Thursday, January 15, 2009

Great Books from Small Presses

by Sheryl Cotleur

I've had the good fortune lately to both stumble upon two particularly wonderful novels published by small presses, and to help make them something special at Book Passage. The first is Driftless by David Rhodes published by Milkweed Editions. I came upon an advanced reading copy in my galley pile and settled in to read this delightful and poignant novel. I then looked up information about the author and read his amazing story about how this was his return to publishing after an unexpected 31 year hiatus.

Filled with enthusiasm, I called up the publisher who agreed to ship 30 copies to the author living in a tiny town in Wisconsin, who signed them and then mailed them on to me. In this way Book Passage obtained some of the few signed first editions of this 2008 Milkweed Fiction Prize-winning book.

At around the same time, one of my sales reps handed me an early reading copy of a book she loved called Tinkers by Paul Harding. I agreed with her--this novel is extraordinary in its grace and poetic vision. Tinkers was slated to appear only in paperback, but going through my rep, I entreated the publisher to consider printing some hardcovers as I feel that this work is more than worthy of a major literary prize. Bellevue Literary Press complied happily and created a small print run of hardcovers.

Book Passage will feature this rare and unusual book as our Signed First Editions Club selection for January. We are so pleased to be able to present such quality fiction that might have otherwise been overlooked, and to have had these limited signed first editions available in our store and online at Moments like these are what make a book buyer's job memorable and filled with pleasure.

Further news on the small press and wonderful book front is this gem from Counterpoint titled Whitefoot by the incomparable Wendell Berry. Berry is a national treasure, author of over 50 books of essays, fiction and poetry. If ever a writer deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature it is he. Whitefoot, subtitled a Story From The Center of The World, features a small mouse who is swept away in a storm and learns the universe is a larger world than she's known and that there are mysterious things alive in it. This tale is for both adults and children and is illustrated delicately and profusely by Davis Te Selle.

Then there's a very special new book of poems by Kay Ryan, our very own Marin County poet and the current National Poet Laureate. This book is titled Jam Jar Lifeboat & Other Novelties Exposed, published by a tiny two-person press in the Bay Area called Red Berry Editions. It is also sweetly illustrated by Marin County artist Carl Dern and the poems are a delight, all inspired by Kay's response to facts she encountered in Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Just sitting at my desk reading these poems has left me smiling and oblivious to the rest of my work!

To order any of these titles, call (415) 927-0960, ext. 1 or email with your request. For more information on the Book Passage First Editions Club, email club coordinator Mary Benham at, or sign up online at this link.

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