Kirkus’ fiction editor, Laurie Muchnick, mentioned in a recent column that when she read as a kid, “books were books.” Placing too much emphasis on genre or labels could be too limiting—both then and now. Something similar could be said for self-pubbed books. A quarter of all titles sold on Amazon are self-published, but a big swath of the reading public has remained within the gated community of traditional publishing.
While on New York’s commuter rail, I conducted a thoroughly unscientific poll about self-publishing. The guy sitting next to me one day was carrying a print copy of The Age of Innocence and so seemed to be a serious reader. After we talked about an Edith Wharton line that’s as true as ever, at least in New York’s theater district (“Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it”), I asked, “Have you ever read a self-published book?” He hadn’t but said he would, and he asked for a recommendation.
I told him about a recent favorite—99 Jobs, a collection of Ian Frazier–esque short essays by general contractor and author Joe Cottonwood (which earned a Kirkus star). He wrote it down and wanted more recommendations.
Some readers are willing to cross the indie divide; they just need to know what’s good. After all, it can be hard for self-pubbed writers to garner the media saturation of traditionally published books. To make it easier for those who have or haven’t read a single self-pubbed title, here’s a Kirkus-approved shortlist: Eduardo Santiago’s Midnight Rumba, “a historically sound, sublimely heartbreaking novel about the soul of the Cuban revolution”; Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette's Head, a biography that considers the French Revolution from the perspective of the queen’s hairdresser; and After the Wind, author Lou Kasischke’s accountofsurviving the worst disaster in recorded Mt. Everest climbing history. – K.S.