Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Publisher of the Year: Tin House Books

As I said in my review of Alexis M. Smith's Glaciers, "Sometimes you find the book, and sometimes the book finds you."  Such was the case for me this year with both Glaciers and its publisher, Tin House Books.  The happiest surprises in my life are the literary ones--moments like discovering the joyous poetry of Billy Collins while I was mired in self-pity during my year in Baghdad, reading the first paragraph of Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away, the librarian handing me my first library card which was like opening a Narnian wardrobe door and finding a glittering Emerald City populated by the likes of Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So it was with Tin House Books, starting with that night  I walked into the Barnes and Noble in Bozeman, Montana "just to get a latte" and wound up having a "meet cute" moment with Glaciers.  I picked the slim, pretty paperback (oo la la, those French flaps! those deckle-edge pages!) off the new release table and read the first sentence ("Isabel often thinks of Amsterdam, though she has never been there, and probably will never go") and brother, I was hooked.  Line and sinker.

When I turned over Glaciers and looked at the back cover, I was surprised to see the Tin House logo there at the bottom.  Tin House?  Didn't they just publish a literary journal (albeit an outstanding literary journal)?  And now they were branching out with their own book imprint?  Little did I know, I already had some Tin House titles in my library (including November 22, 1963 by Adam Braver and Call it What You Want by Keith Lee Morris) and had at least another on my wishlist (Leni Zumas' The Listeners--based, if nothing else, on its outstanding cover design).

Tin House has been turning out its own books since 2005 (it was previously an imprint of Bloomsbury for three years), quietly filling the literary landscape with beauties like Mentor: A Memoir by Tom Grimes, Mosquito: Poems by Alex Lemon and The Entire Predicament by Lucy Corin.  They're also the publishers of two grand graphic-novel experiences: Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow by Zak Smith and Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish.

Where had I been?  How could I have not paid attention to a publisher that brought books like these into existence?  If I was more of a religious man prone to being struck by light-bursting visions from heaven, I probably would have fallen to my knees right there in Barnes and Noble, Glaciers glowing hot and bright in my hands, reveling in the revelation.  Instead, I calmly ordered my latte and paid for Smith's debut novel.  I try not to make a big deal out of life-changing events when they happen.

Since Glaciers, I've gone on to read Wire to Wire by Scott Sparling and Misfit by Adam Braver--both on my forthcoming Best Books of 2012 list--and have a third Tin House Book, What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha, firmly lodged near the top of the 2013 To-Be-Read pile.  For this reason, and for the fact that they put so much smart and creative energy into packaging their books, I'm naming Tin House Books my favorite Publisher of the Year, a dubious honor without compensation, trophy or paper certificate--only my priceless gratitude for enhancing the 2012 reading year.

Other new and forthcoming releases from Tin House Books which I'm really looking forward to reading include Me and Mr. Booker by Cory Taylor, American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor, and The Celestials by Karen Shepard.

If you're like the Early-2012 Me, a reader who's never heard of Tin House Books, then don't wait for some miraculous, church-revival bookstore experience to come up and smack you in the face.  Discover Tin House for yourself now.  I guarantee you'll be singing its gospel in no time flat.


  1. Smart choice. Tin House publishes some great stuff. I loved GLACIERS. I would love to read more books like that one.

  2. I agree! I loved Glaciers and What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I have been trying to add some other Tin House titles to my list. I think Asta in the Wings is one that I've recently added.