Sometimes the big idea is to do something small.
Launched by Joshua Rothes in 2019, independent publisher of Seattle Sublunary Editions initially sent new work to readers by mail each month. The project has now grown to publish books that the website describes as “little volumes of exciting literature” edited and designed by Rothes, an archive series of books, as well as a quarterly magazine called “Firmament.”
“It was appealing to Josh, the idea of publishing little books, because he was able to come up with short pieces that were absolutely compelling enough and appealing in format,” says Jacob Siefring, who translated the first book. of Sublunary and who is now the co-editor of Sublunary’s Empyrean Seriesan archival line that includes older works, often in the public domain, by writers such as Gertrude Stein, Thomas De Quincey and Laurence Sterne.
“We try not to specialize. I think we’re looking at the quirks of literary history and just trying to expand our own notion as readers of what great neglected works are,” says Siefring. “The first books in the Empyrean series were based on the idea of creating this little book that you can really fit in your pocket and weigh nothing at all.”
Sublunary’s slim, paperback paperbacks are undeniably appealing: small, well-crafted works, often translated literature, the books can be as brief as Julio Cortazar’s 40-page “Letters from Home” or as robust as the “Letters from the house” of 140 pages. Disembodied” by Christina Tudor-Sidiri.
To a reader, such a short work may seem like a welcome respite, oddly suited to shortened attention spans.
And books can pack a punch: The 90-page “A Family Friend” by Yves Ravey (translated as Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge) delivers chilling, Hitchcockian noir about a widowed single mother who tries to make the authorities listen to her concerns regarding her husband’s cousin, a convicted sex offender who she says will act again after he shows up on her doorstep following his unexpected release from prison.
This summer, Sublunary announced the publication of a “lost” work by Henry Miller. Miller composed manuscript and illustrated works — “long, intimate book letters,” according to the publisher — to writers such as Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin. The forthcoming publication, “The Book of Conversations with David Edgar”, is said to have been in private hands and has never been published before.
“He apparently wrote four, five or six of these little books to friends at that time in Paris,” says Siefring. “There are beautiful watercolor drawings in the book – it’s a one-artist presentation book – and I think the book will incorporate some of the illustrations.”
As the Sublunary progresses, they continue to experiment – like Siefring’s occasional live readings on Twitter that can include anything from baroque witty writing to the occasional interruptions from his children.
So as the imprint evolves, will these delightful editions remain pocket-sized? Siefring suggests some growth may be on the horizon.
“We have a book coming out in the fall that is over two volumes long,” he says. “It’s 800 pages.”
Looks like we might need a bigger pocket.
Just last week I mentioned a bit of book-related serendipity, and this week we have some more (and I’m not even including the two books I read one after the other). other this summer – novels written decades apart on different continents – that both reference Warren Zevon’s 1978 song “Werewolves of London”).
Ah-hoo, uh, anyway, here’s something interesting about how inspiration works: In the main books section this week, we featured Stuart Miller’s interview with Rasheed Newson, whose novel set in New York during the 1980s AIDS crisis “My Government Means to Kill Me” uses footnotes, a technique which Newson says was inspired by Mark’s “House of Leaves” Z. Danielewski.
“I think of him as an editor writing the footnotes,” Newson says. “I read a book called ‘House of Leaves’ [by Mark Z. Danielewski] in college and almost failed because I started reading during exams and couldn’t put that book down. There was a character called the editor who came in and corrected what you were told and I loved that.
We also aired Diya Chacko’s conversation with RF Kuang about her new book, “Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution.” The novel is a dark historical fantasy about magic, translation, and academia…and it uses footnotes inspired in part by “House of Leaves,” according to Kuang.
“’House of Leaves’ by Mark Z. Danielewski. It’s a very long book that involves a lot of puns in the footnotes and textual experimentation,” says Kuang, who explains in more detail in this week’s book Q&A below.
Have you read “House of Leaves”, and if not, are you thinking about it now?
Do you have any questions or book suggestions to share? Please send them to [email protected] and they might appear in the column.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Why RF Kuang has a ‘bangers only’ rule for reading
RF Kuang is the author of “Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Obscure History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution,” released Aug. 23 by HarperCollins, as well as The Poppy War trilogy. For more from Ms. Kuang, read Diya Chacko’s interview with her about the novel, translation and more.
Q. Is there a book or books that you always recommend to other readers?
It’s so reader-dependent. I try to only give people recommendations that I think they’ll like, but one book that I really like and recommend to most of my friends is Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot” and the sequel, which are just some of the funniest, sweetest, incisive campus novels I’ve ever read.
Q. What are you reading now?
I’m trying to finish “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov.
Q. How do you decide what to read next?
I have a Bangers Only policy. “Bangers Only” refers to books that I know will be very profitable, which means that I end up reading a lot of classics.
It’s because I have so little time to read for pleasure, given all that I have to read for classes and the time I have to spend writing. So I used to try to struggle through the books, even though I wasn’t that interested in them. But now, if I’m not immediately grabbed by something in 10 pages, I just won’t read it.
Q. Is there a book you dread reading?
“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski. It’s a very long book that involves a lot of puns in the footnotes and textual experimentation. I really like texts that push the boundaries of what storytelling can do, and what you can do with the words on a page in terms of layout – just new ways to manipulate the reader beyond the sentence conventional.
So I keep trying to finish it, and I keep getting halfway there, but there’s just this creeping horror that happens. It’s a very bad book to read when you’re alone, especially at night, and it always grabs me and I can’t finish.
Q. What is a memorable literary experience – good or bad – are you willing to share? (A book you liked or hated, or a book you read in a memorable situation)
This summer, I hadn’t chosen any fantasy books that I really liked. Then Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” adaptation has just been released on Netflix. I went back and started re-reading the comics again, and I’ve just been obsessed for two weeks. That’s all I want to read.
I think a lot about why Neil Gaiman’s particular way of doing fantasy was so appealing, and I think it’s because he’s not genre-bound. It takes all the conventions it likes from different stereotypes, mysteries, thrillers, psychological horrors. He plays with them and breaks all the rules.
As someone who’s been writing fantasy for so long, who was getting a little jaded by the genre and felt like nothing was interesting, going back to those comics written decades ago and feeling the fresh feeling and excitement is really cool. So I’m just sitting with that for now, and trying to figure out how Neil does what he does and wondering how I can possibly replicate it.
Footnotes and history
TV writer Rasheed Newson says his novel, set at the start of the AIDS era, is “a call to action”. READ MORE
Emi Nietfeld, who went public with her harassment at Google, tells her story. READ MORE
Revisit our interview with Taylor Jenkins Reid about her novel “Malibu Rising.” READ MORE
The bestsellers of the week
The best-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE
What’s next on ‘Bookish’
The the next free Bookish event is September 16 with guests Barbie Latza Nadeau, Andy Borowitz and Ron Shelton joining host Sandra Tsing Loh.