This year has been marked by a number of high-profile book releases. Jonathan Franzen’s epic suburban opus Freedom was heralded as “the last great American novel,” Jay-Z fought to have hip-hop lyrics acknowledged by poetry aficionados in Decoded, Patti Smith’s emotional and brilliant Just Kids won a National Book Award, Stephen King returned to the art of taut, disturbing short stories, and a whole slew of celebrities released tripe we’d rather not get into here.
Smaller presses, meanwhile, have also had a banner year, but with the rush of media directing the average book buyer’s attention, it’s easy for lower profile publishers to get lost in the shuffle. To help spotlight these lesser known but equally deserving publishing houses, here are five small-press titles that stand out among the best books released in 2010. Please share any other recommendations from the past year in the comments.
Emily St. John Mandel’s debut novel, Last Night In Montreal, was a quiet stroke of genius painted in swaths of lush prose. Her follow-up, The Singer’s Gun, is an examination of the depths of family bonds, a study of compulsively interesting characters, and a page-turning mystery to boot. From the book’s opening crack of a sentence — “In an office on the bright sharp edge of New York, glass tower, Alexandra Broden was listening to a telephone conversation” — the reader becomes wrapped up in the slow downward spiral of Anton Walker, a businessman whose life falls apart like glass splintering from the inside out. Mandel also wages a sort of psychological warfare on the reader, as the majority of the book’s most horrific moments happen off-camera or are merely implied, tossed off in a way that gives the violence that much more impact. Where Last Night In Montreal felt like a fever dream, often hallucinatory, The Singer’s Gun is a breathless race to the finish, a slow-motion car crash of the highest order.