D+Q Office Reads: Part 8

What's that? Did someone just ask us "what the heck are you reading?" Was it you? Oh, asking for a friend, eh? Ok, here, tell your "friend".

Bark by Lorrie Moore (Doubleday Canada)

  This month I read Lorrie Moore's BARK. This is the first book of hers I read and it was my second time picking it up. Sometimes you just aren't in the right place for a book the first time around. The most unexpected thing about it, to me, was how sharply it brought into relief the world of the early 2000s. While she does include non-realist moments in her stories, Moore is such an intensely realist writer that her stories evoked exactly the intense anxiety of post-9/11 America, during the lead up to and first few years of the Iraq War. I enjoyed Bark but if I had a complaint it would be that at times I found it too much - the dialogue too close to lived experience, the stories too perfectly framed, the wry lines too deft in their conciseness. But really, what complaint is that??

I tried to take a photo that would show all the dogeared pages with perfect zingers of lines of dialogue on them, but it didn't turn out, so here is my copy of BARK with my smiling face as per usual instead.

Julia Pohl-Miranda, marketing director

Sex Is A Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (Seven Stories Press)

Oh god, when did I become the mother of a 10 year old girl and a 9 year old boy? How do we talk to them about sex? Surely, calling body parts hoo-has and dangaloos is a bad idea? When I was their age, the girls were ushered into the cafeteria to receive a pamphlet titled “Menstruation” with a rainbow on the cover. Meanwhile, the boys were in the gym learning about nocturnal emissions. There’s not much sex ed in Quebec yet, so when I spotted this Seven Stories book written by Cory Silverberg, and drawn by early D+Q cartoonist Fiona Smyth, I knew I had found an easy way out…”great, now i can just give this book to my kid.” When I did, my daughter said to me “I saw this in the bookstore but i didn’t want to pick it up!”

Sex Is A Funny Word is fabulous, funny, light, but detailed, it’s everything you need to discuss with your 8-11 year old child. Four main characters, Zai, Cooper, Mimi and Omar, walk us through the book. “Always ask before you touch someone’s body” and how everyone feels touch differently. And when touching is bad. They also do not refer to “private parts” insisting that your entire body is private. Silverberg and Smyth explore how the labels boy-girl and man-woman are not as straightforward as they seem and the book also introduces bisexual, gay, straight, lesbian, asexual and queer. They ask the question that I struggled to explain to my kids – “what is sexy?” And how crushes can last a long or short time. Smyth’s drawing is wonderful. The supporting characters Smyth draws are literally every color of the rainbow – they look like society and have all body types, short hair, long fair, facial hair, glasses, and many characters with headscarves. The book also just makes your child feel good about themselves. Sex Is A Funny Word is a sensitive, accessible, contemporary book for any modern day parent and their child. Bravo.

Peggy Burns, publisher

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf)

I was first made aware of Maggie Nelson when I noticed a glowing review of Bluets, her autobiographical poem about the colour blue,on some cool bookstore's staff picks page. I ordered a  stack for our tables and our discerning clientele made short work of it so, when the next order arrived, I read it over my lunch one day and loved it.

   Next up a Concordia prof friend of mine gave me some intel that Nelson was getting ready to publish her new experimental memoir that tackled identity politics. Excited, I kept an eye out (and even tried to get an event, but alas) and once it was unleashed, The Argonauts became an immediate Librairie D+Q classic (what I call a book that is embraced by both our staff and our clientele) and store bestseller.

   Last month -knowing I was a fan- my rep was kind enough to send me a gratis copy of THE RED PARTS and it's a whole new ballgame. A "true-crime" book, of sorts (and only as the most general description) The Red Parts is a cathartic reexamination of the 35-year old murder of Nelson's Aunt - Jane Mixer- once newly unearthed  DNA evidence points to a different person than  who had been originally charged. This forces Nelson to not only reevaluate her feelings about the brutal killing of a relative she'd never even met but also her about-to-be published book Jane: A Murder which combined poems and actual entries from Jane's diary. A book that she had already struggled with for years, developing a "murder mind" in the process.

   Maggie and her family attend the new trials but discover they don't necessarily feel like they are seeking "justice" at this point, only bearing witness. They are the vigil that represents the person whose void is felt. Another beautifully written memoir (or "report from the field" as she refers to it in her forward) from Nelson, The Red Parts is not only about the space left behind  when someone departs but also the space we're left in "where heavy rains come and wash bodies up and out of their grave, where grief lasts forever and its force never fails".

After our event with her, Amber Tambyln told me I had to read Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty next, so I guess I will!

Jason Grimmer, marketing director Librairie D+Q.

Generous Bosom Part 1 & 2 by Conor Stechschulte (Breakdown Press)

   Wow you guys wow. I read the first part in this series when it came out (2014 maybe?) but I loved it so much that I read it again before reading the second part, which was just(ish) released from our pals in London—Breakdown Press. And no, guys, give me more credit that that—I didn't only love it for that entirely too real, cringe-inducing sex scene that is most definitely the best sex scene in comics form ever. Everyone else can stop trying to draw sex please.

   In part one, we see two old buds sitting down to a beer, and the one guy, Glen, who the story kinda revolves around, starts telling this story about the end of his "dry spell." It all seems pretty straightforward, until the circumstances around the sexual encounter start to unfold, and the reader realizes that maybe something pretty weird went on that night. And that's basically the whole book—just this sex story, and the events that lead up to it. The second part picks up right after the retelling of the *encounter* and it's fair to say that no matter how kinda weird and creepy the first volume is, the second defo cranks the knob. The story becomes much less linear—we see scenes from years before that reveal, piece by piece, elements of the people's lives—very grey-area hypnotic things, student-teacher not-so-grey area things—making you trust them much much less and make you become all the more intrigued about what the hell is going on.
    I'm dyin' over here waiting on the third volume where maybe MAYBE it will get all wrapped up? Who knows. I don't know how many parts Conor has planned. But I'll read as many as he draws because in addition to being fascinating as stories, they are absolutely gorgeous. Conor's cartooning is, well, spectacular. When it rains, it rains; when it's dark, it's dark; and those moments of clarity? yeah, the art is super clear you guys. Maybe this is a stupid thing to say, but in Conor's case, it's just very accurate, in a pretty astounding way. I feel like I've definitely blogged about one of our cartoonists and said NO ONE DOES RAIN LIKE THIS but I cannot remember who that was now, so for this time being, I will call Conor King of Rain.

Tracy Hurren, managing editor

Mexican Hooker #1 by Carmen Aguirre (Knopf Random Vintage)
Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre (Random House)
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

   When I found out Carmen Aguirre was going to be coming to Montreal as part of Blue Met (info provided to me by the darling dear Jason Grimmer as he handed me the advance reading copy, humblebrag) of her new book, MEXICAN HOOKER #1, I began the long process of losin’ my dang mind. Her first book, SOMETHING FIERCE, was spellbinding—difficult to look away from even as it described situations and histories so traumatic to my own family and so intertwined with their stories. Mexican Hooker #1 was similarly spellbinding, albeit in different ways. Its humor surprised me, its tenderness as well as its fury. I was so honored to give her introduction, considering how deeply I was affected by these beautiful books, modern classics of Canadian memoir.

   I’m also a little over halfway through QUEEN OF THE NIGHT by Alexander Chee, because I cannot get enough sexy operatic melodrama in my life. In fact, I was not even aware such a gap existed in my life until this book stepped all the way into it and was like, “Hey, I noticed you hadn’t read any postmodern dramas about ladies in the Second Empire of France, let me fix that for you!”

Marcela Huerta, production assistant

Juliette: Les fantômes reviennent au printemps by Camille Jourdy (Actes Sud BC)

   I picked up JULIETTE: LES FANTÔMES REVIENNENT AU PRINTEMPS after it was recommended to me by the awesome D+Q cartoonist and store staffer Julie Delporte. I had all these other books I was thinking of buying, but ended up just getting this one, and I am very glad I did. The story follows Juliette, a young woman who constantly feels at odds with the world, and even more so with her family who she’s visiting. While people around her are quick to diagnose her with depression, or say that it's psychosomatic and done for attention, Juliette sees her inability to feel at ease in the world as "falling into a tragic dimension." This idea of a tragic dimension is fitting with the general mood of the book, where melancholy and alienation permeate Juliette's family portrait—even the few seemingly well-adjusted members of Juliette's family have darkness looming underneath. While the book deals with heavy hearts and the dangers of ascribing identities to others, Juliette is in no way a depressing read, it's actually punctuated with humour and liveliness throughout: there's Juliette's cynical father with his dry sense of humour, her sister's secret lover who dresses up as a giant bunny rabbit or ghost during their sexy meet-ups, and there's even a funny little duckling named Norbert, who although small in size, packs a large punch in the story's emotional makeup.

While reading the book, I was reminded of the works of both Rutu Modan and Aisha Franz, as Juliette explores how deep family secrets can move characters to act in certain ways, while also touching on the dichotomy between internal emotions and their sometimes difficult public expressions. These comparisons shouldn't carry too much weight though, since Camille Jourdy has a voice that is very much her own, singular in tone and carried out in a slow-rolling pace that often recalls a long beautiful cinematic shot. This is only enhanced by the author’s gorgeous art, rendered in rich watercolours and vivid palettes, and especially stylish costume designs. I'm very much looking forward to reading Jourdy's previous and future works, in particular her Rosalie Blum trilogy that won the Angoulême Best Newcomer prize in 2010, and has since been made into a film. Thanks for the recommendation Julie, I absolutely loved it!

Marie-Jade Menni, production coordinator

Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano (Viz)

   Oh, man, am I ever way behind on my regular old book reading because I am spending too much time online reading 1) thinkpieces on LEMONADE and 2) the Chester Brown/Dave Sim conversation on the A Moment of Cerebus blog. Neither of these is a joke. I’ve also been working on Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music and Invisible Ink and rereading some comics classics BUT the book I want to talk about is GOODNIGHT PUNPUN. The venerable manga publisher Viz just dropped this Inio Asano volume (only just noticing that it’s 1 of 4, so I guess I’m in for 2000 pages) recently and I’ll admit that the cover caught my eye. That little ghost-bird is a good trick. Basically, we’re looking at the story of a young teen and his unrequited love for one of his classmates. His mom is in the hospital and his dad is “away” so his hipster uncle is taking care of him. The title character Punpun is drawn as that ghost-bird on the cover throughout (his blood relations are a version of same) while everyhting else is that classic manga mix of realistic and cartoon-y. Asano wrings alot of expression out of that little flat drawing and it makes all the difference when some of the characters are a little too parodic. That Punpun ghost-bird is everything though. He makes the story sweet and nervous and alot of fun to read. Really a simple brilliant story-telling design choice.

Tom Devlin. executive editor

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

   This month I've been reading THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty. You may recognize Paul Beatty from such 90s cult satirical classics like The White Boy Shuffle. Beatty returns with The Sellout, a novel which opens with the voice of a narrator — a young black man — who is about to embark on a race trial at the U.S. Supreme Court. The book is to start, hilarious, but to finish, deeply smart study on the civil rights movement, patriarchal structures, and Black urban life. Raised by a father whose career as a sociologist deeply impacts the young man's perspective on race and psychology. After his father is killed in a police shoot-out, our protagonist believes all of his family's financial issues will be solved in the form of a memoir left behind by his infamously controversial father. Unfortunately, there is no memoir. Angered and determined to set wrongs right, and with the help of vividly drawn out external characters, he attempts to reinstate slavery and segregation in the school systems. Now you know why the book begins with the Supreme Court, but for a full thrilling ride between the loss of a father to a pro-slavery stance, you'll definitely want to pick this baby up.

Sruti Islam, marketing assistant

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