19 Great Small Press Books You May Have Missed in 2014, As Chosen By Small Press Editors (Because Who Better, Right?)

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As Big Five publishers release hundreds of titles a year and dominate best-of-books lists, small press books sometimes fly under the radar. Yes, even we miss them; despite our reputation as voracious and diverse readers at Bustle, even we're guilty of overlooking some of the most beautiful, profound, and distinct voices in American literature.

Of course, small press books have made a splash in many venues this year, but I know there's plenty of stuff that we've missed. So, for suggestions, I asked small press editors from eight houses — you know, the ones who do the tireless, thankless work of discovering new writers — for which books on their own lists they loved most this year. This is an non-exhaustive list of great small press books, of course, but maybe you'll discover something on here you didn't know was out there.

Image: Adam Berry/Getty Images

by Laura I. Miller

Sarah Gorham, Sarabande Books

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (Sarabande Books), $15.95

“Here I defer to the many enthusiastic critics, including The Believer: ‘In Praying Drunk, Kyle Minor delivers again and again. Not only is each individual story in his second collection filled with wit, intelligence, and strong emotion, but every story in the book also connects somehow to every other, repeating and recasting not just ideas and themes but also events and characters and especially locales, the settings that host Kyle Minor’s obsessions: Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, Haiti.’ I wish we could publish Kyle Minor for life.”

Sarah Gorham, Sarabande Books

Thrown by Kerry Howley (Sarabande Books), $15.95

“Lev Grossman at Time magazine says it best: ‘The most bizarre and fascinating book I’ve read this year. The precision of Howley’s prose reminds me of Joan Didion or David Foster Wallace: she’s so involved with the fight, it’s as if she were trying to eat it with words. Howley writes like someone who’s been flayed, all nerve endings exposed, no barriers between her and the world around her.’ Never in my wildest musings did I think I’d be so taken in by a book about martial arts.”

Jeff Shotts, Graywolf Press

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (Graywolf Press), $24

“Graywolf Press’s 40th anniversary year in 2014 was full of marvels. Eula Biss’s truly brilliant and meticulously researched On Immunity: An Inoculation transforms our conceptions of vaccination, motherhood, and cultural fear, while also transforming our entire notion of what nonfiction writing can do.”

Jeff Shotts, Graywolf Press

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press), $15

“Leslie Jamison’s moving and important book, The Empathy Exams , demonstrates that an essay collection can be at once intellectually challenging and hearteningly emotional — and debut on the bestseller list.”

Jeff Shotts, Graywolf Press

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press), $20

“And the astonishing, essential Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine recounts racial microaggressions that accumulate into a traumatic individual and national sickness that is the white imagination. These books are not only magnificently conceived and written, but their authors also profoundly care about the world. We look up from their pages caring more too.”

Jenna Fisher, BOA Editions

All You Ask for Is Longing: New and Selected Poems by Sean Thomas Dougherty (BOA Editions), $16 “Dougherty has been a staple of the underground poetry scene for nearly 30 years, and his poetry is as honest and alive as any you’ll read. This new and selected volume covers his full career to-date and should wake us all up to the underground sound that’s throbbing like a bass drum in the heart of contemporary poetry. Poetry ain’t dead. This collection reminds us of that.”

Jenna Fisher, BOA Editions

The Tao of Humiliation by Lee Upton (BOA Editions), $16Winner of the BOA Short Fiction Prize “Simply put, this is one of the finest short story collections published in 2014. Alternately chilling, funny, devastating, and hopeful, Upton’s stories introduce us to a theater critic who winds up in a hot tub with the actress he routinely savages in reviews; a biographer who struggles to discover why a novelist stopped writing; a woman who searches through her past lives to recall a romantic encounter with the poet Yeats; a student who contends with her predatory professor; and the poignant scenario of the last satyr meeting his last woman. This is short story writing at its best.”

Jenna Fisher, BOA Editions

Copia by Erika Meitner (BOA Editions), $16

“Erika Meitner is a poet who is unafraid to probe the hulking ruins of office buildings, tract housing, superstores, construction sites, and freeways, and doesn’t shy from the interactions that occur in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Copia — her fourth collection — also includes a section of documentary poems written about Detroit that were originally commissioned for Virginia Quarterly Review. If you’re interested in poetry that is fearless in its approach to the real world with all its beauty and warts equally on display, Meitner is your poet, and Copia is your book.”

Daniel Slager, Milkweed Editions

Inappropriate Behavior by Murray Farish (Milkweed Editions), $16

“In the spring of 2014 we published a debut collection of stories — ‘the best first collection in years,’ according to Elizabeth McCracken — that I remain particularly proud of. By Murray Farish, Inappropriate Behavior is eminently contemporary in its representation of the strange anxieties of our time. But Farish’s stories also feel almost classical in their construction. This book introduces an exciting new voice in American letters. Or, as Lee K. Abbot puts it: ‘Do yourself a favor: put some Farish fiction between your ears.’”

Daniel Slager, Milkweed Editions

Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson (Milkweed Editions), $16

“In September, we published a stunning debut collection of poems, Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson . Selected as a winner in the National Poetry Series by Martha Collins, this book is profoundly daring, almost primal, and often illuminating, if darkly. Or as Marianne Boruch puts it, ‘This book is a map. Carry it with you. Let it advise and scare you again and again.’ Bone Map is the debut of an exceptionally exciting new voice in American poetry.”

Daniel Slager, Milkweed Editions

Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit, by Alison Hawthorne Deming (Milkweed Editions), $18

“And finally, this fall we are publishing a ‘literary menagerie’ (Alan Weisman) titled Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit, by Alison Hawthorne Deming . Each of the pieces in this stunning collection leave the reader reflecting on the deep meaning of biological life, including ours. And taken together, the essays prompt deep thinking on what animals are to us, and what we are to them. This book is timely — urgent, even — and uncommonly rich.”

Caroline Casey, Coffee House Press

House of Coates by Brad Zellar (Coffee House Press), $20

House of Coates is a book I first ran across as a spiral-bound limited edition — the woman sitting next to me said she had read it three times and I thought, no one reads books like these. And then I read this lavishly illustrated novel, and fell in love with how Brad Zellar’s prose and Alec Soth’s photographs (both created at an SRO outside of Minneapolis during a memorably brutal winter) come together to create a story that is tender and hopeful and lovely. The story of Lester B. Morrison, recluse, is gentle and unsparing in equal measure — it’s a reminder to see the unseen, lonely, forgotten folk, because acknowledging them is a measure of the respect they’re due.”

Joyelle McSweeney, Action Books

Wet Land by Lucas de Lima (Action Books), $12

“This debut volume by Lucas de Lima is engrossing, dismaying, intimate, and explosive. A booklength elegy written for a dear friend who was killed by an alligator, de Lima’s poetry moves inside the supposedly unspeakable space of grief where Western binaries — such as animal v. human, dead v. living, self v. others — collapse and shed a black, spectacular light. Wet Land is an act of spiritual counterconquest.

Joyelle McSweeney, Action Books

Only Jesus Could Ice Fish In Summer by Abraham Smith (Action Books), $12

“Music pours from Abe Smith like blood, cheap wine, car-radio and bird song. He grew up poor in Ladysmith, Wisconsin and turned those cold cold winters and itchy lit-up summers into a miracle rhapsody of 21st century song. Anyone who has heard these poems spill from this vessel knows that it is wondrous exhilarating stuff — strange as the breaking news read by a crow, familiar as the way your busted car window refuses to close on the night.”

Joyelle McSweeney, Action Books

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon trans. Don Mee Choi (Action Books), $12

“This is the latest volume of Korean feminist poet Kim Hyesoon, translated by the U.S.-based poet Don Mee Choi. Fans and new initiates will be beguiled, engaged, and moved by these poems in which household objects, animals, storybook figures, and humans enact grotesque allegories for the blacksites and power differentials that make modern life unsurvivable. Kim’s work is cute, nightmarish, dreamlike, political, shamanic, and intimate, all at the same time.”

Ander Monson, New Michigan Press

In Absolutes We Seek Each Other by Jessica Johnson (New Michigan Press), $9

“One of my favorite books this year is Jessica Johnson’s poetry chapbook, In Absolutes We Seek Each Other , the winner of our the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM 2014 Chapbook Contest. I love the other three chapbooks we just published, too (including two prose ones), but I guess I love Jessica’s a little more for her way of collapsing and complicating the scientific and lyric. There’s a lot happening in every poem in this chapbook (which is really long enough to qualify as a full-fledged first book but we call it a chapbook since that is what we do), but it’s most notable for the human vision of the scientific world and how it crosses circuits with the emotional world: ‘The idea was to mess them up, our plants,/ bombard our slate-clean seeds with agents/ that would slightly tweak their DNA, then plant/ the seeds, and let them grow into a bank of freaks.’”

Ed Taylor, Starcherone Books

Little Is Left to Tell by Steven Hendricks (Starcherone), $16

“The poetic debut novel Little Is Left to Tell by Steven Hendricks takes readers down a rabbit-hole via the tales that Mr. Fin, a man with dementia, conjures for his son in an attempt to stitch together the past. The novel draws its mythopoetic power and all-ages allegorical and ethical force as much from Homer, Ovid, and Aesop as from Kafka and the best young-adult writing (think Ursula LeGuin, Richard Adams, and Philip Pullman).”

Ed Taylor, Starcherone Books

The Compleat Memoirrhoids by Steve Katz (Starcherone), $23

“Iconic fiction innovator Steve Katz’s 137-episode memoir The Compleat Memoirrhoids is both a shuffled life story and a travelogue of 20th century alternative arts, lives, worlds, and ways of being. It’s a vagabond autobiography, its episodes wandering around the world, around the arts, and in and through nearly 80 years of varied experiences in 137 episodes that, like memories, rise unbidden and unpredictably to the surface of the text and to the reader’s experience of the book.”

Ed Taylor, Starcherone Books

The Petals of Your Eyes by Aimee Parkison (Starcherone), $14

“Aimee Parkison’s brief, powerful novel The Petals of Your Eyes is a work of immense compassion for the voiceless, the young, and the forgotten, as it focuses on kidnapped girls trapped in a remote theater surrounded by mountains and jungle. The Petals of Your Eyes is a darkly beautiful, surreal novel that conjures a painful, complicated, poetic world highly recommended for readers looking for edgy, innovative fiction.”