Akashic’s Basement Show at McNally Jackson!
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1. Publisher Johnny Temple with authors Joe Meno and Nathan Larson, talking about Larson’s Pilates habit while on book tour.
As a young lad, before I understood what “literary fiction” meant, I was exposed to Brooklyn-based press Akashic Books and its anti-elitist ideology in an Orange County Barnes & Noble. Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned (along with The Perks of Being a Wallflower) was clutched in my twelve-year-old hand, soon to be in the basket of my bike. Last night, Joe Meno and Nathan Larson got together in McNally Jackson’s basement to read from their new novels Office Girl and The Nervous System, fresh from the punk rock-minded press. Publisher Johnny Temple led a discussion after the reading and talked about the differences between book tours and rock tours, having kids and being a writer, indie publishing, and making MFA candidates reconnect with the fun of writing. Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading sponsored the event, so you know it was a hell of a good time.
1. Emmie Rede and Emilia Batchelor, creative writing students from Sydney, Australia checking out the reading! Woop. 2. Johnny Temple, showing us his fine wares.
Johnny Temple kicked things off with nice words for McNally Jackson, a “classy place … really fucking nice” and some history on Akashic. The press dates back to the early ’00s, and focuses on publishing literary fiction by authors who’ve been ignored by mainstream outlets, or who have no interest in dealing with corporate publishing. Akashic publishes some of the best of the indie crop, from the runaway hit Go The Fuck to Sleep, to Trinie Dalton’s Wide Eyed (under Dennis Cooper’s “Little House on the Bowery” Series”), to a collection of singer/songwriter Ryan Adams’ prose and poetry. And forthcoming, they’re putting out a coffee-table book about The Jesus Lizard. Two words: Bad ass.
1. Nathan Larson: “Like my head and my heart, everything is barely there.” 2. Joe Meno, talking about the not-so-distant past of 1999, when the world’s biggest problem was whether Bill Clinton had had sex with a particular woman.
Nathan Larson, whose artistic roots date back to DC hardcore outfits Swiz and Shudder to Think, read from The Nervous System, the newest installment in his noir trilogy. While his attitude was definitely punk, Larson’s prose was aesthetically quieter, his classic noir detective, Dewey Decimal, in lone wolf mode. Dewey is preoccupied with germs and trademarks, frequently noting his love for “Purell™” and “exclusive spots way the fuck out of your league.” In a flashback scene — which Larson denoted with Wayne’s World-esque sound effects — Decimal is chased by ghosts “up FDR Drive … increasing in number and ferocity,” where he’s able to “behold the cruelty of American public housing.” I’m up for a good noir novel here and there, but when it’s a trilogy and stars a neurotic detective whose main goals are “1) Organize the books at the library to the Dewey Decimal System, 1a) Don’t die,” I’m much more game.
Joe Meno’s Office Girl is “stylistically different, indelibly Meno,” according to Temple. Set in “an alternative reality, 1999 Chicago,” Meno’s novel follows Jack and Odile on their quest to start an “unboring” art movement while talking about not hooking up. “And at 1:17 A.M that same night, they get two cups of coffee at a small diner … and begin to plan their violent art movement together. It will be called the Art Terrorists. Or the Art Brutes.” As two twenty-somethings working cubicle jobs with a shared interest in art, sexual tensions are abound and announce themselves in awkward ways. “Instead of kissing each other savagely” on Odile’s bed, “they sit next to each other quietly.” Odile pulls out a photo album. “This is my Grandma. She’s probably my favorite person in the world … she has like three boyfriends. Two of them are named Hank.” Meno’s expert handling of early-twenties love delivers all of the quirk, none of the cheese, and the right amount of twee. (To find out Joe Meno’s feelings on handjobs, read Julia Jackson’s interview for The Outlet with him here.)
1. Recommended Reading co-editors Benjamin Samuel and Halimah Marcus discussing the journal, and the handy, fancy flasks. 2. Rachelle Garniez, a musician and singing writer; Palmyra Delran, musician and Trash-Pop composer; Paul Cantelon, a composer.
During the Q&A, Meno, Larson and Temple discussed having small children and being an artist, which has put a healthy amount of pressure on Meno: “If you get a bad review, they don’t care … [but] there’s nothing like getting a bill for Catholic school, I better finish this thing.” For Larson, it’s a “constant negotiation” between indulging the artistic ego and submitting to his two-year-old. The happy medium: writing while the baby takes a nap — which, Meno noted, was a grand total of 45 minutes. Larson then talked about the difference between being on a book tour and a rock tour, which turned into musings on the benefits of independent publishing: “Music tours are filled with businessmen and businessmen… I don’t think I’ll find that in this scene… they just care about writing.” Larson said “Akashic was the place to be,” and likened the press to legendary labels Touch & Go and Dischord because of the 50–50 Author/Publisher power paradigm. From the audience, Meno was asked if he had fun writing. “If on some basic level you don’t have joy, then it’s not for you,” he said, and noted that one of his main goals in teaching writing to MFA candidates was to get them to “put down that 800-page novel” and try to have fun again.
Akashic Books continues to be an exciting publisher of independent literature and nonfiction. They’ve been around a long time, and, thankfully, won’t be going anywhere soon. Look for Joe Meno appearing in Recommended Reading on July 25, and pay your Catholic School bill.