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best independent books 2013

The best indie books of 2013

Alt lit angst, sex essays and genre-bending poetry provided some of the best literature of the year

If print is dying, then 2013 put up a fight. Alt lit proliferated, sex writing scandalised and genre lines were ever blurrier. Check out our top ten picks for the year’s best in independent publishing.

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Everyone is a huge fan of the prolific outspoken West Virginian, who makes our list for this coming-of-ager – which we excerpted back in November – as well as for his genre-bending memoir-ish Crapalachia. In both his prose and his book trailers, the guy commits – no one could accuse this alt-lit affiliate of monotone apathy. Read an extract here

what purpose did i serve in your life by Marie Calloway

Calloway caused a stir you probably heard about, and after she published an essay about an affair with an older literary figure in 2011, her highly anticipated debut was hotly debated across the online literary scene: a valiant attempt at don’t-be-silenced! third-wave feminism (they’re sex essays), or more of the same nihilistic alt-lit navel-gazing?

Go to Work and Do Your Job. Care for Your Children. Pay Your Bills. Obey the Law. Buy Products. by Noah Cicero

Cicero’s descriptions of Starbucks-happy suburbia are painfully funny, and his depiction of the relentlessness of capitalism in middle America is at once political and psychological. Cicero doesn’t sacrifice character, but he still manages a message that is very 2013. Read an extract here

Partial List of People to Bleach by Gary Lutz (expanded paperback edition)

Stalwart indie publishers Future Tense Books rereleased Lutz’s 2007 chapbook with five previously uncollected stories and an essay, ‘The Sentence Is a Lonely Place’. Lutz has generated some big-deal appeal for his intentional crafting of sentences and creepy portrayal of life—mostly middle-aged, mostly quietly and aggressively disillusioned—but his work is challenging enough to remain the domain of the true lover of language or fighter of cliché.

I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death by Heiko Julien

Julien’s prose-poetry follows the path of Tao Lin & co., but the specificity of his images ("I am going to put on a pair of sweatpants and wander / out into the forest in the middle of the night, in the dead / of winter, with my iPod playing static on repeat…") very accurately conveys the sense of being alone in a crowd that it’s hard not to feel in the Internet era. Read an extract here

Crapalachia: A Biography of Place by Scott McClanahan

The force that is McClanahan is the perfect introduction to the reality of West Virginia, where modernity meets history in often uncomfortable ways—it’s more McDonald’s depression than bourgeois keeping-in-touch-with-our-heritage. McClanahan’s complicated love-hate relationship with the place makes for powerful prose, and West Virginia’s is a story of insularity that often goes untold in popular fiction. 

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

A little less disaffected than the alt-lit peers she’s associated with, Chelsea Martin released another genre-defying work of prose-poetry (non)fiction that had everyone wondering, “Is it autobiographical?” It seems beside the point; over the course of the book, the narrator and her partner in an unraveling relationship become flesh-and-blood characters with flesh-and-blood problems that anyone in the Internet age can relate to. Plus, really funny. Read an interview with Martin here

Solip by Ken Baumann

Not so much prose fiction as an immersive experience, Baumann’s text is a trippy linguistic mystery that pushes the boundaries of the senses, philosophy, everything. Baumann’s association with Blake Butler, master of the weird, uncomfortably beautiful sentence and all-around force for underground lit blurbs, is apparent, but never heavy-handed.

Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann

Genuine wonder at the multitudes our world contains coupled with witty self-awareness make Olzmann’s debut poetry collection expansive and inclusive rather than cloying or precious. Place plays a key role, but it’s never sentimental and always surprising.

[SIC] by Davis Schneiderman

Less a book than a piece of conceptual multimedia art, [SIC] consists of nothing Schneiderman actually wrote himself. Instead, it’s excerpts of works in the public domain published under Schneiderman’s name, challenging notions of authorship, privacy and copyright, as well as songs, chain letters, general ephemera, and works that haven’t entered the public domain yet translated into several languages and back to English.