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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Staff Picks 2014: Helen

Each year at the end of the year, the Librairie Drawn & Quarterly staff members post our Top 10 books of the year! I am happy to kick off this year's round of picks. I read a lot of books in the past 11-12 months, and got excited about even more, so please indulge my nerdy need to include an honourable mentions list, a books-I-didn't-get-to-but-want-to-read-in-December list, and a this-was-published-in-2013-but-I-have-to-mention-it list.

Needless to say, all these titles are available in store!

So, first of all: My Top 10 of 2014, in alphabetical order

Ant Colony (Michael Deforge)
Michael Deforge published his first ever long-form comic with Drawn & Quarterly at the start of the year and it already seems destined for classic status. Ant Colony is a darkly comical dystopia populated by black and red ants whose small statures do not limit their complexity - or their cruelty. Deforge's insects look like alien beasts, but also exhibit troubling human tendencies, including betrayal, murder, and all-out warfare. Deforge's drawings are full of dazzling detail, including a few easter eggs for those of us who love close-reading!

Citizen: An American Lyric (Claudia Rankine)
Claudia Rankine's Citizen is a book-length poem, a lyric that is staggering in its breadth, its concision, and its blazing honesty. Ranging from personal experiences of everyday racism, to the racial aggression towards Serena Williams and Zinedine Zidane at international sporting events, to the ongoing murder of black men and women by police, this is a book that cuts to the marrow of racial oppression in what is certainly not a 'post-racial' America. Rankine's effortless switching between the second and third person troubles the borders between victims and bystanders, protagonists and witnesses. If you read anything this year, read this.  

Distance Mover (Patrick Kyle)
I have journeyed in the powerful distance mover with Mr. Earth and his protégé Mendel. I am different now than I was before. Curves, angles, noses, feet, and the spaces between objects all look new to me. Patrick Kyle’s sci-fi universe is glorious and I want to stay in it, despite the threats of doppelgangers, devious ooze, and memory-modifying devices.

The End of Days (Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. Susan Bernofsky) 
In Erpenbeck's ambitious novel, the unnamed protagonist is born in Austria at the turn of the last century and dies five times - as an infant, a young girl, a mother, and beyond. Each of her deaths leads to a different series of futures for the people who surround her, and each alternate life leads us further into the turbulent twentieth century. What could be a hackneyed attempt at narrative innovation in the wrong hands is, thanks to Erpenbeck's deft prose, a sweeping yet intimate survey of European history over the last hundred years.  

Hild: A Novel (Nicola Griffith)
Never did I expect to become so immersed in the almost unimaginably distant world of 7th century Britain. Griffith’s meticulously researched novel brings the remarkable girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby to life with astonishing vividness. This is no dry-as-dust Middle Ages biography, but a riveting feminist epic that has all the trappings of fantasy while remaining firmly rooted in the world of the real, which is plenty strange enough. Check out this in-depth interview with Griffith over at the Paris Review!

On Loving Women (Diane Obomsawin, trans. Helge Dascher) 
*also available in French as J'aime les filles*
Obom's collection of queer first-love stories is the most exuberant book I read all year! The stories are based on memories shared with Obom by her friends, distilled to their most important details, and brought to life by her signature animal-headed people. On Loving Women is equal parts heady crush and heartbreak, sweetness and turmoil. A must-read for all, in English and French alike!

Piano Stories (Felisberto Hernández, trans. Luis Harss)
Though hardly known while he was alive, Felisberto Hernández has posthumously been admired by the likes of Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Italo Calvino and Francine Prose. His stories, often written from the perspective of an itinerant piano player, are like your own dreams - familiar yet also ungraspable. Objects take on the characteristics of the living, people move entranced through darkened rooms, and Hernández's prose lulls us into accepting the new, strange order of things. Fittingly, the Quay Brothers were recently inspired to make a film based on his work!

Talking to Ourselves (Andrés Neuman, trans. Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia)
Argentinian-Spanish writer Neuman is already a star of Latin American and European literature, and should certainly earn acclaim with English readers with this translation of his spare yet wrenching short novel. In Talking to Ourselves, the three members of a small nuclear family come to terms with death and its aftermath. Neuman’s writing is honest and raw and never veers into sentimentality. Read an interview with Neuman over at Tweed's Magazine!

The War of Streets and Houses (Sophie Yanow)
*also available in French as La guerre des rues et des maisons*
Sophie Yanow's first longer-form comic tackles the dynamics of protesting in the streets and the ways in which urban design works to contain dissent. Both a personal reflection on her experiences in the 2012 Montreal student protests, and a wider analysis of the politics of urban space, The War of Streets and Houses showcases Yanow's minimalist drawings to great effect. Self-aware, often funny, and thought-provoking throughout.

Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite (Suki Kim)
In 2011, Suki Kim, a Korean-American writer whose own family was separated by the division of Korea into North and South, managed to get accepted as an English teacher at an elite college for boys in Pyongyang, North Korea. This is the book she secretly wrote during her time there. She details her experiences under the constant surveillance of the repressive state, as she comes to care for her young students while also discovering how little she can really know them. Reflective, disturbing, and ultimately heartbreaking. Check out her interview at the Rumpus here.

Honourable mentions!

10:04 (Ben Lerner); 100 Crushes (Elisha Lim); American Innovations (Rivka Galchen)

Chez L'arabe (Mireille Silcoff); Beautiful Darkness (Vehlmann and Kerascoët, trans. Helge Dascher); Earthling (Aisha Franz, trans. Helge Dascher)

The Empathy Exams (Leslie Jameson); Everywhere Antennas (Julie Delporte, trans. Helge Dascher)

For Today I Am A Boy (Kim Fu); Polyamorous Love Song (Jacob Wren)

Books I haven't gotten around to reading that I'm excited to read before the end of the year

The Blazing World (Siri Hustvedt); Prelude to Bruise (Saeed Jones)

Sweet Affliction (Anna Leventhal); Showa: 1944-1953 (Shigeru Mizuki, trans. Zack Davisson)
 An Unncecessary Woman (Rabih Alameddine) 

***And these were published in 2013 but I read them both this year and can't shake them*** 

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