Staff Picks : Benjamin

My first four months here at Librairie D+Q have been entirely hazardous for my bookshelves (and tables, and windowsills...). As we arrive headlong at the year's end, the prospect of narrowing my favourite books of 2016 to ten is becoming more and more daunting. What a year it was! Looking forward to 2017, there are already a number of releases that have me salivating. Of particular note is New Directions' upcoming reprint of Pessoa's Book of Disquiet... but I'm getting ahead of myself! Here are my top books of the year, books that left me in varying degrees of hysteria, in no particular order.

1. Madeleine E. - Gabriel Blackwell

Theoretically, this book should not be as entertaining as it is. Gabriel Blackwell’s newest title is unlike anything I have ever read; its exquisite pacing and shimmering streams of thought kept me completely enthralled. Essentially, the author is a man obsessed with a man obsessed. In Madeleine E., Blackwell uses Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo as a springboard into a complex exploration of identity and memory. Dubbed a commonplace book—collecting quotations to analyse a subject—Blackwell swirls memoir, philosophy, fiction, film criticism, and quotes from such figures as W.G. Sebald and Rebecca Solnit, to create a kind of melancholic kaleidoscope (much like Vertigo’s title sequence). Highly recommend!

2. Float - Anne Carson

This new book from enigmatic poet and classicist Anne Carson was my most anticipated this year, and it is a treat from the moment it is picked up! The book consists of twenty-two individual chapbooks which “float” (hence the title) inside of a transparent case. The off-kilter presentation is mirrored in its contents, as Carson’s work is ever fragmentary, ever startling, ever prancing towards truth. Though each chapbook is technically isolated and meant to be read in any order, there is a surprising coherence to the various themes. The subjects shift from memory to loss to icebergs to Francis Bacon, yet constant throughout seems to be the concept of translation, whether it be language to language—she is a professor of Classics after all—or experience to language, the chief concern of the poet. Anne Carson is a favourite of many at the ol’ Librairie, and with Float has delivered not only an astounding work of poetry, but a tilt on what we expect from a book as artifact.

3. Mooncop - Tom Gauld

From the author of You’re All Just Jealous of my Jetpack and Goliath comes a brand-new tale of lunar law-enforcement. Mooncop is Gauld’s vision of moonlife: droll isolation. We follow our hero, the mooncop, as he makes his daily rounds of the near deserted lunar colony. Equal parts funny and melancholy, Gauld invites you into the seclusion, the inertia, the stark beauty, of life on the moon. As per one exchange with the mooncop: “Don’t you have any real crime to deal with?” “Not really.” I cannot get enough Tom Gauld. While the end of Goliath left me devastated (no spoilers), the feeling at the end of Mooncop was far more serene, far more hopeful.

4. Wendy's Revenge - Walter Scott

Walter Scott is an artist based *somewhere* between Montreal and Toronto, who garnered near cult-status with his Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel nominated Wendy. Wendy is a boozy bundle of nerves who has her sights set on becoming an art starlet but is consistently derailed by bad decisions. Despite (or perhaps by way of) her blunders, Wendy is completely lovable and relatable. This time around, Wendy is back and ready to unleash her wrath on the art world that left her for dead. I had the pleasure of working the launch of Wendy’s Revenge here at the Librairie, with Walter’s hilarious and humble presentation leaving me completely sold on the Wendiverse (as if I wasn’t already)!

5. Sebald Book Set - W.G. Sebald

New Directions continue to release some of the best looking books around, as this Peter Mendelsund designed book-set is a feast for the eyes. W.G. Sebald has been described as “memory’s Einstein”, and spent his illustrious career honing his very own genre. Part travelogue, part fiction, part history, part memoir; his books can only truly be characterized as “Sebaldian”, a term that nearly equals “Kafkaesque” in its distinctiveness. The three books comprised in the set are Vertigo, a novel that follows an unnamed narrator as he journeys to his childhood home in Bavaria; The Rings of Saturn, his most famous work which maps Sebald’s trek through the coast of East Anglia as he weaves a web of memory and history; and The Emigrants, a sprawling narrative which tracks the lives of four post-war German emigrants. I first encountered Sebald’s work through a Grant Gee directed documentary entitled Patience, After Sebald. The film recreates the journey through East Anglia from The Rings of Saturn, and it sent me on a tear through Sebald's backlog! This reissue of three of his most engrossing novels cements New Directions as one of my favourite publishers. The physical books are perfect encapsulations of the texts they contain, as the fragmented glimpses of history and the natural world are decidedly “Sebaldian”.

6. Mickey - Chelsea Martin

This was my riding-the-metro-pocket-novel for the last few weeks of 2016. Reading on wheels inexplicably alters my experience with a book, and though Chelsea Martin’s vision remains focused throughout, the shifting settings I consumed it in kept the book in a constant state of metamorphosis.   After breaking up with her boyfriend—the titular Mickey—a young woman navigates the dark waters of her contemporary woes all on her own. Told in a series of restrained vignettes, Mickey follows its protagonist as she attempts to situate her life and art and connect with her estranged mother. Martin is a prime example of what a young writer can accomplish in the internet age. Her art is brooding, minimalist, yearning. The intelligence is obvious but never flaunted, Martin may just be the patron saint of modern heartbreak. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

7. House Mother Normal - B.S. Johnson

This book invigorated me like no other this year! A wildly innovative novel, House Mother Normal maps the deterioration of the human psyche in old age. The book is made up of eight monologues, each beginning with an assessment of the patient’s physical capacity. A New Directions reprint, this book is a totally captivating tragicomedy from B.S. Johnson, one of Britain’s greatest experimental writers.

8. Nicolas - Pascal Girard
Nicolas was perhaps the most affecting book I encountered this year. Pascal digs into childhood trauma with remarkable restraint, each moment is rendered in spare, gorgeous vignettes. With little adorning them, the emotional impact of the panels is shattering. Pascal reflects on the death of his younger brother and the ripples that have carried over into his adult life. A truly moving book from one of my favourite comics artists!

9. The Babysitter at Rest - Jen George
The Dorothy Publishing Project is quickly becoming one of my favourite small presses. New from the literary outfitter is a bizzaro collection of short stories by Jen George, entitled The Babysitter at Rest. The eponymous short story, which previously appeared in BOMB Magazine, tilts and sears through a gratuitous party scene populated with odd and earnest characters, including a silver-haired pervert and a roommate named "Horse". George's stories at times border on farcical, but at their core lie careful examinations of being young, female, lost, unfulfilled. These five stories are hilarious in their reckless abandon, yet there is a discipline to the weirdness, a cool head recounting the surreal. The Babysitter at Rest is told in a soft-psychedelia that charmed my socks off!

10. The Photographer’s Last Picture - Sean Howard
Recently arrived from award-winning Gaspereau Press (of which I share a hometown) is a new take on the war poem. Sean Howard unearthed photos from a tattered copy of Collier’s Photographic History of the European War (1916) and used them as flint for a roaring poetry, twenty-fold. Howard, an adjunct professor of political science at Cape Breton University, begins each passage with a brief, plainspeak description of the grainy photograph, from there it is a freefall of metaphors and associations regarding history, memory, and the actions and implications of war. The result is simultaneously disorienting and revealing, I was at once plunged into the cold facts and blood-warm sensations of global conflict. The effectiveness of this book is perhaps an indication that we are moving away from traditional interpretations of History, and moving towards a more immersive, and hopefully empathetic, understanding.

Hon. Mention: Seth's Dominion
While it is technically not a book, I still couldn’t resist put Seth’s Dominion on my list! There are few modern cartoonists with the gravitas of Seth. Part animation, part live action, Seth’s Dominion is a perceptive documentary which manages to do justice to its incredibly prolific subject. Luc Chamberland’s film sheds light on the artist through insightful biography and immersive animated shorts of his comics. A must have!

Check out everyone’s favourites of the year: Alyssa // Daphne // Helen // Henrika // Julie // Kate // Lucie // Rebecca // Saelan

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