Proudly Independent — Five Favorite Books You Won’t Find in Chains by Author Marion Stein

Five Favorites is a new feature at the LA Books Examiner in which our favorite authors share and discuss their five favorite books within a category. In this edition Marion Stein, author of The Death Trip, discusses her five favorite independent books.

Proudly Independent — Five Favorite Books You Won’t Find in Chains by Marion SteinA trip to any indistinguishable chain bookstore will tell you what you need to know about the current crisis in publishing — glossy-covered bestsellers by the usual suspects, characters from classics transformed into “vampyres” and zombie-killers, second-rate celebrities eager to tell all. But where are the fresh new writers? Where are the strong stories and original voices?

Sadly, the big publishing houses are taking fewer chances and more emerging authors are self-publishing. It’s easy to create your own micro-imprint, and on-line nobody knows you’re a POD (print-on-demand). While getting onto store shelves is difficult, the web has made it simple for authors to market themselves, and e-books offer a great way to break in. For a writer, uploading a book on Kindle is as easy as sending an e-mail, and companies like Smashwords offer free e-publishing in all digital formats.

While this creates opportunities for writers, it creates confusion for readers. With so many books, what’s to read? Without the traditional gatekeepers — agents and publishers — how do you find books that are high quality, original and well-written?

Fortunately, e-books can usually be “sampled” before purchase, and most online booksellers allow you to “browse” print versions electronically. If you are an e-book aficionado or ready to take the plunge into print-on-demand, here are five great picks.

1) Dorkismo — The Macho of the Dork, Maria Bustillos (2009) — available in paperback and on Kindle.

In a series of brilliant, accessible and funny essays, LA-based cultural critique, Maria Bustillos posits that the dorks are saving civilization. Her revolutionary manifesto celebrates true self-expression. In a world where hipness has become a commodity signified by the proper attire and technology, a world of branding, where children refuse to go to school without designer clothing, Dorkismo is the antidote. All the important creative thinkers and innovators are dorks, she tells us. They/we/us are the true iconoclasts. This is more than simple cultural critique. It’s self-help that’s nothing short of inspirational.

Bustillos, by offering her examples of authentic coolness, urges readers to be proud of who they are and their intellectual pursuits and obsessions — even if they involve fluency in one or more fictional languages. Her motto, “to thine own self be cool,” redefines hip, making it clear that creativity, art and even happiness come from following your own path, enjoying yourself, and learning to embrace your dork-nature.

2) Babylon, Daisy Anne Gree (2009) — available in paperback and as a free e-book in all digital formats.

Gree published this novel in association with Year Zero a writers’ collective dedicated to “restoring the direct conversation between reader and writer.” Babylon, barely more than novella length, is a stunning debut.

Fired from a restaurant job in San Francisco, schizophrenic Daniel attempts suicide and winds up back in his parent’s old house in his small Texas hometown of Babylon. Voice is everything in fiction and Gree has it. Daniel’s head is not a comfortable or pleasant place to be, but Gree brings us there in a way that’s true and sharp. She teaches us more about the mind of a schizophrenic than anyone is likely to get from a medical or psychiatric textbook. Gree goes beyond the writing workshop adage, “Show, don’t tell.” Her descriptions are simple yet visceral, and they hit like a shot of mescaline straight to the heart.

Chapter one begins in the restaurant where Daniel is working:

I counted my breath in and out, rough and ragged. A fractious rhythm among the others, the slamming oven doors and the clanking plates, that surrounded me. The air inside was so thick and heavy that breathing felt like drowning. As the seconds wore on, one noise began to swell and smother the rest: the slow and steady buzzing of the fluorescent bulb above my head. It was feverish and nauseating, as jarring as a jackhammer on asphalt.

By the time Daniel comes home and slashes his wrist, we’ve seen the shadows jumping from the walls and heard the voices calling his name. We understand the desperation that drives his actions.

While this all sounds bleak, and it is, there’s also a deadpan humor that shows itself in snatches of dialogue and imagery that is achingly beautiful throughout.

Read the rest of Marion Stein’s Five Favorite Independent Books at the LA Books Examiner.

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