Staff Picks 2014: Alyssa

There are so many amazing things that came out this year that it's impossible for me to pick the best, or even properly define what "best" would mean. Instead, think of this as a cross section of the year, a selection of ten titles, listed alphabetically, that I loved and think should get just that extra bit of recognition.

Beautiful Darkness (Fabien Velhmann & Kerascoët)

There's something so fascinating about Beautiful Darkness's particular mix of fairy tale and horror, the blend of fantasy and scariness that is so reminiscent of original Grimm and Perrault folk tales. The graphic novel, a translation from the original French Jolies Ténèbres (which is also absolutely worth the read), is beautifully illustrated, and you end up desperately rooting for protagonist Aurora as she's pitted against a cast of characters both charmingly unpredictable and goofily threatening in this heightened allegory of human cruelty.

Boy, Snow, Bird (Helen Oyeyemi)

Boy Novak runs away from her past, her father, and New York City, only to end up in small town New England, where she decides to make her home. One marriage and pregnancy later, she discovers that she isn't the only one with secrets, and her husband's family are not who they appear to be. This beautiful, graceful novel follows Boy, her stepdaughter Snow, and her daughter Bird, as they struggle against identity, regret, race, and love. Oyeyemi is a powerful, intimate storyteller.

Burning Daylight (Christine Fellows)

Mixing snow-filled imagery, allusions to Jack London, Cat Power-style songs, and beautiful collages by Alicia Smith, Fellows has constructed a delicate, precious mixed-media project in Burning Daylight, her first book of poetry. At once steeped in the North's history and firmly rooted in the present, it's a wonderful first attempt, and one that proves that the Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter doesn't need music to set her words to.

 Hansel & Gretel (Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti)

I'm pretty much guaranteed to like whatever Gaiman next pulls from his seemingly never-ending bag of tricks, and Hansel & Gretel is no exception. Gaiman's knack for reimagining, and reinventing, classic fairytales pairs beautifully with Mattotti's breathing, itching, black and white drawings, and together they remind us all how truly terrifying the tale of the two hapless siblings really is.

Lumberjanes #1-8 (Brooke Allen, Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson) 

Though I had my fair share of comics growing up (Tintin and X-Men, among others, often made appearances on my childhood bookshelf), I can't stress enough how much I wish I'd had the Lumberjanes as a kid. These comics are delightful, in a very Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls meets Psychonauts kind of way. BFFs Ripley, Jo, April, Mal, and Molly are the Lumberjanes, supernatural girl scouts off at summercamp, and with the power of friendship, everything is possible (even defeating yetis, ghost foxes, and Greek gods).

Men Explain Things to Me (Rebecca Solnit)

Beginning with Solnit's titular 2008 essay, this collection of seven works is enjoyable, accessible, and very, very necessary. As a historian, author, and activist, Solnit tackles such substantial topics as violence against women, economic colonialism, and marriage equality, deftly weaving personal narrative, statistics, and feminist thought into essays that should count among everyone's necessary reading.

 Over Easy (Mimi Pond)

Four decades in the making, Pond's graphic novel memoir of her time spent as a waitress in 1970s Oakland doesn't disappoint. Fresh from art school and with no idea what to do, Pond decides to make some money as a waitress while figuring out where to go next. Over Easy feels like a time capsule, Pond's watercolours adding to the nostalgia, but the drugs, sex, and rock and roll of the era only serve as backdrop for a beautiful character study of the many coworkers and patrons she met along the way.

 The Penguin Book of Witches (Katherine Howe)

I've been obsessed with witches my whole life. (This is the point at which anyone who knows me rolls their eyes and goes "no kidding.") As a kid, If I wasn't watching reruns of Sabrina the Teenage Witch ad nauseum, I was putting together school reports on the Salem witch trials. All this to say that The Penguin Book of Witches feel like a gift. Tracing the historical trajectory of witchcraft from the Bible, through Salem, and on toward 19th century North America, the book is full of letters, court testimonies, and other primary documentation that brings the sordid past of witches to life.

The Pilot and the Little Prince (Peter Sís)

Peter Sís's illustrations are beautiful. They're subtle, complex, and deserve to be endlessly revisited. His latest book is a biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, following the pilot and author from his earliest childhood to his mysterious disappearance while flying over the desert. It's an essential read for any child or grown up who has fallen in love with The Little Prince and wants to know more about the man responsible for the little boy from another world who's touched so many.

Saga Book One (Fiona Staples & Brian K. Vaughan)

Whoever decided that Vaughan (of Y: The Last Man fame) and Staples should team up and be given free rein to work on whatever science fiction comic they wanted is a genius. Saga is the story of outsourced wars, star-crossed love, and living spaceships, and for all the high-fantasy involved, it's the characters you end up loving. Though Alana and Marco were on opposite sides of a never-ending war, they're committed to making their relationship, and new family, work. We just received Book 1, a beautiful hardcover edition that compiles the first three volumes of the comic, plus some beautiful bonus sketches, and volume four will be coming out in just a few days. I can't wait to read it!

Bonus! Books I haven't read yet but are anxiously working their way to the top of my To Read list:

Left to right: On Loving Women (Diane Obomsawin), Sex From Scratch (Sarah Mirk), This Changes Everything (Naomi Klein), Us Conductors (Sean Michaels), and White Girls (Hilton Als).

And make sure to check out all the other Best Of lists we've got! Here are Helen's, Kira's, and Marcela's!

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