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Book Talk: City Lights Books and Nouvella

Two presses that are considerably different, but that you should certainly know about, are City Lights Books, located in San Francisco, and Nouvella, located in the heart of Sacramento and edited by Deena Drewis.

City Lights Books has been dealing with social and political issues since 1955, publishing fiction, memoirs, poetry, literary translations and titles like Angela Y. Davis’ “The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues.”

Forthcoming books tackle topics as diverse as Nam Domi’s “An Initiate’s Journey into Haitian Voudou,” Beth Lisick’s “Yokohama Threeway: and Other Small Shames” and Heidi Boghosian’s “Spying on Democracy.”

This publisher’s selection of poetry includes works by the Beat poets and more cutting-edge poets like Catherine Wagner and her collection, “Nervous Device.” A recently released title, “Robert Duncan in San Francisco,” by Michael Rumaker, is a good choice in conjunction with the current Crocker Art Museum exhibit.

If works in translation suit you better, check out the upcoming “Forest of a Thousand Daemons,” written in the Yoruba language, or the recently released “A Long Day’s Evening” by Bilge Karasu, a Turkish novel.

Nouvella is the incarnation of Flatmancrooked, a now defunct local publisher that once employed Drewis, who can also be found writing for the Sacramento News & Review, when she’s not at the helm of her novella publishing, soon-to-be empire.

These books are just the right size for your pocket (not your coin pocket), backpack, carry-on luggage, lunch pail or even your artist’s carrier. These take-along books pack quite a punch, and Nouvella has a special through June 30 (four titles for $32).

The novella is an interesting form that falls between long fiction, as opposed to short or flash fiction, and a novel. Ian McEwan, in “Some Notes on the Novella,” writes that he believes “the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction.” I have to agree. While there may be many who dislike the novella, deeming it not long enough, I find this form to be tightly written, and the best writers have used it.

McEwan lists several of my favorites, including Thomas Mann (“Death in Venice”), Henry James (“Turn of the Screw”) and Voltaire (“Candide”). Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and Albert Camus also used this form. I hear you say that these are not contemporary writers. Sure, these are classics, but the novella is also being utilized by contemporary writers like Roy Parvin (“In the Snow Forest: Three Novellas”), William H. Gass (“Cartesian Sonata and Other Novellas”) and Maryann Reid (“Sex and the Single Sister: Five Novellas”).

You probably noticed that these titles include more than one novella. In many contemporary books, a collection of two to five novellas or a collection of short stories and one or two novellas is being published.

Nouvella, however, publishes a single novella. Sometimes that’s all a reader needs.

In July, look for a summer reading special including reviews of several books from these publishers.

Book Talk can be reached at SacramentoBookTalk@gmail.com.

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