General blog posts

#BrazosBest: A Rock-n-Roll Indie Press

The Book: THE GLOAMING by Melanie Finn, our October #BrazosBest
The Plot: A young woman abandoned by husband, involved in horrible auto accident, has her sense of reality upended; she disembarks to Tanzania, where she wanders into nowhere on a morbid journey of self-discovery
The Chatters: Keaton Patterson (Buyer) and Benjamin Rybeck (Marketing Director), talking over tacos and beer

Ben: All right. So we’re chatting about the October Brazos Best pick, THE GLOAMING.

The Gloaming Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937512477
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Two Dollar Radio - September 20th, 2016

Ben: A lot of their books do that. A lot of them even mix genres, you know, or use generic tropes. This one plays with horror and thriller stuff, but makes it literary. Older books do that too. Grace Krilanovich’s THE ORANGE EATS CREEPS is a vampire story, and last year there was Colin Winnette’s HAINTS STAY, which is a Western that uses those tropes but fucks with them.

Keaton: HAINTS STAY is kind of an acid Western in that sense. And with ORANGE, I mean, it’s teenage meth head vampires: you can’t get much more out there and creepy than that. THE GLOAMING represents something Two Dollar Radio does well: they publish literature that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, so to speak. Their highbrow but down-and-dirty, just like Brazos.

Ben: Yup. That’s what we like. They fuck shit up on the regular. I’ve always thought they’re a fantastic press, right down to their branding. They don’t do the same thing over and over again, but their books all feel of a piece. I’ve always thought of them like an indie rock record label from the 90s, or something, like Elephant 6.

Keaton: They’ve got Radio right there in their name, right? I consider them the most rock-and-roll indie press. They’re a great small operation. It shows what you can do when you’re simply dedicated to good books.

Ben: How do you think THE GLOAMING fits into their catalogue? Does it remind you of their other books?

Keaton: Um, I mean, it’s definitely a piece of its own, for sure. It’s very psychological, all in the head of the protagonist, Pilgrim Jones. I mean, that name—“pilgrim.” You know there’s an allegorical aspect.

Ben: Sure, sometimes you don’t have to be subtle.

Keaton: For sure. And what’s interesting—and I don’t know how often Two Dollar Radio does this—but this book was originally published in the UK, a year or two ago. They called it SHAME.


Keaton: Yes. And that’s what it’s about: dealing with guilt, and shame, and obsession, and how our actions resonate throughout our lives. All the chances and lack of chances we have for redemption.

You know, when I first picked up this book, I was a little worried it might devolve into Chinua Achebe’s criticism of HEART OF DARKNESS: that Conrad uses Africa as a metaphorical backdrop for the disintegration of a European mind. But Finn definitely avoids doing that. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that she was born and raised in Kenya, then moved to the states, went to school and everything, and now she lives in Tanzania. I think she runs a medical clinic, and she and her husband make nature documentaries. THE GLOAMING reminded me of TRAM 83 (from Deep Vellum), which paints a portrait of post-colonial Africa that doesn’t hide extreme aspects of the content: superstition, murder, crime, the plight of poverty, corruption—those kinda things. The characters that Pilgrim meets are all fully fleshed out, very complex. Nobody’s all good, and there’s a lot of bad people, but nobody is a stereotype. You’ve got mercenaries, doctors without borders—a motley cast all around.

Ben: Yeah, the book is very grounded in reality, in place. You feel the grit of the land. You feel your feet on the ground. But at the same time, it’s a novel of ideas. Two Dollar Radio is very good at books like this: they’re intellectual and work in theoretical spaces, while never devolving into whimsy or flights of fancy the way some other books do when you think about “philosophical fiction” or whatever. THE GLOAMING deals with very big themes, but through concrete actions, settings, and characters. It reminds me of Sarah Gerard’s BINARY STAR, which is about big, metaphysical stuff, but remains anchored in the body ultimately, since it’s about a woman with an eating disorder. It’s always concrete.

Keaton: I would agree. BINARY STAR is a great example of that, and THE GLOAMING is too. One word that always springs to mind when I think about their books is “viscera.” The books are very much informed by the messiness and meat of life. You’re always within the setting, but also within the humanness of the story.

Ben: Oh, they also did the Scott McClanahan book, CRAPALACHIA.

Keaton: “Crapalachia”: that’s fun to say.

Ben: It is. So who the hell will like THE GLOAMING?

Keaton: I think people who love psychological thrillers, stuff along the lines of Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS.

Ben: One of your favorites.

Keaton: Yeah. It’s for people who love books that can very easily slip between internal and external storytelling, in ways that come off natural. It’s a scary read, but it ultimately has reassurance at the end.

Ben: That’s important.

Keaton: Yeah, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ben: I never feel Two Dollar Radio books are devoid of hope. The worlds in their books are complex ones. I think it’s just as uncomplicated to make a piece of art that is totally bleak as totally happy. They’re equally simplistic notions, even though we prize the former quality in the critical world over the latter. But Two Dollar Radio books show you up close the horrors of the world—there’s rough shit in their books—but they work through it or something. They don’t leave you in despair.

Sidelines Spotlight: Magpie and Jay

Halloween is not technically part of the holiday season but is still one of my favorites. This month, to highlight my love of dark, creepy things, we are featuring vintage-inspired pieces from Magpie and Jay’s New Curios collection.

Last year, when we introduced Magpie and Jay to the Brazos repertoire, we featured their nervous system mugs and journals. The items were cartoonish and had bold colors, but offered something beyond literary merchandise. This year, I wanted to focus on the New Curios line, which has more of a gothic, hand-painted look.

The Best NEWS OF THE WORLD You'll Find This Year

The high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing glides out of the central station. We pass the distinctive Chinese buildings fast, and then faster, speeding out of the urban din. I imagine what the countryside will look like, anticipating dramatic Asian art inspired mountains or rice fields. Instead, about an hour out of the station, when the city and the suburbs finally begin to subside, the countryside seems more familiar than not.

I’ve brought along an advance copy of NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles to read on this segment of my journey. I’m not very excited about it.

News of the World: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow - October 4th, 2016

Paulette Jiles will launch her book tour at Brazos Bookstore on Tuesday, October 4.

Translation Spotlight: Open Letter Books and Deep Vellum Publishing

No secret: all of us at Brazos have a little thing for literature in translation, and two of our favorite publishers are Open Letter Books and Deep Vellum Publishing. Next week, we’re hosting two of their authors: Josefine Klougart (ONE OF US IS SLEEPING) on Monday, September 26; and Ananda Devi (EVE OUT OF HER RUINS) on Tuesday, September 27.

Lying to Children: A Meditation on Banned YA Fiction

At the end of the day, censorship of children’s books is almost always about one--or all--of four things: Sex. Religion. Language. Violence. That’s basically what it comes down to. (Note that I put violence last. That’s because people complain about the least, which is its own story for another day). For librarians and teachers, it can be a complex issue to keep books on shelves, to support and encourage free speech and sharing of ideas while at the same time respecting the standards of the community, whatever that means to those who use the phrase.

#BrazosBest: Vila-Matas Stories Translated at Last

Interview translated by Bárbara Volkmer Ruiz

What do The Paris Review, Bomb Magazine, and Brazos Bookstore have in common? We’ve all been lucky enough to interview the reticent Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas, author of our current #BrazosBest pick, VAMPIRE IN LOVE!

Vampire in Love Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811223461
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - September 27th, 2016

Mark Haber is the store manager of Brazos Bookstore. He was a juror for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Besides being an advocate for translated literature his own short story collection, DEATHBED CONVERSIONS, is currently being translated into Spanish.

To Add, Not Reduce: A Q&A with Rafi Mittlefehldt

Rafi Mittlefehldt’s debut novel, IT LOOKS LIKE THIS, is a book I wish I could have read ten years ago—a simple, heart-wrenching story told in a quiet, cautious voice. Protagonist Mike is still adjusting to his new school in his family’s new hometown; his father is still trying to get him to be the tough, sports-driven son he wants; and his family is still attending church, still trying to pretend everything is fine. Then Mike meets Sean, and slowly, then quickly—too quickly—everything changes.

It Looks Like This Cover Image
ISBN: 9780763687199
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Candlewick Press (MA) - September 6th, 2016

Rafi Mittlefehldt presents and signs IT LOOKS LIKE THIS on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 7pm. Pre-order your signed copy today.

Lydia is the events coordinator at Brazos Bookstore. She received her MFA in fiction from Iowa State University, but happily came back to Texas immediately after. Her writing has been published in Ninth Letter, LIT, and The Rumpus.

National Book Awards Longlists Announced

The literary awards season has begun! The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, has announced ten titles in four categories as the semi-finalists for the prestigious prize. The shortlist will be published on October 13, 2016 and the winners will be announced on November 16, 2016.

Women Are Humans: A Q&A with Laia Jufresa and Sophie Hughes

How to stump me as a bookseller: come into the store and ask me for a funny, happy book where nothing bad happens. Because the truth is, I will fail you, one hundred percent of the time. The flip side? People ask me about my favorite books and often, I can see their eyes glaze over as I mention rape, suicide, addiction—as if those books can’t also have moments that are funny and happy.

Umami Cover Image
By Laia Jufresa, Sophie Hughes (Translator)
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781780748917
Availability: Out of Print - Not Available for Order
Published: ONEWorld Publications - September 13th, 2016

Not Conjectures but Delusions: A Q&A with Mauro Javier Cardenas

There are certain novels that announce their significance in simple and subtle ways: the style, the language, the sense of entering a space you haven’t been before. When starting THE REVOLUTIONARIES TRY AGAIN, the debut novel by Mauro Javier Cardenas, I found myself returning to the first few pages over and over again, mostly to grasp what was taking place and to keep my footing. Important books demand this. Important books insist that you adjust your thinking, sometimes even your reading habits, because the space you’re entering is something wholly new. Think THE AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH.

The Revolutionaries Try Again Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566894463
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - September 6th, 2016

THE REVOLUTIONARIES TRY AGAIN goes on sale September 6, 2016.