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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Staff Picks 2014: Kira

Say what you will about 2014 as a year overall, but there's no disputing that it was a fine one for books. I always struggle with narrowing a year's worth of favourite reads down to a mere ten titles for the year end list; although I generally love making proclamations about all manner of things, the responsibility of singling out ten books and deeming them the year's best, above all others, is quite intimidating! So rather than viewing this as an authoritative, capital-B "Best of 2014" I've simply selected ten great books published this year that I loved, and that I hope you will too. Also, I'm cheating a little and tacking on a bonus section at the end! Bear in mind that there's no implicit hierarchy intended in the order in which the books appear here. One more quick preliminary: I'd like to give a special tip of my hat to my colleague Marcela, who is responsible for making the awesome banner up top, which so aptly captures my essence. Without further ado, onto the list!

The Peripheral (William Gibson) 
It took a few chapters before I picked up on Gibson’s style, as so many of the terms used in his depiction of the high-tech, post-apocalyptic future were totally unfamiliar to me. But once I grokked the lingo, I became completely immersed in this tale of time travel, where the rich of the far future toy with the poor of the near future. The mind boggles at the scope of Gibson’s vision and imagination, and his voice is completely unique. The Peripheral is proof positive that the father of cyberpunk is as visionary now as ever.

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories (Tove Jansson) 
Full disclosure: my Tove Jansson fandom is, shall I say, significant. Let the fact that I have a sizeable Groke tattoo on my body attest to this! So it’s no surprise that two of my top ten picks this year are of Jansson origin. (See the Moomin Deluxe post below, wherein I heap praise on her Moomin comics.) Though she’s best known today as the creator of the beloved Moomin characters, she was also a formidable and prolific writer of fiction, as illustrated by this new NYRB translation of short stories. Jansson’s love of nature and her keen observations of human behaviour are always evident in her creative output. These beautifully wrought short stories are as dark as they are playful, and set against a melancholic Scandinavian backdrop I find irresistible.

Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition (Tove Jansson) 
Now that you’ve had a glimpse into the depth of my love for all-things Tove Jansson, you can imagine how excited I have been all year, anticipating the release of the D+Q omnibus edition of her complete Moomin comics. When it hit the shelves this fall, it did not disappoint! The stellar production values were no less than I expected from my talented colleagues who worked on this book: the vibrant colours of the slipcase, the sturdily bound, Moomin-embossed cover, the built-in ribbon bookmark, the insightful introductory essays, and even a special poster all contribute to this glorious celebration of Jansson’s centennial. I don’t mean to gloss over how awesome the comics themselves are with all this gushing about their spiffy new packaging - if you haven’t read them before, you’re in for a treat! But in my opinion, the shiniest gem of this collection comes at the very end of the book, where you’ll find pages of previously unpublished images and character sketches straight from Jansson’s sketchbooks. Ungh, it’s too much!!! *brain melts*

Stone Mattress (Margaret Atwood) 
Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of “tales” is fantastic, in particular the first three interconnected stories about a small group of aging poets and writers, whose romantic entanglements in 1960s Toronto continue to haunt them well into their geriatric years. It’s all the more testament to Atwood’s consummate skill that she succeeds in making this premise and these characters of -it must be said- dubious appeal, completely enthralling to read!

Ant Colony (Michael DeForge) 
DeForge has been getting no shortage of critical praise in recent years, and if you’ve read his comics, it’s easy to see why. Ant Colony, his first D+Q graphic novel is a great starting point for the uninitiated. Be warned, though; at first glance, the book might look like a psychedelic adventure about some battling ant factions, which it kind of is. But once you get into the story, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a seriously heavy tale, exploring the darkest depths of humankind’s capacity for evil. Reading it was an emotional experience, and I frequently found myself staring inwardly into an existential void for weeks after its conclusion. Fortunately, I quite like feeling that way, so it was great! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Deforge has got in the works for the future, starting with D+Q’s forthcoming First Year Healthy in the new year.

Petty Theft (Pascal Girard) 
Though I’ve just finished telling you how much I enjoy being emotionally eviscerated by a book, I can likewise appreciate a good dose of humour, and Pascal Girard’s comics always tickle my funny bone. Petty Theft is a hilarious and self-deprecating account of life post break-up. A fictionalized version of Pascal finds himself homeless, uninspired, incapacitated by back pain, and becoming an increasingly burdensome presence in his friends’ lives, as shipments of books from his ex keep piling up in their apartment, where he is overstaying his welcome. The hapless hero’s fortunes take a turn when he spots a cute girl stealing a copy of his book from a local bookstore (one you may recognize if you’ve ever visited us here at Libraire D+Q!) Does the thief also steal Pascal’s heart? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I promise, it wasn’t just because Librairie D+Q is so prominently featured that I loved this book so much!

Wendy (Walter Scott) 
It’s so great that the complete Wendy comics are now available in book form, courtesy of the folks at Koyama. Now you can laugh/cry along with Wendy, the titular heroine, an aspiring artist whose dreams of stardom are thwarted by such obstacles as heavy partying, flaky friends and fickle lovers, not to mention a consistent lack of funds. My personal experiences in the Montreal art scene are peripheral at best; like so many of my peers, I was drawn as a moth to flame by the promise of free booze and snacks on offer at student vernissages, and therefore became a shameless, serial attendee for a stint. Nonetheless, even without sharing Wendy’s proximity to the contemporary art world, I found that her misadventures therein were, at times, uncomfortably relatable. Reading Scott’s comics made me LOL, but also made my heart go out to Wendy and her real-life compatriots. Moreover, it made me pretty glad to have left my twenties behind!

The Guest Cat (Takashi Hiraide) 
This relatively short book is rich with emotional depth, exploring big topics such as love and loss without ever succumbing to treacly sentimentality. The author’s descriptions of his leafy Tokyo home do nothing to quell my lifelong desire to move to Japan: an entire room devoted to moon-viewing, and neighbourhood cats that drop by for daily visits? Yes please!

Sex Criminals Volume 1 (Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky) 
Refreshingly sex-positive and silly, this collection of the first five instalments of Sex Criminals is a pleasure to read. Protagonists Suzie and Jon share more than a mutual love of Nabokov; they also each have a special skill that allows them to literally stop time in the world around them post-orgasm. Naturally, the two hit it off and soon embark upon a latter-day Robin Hood mission which involves robbing a bank to save the library where Suzie works from foreclosure. But the mysterious sex-police are hot on their tails! There are so many great details in the drawings; the titles of the videos and various paraphernalia found in the the sex shop they frequent had me chortling away to rival Beavis and Butthead, undisputed lords of the chortle! Can’t wait for Volume 2.

The WORN Archive ( Serah-Marie McMahon) 
Compiling the best of WORN magazine’s first 14 issues, this book is perfect for a casual Sunday read over a cup of tea. There’s this pernicious idea that an interest in fashion is incompatible with serious or intellectual inclinations - a notion which WORN happily debunks. I appreciate the diverse topics explored by the contributors and editors, proving that a magazine with a sartorial and pop culture focus can be socially conscious and smart. Compared to your typical glossy fashion mag, WORN is a breath of fresh air, emphasizing that the expression of personal style is, at bottom, a fun and empowering experience that needn’t conform to any fashion industry constraints.

So that wraps up my official top ten. Diehard readers, BEHOLD THE BONUS SECTION!

Cats in Ukiyo-E (Kaneko Nobuhisa) 
It can’t be on my real list because it wasn’t published this year, even though it’s new to the store. Nonetheless, I’ve just got to give a shout out to Cats in Ukiyo-e. What’s not to love about a book devoted entirely to antique Japanese woodblock prints featuring cats?

Who Did It? (Ohara Hale) 
Local author Ohara Hale has created a delightful boxed set of little picture books about bodily functions, aimed at teaching kids good manners. It’s chock-full of really funny drawings of farting animals. Need I say more?

Megahex (Simon Hanselmann) 
Megahex would have been in my top 10, had it not become temporarily out of print and therefore unavailable for the time being. This collection of comics about a perpetually stoned witch, her cat boyfriend, their owl roommate and a party-crashing crew of werewolves and wizards walks the fine line between the utterly bleak and hilarious. Their misadventures in sex, drugs, and casual cruelty may hit a wee bit too close to home if you’ve ever had to cohabitate with low-lifes, or happen to have misspent your youth!

Thanks for bearing with me through my extra-long list, everyone. Happy reading into 2015 and beyond!

If you want to check out the other staff lists:
Alyssa's Top 10 of 2014
Daphné's Top 10 of 2014
Helen's Top 10 of 2014 
Jason's Top 10 of 2014
Julie's Top 10 of 2014
Kate's Top 10 of 2014
Marcela's Top 10 of 2014
Saelan's Top 10 of 2014

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