This is my first Top 10 for the store. It’s been a really inspiring couple months to be surrounded by so many authors, events, and, of course, books. I made it a point this year to read only POC authors. It was great! This list wasn’t easy to create, and there are still so many unread books on my bedside table. I had to upgrade my backpack to accommodate all the books I was carrying to and from the store, though my cats liked having new stacks to sit on. For many of us 2016 was a terrible year, so here’s 10 amazing books to make the year go down a little easier (in no particular order):
Problems - Jade Sharma
Maya is a 20-something Indian-American woman who is a drug addict, a soon-to-be divorcee, is having an affair with her professor, has an eating disorder, and eventually turns to prostitution. Our narrator has many “problems". She is, however, completely honest and open about her thoughts on life. It’s fair to say that there’s an internal disconnect in Maya’s life. She is aware of the abstractions she constructs and of her self-destructive ways, but she doesn’t seem to want to change them. She is completely disillusioned about her addiction and about her extramarital affair. The book is one big monologue, there are no distinct chapters, but Maya’s development makes you keep turning the page. What I enjoyed the most was the alternative addiction narrative that avoids the clichés.
On Beauty – Zadie Smith
‘Kiki,’ she said suddenly. And how awful the corruption when you hear the name of your heart in the mouth of the person you are about to betray her with! ‘Kiki,’ she repeated, ‘your wife. She’s amazing. Looking. She’s like a queen. Imperious-looking.' Howard and Kiki are an interracial couple whose marriage is torn after Howard’s affair. Though it’s a short-lived affair, it has terrible consequences on their family. This was the first Zadie Smith novel I’d read, and the personal heartbreak and the misadventures throughout these pages confirms that Zadie is one of my all-time favourite authors!
Josephine Baker – Catel & Bocquet
What a truly beautiful rags to riches story! Josephine Baker follows the exceptional destiny of the first international Black icon. Growing up in Missouri, Josephine’s early childhood was riddled with poverty and racism, but she knew she was destined for greatness. An expat, Baker found overnight success in Paris, which would become her home. She once said: “You know my friends, I’m not lying when I say that I’ve been to the palaces of kings and queens, in the homes of presidents. And many more. But despite all of this I could not enter a hotel in America and drink a cup of coffee. And this drove me mad.” Her life was truly marvelous: she worked as a secret spy, was affiliated with the NAACP, and was even asked by Coretta Scott King to lead the American Civil Rights Movement. Her influence persists, and this graphic novel had to be included on this list of faves!
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
I can call myself a bad feminist, and Gay’s book of essays gave me the courage to say it out loud! I, like Roxane Gay, listen really loudly to obscene rap with demoralizing lyrics towards women; am disillusioned by the safety and comfort that men provide; am often jealous and envious of my girlfriends; sometimes a terrible friend and ally - but her words call me out and make me aware that there’s room for improvement, and that I can do better as an intersectional feminist!
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
To me, this collection of poetry is my way to self-care. It is split up in 4-parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. This book helped me survive through the uncertain times this year has presented us with. It is filled with pain, but also proves that the journey to reconciling can be tender and honest.
Citizen – Claudia Rankine
The other night, I finished reading Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and in one poetic essay, Rankine quotes Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote: “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” How we self-identify and feel our importance in this world as people of colour is very different to how we are perceived as we navigate through a “sharp white background.” There are times when flagrant comments, microaggressions, and racist language intercept our movement, and Citizen reminds us not to feel the erasure of our history as a resilient people.
Kitaro - Shigeru Mizuki
Of yōkai (spirit-monster) heritage himself, our protagonist Kitaro finds himself in the human world fighting other yōkais, bringing peace between the two. He has a detachable hand and spiky hair which he will often use to wrap or spike his enemy with. Most mischief comes from his friend, Nezumi Otoko, who is greedy and inevitably gets Kitaro involved. But Kitaro can always count on his father, Madama-oyaji - who also acts as Kitaro’s missing left eye! My favourite of these Japanese folklore stories has to be of monster Makura Gaeshi who haunts the dreamlands and hunts people.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth - Warsan Shire
This chapbook begins with: "I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes; on my face they are still together.” I was immediately captivated. Warsan Shire is a young Somali author who writes honest poems filled with love, pain, betrayal, and hope. Imagery of the body is a constant theme, and the violence women endure will make you feel more empathetic to their struggle. “To my daughter I will say, ‘'When the men come, set yourself on fire.”
Des femmes savantes - Chloé Savoie
I haven’t read French since high school, but I was given this book and didn’t feel overwhelmed because it contained just over 100 pages, so a perfect way to be reintroduced! The raw and at times harsh language is reflective of the everyday issues that Chloe Savoie-Bernard presents in her fiction as women’s knowledge and truth. The layered rules as we know them. She speaks on sexuality, violence, self-deprecation, self-destruction, eroticism, comedy, self-love, possessiveness, vulnerability, hate, and the ever-present sensation of '"feeling heavy." Chloe inserts Montreal sights and sounds as well as our Montreal French which makes this read lyrical, colloquial, and poetic. This is contemporary feminist writing. I can't wait to read her book of poems, Royaume scotch tape.
March – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Congratulations to John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell for their win - March won the National Book Award, the first graphic novel to take home this coveted prize! I read the three-part graphic memoir during the impassioned US debates between Hillary Clinton and now President of the United States of America, Donald Trump. The series is set during the legacy of the civil rights movement, the Jim Crow era. It chronicles the life and nonviolent approach to protest of Congressman John Lewis and many activists of the time. Major historical events such as Bloody Sunday, the Freedom Riders, and of course, the 1963 March on Washington. This has been by far been the most important and influential graphic novel I’ve ever read. The three volumes chronicle the tactics, organization, and politics of the “Big 6” and many, many others for democracy and dignity. I know that amongst my peers and me, 2016 has felt like it’s been in constant retrograde. These achievements are the inspiration we need as we enter a new phase of what seems to be a derailment of civil consciousness.
Don't forget to check out my colleagues' Best of 2016 lists:
Les choix de Julie