At BookPeople we love all presses. Large umbrella publishers like Random House, who goes out of their way to seek feedback from booksellers, is much loved. Smaller presses, like the University presses, also have a home here. UT Press helps us remain unique and local. We love em’ all. But like all parents, we like some of our kids more than others. My two favorite publishers are New Directions Publishing and the Dalkey Archive Press. I scan the book cart when it comes down from receiving, hoping that I’ll see something new from one of these publishers.
New Directions was started in 1936 when James Laughlin wanted to publish some of the Modernist writers who were having a tough time getting their work to the marketplace. New Directions was the first to publish notable authors Vladamir Nabakov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Henry Miller, and recently rediscovered Roberto Bolano. In 73 years, the focus hasn’t changed much. Avante-Garde, experimental works have meshed with those modern classics from the beginning of the 20th century to make New Directions both nostalgic and novel.
The Dalkey Archive is the child of the Review of Contemporary Fiction. The archive publishes books that people are ignoring. Dalkey predominantly publishes soft cover books, so hard cover hawks might want to look elsewhere, but for the rest of us, it is refreshing to get new fiction at soft cover price. As a side note, Dalkey does a phenomenal job of packaging interesting texts in intriguing ways. Cover design at Dalkey is second to none. With a strong focus on world literature and subversive texts, the archive is always relevant and always challenging.
2009 was another great year for Dalkey and New Directions. Dalkey continues to publish Jacques Roubaud’s never-ending Proustian cycle with the newest instalment The Loop. As a member of the Oulipo, a group of predominantly French writers focused on restrictions as a way to force creative and innovative techniques, Roubaud’s books are demanding, yet tender. The Loop, for all its restrictions and Oulipian trickery, is essentially a love letter or an elegy for Roubaud’s wife. The cycle will end when Roubaud stops mourning her.
New Directions, while continuing to publish most of Roberto Bolano’s books, put out The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horatio Castellanos Moya. Leave it to New Directions to find a graphic murder mystery, filled with tragedy, corruption, betrayal, brought to us by the unforgettable and unreliable Laura Rivera, which is, above all, hilarious. This book was one of the most enjoyable reads I had this year. These small publishers are doing great work. When you come into the store, remember to judge books not only by the names on the cover, but also by the names on the spine.
— Brian Contine