April 30, 2006


Denise Hamilton

I congratulate the Times for offering festival-goers a panel about small indie publishers, which are so important to literature's lifeblood. Let me say first of all that I'm connected to Akashic, as I'm the editor of Los Angeles Noir, a short story anthology that will be published in spring of 2007 (in time for next year's FoB!)

That having been established, I think Akashic is doing incredible things and its track record supports this. Johnny Temple's books are routinely well reviewed by the big papers and nominated for prestigious awards. Southland by LA's own treasure Nina Revoyr, a wonderful meditation on race, family, love and our shared connections that takes place amidst the African-American and Japanese communities of Los Angeles, was a finalist for an Edgar Award. (Named after Edgar Allen Poe). Akashic's books are consistently smart, edgy and provocative. Temple publishes voices that wouldn't otherwise be heard. You buy an Akashic book and you can be assured that it's not the blockbuster pablum that dominates bookstores these days.

Supporting small indie publishers like Akashic is also important because they exist on such a financial razor's edge that one mistep can plunge them into default. UglyTown Books, another small indie edgy publisher that I like to think of as Akashic's West Coast punk brother, is currently on hiatus because one of their distributors went under, owing them thousands of dollars. That cash flow problem, in turn, forced them to halt their own publications. (At least that's what I've heard). The founders Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender are wonderful, multi-talented innovative guys, and I hope that UglyTown can bounce back. But it illustrates the precariousness of the indies, despite all the praise they get in the press, and underscores the importance of supporting these small presses if the reading public wants to continue reading new and intriguing literary voices that don't fit into the blockbuster paradigm.

- Denise

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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