short stories and vignettes come together to form a kaleidoscopic portrait of one night stands, adultery and self-sabotage. This is a filthy, messy, unforgettable love song to queer bodies from a truly singular creative force.

For more from Cipher Press, click here.

Buy every book on this list and save 10%!

Location 236 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JD Phone 0117 953 7961 E-mail storysmithbooks@gmail.com Hours Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-6pm | Sunday: 11am-4pm | Monday: closed
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