My friend Janet Towle has just started a new subscription service called The Manzanita Papers, where a different writer or editor selects a different under-appreciated book to send out each month. "We hope to shine a light on some powerful works that haven't gotten enough credit," they explain on the website. "We imagine our boxes will be of interest to readers, thinkers, former and future MFA students, and writers."
Janet sent me a little more context on the service, which expands on the approach they want to take — like getting a personal recommendation from a friend who's familiar with the world of writing and publishing. Every month features a different curator, but the goal remains the same: to highlight books that might not break onto the bestseller list, or find a home in the airport book store, but are something worth reading nonetheless. Or, in their own words (emphasis added):
There's not always a correlation between the books that get the most attention and the books that are the most innovative, thoughtful, or resonant. And the tastes that shape what books get published and reviewed in the US don't honor a broad enough range of voices, traditions, and experiences. As a writer and a reader, I want to know about the beautifully structured novel written as a one-off by a little-known poet 30 years ago. I want to know about the novel that opens with a two-page cast of characters, the memoir that refuses to cater to my expectations, the collection that carries the conversation forward. I want to know about the weird-but-incredible novel that almost didn't get published and never sold more than a few hundred copies. I want to know about the books that other writers keep on their desks to guide them through treacherous waters, the ones they assign in their classes again and again because they're still plumbing new depths in the narrative after ten years of study. That's what I want Manzanita Papers to do: highlight books and authors who deserve to be more widely known, according to people who are actively practicing the craft of writing.
A subscription to the Manzanita Papers will only cost you a little bit more than the books themselves would: $30 a month, $81 quarterly (10% off), or $306 annually (15% off). Each monthly shipment also arrives in a lovely handmade package, accompanied by some context and other curatorial materials:
This first month featured Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, a 1990 magic realist novel by Japanese-American author Karen Tei Yamashita that's written from the point of view of a satellite above the Brazilian rain forest. I've personally never heard of this book, but it sounds like exactly the kind of delightfully weird literary romp I like to read. Publisher's Weekly called it a, "satiric morality play about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest" that "blends the matter-of-fact surrealism of Garcia Marquez, bizarre science fiction twists a la Stanislaw Lem, and a gift for satirizing bureaucracy that recalls Heller of Catch 22 –all in a Chaucerian framework."
If that sounds like the kind of book recommendation you'd be into, you should sign up for the Manzanita Papers. It could also be a great gift for literary friends and family! Here's this month's recommendation: