Stephen Elliott Recommends

“There are so many underappreciated books. It’s a tough question,” Elliot says. Instead of picking just one book, he rattled off a few that deserve more readers: “Tom Bissell’s Chasing The Sea was underappreciated, I thought. It’s a travel story about a former Peace Corps volunteer returning to Uzbekistan but it’s also a history of the region, and it’s also the story of the Aral Sea, the greatest man-made environmental disaster in history. Wow, what a book! Reads like lightning. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read even though I have zero interest in Uzbekistan (no offense to the Uzbekistanis).

There’s also the great Chicago novel, The Beggar’s Shore by Zak Muncha which was published by Andrew Vachss in paperback original. Also the illustrated novel Rent Girl by Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin which came out last year and really pushed the mix of art and lit to its next level. People are going to be copying that book for years though I don’t think it sold that many copies.

Then there’s Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist Handbook and Dennis Cooper’s Try, but both of those books have large cult followings. I could name some of Nelson Algren’s lesser works, and also Notice by Heather Lewis but if I’m going to push someone in the direction of something they should read I prefer to encourage indulging living writers and thereby taking part in our cultural conciousness.

At any rate, we should appreciate books that are more gritty, that have something to say about class stratification. Every book published by Softskull Press or Manic D Press is underappreciated, as are many, though not all, by Last Gasp.”

Stephen Elliott is the author of four novels, including the critically acclaimed Happy Baby, and the editor of the anthology Politically Inspired. His most recent book is Looking Forward to It, an account of his experiences on the campaign trail in 2004. His work also has been published in GQ, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer magazine. He lives in California.