Last October, Hurricane Sandy filled Kicks Books' warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with six feet of saltwater. The flood inundated the press's entire stock, along with owner Miriam Linna's collection of thousands of vintage paperbacks. To make matters worse, the warehouse had also contained more than 100,000 records belonging to the label Norton Records, which Linna founded with her husband. After Sandy, as Linna scrambled to get things back in order, writer and old friend Harlan Ellison called frequently.
"At the time I thought he was being kind of crazy," said Linna, recounting that Ellison repeatedly told her to recover her now waterlogged and ruined paperbacks. "I didn't really see the point, those books were destroyed, but I pulled them out of there."
Linna published the first of Kicks Books' "hip pocket paperbacks" in 2009. The book was Sweets and Other Stories, written by soul singer Andre Williams while he was in rehab. Williams needed a project to aid him in getting through the ordeal, and with support from Linna began to write fiction. To help him stay committed, Linna made Williams a promise. "I told him, if you end up writing a book, I'll publish it," Linna recounted. "He did write a book, and that became the first Kicks book."
Although Linna did not initially have plans to continue publishing, Kicks Books grew rapidly. This Planet Is Doomed, a collection of poetry by musician Sun Ra, and Save the Last Dance for Satan by poet and novelist Nick Tosches, followed in 2011. In 2012, Kicks published musician Kim Fowley's Lord of Garbage, along with two volumes of previously uncollected, early work from Harlan Ellison, Pulling a Train and Getting in the Wind.
"The idea behind the whole thing was to do a portable book you could put in your hip pocket. I didn't like the Kindle argument that they were more portable than regular books," explained Linna, a self-professed lover of the paperback. "Just when they said paperbacks were dead, I decided to put out some paperbacks."
Despite the devastation caused by Sandy, Kicks Books has managed to get back on its feet in less than a year. Linna's printer volunteered to reprint special Hurricane Sandy editions of the hip pocket paperbacks, and two new titles--Gone Man Squared by British Beat poet Royston Ellis and Benzedrine Highway by Charles Plymell--are coming out this summer. On July 13, Kicks Books hosted a rare Harlan Ellison reading at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles to celebrate the relaunch of the paperbacks.
Linna's next step is reminding bookshops and booksellers that Kicks Book is back. And now that the press is once more on stable ground, Linna can see the genius behind Ellison's relentless encouragement in the wake of the flood. "Going through that, rescuing all those books, was extremely therapeutic to me. Given the enormous concerns we had with the warehouse, it was kind of like psychological realignment."
Linna has no plans to let herself forget the damage that Sandy caused. As a reminder "from now until doomsday," all future Kicks Books titles will come back from the printer when the moon is full. Beyond the two immediately upcoming titles, Kicks Books does not have a defined publication schedule; Linna plans to publish only books that truly interest her and have some significance to musical or literary history.
"In the grand scheme of things, these books might not be the next big bestsellers, but that's not my concern," said Linna. "My concern is documenting history, and making sure it's preserved. These are all senior authors--the idea of having their books out and fresh for new audiences, while these guys are still around and able to enjoy it, is really important to me." --Alex Mutter