Books

Ovenbird Books is an independent press dedicated to the publication of experimental literary nonfiction. You can order any of our titles through the links below to our Amazon shop.

thecircustrain

Order The Circus Train from Amazon

The Circus Train is an essay of novella length—something for which we have no term. But nevertheless it is meant to stand on its own. Even with the two additional companion essays, The Circus Train is a short book. Its intention is to explore, to argue, and to contemplate. Confronting memory and mortality, Judith Kitchen finds abundance in her own front yard.

Excerpt:
The circus—the real thing. Not the carnival, with its tin ear and its come-hither deceptions. Its ferris wheel and the taste of snowcones or funnel cakes. I mean the circus, where acrobats show off their years of practice, or clowns take on personalities of their own. The carnival doesn’t last longer than that last throw of the dart, that last toss of the ring. You walk home with nothing but slum: the spider rings and keychains and finger traps and vampire teeth and fortune fish of the trade. You walk past the charming tricksters—Popeye and Smithy and Little John—who stand there, calling you in, selling the shabby dream to the highest bidder. They dazzle you with the sound of their sugary pitch. Because some things don’t change all that much over time, and the human desire to win something for next to nothing is one of them. To have some good fun being fooled.

Order a signed copy of Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear from the author
Order Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear from Amazon

On the surface, Kate Carroll de Gutes’ debut collection of essays considers her sexuality, gender presentation, and the end of her marriage. But, as editor Judith Kitchen says, “peel it back, begin to take it apart, both semantically and linguistically and personally, and it all comes clear.”

Kate Carroll de Gutes invites readers to become collaborators in essays about issues we all face: growing up, identity, love, loss, and sometimes, the quest for the perfect fashion accessory. With wit matched by self-compassion and empathy, the essays offer a lesson on the inevitable journey back to the places where we begin.

Excerpt:
You are both lying there not sleeping and breathing much too fast. And maybe you are whispering to each other, your heads close together. Maybe your foreheads are touching. Or maybe not. At any rate, you surely are whispering because your parents’ bedroom is right on the other side of yours. You can hear your father snoring. You can also hear the TV in the family room and you know your mother is still awake, smoking and watching Johnny Carson. You are whispering because you don’t want to get caught awake, thinking the thoughts you are thinking.

Then, you don’t know how it happens, but suddenly the sides of your mouths are touching. Maybe you both turned toward each other too quickly. It’s hard to say. But, at any rate, you are kissing. Quite suddenly. All at once. Finally. At last.

Order The Book of Knowledge and Wonder from Amazon

The Book of Knowledge and Wonder
is a memoir about claiming a legacy of wonder from knowledge of a devastating event. In some ways it has the feel of a detective story in which Steven Harvey pieces together the life of his mother who committed suicide when he was eleven, out of the 406 letters she left behind.  The memoir is framed by references to the 1952 set of The Book of Knowledge and the mobiles of Alexander Calder, which become tools for the author to understand and reconstruct the life of his mother, but as son and mother collaborate in the creation of their story it is the perennial theme of abiding love despite the odds that fuels the tale.

Excerpt:
After my mother died I forgot the sensation of her touch and the sound of her voice. I could not hug a shadow. I could not fill her silence with my words.
Who is suicide? She was suicide.
She became her death.
And the pictures, hundreds of curled shavings of the past in a basket, did not bring her back. Even when my mother gazed directly into the camera, I knew that she was looking into a future that was already over with shadows like gun smoke folded into the glossy black-and-white. I needed a voice, speaking in her present, not one whispering to posterity, a voice animated by the desire to capture the present for someone alive. That is the voice I heard in the letters. When I read them, I got to know her—for the first time, really—know her and miss her. Miss her, not some made up idea of her. The letters do not bring her back—I know the loss is permanent and irrevocable—but while I read them the pain, that had been nothing more than a dull throb, changed in character, becoming softer, more diffuse, and ardent, like heartache.

 Order The Last Good Obsession: Thoughts on Finding Life in Fiction from Amazon

The Last Good Obsession: Thoughts on Finding Life in Fiction
is a collection of hybrid essays that get personal about reading. Open to possibilities and insights, Sandra Swinburne settles into some of her favorite books to savor the way fictional characters spark her imagination and raise the past. She wonders over too-real manifestations of her own vulnerable self in women named Oedipa or Joanna or Amy, and she prods family and friends for answers when she finds them “creeping about between paper covers.” Under a thin lens of literary criticism, memoir accumulates, book by book and essay by essay, to reveal a lived life.

Excerpt:
I lay nearly motionless on a four-poster bed in a Savannah hotel. My husband and I had just returned from a restaurant made famous on the Cooking Channel where we’d shared mounds of corn bread and biscuits, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and chicken potpie. Add a couple glasses of wine and split a slice of pecan pie and my stomach hurt more than it had in a long time. I silently vowed that I would never again surrender so completely to temptation, knowing that my word was good for a day or two at best. On my back and moving only one finger, I flicked a page of Milan Kundera’s novel Identity. “‘Men don’t turn to look at me anymore,’” Chantal laments. Perhaps it was just bad timing to read that, feeling as I did while my husband concentrated on the Syracuse basketball game that blared from the television and played on—even after I barked at him to turn the volume down. Feeling sorry for myself, I curled inward where I could sink into a meditation on reality and time and my own aging because “‘men don’t turn to look at me anymore’” either.

Order Dear Boy, An Epistolary Memoir from Amazon

Garrison Keillor wrote, “If you lose a brother, improvise.” Dear Boy, An Epistolary Memoir is likewise an improvisational work, a lyric memoir written in fragments. Letters interspersed with vignettes of third-person narration capture the trajectory of a family story in which the narrator attempts to reconcile herself to the truth of relationships gone awry and the death of a brother. The memoir peers upon the universal issues of human loss, longing, and grief and praises the unexpected beauties left to be discovered in the wake of such sorrows.

Excerpt:
Dear Boy,

I wrote you an email last year, addressed to your tattoo shop. Did you ever get it? It was about our cousin’s wedding—you were invited, but she didn’t know where to send the invitation. You know, your house really was out in the middle of nowhere. How many houses are there in that tiny town, anyway—five? And a church? And some railroad tracks? And just a little bit up from the churchyard, that narrow country road where you landed after flying out of a car.
You never saw this house I live in, and you’d been living in your home for years before I ever visited. We weren’t too busy, but were we scared to act like brother and sister? Today I was thinking that it’s still July, a few weeks before your blood marked the gravel with a great brown stain, but the leaves on the silver maple in my front yard have turned sunny gold speckled with mildew. Meaning the accident already happened. Too late for me to ask you how the distance between us unfurled, why your once-tight grip on my hand loosened into a flat, retracted palm.
Too late now—but death demands an account. The closer the death, the more detailed its demands. And all this accounting I must do with you, Boy, is like sending a hundred years’ worth of birthday cards and getting none in return. But so it will be. I have no other way to speak to you.

Order The Slow Farm from Amazon

In the early 1970s, Tarn Wilson’s father quit his job as the Brookings Institution’s first computer programmer, packed his family into a converted school bus with “Suck Nixon” painted on the side, and headed for the Canadian wilderness. He planned to give his two young children an Edenic childhood, free from the shadows of war, materialism, and middle class repression.
In charming, poetic language, Wilson captures vivid memories of early childhood on British Columbia’s Texada Island: her father’s stories of elves, fairies, and birthday weasels; her mother’s transition from suburbanite to pioneer woman; her own growing love affair with words. But her father’s idealism soon crashes against the reality of her mother’s growing loneliness and the children’s need for structure, and the family begins its slow disintegration.
Between each lyric chapter, told from the child’s point of view, Wilson incorporates “artifacts” that reveal larger cultural forces shaping her parents’ decisions: letters, photographs, timelines, newspaper clippings, excepts from radicals approaches to child rearing. In the space between the child’s vision and the adult context, readers are invited to consider the gifts and burdens of a counterculture childhood.

Excerpt:
When the cop car door opened, it released a heavy silence. Two officers and a dog stepped out. The officers’ hair, the color of mice, was cropped even as a mowed lawn—not like the Slow Farm men whose long hair soaked up smells of sweat, wood smoke, and stir fry.
I saw the Slow Farm through police eyes: the tall weeds on the side of the road, several cars without engines in front of the barn, two children with dirty feet and scabbed legs.
I liked the officers’ tidiness, the clean lines of their uniforms. At school, I had learned the police help kittens and children and old people.
The police dog was a German Shepherd with black around his mouth and eyes. I wanted to pet him, but he put his nose to the ground and started running back and forth on the length of his lead, as thoroughly and systematically as Janet with her carpet sweeper.
Jack walked toward them, wiping the grease from his hands on his jeans. “Can I help you?”
“We got a report of drugs on this property. We have to follow up. You understand.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Jack’s voice was natural, but I felt a stiffness traveled up his spine.
“We need to search the house.”
“Go ahead,” Jack said.
As the police strode toward the door, Rima and I tried to grab Jack’s hands. He pulled them away.
“Why are they here? Why do they have the dog? What’s the dog doing?”
“He’s sniffing for drugs.” Jack looked straight ahead. “If they ask you any questions, just say you don’t know.”
I felt as if black ants were biting the backs of my legs. If those officers asked me any questions, the truth might burst right out of me without my permission. The grown-ups would all go to jail and it would be my fault.

Order An Earlier Life from Amazon 

How many lives do we create in one lifetime? In her latest collection of innovative, shape-shifting essays, Brenda Miller evolves through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood to enter the wry maturity of middle age. Whether traveling from synagogue to sweat lodge, from the Arizona desert to a communal hot springs in California, she navigates the expectations placed on young girls and women at every turn. She finds guidance in her four major creeds (Judaism, Home Improvement, the Grateful Dead, and Rescue Dogs), while charting a course toward an authentic life. Each stage demands its own form, its own story, sometimes as a means of survival: “No straight line between here and there, between past and future; instead, many small rifts open between where you stand now and where you are trying to go.”