Summer Reads 2016: Courtney

- Poetry -
Ghost in the Club by Greg Zorko

Published by our friends at Metatron Press this past spring, Greg Zorko's collection of short poems is an efficient and well-executed series of gut-punches. With titles like "smoke cloud emoji", "energy efficient lightbulb," and "DIY haircut" setting the tone, Zorko's collection taps into the daily struggles of being a regular ol' human being. And while the term "millennial" has become a bad word of sorts when describing literature, Ghost in the Club nonetheless taps into the awkwardness of the anxious twenty-to-thirty-something, allowing for the collection to adopt an undeniable sense of universality, and subtle cool.


"I go to the club and coat check my entire body"

- Fiction -
The Unprofessionals: New American Writing 
from the Paris Review edited by Lorin Stein

Curated by the Paris Review’s editor-in-chief, this collection of short stories, poems, and non-fiction essays is arguably the best material that the publication has put out over the last few years. While bigger literary names undoubtedly make features in the book – namely Ben Lerner and Zadie Smith – virtual “unknowns” give the most standout performances. With no set theme running through the book, the subjects range from hypermasculine frat boy culture, to gay eastern European BDSM, allowing for each author to push their own set boundaries; the collection serving as a high-calibre hodgepodge of individual voices.


“There are many kinds of prayer. There is a kind of prayer that’s like breathing. There is a kind of prayer that’s like talking to your best friend all day long. There is a kind of prayer in the face of beauty that lifts your hands up because it would be harder to keep them down.”

- Short Fiction -
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams

The first indication that Diane Williams’ acclaimed new collection is going to be a different kind of read is, of course the title. The stories tingle with life; the brevity and precise use of punctuation ring like a gunshot, echoing in your ears for days afterwards. In these stories sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes everything happens. Sometimes things happen backwards, in mixed order, discarding plot in lieu of single sentences and observations that lead both somewhere and nowhere and illuminate in the process. Hilarious, weird, and at times confusing, this collection is filled with small bites of perfection that I encourage you to try.


"She had stopped insisting that they have heart-to-heart conversations, but for stranded people, they had these nice moments together, and he had his professional enjoyment at the newspaper."

- Fiction / Memoir -
Little Labours by Rivka Galchen (Fiction, Memoir)

Inspired by Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, Galchen’s collection of essays, observations, and personal anecdotes about writing and motherhood is a well-composed and ultimately illuminating little book. Published by New Directions, Little Labors has been hailed for its originality by critics and fellow writers - its contents written in a stern, almost didactic tone that somehow ends up being really, really funny. And while notes on modern motherhood are usually reserved for daytime TV, Galchen manages to poke fun at the overbearing nature of modern mommy instruction manuals while simultaneously elevating it to a philosophical level.


“I set her down in her crib, and she didn’t cry. Why, I wondered, is she not distressed? It’s as if she assumes that we will, of course, love and care for her. It seemed so strange for her to assume that. I respected her fearlessness.”

- Graphic Novel -
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf 

In light of certain bigot politicians dominating current mainstream media, this popular autobiographical novel by French cartoonist Riad Sattouf has become a necessary read, in summer or otherwise. Translated into over 10 different languages, Arab of the Future chronicles Sattouf’s childhood split between France, Syria, and Libya during the presidencies of Muammar Gaddafi and Hafez Al-Assad - Sattouf's story focusing on the political landscape of the late 70s and early 80s. Illustrated in specific colour pallets to define the different locations, Arab of the Future follows Sattouf’s loving and dysfunctional family from country to country, painting a picture of shifting political landscapes along the way.

- Graphic Novel-
Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt

From the James Beard award-winning cartoonist and designer/producer of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman comes Hot Dog Taste Test; a delicious – and necessary – venture into the world of food, anthropomorphized animals, and the brilliant mind of artist Lisa Hanawalt. Tackling subjects ranging from the pomposity of foodie subculture, to the horrors of using public restrooms, Hanawalt’s second book with Drawn and Quarterly is a hilarious assortment of cartoons, doodles, and fully-realized stories that illustrate life in all its beautiful, embarrassing, and at times hyperbolic glory.

- Comic -
Club Life in Moomin Valley by Tove Janssen

Drawn and Quarterly’s obsession with the world of the Moomins has once again taken shape as a fresh, new update to a beloved Tove Jansson classic. Released this past May, Club Life in Moominvalley is a sweet tale that explores the complex notions of one’s quest for identity and need for community in the magical Moomin world. And like all good, classic cartoons, Moomin’s appeal stretches far beyond its intended audience (kids) by throwing the innocent and beloved Moomin family into the mix with the big, bad world. In short, a delightful little read.

- Non-Fiction -
Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

While “heartbreaking tales of Russian suffering” isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when I look for an enjoyable summer read, Alexievich manages to elevate these harrowing first-person accounts of love, joy, and sorrow into something of pure beauty - allowing for normally voiceless individuals to contribute history. Translated into English for the first time, "Secondhand Time" chronicles the demise of communism via interviews collected between 1991 and 2012. Weaving a symphonic tapestry of voices and experiences of real, ordinary women and men throughout the former Soviet Union, Alexievich’s book is a cathartic exploration into a world of which most of us know next to nothing.


"Suicide is a nighttime state, when a person wavers on the edge between being and non-being. Waking and sleep. I want to understand suicide with the rigor of a person in daytime. Someone once asked me: 'Are you worried that you're going to like it?'"

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