As a book blogger, I try to use my literary superpowers to spotlight incredible independent publishers and their novels. Unfairly pushed to the side and ignored, many of these books are assumed to be unworthy of a reader’s time, and I hope to crush that perception today. Indie/small press publishers have the unique ability to take on books that will appeal to specific audiences. Experts in their genre, they take chances on higher risk novels, cultivate intense relationships with their authors and readers and publish some of the best books I’ve ever read.
As the year begins to wind down, allow me to introduce you to my favorite indie picks of 2011, presented in no particular order. Each one comes with The Next Best Book Club’s seal of approval. Here’s to keeping these bad boys from flying under the radar!
Lori Hettler's Top 10 Indie Picks of 2011
Us by Michael Kimball (Tyrant Books)
A beautiful, heart-wrenching novel about a man whose beloved wife is in a coma; it packs a lasting punch. Michael uses sparse sentences and first-person narration to work his spell on the reader. Us is a story that celebrates life as it teaches us how to deal with death.
Damascus by Joshua Mohr (Two Dollar Radio)
Brilliantly written by an extremely talented indie writer, Damascus features a rag-tag set of incredibly flawed and fantastic characters who leap off the barstool and into your life. From cancer to the Iraq War, bathroom hand jobs to a filthy Santa suit, this book has it all.
Volt by Alan Heathcock (Graywolf Press)
Volt is a collection of stories that takes place in a small town called Krafton—a bad luck, backwoods-y sort of place that reeks of tragedy and mischief. Heathcock has mastered the art of emotionally torturing his characters.
Prize Winners by Ryan Bradley (Artistically Declined Press)
These well-written short stories expose humanity, vanity, struggle and curiosity at an extremely personal level. Still, there's nothing extremely dark or sadistic here. Bradley captures the painfully embarrassing dysfunction that follows any intimate relationship—whether it is new, old or over.
The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer (Atticus Books)
Would you give up life as you know it to live as a decorative hermit in some eccentric billionaire’s backyard for $5 million? That is the premise of Steve’s book, where the existence of God, vows of silence and free will are all explored.
Go the F*ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (Akashic)
A bedtime story for adults that expresses all of those horribly awful thoughts you think as you attempt to put your restless child to sleep. Have you heard the audio? It’s absolutely perfect!
Alt.Punk by Lavinia Ludlow (Casperian)
This novel is edgy, angsty and right up your alley if you are a middle-class hypochondriac who hates sex. Ludlow reveals the imperfections and ugly truths of life on the road with a punk rock band, as told by an emotionally stilted and sarcastic leading lady.
Zazen by Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade)
An incredible first novel that knocks the wind out of you, Zazen is unapologetic and honest. Veselka creates a world where emotions appear more real than the actual situations her characters find themselves in. It's a story that ebbs and flows, that's felt rather than read. It's impossible and totally plausible at the same time.
Piano Rats by Franki Elliot (Curbside Splendor)
From page one, Elliot’s honesty and ability to drop an F-bomb in a poem won my heart. This collection of prose poetry follows a woman who is no stranger to love: She’s suffered its beauty, its jealousy and its brutal end. She makes me want to get behind the pretty words people throw around and find the beauty that hides inside the pain.
My Father’s House by Ben Tanzer (Main St. Rag)
Dealing heavily with one son's worry, anxiety and grief over the slow cancerous death of his father, this novel can be almost too uncomfortably intimate. This departure from Tanzer’s previous work features lighter-hearted looks at socially awkward 30-somethings in a pop-culture saturated world—and should should come with its own Kleenex warning.
Lori Hettler is founder and moderator of TNBBC. She has been buried beneath indie and self-published review copies for more than four years. Her passion for supporting the independent and self publishing communities has driven her to spread the word about publishers, authors, and novels you've never heard of. Find her on Twitter and Facebook. Visit her review page to see the reviews for each of the books she has listed.
Readers: What was YOUR favorite book published in 2011. Let us know—and be entered to win 10 books in a genre of your choice.