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Monday, 23 November 2015

Staff Picks 2015: Helen

I read piles of books this year, as in previous years. The longer I work here, the more voracious I become. My bedside table is to be commended for withstanding the weight of the tomes that I stack mercilessly upon it. I always balk at picking a Top Ten, because unless a book is truly awful and/or boring, I want to promote it far and wide. But we do live in the era of lists, so here are ten books that immediately spring to mind when I look back on my reading year! In alphabetical order, because there is no way I can rank these books against each other.

Garments Against Women (Anne Boyer)
I had been starving for a full volume of Anne Boyer’s work ever since I started reading her Tumblr last year. I love her wryness, her philosophical grit. She writes of the trouble with objects, with one’s own subjectivity, with production—even or especially the production of poetry. I can find some solace in her bafflement with the world, and in how well she writes her way through it to us.

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Coates' long-form letter to his young son is raw, unsparing, and heart-clenching in its portrayal of the dangers and struggles faced daily by black people in the racist order of current-day America. Coates writes with anger and grace, and without illusions. Winner of this year's National Book Award for non-fiction.

Outline (Rachel Cusk)
A book that will make you want to listen to the monologues of strangers. A book that will make you want to write down the mundane details of life in hopes that they will coalesce into something like the dazzling whole woven here by Cusk. Her writing is so effortless that it may trick you into thinking you can easily achieve the same.

The Story of the Lost Child (Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein)
The staggering finale to Ferrante's gorgeous, overwhelming, widely lauded Neopolitan novels. Sure to become a classic of this century's literature. If you haven't taken the plunge, start with My Brilliant Friend and cancel all plans for the next few weeks. Kudos to Europa Editions for making me think twice about judging a book by its cover from now on!

A Brief History of Seven Killings (Marlon James)
I was late to the game with this one—didn’t pick it up until after it won the Man Booker. It does not disappoint. The central event is the (real life) attempt on Bob Marley’s life in 1976, which James uses as an entry point into the incredible complexities of Jamaican politics and social realities during the Cold War, over a period of thirty years. Among its 75 characters are members of Marley’s posse, American reporters, CIA agents, gang members, politicians and drug dealers. A kaleidoscopic tour de force!

The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson)
A queer love story for our time. The Argonauts is a memoir, a reflection on parenting, a work of artistic and literary criticism, an exploration of feminism, queerness and gender—all these things and more. I began to copy out a quote and found myself attempting to copy out the entire book.

Thus Were Their Faces (Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston)
Ocampo was an Argentinian writer and artist whose life spanned much of the 20th century. This selection of her stories awakened me to her genius. Each one is a strange, crystalline dream (or nightmare), with its own logic, its own particular language. In 1979 her body of work was deemed "too cruel" by Argentina's National Prize for Literature. Her writing is indeed cruel—wonderfully so. She should be far better known than she is. For fans of Lispector, Hernandez, and Cortázar.

Melody: The Story of a Nude Dancer (Sylvie Rancourt, translated by Helge Dascher)
What a joy that Mélody has been made available to an English-speaking audience, thanks to Drawn & Quarterly! Sylvie Rancourt's comic strips about her life as a nude dancer in Montreal in the mid-1980s were initially self-published and distributed mainly to the clients at her work. Her naive drawing style and straightforward story-telling make for a brash, humourous, and totally riveting read.

Super Mutant Magic Academy (Jillian Tamaki)
I have probably read every strip in this book fifteen times (and counting). I am completely charmed by Tamaki's hilarious concoction of everyday school troubles and more, well, metaphysical problems. Freaky and feminist, SMMA doesn't shy away from meanness or negativity, making it a much more entertaining and relatable read than many other teen character-driven books!

Gold Fame Citrus (Claire Vaye Watkins) 
A stunner of a book that imagines a near future in which large swaths of North America, particularly California, are so burned out by drought that they are practically uninhabitable. Young Luz Dunn fights to survive in this parched wasteland, while protecting Ig, the mysterious abandoned child she and her partner find one night on their search for food and water. Gorgeous, harrowing, and all too possible.

Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels (Ed. Tom Devlin)
Okay, I know this is the eleventh book in the list, but I feel like this one really deserves a category of its own. Just look at it! In its beautifully designed pages you will find a incredible array of comics and essays by Drawn & Quarterly artists (everyone is in here, seriously!); appreciations by a host of literary luminaries (Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, Heather O'Neill and Lemony Snicket, to name a few); and of course, reflections and reminiscences from the triumvirate that makes it all happen: Chris Oliveros, Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin. Lil gift idea for those comics lovers in your life...!

And, of course, because I can't contain my literary excitement, here are some honourable mentions. I heartily recommend them all!

Pictured from left to right: The Body Where I Was Born (Guadalupe Nettel, translated by JT Lichtenstein); The Sellout (Paul Beatty); Killing and Dying (Adrian Tomine—actual book not pictured because it's so popular we have to bring more from the publishing office today!); Signs Preceding the End of the World (Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman)

Pictured from left to right: Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh); The Dream of My Return (Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated by Katherine Silver); Who We Be (Jeff Chang); You Too Can Have a Body like Mine (Alexandra Kleeman)

Pictured from left to right: Barefoot Dogs (Antonio Ruiz-Camacho); Vertigo (Joanna Walsh); Hotel (Joanna Walsh); Trash Market (Tadao Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg)

Annnnnd finally, because I always aspire to read more than time allows: Books published this year that I still plan to read!

Pictured from left to right: New Construction: Two More Stories (Sam Alden); The Complete Stories (Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson); Negroland (Margo Jefferson)

Pictured from left to right: My Documents (Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell); In the Country: Stories (Mia Alvar); Oreo (Fran Ross)

All these and more in stock at the Librairie!

And do check out the lists of my other well-read colleagues (I will update this as more lists are posted over the next few weeks):

Kate's Picks
Les choix de Daphné
Saelan's Picks
Kira's Picks
Chantale's Picks
Alyssa's Picks
Les choix de Julie

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