Staff Picks 2015: Chantale

I have had such a blast sinking back into reading this year. After years and years in graduate studies, I am back to reading purely for pleasure and it has been the best. Here are some of the books that gave me particular joy, listed in no order - they were all so good, in ways that make them incomparable to one another, that I couldn't possibly rank them in any sensible way.

SuperMutant Magic Academy - Jillian Tamaki

A (now not so) secret pleasure of mine is immersing myself within stories of teen drama (The OC, ahem). I think I like the way in which adolescent angst and deep feelings are amplified externally - what is usually suppressed is expressed and vice versa. SuperMutant Magic Academy is amazing for its light and affectionate portrayal of teen (mutant) drama. Popular kids, Nerds, Weirdos, and Jocks are all present, but they have the added pressure of negotiating their mutant powers. The stories of these characters are told in vignettes, which Tamaki uses to develop overarching narratives. By the end, I was nicely surprised to find myself wistful, wanting to spend more time with these funny angsty mutant teens.

The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson

I fell in love with Maggie Nelson's writing when I first read her short book of poetry/essays/memoir/art criticism Bluets. Her writing, first experienced with Bluets and again with The Argonauts, reminds me of what made me first fall in love with Chris Kraus' writing: it's vulnerability, ease, intensity, and self-reflexivity with just enough distance. I was especially moved by how Nelson wrote about pregnancy and motherhood. As old as time as child birth and child rearing are, Nelson's relation to parenthood was a compelling account of what it can mean for someone to grow and care for another little person.

Story of the Lost Child - Elena Ferrante

I read the fourth (and final) installment of the Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels v-e-r-y--s-l-o-w-l-y. I couldn’t bear nearing the end of Ferrante’s mountainous winding saga, where I felt all too invested in the trials of Elena and Lila against the backdrop of post-war Italy. I closed the book after completion with a dramatic sigh of melancholy. Though the final book of the series offers no explicit sense of closure, The Story of the Lost Child was a vivid trip into history, friendship, drama, and blurred boundaries. 

Weak Messages Create Bad Situations: A Manifesto by David Shrigley

Artist David Shrigley's manifesto (conveniently located on the back cover of the thick publication) is, in short: "We are in a bad situation and weak messages are to blame." He assures us that he can help because he has "strong opinions about everything." And this is why David Shrigley is so great. His rough drawings and handwritten text are delivered with such authority and with such a silly bent that they become comic masterpieces. Light, asute, absurd: makes for a mad joyous reading experience.

The Odd Woman and the City - Vivian Gornick

Vivian Gornick is one of those authors who has been in my blind spot for so long that I don’t quite understand how I haven’t crashed into her writing until this year. Gornick’s newest release is a memoir of her life in the city, more specifically in New York City. She writes of the city as though it’s a friend - a friend who is dependable, strong, and demanding, just as Gornick herself.

The Illogic of Kassel - Enrique Vila-Matas

A compelling case of meta-fiction, The Illogic of Kassel is based on writer Enrique Vila-Matas experience participating in Kassel's mega art festival Documenta 13 in 2012. In real life and in the novel, the author was invited to write during the festival at a remote Chinese restaurant while patrons watched. The novel is set around this odd scenario, as fictional Vila-Matas navigates his way through deceptive encounters, a disorienting environment, and the disagreeable task of performing writing in front of a group of strangers. The authors voice and apprehension in the face of the ensuing strangeness are a comforting guide into an exclusive art world.

Step Aside, Pops - Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton can do no wrong. Her sassy and ballsy comics made me laugh and snort the whole time I was within her eccentric historical world. Her art has such an acute sense of comic timing and a refined visual deftness, all of which nicely supports the stories and characters she wants us to pay attention to. Using silliness and exaggerated premises to convey convictions and injustices, Beaton's political and social strategy is charming and effective.

Trames : Patsy

Trames : Patsy is a warm little book published in French by the Belgian press Trames. The pages are filled with the stories and reflections of Belgian-Montreal artist Patsy van Roost, otherwise known affectionately in Montreal as "la fée du Mile End". I've seen her art and interventions around the city over the years, so it was such a pleasure to read her simple and relaxed writings about art, family, travels, and the occasional strangeness of simply being alive. With images filtered throughout, the book can feel like a lost journal-photo-album of someone you wish you knew.

Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I 
String Figures: The Collections of Harry Smith Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II

Beat filmmaker, painter, anthropologist, musicologist, and occultist Harry Everett Smith (1923-1991) liked to collect things. He really liked to collect things. Specifically, he liked to collect folk relics and trinkets that informed his films, visual art, and anthropological studies; things like Ukrainian painted eggs, Seminole textiles, tarot cards, string figures, and paper airplanes. Paper Airplanes and String Figures are beautiful publications that document the latter two collections in such detail and elegance, offering us the 251 paper airplanes that Smith picked up from around New York City and his comprehensive study of spiritual and recreational string figures.

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 - Riad Sattouf, translated from French by Sam Taylor

I was completely sucked into cartoonist Riad Sattouf's striking account of his childhood spent between France, Syria, and Libya. Sattouf is ruthlessly candid in how he describes his family, his travels, and his changing surroundings. Born to a French mother and a Syrian Father, Sattouf found himself early between two worlds in conflict with one another, generously immersing us in each as he details their smells, sounds, and sights. It's a gripping personal account of how brutal world politics inevitably guides the lives and confidences of parents and children.

And, of course, because there is always more to read, here is a small selection of books from 2015 I'm still looking forward to reading:

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector
Imperium by Christian Kracht
Show 1953-1989: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

For more check out these top tens too: 

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