17 Small Press Books From 2022 That You Might Have Missed
Gems from indie publishing houses for your TBR pile
It’s January and you know what that means—a reset for your TBR pile! There are so many amazing books to look forward to in 2023, but before we get too far into the new year, I think it’s worth spotlighting some of the titles you might have missed last year. And 2022 was an incredible year not just for all books, but for small presses in particular. Awards season honored many small press authors, including new Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux, whose American publisher is Seven Stories Press. It’s incredible to see these authors and presses get their recognition for the vital work they do, bringing incredible poetry, essays, fiction, and memoir to us readers.
In the spirit of looking back at an amazing year of reading, here are 17 of the hundreds of amazing indie books published in 2022 that deserve a spot at the top of your book pile.
We Organize to Change Everything: Fighting for Abortion Access and Reproductive Justice edited by Natalie Adler, Marian Jones, Jessie Kindig, Elizabeth Navarro, and Anne Rumberger (Verso Books)
This collection felt absolutely urgent to me in 2022 and still as urgent in 2023. We Organize to Change Everything follows the history of the fight for abortion in America, centering the voices of activists, healthcare workers, and clinic defenders who help pregnant people get the care they need. The writers here consider the intersectionality of abortion access, from white supremacy to incarceration to Indigenous sovereignty, giving a clear picture of where we came from to inform where we might go next.
Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love by Carlos Allende (Red Hen Press)
Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love plays with the tropes of crime fiction by way of two memorable narrators, Charlie and Jignesh. Their connection—at first on an unsuccessful date—is rekindled later, when Charlie is selling a freezer…and Jignesh has accidentally killed a coworker and is trying to cover it up. Allende’s novel has just what the title promises: a lot of fun and a lot of dark humor.
New Animal by Ella Baxter (Two Dollar Radio)
Ella Baxter’s slim and beautiful debut novel looks at death with a rare attention to its physicality. Amelia, the protagonist of New Animal, is left reeling when her mother dies. She heads to Tasmania to seek solace in her birth-father and ends up getting involved in the local BDSM community. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and very heartfelt. Get a taste of the novel in its excerpt in EL’s own Recommended Reading!
Seven Stories by Gina Berriault (Counterpoint Press)
I love when a forgotten writer resurfaces—and Seven Stories, the collection by the late Gina Berriault, shows us she never should have been forgotten to begin with. Her stories are sharp and leave a lasting impression. As Peter Orner writes in his introduction to Recommended Reading’s excerpt of Seven Stories, “I’ve always believed that Berriault herself was too busy vanishing into her sentences to care much about whether she was known or not known.” Enjoy the process of getting to know her work.
A Horse at Night by Amina Cain (Dorothy)
Amina Cain’s fiction is lovely, and A Horse at Night, her first nonfiction book, is just as stunning. She reflects on writing and how it can transform and remake a life. It’s memoir, literary criticism, and essay mixed together as Cain moves through her personal canon of writers, from Marguerite Duras to Elena Ferrante, and reckons with what writing does for us. It’s rich, meditative, and written to be savored.
My Phantoms by Gwendolyn Riley (NYRB)
I loved My Phantoms, Gwendolyn Riley’s seventh novel, for its unsentimental look at family ties and the difficult relationships between mothers and daughters. We follow Bridget, a forty-something academic, who is reckoning with her mother, Helen (“Hen”) in the novel. The book follows the awkward meetings between Bridget and Hen, showing us the ways they fail each other, the old conflicts they constantly rehearse.
A Strange Woman by Leylâ Erbil (Deep Vellum)
Leylâ Erbil is one of Turkey’s most radical female authors, and this year brought an English translation of her debut novel A Strange Woman, the first novel by a Turkish woman to be nominated for the Nobel. A Strange Woman follows Nermin, an aspiring poet in Istanbul, whose creative ambitions are often frustrated by her family. Erbil explores creativity, sexuality, and the role of family in the modernizing world of 20th century Turkey, and it’s a treasure to get to read.
Getting Lost by Annie Ernaux (Seven Stories Press)
Maybe you didn’t miss Annie Ernaux’s Nobel Prize win, but did you know her American publisher, Seven Stories Press, released a new Ernaux book this year? Getting Lost is Ernaux’s personal diary of a love affair with a Soviet official from 1988 to 1990, and it’s thrilling to read the author’s private reflections on sex, writing, and love now public. If you’re a fan, it’s a perfect addition to the canon, and if you’re new to the Ernaux hype, it’s a perfect place to start.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu (Tin House)
The line between real and fantasy blurs in Kim Fu’s spellbinding collection of short stories, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century. Each of the twelve stories are totally different, but they nonetheless share the logic of magical realism: anything is possible. A girl might grow wings by her ankles. Someone might ride a unicorn. But these stories don’t exist in the ether—their magic and surrealism make us look askance at the world we live in, our own bizarre rites and rituals. It’s breathtaking to read.
Lungfish by Meghan Gilliss (Catapult Books)
How did we get here is the central question of Lungfish, Meghan Gilliss’ debut novel. Lungfish follows Tuck, a woman squatting with her family on an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, the former home of her grandmother. Tuck’s husband struggles to detox while they—and their daughter—live off the land. The elements are at war against them, as they try to scrape up enough money to leave before winter starts. It’s gripping, heartbreaking, and totally brilliant.
Jerks by Sara Lippmann (Mason Jar Books)
The 18 short stories in Jerks center my favorite topic to read about: desire. Even in middle-class, often middle-aged suburbia, Lippmann’s characters are memorable and their wants taken seriously. They are, as the title suggests, jerks, making their exploits even more delicious to read about. But even if they’re bad people, they teach us more about ourselves and our society than we might at first see.
Paradais by Fernanda Melchor (New Directions)
Fernanda Melchor’s prose is like no one else’s: it’s a torrent of words and feelings, violent at times, and it’s impossible to look away. Paradais follows two teenagers, Polo and Franco, a groundskeeper and an outcast inside the gated community of “Paradise,” whose malaise leads them to violent schemes. Melchor chronicles the fault lines of Mexican society, showing the dreams of success that run into the realities of race and class. It’s impossible to look away.
Now Lila Knows by Elizabeth Nunez (Akashic Books)
Elizabeth Nunez’s novel Now Lila Knows follows Caribbean professor Lila Bonnard, arriving in Vermont for a teaching position. On her way from the airport to campus, she witnesses the police murdering a Black man—a fellow professor at the college—and she must decide whether to act as witness against the police and risk her position at the college. It’s a gripping story with deeply contemporary resonances, exploring what we owe to each other when we feel our own precarity.
On Not Knowing by Emily Ogden (University of Chicago Press)
This list is in alphabetical order, but I have to say that On Not Knowing was perhaps my favorite small press title of the year. Yes, Ogden is an English professor and literary critic, and yes, this book of essays is riddled with Moby-Dick references. But despite its academic nature, Ogden’s writing is personal and magically dexterous, giving the same attention to not knowing how to give birth as not knowing how to hold it together for one’s children. On Not Knowing is a meditative account of trying to live a life comfortable with the uncertainty we breathe in.
Mother Country by Jacinda Townsend (Graywolf Press)
The premise of Jacinda Townsend’s searing novel Mother Country is unforgettable: Shannon, an African-American woman mourning the news of her infertility, goes on a trip to Morocco with her boyfriend, where, with the help of a bribed official, she decides to adopt a child to raise in her native Kentucky. The catch? The child already has a mother, Souria. Mother Country examines the cycles of intergenerational trauma and the complicated web of motherhood as Souria and Shannon move towards a reckoning.
Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Tsai (Jaded Ibis Press)
Billed as a “biracial, queer, nonbinary retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Addie Tsai’s Unwieldy Creatures is a riveting story of body horror that subverts heteronormative standards of beauty. Set in Indonesia and the American South, Tsai’s novel follows Dr. Frank, her assistant Plum, and Dr. Frank’s nonbinary creation. In Tsai’s hands, Frankenstein gets updated, made even more relevant. In her interview for EL, she talks about centering queer bodies and the violence of violence of toxic white masculinity.
It Came from the Closet edited by Joe Vallese (Feminist Press)
In It Came from the Closet, queer and trans writers reflect on the genre of horror—its appeal, its empowerment, its oppression. Featuring Addie Tsai, Carmen Maria Machado, and more, these writers chronicle a complicated relationship between horror and queerness, an ode to the classic films, and a subversive reading of many more. In an excerpt from the collection, Tosha R. Taylor writes about how horror gave her power to embrace her queerness in rural Appalachia.