Staff Picks 2012: Julia

In no particular order and probably with far too many words...

by Zadie Smith

I read this, and then talked a whole bunch about it, and then listened to this incredible interview with Eleanor Wachtel, and wound up realizing I loved it. In a few words, this is a brilliant piece of fiction. It's flawed and realist, but also experimental and carefully woven. It's far-reaching, but narrow in scope: the lives of four people raised on a council estate in northwest London. It looks at only a few specific people's life experiences, but makes them beautiful and heartbreaking and imperfect, makes us feel their imperfections as our own. Smith affirms and reaffirms her place as one of the most interesting writers around in this novel that makes us reconsider our ideas about female friendships, about identity, about class, about race.

Building Stories
by Chris Ware

Let's be honest: Chris Ware is another of the most interesting writers/ artists/ cartoonists around. His books make me feel for other people, make me believe in other people. He takes out moments of people's lives, and flays down to the utter truth - the loneliness, the love, and the losses. This box of stories is beautifully designed, impeccably thought out, and filled with the all-too-real musings of perfectly imperfect beings like the ones who surround us in real life. [See also: Jade's Staff Picks.]

Rookie Yearbook One
edited by Tavi Gevinson

Rookie produces some of the smartest, most interesting, most on-the-level, non-pretentious content for teenage girls that has ever existed. And the advice, life lessons, and cultural analysis are not just handy for teenagers or teenage girls - Rookie has taught me life lessons and showed me new pop culture heroes. Don't believe me? Read this article about encountering the male gazeRead this interview with Chris WareRead some of the comments on this article about street harassment. Finally, it sure doesn't hurt that the book itself is G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S - tons of Sonja Ahlers's beautiful collage work, textiled backgrounds, a crown, a sticker sheet! [See also: Julien's Staff Picks.]

Something Fierce
by Carmen Aguirre

She won the Canada Reads Award for good reason - this is a very interesting book. Something Fierce looks at the decade between 1979 and 1989 in South America from an on-the-ground, and (I hesitate to use the word, but) holistic perspective. As a child (and later, as a teen), Aguirre spent time in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Her family had fled their homeland, Chile, after the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973, but her mother decided to return to Chile in 1978, hoping to help overthrow the regime as an underground revolutionary. At the age of 16, Carmen herself got involved, but the memoir focuses as much on her personal experiences (Carmen suffered from OCD, anxiety, and related ailments caused by the dangerous lifestyle) as it does on the zeitgeist of pre- and post-revolutionary South America. It's a fast read, but one that leaves you with lots of food for thought about what it meant to be involved in political struggle in that era, and about the ways those struggles inflected people's lives.

The Making Of
by Brecht Evens

Brecht makes beautiful books. I feel like I say this a lot about comics I like, but there's no one who does what he does, stylistically, and his style is ever evolving. This story is about art-making, pettiness, and how people get along. These subjects are explored with a sly wit, and a sharp eye for how people actually interact with one another. Evens's artwork is breathtaking in its use of colour and its loose, expressive lines.

Pippi Moves In 
by Astrid Lindgren & Ingrid Vang Nyman

Everybody loves Pippi Longstocking. How can you not? She's the best. When I was a kid, the only thing I loved more than rad books was rad books with a female protagonist. Buy this for all the little girls you know, teach 'em that they too can be the strongest in the whole world. Vang Nyman's illustrations are uncannily prescient - beautiful colours, startling use of perspective, and a world resplendent with thingamajigs and doodads.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman

Deb Perelman cares about food. Indeed Deb Perelman cares about food, about kitchens, and about the perfection of a recipe in its most distilled form. She's also a funny and joyful writer. With recipes for honey and harissa farro salad, chocolate brioche pretzels, and pistachio masala lamb chops, this one's a keeper, folks. Check out her website if you don't believe me. 'Nuff said. [I've already blabbed a bunch.]

How Music Works
by David Byrne

Um, I'll read anything David Byrne wants to write. How Music Works is part memoir, part thoughtful meditation on what it means to play, write, listen to, perform, and record music. Much like Bicycle Diaries (which is also totally rad and worth reading!), How Music Works lets you see how Byrne, a decades-long innovator in the music world, thinks about what he does.

Honourable mention goes to Lilli Carre's Heads or Tails - this is a cartoonist who knows how to do a short story right! Also to Anna & Froga and Jerusalem (which I put on last year's list, so I don't think I can justifiably include the same book two years in a row, even if we did publish awesome translations of them). Let's also throw out an honourable mention to Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue and Dave Eggers's Hologram for the King - I'm pretty sure these would be on the list if I had just been able to get my life organized to read them already!

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