May 17th, 2011 / 6:32 pm
Author Spotlight

6 Books: Kevin Sampsell on Nonfiction

This is Part II of a series where I ask writers I like for 6 book recommendations according to some loose guideline. Part I is here. This week, Kevin Sampsell, editor of Future Tense Books out of Portland, Oregon, doyen of Powell’s Books, and author of the wildly excellent memoir, A Common Pornography (Harper Perennial). To give you an idea of the goodness of Kevin’s book, I’ll confess that the first copy I had didn’t make it through my ravenous reading of it and I had to switch to another.

I asked Kevin to recommend 6 nonfiction books, old or new. He obliged, and then some:

Black Box: Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts of In-Flight Accidents by Malcolm MacPherson

I’m fascinated with this book and the way these transcripts reflect the collected calm of airplane pilots and then their sudden confusion, panic, and tragedy. An eerie and morose reading experience.

I Remember by Joe Brainard

Whenever I go talk to a writing class about memoir, I always point out this book and read a little from it. Then I have the class write a few of their own “I Remembers.” It’s such a non-threatening and easy way to access parts of your life that you think are uninteresting and trivial, but turn out to be engaging and universal.

Time Out of Mind by Leonard Michaels

Besides his fiction and his essays, this book is a bit of an oddity because it’s more like disjointed journal entries. It took me a few pages to lock into Michaels’s groove, but once I did, this book turned into a thing of uncut beauty. I would have to say that Leonard Michaels is the author I’ve been most obsessed with for the past year since I read his novel, The Men’s Club.

Oedipus Wrecked by Kevin Keck

This book is so dirty and hilarious, but also sweetly heartfelt. For fans of Jonathan Ames and other straight-faced pervs.

Answer Me: The First Three by Jim Goad

I had a weird rivalry with Goad for a while (he dated and beat up an ex-girlfriend of mine), but before all of that (and his time in prison) he published a crazy magazine called Answer Me! This book and magazine may be hard to find now, but there’s some really funny, scathing, dark, and shocking entries about sensational suicides and deranged murderers in this thing. Plus, Goad wasn’t just an angry punk hack. He was actually a good writer who prided himself on never having a typo in his magazine.

Swing Low by Miriam Toews

Another one that might be hard to find now, this Canadian superstar novelist’s unusual memoir about her dad (she wrote it from his perspective) is going to finally be released in the states this fall. Toews (pronounced Taves) is a beautiful writer who gives the reader a brave and brilliant look at a loving father and his Mennonite family and how his battles with depression drove him to suicide.

My BONUS 2nd set of six, would be: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett, My Less Than Secret Life by Jonathan Ames, A Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Rent Girl by Michelle Tea, and The Film Club by David Gilmour

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  1. Shannon

      I’ve read some of these and really enjoyed them. I also suggest Jim Goad’s book Shit Magnet. I really wanted to hate it but wound up really enjoying it.

  2. Kevin Sampsell

      There’s some stuff about me in Shit Magnet. Not so nice. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like that book. Haha.  

  3. Shannon

      I don’t mind the not so nice. Too much nice can ruin something like that book for me. I think that’s a big part of why I did like it as much as I did. I would have hated it if it had been sanitized.

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  5. alan

      I’ve been recommending “I Remember” to ppl for years, nice choice. 

  6. kb

      I liked Redneck Manifesto will have to look into Shit Magnet. 

  7. Laura Hogan

      I used to like Answer Me a lot, although I found a lot of it disturbing. I had one of the volumes (one of the pieces was about 12-step programs) but my stupid ex-husband stole it when he moved out. There’s probably something profound about that, but I’m too tired to figure it out right now.

  8. Chloe

       Thanks for the recommendations! I must get my hands on a copy of Oedipus Wrecked, and of course, I remember.

  9. TonyONeill

      hey kevin

      nice recommendations, and i admire your ability to still dig goad’s stuff given the personal history.  i also really enjoy goad’s stuff, and a friend once allowed me to read through his pristine collection of answer me!’s – mindbending shit.

  10. Bradley Sands

       I have done so many “I Remembers” since I started as a grad student. I took a class where part of it was teaching writing in the community. We would do in class writing exercises every week. “I Remember” was one of them. I taught writing at a rehab center for a few months, so we did the exercise a whole bunch of times there. And I did one session with a group of GLBT teens, so I did it again then. And maybe when I taught at a high school, but maybe not considering that was more focused on teaching writing techniques while the other stuff I mentioned was about my “students” expressing themselves through writing.

      I read the semi-complete Answer Me! in high school about fifteen years ago and was really into it. I probably wouldn’t like it as much now, or perhaps not at all. Didn’t care so much for the Redneck Manifesto.

  11. Kevin Sampsell

      I guess “I Remember” exercises are more common than I thought. Ha! I thought I was being original. I wonder if a day will come when I go to a class and start talking about I Remember and the class goes, “Jeez! Not again!”

  12. Kevin Sampsell

      In another note, I should note that the next book published by Future Tense is Shane Allison’s version of “I Remember.” It’s gonna be awesome (out in October).

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