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Friday, 29 November 2013

Staff picks 2013: Kira

I started working at Librairie D+Q back in May, and let me tell you, without hyperbole, that it has been the best job ever! Despite having minimal leisure time for reading this year (due to having my fingers in a few too many pies for just one person) the abundance of awesome books that are perpetually at my disposal thanks to my job have wormed their way into what little free time I've had. Here are a few of my faves from this year:




Kitaro - by Shigeru Mizuki

Narrowing down a "best of" list to just 10 books can be a challenge, but from my initial brainstorming session to the final cut, there was no doubt in my mind that Kitaro would be on the list. What is not to love about this fantastic collection of Japanese yokai (loosely translated as shape-shifting, mythical monster) stories told by one of the masters of the genre? His illustrations combine classic manga with a more realist style. From the moment I read a panel featuring the magical boy protagonist Kitaro's left eye (which is actually his father...it's complicated!) exiting his relaxing soak in a teacup, wrapped in a tiny, eyeball-sized bath towel, I was absolutely smitten with Mizuki's supernatural world. Funny, weird and eerie: a perfect combination.




Rookie Yearbook Two - by Tavi Gevinson

Since I was delighted with Rookie Yearbook One, it came as no surprise that I also loved the sophomore edition. Though Rookie is ostensibly aimed at a teen girl audience, it is so chock-full of interesting articles from an impressive cast of contributors, that its appeal is irresistible even for a reader like myself, well-past her teen years. As a person who unabashedly loves fashion, I've long resented the tendency of so many mainstream fashion magazines and blogs to be intellectually vacuous and devoid of meaningful social commentary, if not perpetuating constructs that are outright oppressive. Thankfully, Rookie is the perfect antidote to this malaise I've so often felt. Smart and sartorial in equal measure, it's also full of fun goodies, like stickers and a tarot deck!



Francis the Little Fox - by Véronique Boisjoly

It doesn't get much cuter than this tale of a dapper fox, a scaredy-cat, and a mischief-making little girl. This charming story chronicles the adventures of young Francis, a fastidious, bow-tie-wearing fellow (even on laundry days!) whose fondness for the neighbourhood laundromat is largely due to the fact that it is a haven of peace and quiet. The only impediment to his full enjoyment of laundry day is the laundromat owner's granddaughter, the mischievous Lily Rainboots, whose predilection for pranks causes Francis (and Mouse, the shop cat) no end of grief. The story and illustrations are fabulously cute, showing that adventures can crop up even during the most quotidien of activities. I would love nothing better than to read this to my niece and nephews one day! (Also available in the original French, as Renaud le Petit Renard.)


This is How You Lose Her (Deluxe Edition) - by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Jaime Hernandez

It would've been pretty hard to go wrong with the combined forces of Junot Diaz and Jaime Hernandez, and the result of their collaboration does not disappoint. Diaz's prose style is one of a kind, and the stories in This is How You Lose Her provide an often uncomfortable amount of insight into the principal narrator Yunior's world. A serial philanderer, yet still a sympathetic character, Yunior's voice is tangible in the written word. The narrative unfolds through a series of vignettes following Yunior's experiences as a childhood immigrant to the USA from the Dominican Republic through his adult life as a professor at a Boston University, always with a focus on his dealings with girlfriends, fiancees, lovers and also his mother. Affecting, even heart-wrenching at times, yet never schlocky or overly sentimental, the stories are brought even more vividly to life with the addition of Hernandez's new illustrations for this deluxe edition.


My Dirty Dumb Eyes - by Lisa Hanawalt

Right from the get-go, with the inside cover illustration showcasing a man standing in a forest, pantless and proud, with hands on hips and his butt doubtlessly enjoying the breeze, My Dirty Dumb Eyes made me chuckle. Hanawalt's potty humour definitely struck a chord for me, as did her bizarre, colourful illustrations of animals in absurd hats, her hilarious reviews of films, and the general silliness of the whole book! Hanawalt is as smart and funny as they come, and her work simultaneously dissects pop culture as it entertains us with low-brow humour. If you're feeling a little blue and need a pick me up, open up to any page of this book, and you'll be chortling away immediately.


Selected Stories of Philip K Dick - by Philip K Dick

Being a devoted sci-fi/fantasy nerd, of course I loved this new collection of stories from sci-fi master Philip K Dick, the man responsible for some of the genres most beloved tales. I know the adage about not judging a book by its cover, but just look at how pretty this cover is for a minute! And I can assure you that the stories within its crystalline blue covers are mind-bogglingly awesome. Fast-paced, and filled with the familiar Philip K tropes (cyborgs, robots, AI doppelgängers, pre-cogs, aliens, paranoia, post-apocalyptic future, etc.) the stories delve into some of our most profound questions of personal identity, politics, and what it means to be human in an increasingly technological world. This guy is a legend for a reason: his stories are as timeless today as when they were first published, and prove that good sci-fi should never be relegated to the much-maligned realm of "genre fiction" and rather deserves a rightful place in the literary world. 



Woman Rebel - by Peter Bagge

Honestly, I didn't know much about Margaret Sanger, the woman behind Planned Parenthood, before reading Bagge's graphic novel bio of her. A quick google search of her name yielded some unsavory results, referring to her apparent affiliations with such foul groups as the KKK and the eugenics movement, which gave me grave misgivings about her, and consequently made me less inclined to read a whole book about her. I'm glad that my curiosity got the better of me though, and once again proved that you can't always trust what Dr. Google tells you, as Bagge's extensive research shows that these claims are largely unfounded, stemming mostly from anti-choice groups who aim to besmirch Sanger's (and thereby Planned Parenthood's) reputation. I learned that Sanger lead a fascinating, and extremely full life, growing up as a socialist, later befriending anarchist Emma Goldman and wholeheartedly embracing her "free love" philosophy, and above all, relentlessly crusading for women's bodily autonomy through providing access to reproductive choice to women of all backgrounds. Bagge's rubbery illustrations may seem an odd match for the biography format, but his style works really well to show Sanger's larger than life personality and incredible achievements. 




Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life - by Ulli Lust

This graphic memoir of the author's experiences as a 17-year old punk (with neither money nor ID in her pocket) hitch-hiking and panhandling her way through Italy is not for the faint of heart (trigger warning: sexual assault.) It starts off on a fairly carefree, road trip vibe, but then progressively takes a turn for the sinister as Ulli discovers that being a young woman traveler in that context has a serious dark side. Namely, she finds it impossible to escape predatory men who relentlessly try to woo, and should that fail, then just plain coerce her into sleeping with them. This all paints a fairly vile picture of gender relations in that time and place, but is also, sadly, so relatable even in today's world. Despite the bleak and more infuriating aspects of Ulli's travels, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is ultimately a liberating coming of age story. 


I Await the Devil's Coming - by Mary Maclane

It's easy to see how Maclane's teenage diary caused such a stir in the USA in 1902 when it was released in book form, spawning the "confessional" genre. For her time, Maclane must have been quite scandalous insofar as she claims to be in love both with the devil and an older woman. She also defines herself as a thief, a philosopher, and above all, a genius stuck in, of all places, Butte, Montana! Reading the 19-year old Maclane's diary today is an experience both sad and kind of hilarious: sad, because her her station in life is unenviable, and her options for escape seem few, but hilarious because her chief complaints are so emblematic of teenage life in general. Her feeling of being a misunderstood, isolated genius doomed to a life of drudgery amongst small town folk upon whom her superior intellect is entirely wasted is so totally typical that it's become cliché, yet she sees her suffering as singular and unique. Despite her hubris and conceit (which reach epic, Mr. Toad-like proportions) Maclane's prose style is often very poetic, and she is clearly talented. Perhaps if Maclane were a teenager today, she would just listen to a lot of Morrissey and get it out of her system, but instead, her teen angst lives on forever thanks to the publication of her diary for posterity.


The Luminaries - by Eleanor Catton
  
Confession: I haven't finished The Luminaries yet, as it weighs in at over 800 pages, and I just started reading it a few days ago. But it's already shaping up to be so promising that I had to put it on my top 10 list anyhow. Plus, it won the Man Booker Prize and The Governor General's Award this year, so I'm extra intrigued! Set in 1860's Victorian New Zealand in the midst of a gold-rush boomtown, and written in a style typical of the period, I'm already immersed due to the evocative prose. Astrology plays largely into the narrative structure: each character is linked to a celestial body, and their movements apparently follow the astrological charts from the year in which the plot unfolds. So far, it seems to be part ghost story, part mystery, and an homage to all-things Victorian. I love a good period piece, Catton's device of invoking the supernatural and the astrological is an interesting one, so I know what I'll be reading into the holiday season! 

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