Staff Picks 2016: Alyssa

Every year I think it'll get easier to choose a top ten, that I'll have streamlined the decision-making process and figured out how to isolate the very, very best books of the year. But with all the amazing titles that come out, it's always a challenge, and there are always beautiful, thought-provoking books that get left by the wayside. So here are ten twelve titles, in alphabetic order, that stood out this year. The best I, humble book nerd that I am, could do: 

Closer (Sarah Barmack)
Smaller than your average non-fiction book, but more comprehensive than an essay, pretty much every book in Coach House’s Exploded Views series is a winner. Closer tackles the complicated, taboo subject of female sexuality, and does so with a thoroughness that’s a pleasure to read. The topics range from how so-called “liberated” sex might actually put more pressure on us all, the long history of the medical community dismissing female anatomy and pleasure, and the radical ways women of all stripes are reclaiming their bodies.

Beverly (Nick Drnaso) 
With spare illustration and dialogue that betrays the mundanity of daily life, Nick Drnaso's Beverly tells interconnected tales of the North American suburb. Life in these panels is boring yet cruel, with tensions boiling just beneath the stylized line work. Humour, violence, heartbreak, and dreams all fight to break through the stifling fog of the status quo, and the characters who populate this beautiful, pastel-hued world will haunt you long after their stories are over.

Lean Out (Dawn Foster)
When Sheryl Sandberg’s much-discussed Lean In first came out, her assertions that individual women working hard and prioritizing their careers would be enough to fix their gender’s continued economic and professional inequality were met with almost immediate criticism. In Lean Out, journalist Dawn Foster tackles some of Sandberg’s main claims, while also exploring the racial and class politics of inequality, and the rise of corporatized feminism. Quick and thorough, Lean Out clearly articulates the dangers of pushing to get a select few women through the glass ceiling, while forgetting that so many others live well beneath it.

Mooncop (Tom Gauld)
Tom Gauld has gifted us with a graphic novel that mixes the wry wit of You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack with the melancholy beauty of Goliath’s narrative, and for that I'm grateful. Set in a rapidly dwindling lunar colony, the graphic novel explores the stillness, the boredom, the sorrow of feeling left behind, of watching a life—maybe not an exciting life, but one nevertheless comforting and appreciated—change before your eyes. But there’s always hope, and the moon’s isolation isn’t so much to bear when it’s shared.

Hot Dog Taste Test (Lisa Hanawalt)
It takes special skill to marry whimsy with crassness in the particular style of Lisa Hanawalt, and her newest book, Hot Dog Taste Test, defies easy categorization. Whatever this book is (memoir, comic, humour, essay, non sequitur), it is always funny, poignant, and endlessly relatable—whether she's talking about bikini bodies, horseback rides, or her own deep-seated anxieties.

Women in Science (Rachel Ignotofsky)
I gave this book to a seven year-old in my acquaintance, and she immediately demanded—as birthday girls are wont to do—that she get to keep it with her during bedtime. I can’t think of higher praise than that, and Women in Science, a beautifully illustrated book profiling women whose contributions to STEM fields throughout history can’t be overstated, is a perfect read for inquisitive minds of all ages.

House of Plants: Living with Succulents, Air Plants, and Cacti (Rose Ray and Caro Langton)
There are certain challenges that come with growing plants indoors (a necessity, unfortunately, in a newly-wintry Montreal), but the enormous variety of beautiful, otherworldly cacti and succulents available make focusing efforts indoors just as rewarding. With its delicately muted, green-grey palette, House of Plants is full of beautiful photography and illustration, useful information on how to choose the best plants for each space, tips on care and maintenance, and instructions for DIY plant accessories.

So Much Synth (Brenda Shaughnessy)
Aching love and adolescent pain are the driving forces behind Shaughnessy's fourth collection of poems, where the strongest, most resonant angst is bound by mixtape selections and the ennui of growing up. It's both a celebration of, and critical, self-aware look at, the deep, consuming, mundane feelings of our teenaged selves, and it's a delight to read.

Monstress volume 1 (Sana Takeda and Marjorie Liu)
Monstress is an escape into an opulently textured, art deco world where violence is matched only by beauty. The one-armed Maika Halfwolf navigates a world ruined by war, becoming slave, saviour, monster, and killer in her search to find out what happened to her mother. An epic fantasy in the truest sense of the term, there's an incredible richness to the world, the art, the storyset in an alternate reality, matriarchal, turn-of-the-century Asiathat merits at least one reread. 

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars (Kai Cheng Thom)
Thom's debut novel is a treasure, a confection whose poetry glides off the page yet leaves a lasting mark on your mind. Just listen to how the story is billed: a "highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert" who "finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who live in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles." You want to read that, don't you? You definitely should. 

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race (ed. Jesmyn Ward)
Always important, James Baldwin's writings on civil and human rights seem especially relevant today, and The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, functions both as a response and successor to his work. A collection of essays on race, violence, and invisibility by writers like Claudia Rankine, Edwige Danticat, and Kiese Laymon, among others, the book's writing is perfect, its thoughts crucial, and its breadth astonishing.   

The Best Kind of People (Zoe Whittall)
A finalist for this year's Giller Prize, The Best Kind of People explores the emotions, questions, and doubt that surface when someone we love is accused of the unthinkable. When George Woodbury goes to trial for sexual impropriety with a student, his family is left to grapple with the significance of his actions, the emotional fallout of shattered trust, and the impossibility of life continuing on. I've loved Whittall's emotional deftness since Bottle Rocket Hearts, and in this new effort she does not disappoint.

And make sure to check out everyone else’s favourites of the year:
Ben // Daphné // Helen // Henrika // Julie

Kate // Lucie // Rebecca // Saelan

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