Friday, January 23, 2009

Who You Callin' Akashic?

I’ve written so often about the amazing imagination, range, and sheer guts of Akashic Books, the paperback-original house started by rock musician Johnny Temple, that some people might think Temple and I are related. Cousin John (just kidding) published my personal favorite novel of 2008, Nina Revoyr’s The Age of Dreaming, and other writers (most recently author Tim Hallinan) have said that Dreaming is the book they’ve recommended most often. Now on my soggy doorstep arrives a package of goodies that looks like a literary version of those Omaha steaks gift bundles I used to love.

Akhasic virtually invented the geographically centered noir collection - fine new or neglected stories sharply rounded up by good editors. And there are two new entries to its Noir Series that deserve mentioning: Rome Noir (the names of authors included in that book might not be as familiar as some Roman writers, but the strada-wise scribes certainly know how to capture the city’s darkest corners) and San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, which follows in the great tradition of George Pelecanos’ D.C. Noir by going back to older stories from such great Bay Area writers as Ambrose Bierce, Frank Norris, Mark Twain, Jack London, Dashiell Hammett, William Vollmann, Fletcher Flora, Bill Pronzini, Joe Gores, Janet Dawson, Oscar Penaranda, Seth Morgan, Craig Clevenger, and many others.

Also capturing the noir tone, this time with a Cuban roll, is Robert Arellano’s Havana Lunar, a book that justifies Akashic's motto -- "reverse-gentrification of the literary world." From its eye-popping cover to its funny, raunchy prose, this gorgeous new quality paperback keeps the house’s unique list as jaunty as ever. Read it, smoke it, enjoy it.

Another Cuban offering is Ruins, by Achy Obejas, a Cuban American woman who creates a much more tragic and realistic world that has reminded critics of Ernest Hemingway’s work.

As icing, there’s a music-lovers delight: Infinity Blues, the first collection of poetry and short pieces of both fiction and non-fiction by singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. Thanks again, Cousin John. See you at Aunt Rhody’s picnic ...

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