Staff Picks 2017: Alyssa

Every year I dread this task: choosing, somehow, amidst all the amazing literature that came out this year, a top ten. It's a challenge I never feel up to. How does one compare a graphic novel to a poetry collection? Essays to short stories? Cookbooks to comics? And so I've selected ten titles in no particular order, books that made me fall in love, cry bitterly, or cackle to myself in public. But as for some sort of objective ranking, that I'll leave to you.

The Idiot, Elif Batuman
In Batuman's much-loved new novel, college freshman Selin has just arrived at Harvard in the 90s. Humorous, curious, and introspective, Selin finds herself immersed in Russian literature, first love, and the rather existential question of how one becomes a writer. The prose is observant, yet meditative, funny but with all the gravitas of becoming an adult and slowly, endearingly, figuring it all out.

Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang
It was a real treat to watch Jenny Zhang converse with Zadie Smith earlier this year, and there's a good reason she was chosen for the role. Her debut stories are sharply perceptive but with a tender softness, blending coming-of-age stories with tales of immigration, dreams deferred, poverty, and love. Her protagonists, daughters of artists and scholars, are delightful in their foibles, their stories, weaknesses, and aspirations a testament to Zhang's honesty and emotional range.

Mois aussi je voulais l'emporter, Julie Delporte
In her meditations on travel, art, sex, and Tove Jansson, the narrative thread holding together Julie's beautiful new graphic novel is a constant examination of what it means to be a woman. The interconnected vignettes slowly, painfully, reconcile themselves to this identity, rife with expectations and often uncomfortably constrained. The art and text work perfectly together toward the kind of clear-hearted introspection that made me sit down on a park bench in -5 weather just to finish it.

Boundless, Jillian Tamaki
I read Jillian Tamaki's spectacular set of short stories multiple times in preparation for a graphic novel book club I hosted this summer, and enjoyed them just as much each and every time. Tamaki is a consummate artist and storyteller, and Boundless's characters--who, in turn, shrink down to nothingness or become obsessed with a mysterious mirror-world Facebook--seem alive as they find themselves distanced from, or transcending, their identities, culture, relationships, and selves.

Sticks Angelica Folk Hero, Michael DeForge
When I say that this is my favourite thing Michael DeForge has published since Ant Colony, it's a meaningful sentiment. I’m always a fan of his eerie, hyper-stylized illustration and deadpan dialogue, but there’s something extra special about the story of Sticks Angelica, former Canadian heiress and force of nature. Running away from a family scandal, Sticks goes to live in the wilderness among animals like a lonely electric eel and a moose named Lisa Hanawalt who dreams of becoming a big shot lawyer in the bustling metropolis of Ottawa. They’re only a few of the characters that fill the pages of this enchanting graphic novel, with a story that had me chuckling with every new page.

Baking with Kafka, Tom Gauld
Definitely one of the books that had me laughing at increasingly inappropriate times, Baking with Kafka is the perfect continuation of You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, the first installment of Gauld's collected Guardian comic strips. Intelligent, absurd, and not a little irreverent, this new collection is funnier, more succinct, and just as enjoyable as its predecessor. 

Hunger, Roxane Gay
Back in 2015, we had the pleasure of welcoming Roxane Gay here in Montreal. During that event she mentioned her new project: a memoir of her body, her relationship to food, her history of trauma. Well worth that long anticipation, Hunger is a harrowing story: a chronicle of childhood rape, silent shame, eating, weight gain, and self-preservation, told unflinchingly, honestly, and with undeniable care. Gay is a master writer, adding to her years writing about feminism and women's bodies with this deeply personal work that is not to be missed.

Tropico, Marcela Huerta
It's always a little embarrassing when such a little book will make me cry, but I suppose that's what I get for reading books like Tropico. An intimate portrayal of the grief and love that arise from parental relationships and shared trauma, Tropico is all the best parts of the memoir, the poem, and the short story. The daughter of Chilean political refugees, Marcela has crafted a careful but uncompromising testament to how families can at once soothe and hurt each other, and how one can hope to cope with that lasting pain.

Delete, Daphné B.
I fell totally in love with Daphné's 2015 poetry collection Bluetiful, but this new work--ambitious, tightly woven, utterly relatable--is something else entirely. A reclamation of self in the face of love that threatens to swallow you whole, Delete works its way through email correspondence never sent, the disconnectedness of living abroad, the ennui of a changed home. Calm and considered, the deeply felt words give meaning to moments of loneliness, of inaction, of loss.

Wild Beauty, Ntozake Shange
Having had the opportunity to see one of my favourite plays, Shange's seminal For Colored Girls, performed recently, it was only natural that I would turn to this new work: a splendid English/Spanish collection of the writer's best and newest poems. There's always a living immediacy to Shange's work, a richness and breath to it that invites an out-loud reading, a rhythm, a dance. At times painful, always beautiful, I'm very grateful for the timing of this book's release. It's allowed me to immerse myself fully in a writer I love. 

And make sure to check out all the other staff picks when they come out:
Kate \\ Luke \\ Kennedy \\ Saelan \\ Chantal \\ Arizona \\ Lauriane \\ Chantale \\ Ben \\ Kalliopé \\ Anna \\ Sophie \\ Eli

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