A pocketful of riches
Madras Press’s new series of books boasts an embarrassment of riches: Alfred Hitchcock, David Foster Wallace, and Lydia Davis, a master of the very, very short story. The books are 5-by-5-inch squares, a shape founder Sumanth Prabhaker favors because it can fit in a pocket or a bag and, as he puts it, “you almost have to cradle them as you read.”
His nonprofit press has now published 16 books since its start in 2009. His day job is working in production and design at Pearson Learning Solutions.
How does his 1.5-person operation attract such big names? Prabhaker views the books themselves — he calls them “cute little diplomats” — as a key sales tool.
“The Murder of Monty Woolley,” which first appeared in Look magazine as a “photocrime,” is Hitchcock’s only known work of published fiction. He stars in a series of grainy photographs he art directed. Together with Hitchcock’s dialogue-driven prose, the photos tell the story of how Hitchcock solved a murder mystery.
“The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax” is an excerpt from “The Pale King” that Prabhaker published with permission from Wallace’s publisher and estate. It’s a monologue by Chris Fogle, who free associates at great length about rebelling against his parents and experimenting with drugs before landing at the IRS. Prabhaker calls it “some of the most perfect writing of Wallace’s career.” As with all Madras books, net proceeds from book sales will benefit a nonprofit; in this case it’s Granada House, an addiction-recovery center where Wallace did much of his research for “Infinite Jest.”
“Eating Fish Alone” is a selection of Davis’s food-related stories. In announcing Davis as winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize for fiction earlier this year, Sir Christopher Ricks sought to describe her work: “They have been called stories but could equally be miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apophthegms, prayers or simply observations.” Turn the Davis book over and you find, starting from the back, “Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double),” what Prabhaker calls “an elaborate and ultimately impossible made-up French recipe by Harry Mathews.”
The fourth new Madras book is “Fall Out” by Susan Daitch. As Prabhaker explains it, this novella about the 50-year fallout from a nuclear test site in the western United States “somehow manages to involve the history of cinema, alien abduction, animal science, and amateur archeology, all in a suite of these little doomed episodes.”
Prabhaker stores Madras books on the window seat in his Newton living room. The press run for each of the new books was about 1,000 copies. They’re available on the press’s website and at some area independent bookstores.
What’s next? “I have a 40-page chocolate chip cookie recipe that I think would be a neat little book,” he wrote in an e-mail to me. And he’s itching to search the Tintin and Peanuts archives for unpublished gems.
■ “Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City”by Steve Miller (Da Capo)
■ “Unseen”by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte)
■ “Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things”by Ashley Cardiff (Gotham)
Pick of the Week
Kym Havens of Wellesley Books in Wellesley recommends “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway (Dutton): “This novel is hands-down one of my favorite books this year. Just as aristocrat Nick Falcott is about to be killed on a Napoleonic battlefield, he jumps in time to modern-day London. Thus begins an engrossing adventure, with mystery, romance, humor, and impeccable historical detail.”