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Thursday, 31 March 2016

D+Q Office Reads: Part 7!

   Ever say to yourself "hey, what the heck is the D+Q office reading right now"? Well,the answer is: a bunch of books!

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions)

    I am still savoring this series. SO SUE ME! I started reading this second book immediately after reading My Brilliant Friend this fall, but my Ferrante fever broke and I set it aside for a bit in an attempt to prove to the internet community that I could read other books. When I took off for a week vacation in early March, I started it over from the beginning, and tore through it beach-side, finishing it mere moments before landing back in Montreal. I loved the first book, and its unabashed focus on the relationship between the narrator Elena and her friend Lila, but this volume conjured up much more conflicted feelings. I spent the majority of the book furious with the characters, but unable to look away.
    It’s not that the characters are unlikable - on the contrary I found myself so personally invested in their relationships that the way they are constantly breaking apart and re-configuring throughout this book is strange sort of torture. I love Ferrante’s ability to do this - to pull us along with the characters through bad decisions and difficult moments in a way that is reflective and insightful without passing judgment. She resists the opportunity to frame every incident and emphasize each regretted action or missed opportunity, forcing us to just live alongside the characters through the often confusing and frustrating messiness that makes up a life. I haven’t gotten so worked up about a book for a while and I think that’s a real testament to it.

- Alison Naturale, print manager

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (HarperCollins)

    Have I mentioned how much I love my book club? We’re all Moms who live in the Plateau, and many of us are expats from other countries. Somehow we all ended up together in a book club that at our best manages to meet 4 times a year or so. At our last meeting, we decided to read Station Eleven, a book that everyone had already read or seemed to be familiar with, except me, the person in publishing and book retail. They then said it was apocalyptic fiction and then I realized why I hadn’t heard of it. I admit to two conflicting things. 1) As I work in a medium that is often mislabeled as a genre, I think strict genres distinctions are limiting and yet 2) I admit to reading in a genre bubble, a comfort zone of straightforward literary fiction, literary comics and nonfiction essays I rarely leave.

    I placed an order at the store (***Cheap Plug Alert*** Librairie D+Q gives book club discounts for books ordered in bulk!) and waited. Once I started, I read half of the book in one sitting. I expected horror, but found an understated elegance. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, cuts back and forth from before the world is destroyed by the pandemic of the Georgia Flu and after where civilization has collapsed, there’s no electricity, running water, phones, towns or cities. The pre-Georgian flu world is pretty straight forward setting up the world of actor Arthur Leander, his wives, the paparazzi, and fellows actors. And the post collapse world, details his influence on the survivors, a band of artists in a traveling symphony. I love how one of Arthur’s wives is an artist writing a comic book that gives the book its name that we are able to see unfold and how the comic survives the flu. I love how the survivors are artists, I love how the survival of art influences the survivors, and connects us all. It’s hard to talk about the book without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say, that reading Station Eleven makes me want to break out of my bubble a little more often.

Peggy Burns, publisher

La Proie by David De Thuin (Glénat)

    Without fail, every time I pull this book out, my cat pounces on it. It’s pretty funny to watch, and rather fitting–David De Thuin's massive epic, La Proie (The Prey), is all about the chase between prey and predator. As advertised on the cover band, La Proie is "a complete story in 10 000 panels over 1 000 pages." Apparently, the book came about when De Thuin decided to create a thousand page book in honour of the fifth anniversary of the collection 1 000 Feuilles, which you might have guessed, roughly translates to 1 000 Pages. The format itself is impressive, but even more so is the author's boundless imagination in this adventure story that is suitable for both adults and kids, but not babies, since there are a few scary passages!
    The story begins after Tipôme and Bumble, two funny bug-like creatures, find a shipwrecked individual on the beach. After saving him from the dangerous environment, the friends embark on a wild journey with the rescued stranger, who it turns out is believed to be "the chosen one," sent to the island to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Although the characters travel through worlds and ecosystems that are hostile and dark, with monsters lurking at every corner, the book remains playful and fun. This is largely due to De Thuin's great sense of humour and wisecrack characters, as well as his mastery of the classic cartooning form which makes the whole work seem so effortless and rich. Philosophical musings, strong friendships, and suspenseful adventures make La Proie, a thousand page book that took seven years to complete, an incredibly engrossing read that just whizzes by.

- Marie-Jade Menni, production assistant

 Rebecca by  Daphne Du Maurier (Little, Brown and Company)

This month I sat down with a classic: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I discovered a chilling page turner full of gothic mansions and an all too real ghost, in the form of Rebecca, the deceased first wife of our narrator's beloved Maxim de Winter. Though we never learn the name of the narrator, we fall deep into her insecurities as a young girl while she enters the infamous estate of Manderley, deeply in love with Mr. De Winter and trailed always by Rebecca's shadow. In reading I learned that the timelessness in this novel lies of course in the ghost of your partner's ex, and the daunting ways that shapes a young girl into a fully formed woman. There's a climactic page turner ending in an especially beautiful hardcover edition that had me swooning in ol' Librairie Drawn and Quarterly. Tragic and intimate, Rebecca made for a a heartfelt feminine read. Also, it matched my lip gloss.

- Sruti Islam, marketing assistant

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis (Coach House)
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin (Farrar, Straus, &Giroux)

    The basic premise of Fifteen Dogs is two Greek gods, Hermes and Apollo, grant all the dogs at a vet the "gift" of human cognition, with the goal being to figure out if it is in fact a gift at all—will any of them die happy is the wager. The immediate result is that all fifteen dogs soon realize they are all in the same boat, all thinking differently, feeling changed, and quickly open their cages and embark (LOLZ) onto the streets of Toronto, quickly developing their own language to communicate with each other. What follows is their struggle to come to terms with their new existence—what is the correct way to proceed? Succumb to their new intelligence and reject their old ways/inherent dogginess?

   Fifteen Dogs has changed my life. I can no longer look at dogs (or any animal, for that matter) in the same way, without being suspicious. All I can think is WHAT ARE YOU THINKING, FRIEND? I read the book while on vacation in Tobago, where there are playful/happy/relaxed island dogs everywhere, so needless to say, my mind was busy imaging their inner most desires. The book was so beautifully written, so real, which is quite an accomplishment, given its imaginative take on reality.
    Anyway—read this book. It's fun and doggy and smart.

   I was initially attracted to The Blizzard because I had just finished The Big Green Tent so I was re-obsessed with Russian lit. When I read about this book I realized it was very likely similar to Brian Ralph's Daybreak, in that it wasn't really about zombies at all, but more about the struggle surrounding that reality. And also, very likely like my favourite parts of Doctor Zhivago, where it's just people walking through snow.

   The book very much so turned out to be those two things exactly. The entire book takes place in darkness, in a dystopian land where you are not quite sure of the time period, or what the surroundings look like, and then on top of that, it's in Russia, so you really don't know much about that unless you've been there, you know. The darkness the characters are feeling is paralleled by the reader's own. You slowly start to clue in that this is not a normal world—that although there is gasoline, they are still traveling by horse-drawn sled. And you know the horses pulling the sled are small, but you don't realize they are pea-sized until the very end. Likewise, a very small character is introduced, but this seems normal...until you realize just how small, and then you later encounter a six-foot giant. And a sexy cult. And at the very, very end, a cellphone. But you still never really find out as much as you'd like—though maybe if you did, it would ruin the whole thing.

- Tracy Hurren, managing editor

Zero K by Don Delillo (Scribner)
Nopi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully (Appetite by Random House)

    There’s a rootless feeling I get when reading Delillo. Like I’m slightly off-balance. It’s an important part of the experience for me. He’s way ahead of me and he’s providing the clues and I just need to focus and pay attention to what he’s saying. He’s demanding that I pay attention. At some point in my life, I might have said “oh, he’s my favorite author” but it occurred to me that saying “she’s my favorite writer” or “he’s my favorite cartoonist” or “she’s my favorite director” is about the dumbest thing you could ever say. But what I do like is Delillo’s precision and then how every now and then he just drops a sentence or a paragraph and it is killer. Like this one (which can be read here (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/22/sine-cosine-tangent):

    She was adept at knowing what time it was. No wristwatch, no clock in view. I might test her, without warning, when we were taking a walk, she and I, block by block, and she was always able to report the time within a three- or four-minute margin of error. This was Madeline. She watched the traffic channel with accompanying weather reports. She stared at the newspaper but not necessarily at the news. She watched a bird land on the rail of the small balcony that jutted from the living room and she kept watching, motionless, the bird also watching whatever it was watching, still, sunlit, alert, prepared to flee. She hated the small orange Day-Glo price stickers on grocery cartons, medicine bottles, and tubes of body lotion, a sticker on a peach, unforgivably, and I’d watch her dig her thumbnail under the sticker to remove it, get it out of her sight, but, more than that, to adhere to a principle, and sometimes it took minutes before she was able to pry the thing loose, calmly, in fragments, and then roll it between her fingers and toss it in the trash can under the kitchen sink. She and the bird and the way I stood and watched, a sparrow, sometimes a goldfinch, knowing that if I moved my hand the bird would fly off the rail and the fact of knowing this, the possibility of my intercession, made me wonder if my mother would even notice that the bird was gone, but all I did was stiffen my posture, invisibly, and wait for something to happen.

    Here the narrator is describing his mother (who is long dead) while he’s at a cryogenic-type facility awaiting for his step mom to undergo “treatment.” He spars with this father, bringing up his adolescent insecurities and rage. So there’s plenty of family drama in a stripped down science-fiction setting with the possibility of your family living forever and torturing you forever and who are any of you anyways?

    Sure we all love cookbooks but my favorite kinds are the ones that you can actually read (and have that perfect mouthwatering picture of that dish you will try and possibly succeed/fail at making in three to four hours.) There must be a science to making them which surprises me how often they’re a dull affair. Anyways, this book is a blast to read and I am no great cook but sometimes reading about phyllo dough stuffed with currants and pheasant is the greatest escape of them all. Cookbooks always seem like magic to me—but the secrets are revealed and who doesn’t want to know the secrets? Sure we can all look stuff up on Epicurious but that is kind of the dullest least contextual way to do anything. Go blast a Fairport Convention record on your turntable and try to make this damn Chicken Pastilla, ya wilting lily.

- Tom Devlin, executive editor

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (Knopf Doubleday)

   Time for some indie bookstore love: some years ago, on the recommendation of a TYPE Books employee, I picked up Whitehead's The Intuitionist and I adored it. So when I was browsing McNally-Jackson last month and spotted Sag Harbor in all its PEN/Faulkner-stickered glory, I didn't hesitate.

   Sag Harbor is halfway between a novel and a collection of interconnected short stories. It's a coming-of-age story that takes place over the summer of 1984. At the centre of the book is the hopelessly uncouth Benji, who is trying (unsuccessfully) to transition to "Ben" and who cannot master the hip handshakes ("Slam, grip, flutter, snap. Or was it slam, flutter, grip, snap?"). Whitehead covers so many facets of what it meant to be black in 1980s America, while celebrating the pop culture of the time and charting the growth of yuppie culture. In one paragraph, someone will be described as a Living Jheri Curl or we'll be treated to a dissection of all the African-American characters on TV that year, while in the next, Benji will wax poetic on the glories of the waffle cone or detail an epic BB gun battle.

   While I really enjoy the texture of Whitehead's prose in Sag Harbor - it's intricate and canny and popping with subtle cultural commentary and jokes - I didn't ultimately connect with the narrative as much as I did with The Intuitionist. But, looking back at the book to write this review, dag! What a romp.

- Julia Pohl-Miranda, marketing director

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa (Little, Brown and Company)

   This month I had the pleasure of reading the highly anticipated debut novel by Sunil Yapa, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. I had heard about this book before Christmas on Book Riot's All the Books podcast, and they sounded so excited about it I had to pick it up. I went in not having read a summary (they call that a Marce classic!), so I had no idea the book revolved around the 1999 World Trade Organization, and—I'm embarrassed to admit—I actually had no recollection of those protests. Although, to be fair, I was nine. Yapa's story explores seven different people in very different roles over the course of the first day of the protests. Yapa is so empathetic in his writing that I initially came away from the book upset at how much space some of the characters were given, and how much sympathy it felt like I was meant to be feeling for them. But reflecting on it, I do believe that Yapa's interest is in empathizing with the human presence within broken systems, and how with greater changes to these systems (or in tearing them down, dare to dream), we can begin to see positive change for the people within them. Thumbs up!

- Marcela Huerta, production assistant

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