Staff Picks 2017: Chantale

While on maternity leave this year, I read most moments when I wasn't caring for the baby. And once he was in daycare, I read even more! I found myself attracted to books that surprised me in ways that I didn't know I wanted to be surprised, and those that revealed fresh insightful histories, voices, and stories. I didn't want the comfort of the expected. This year, I wanted wild, playful, and intelligent books that saved me from ruminating on the cloudy cold darkened reality.


The Doll's Alphabet, Camilla Grudova
Think of this astounding collection of short stories as Angela Carter meets Nell Zink meets George Saunders, bumping up against Gothic moodiness and childlike innocence. I was immersed in the Toronto-based writer's off-kilter world from the first line: "One afternoon, after finishing a cup of coffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself."

Mrs Caliban, Sarah Ingalls
A housewife begins an affair with a large green alien. The premise is wacky, but it is delivered with such tenderness and poise. Originally written in 1982, this unclassifiable new New Directions edition mixes domestic realism with sci-fi strangeness, camp with romance, desire with sadness.

Fever Dream, Samantha Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (not pictured)
Here is a breathless short novel about a mother trying to recall a key event with her child in a rush of urgency. In trying to recollect what has happened, she must be observant as she thinks back to all that has lead up to the event. The reader too is trying to make sense of what has happened, and it arrives in fragments: a young boy, worms, contamination, the rescue distance. To be read in one sitting.


Nature Poem, Tommy Pico
As an indigenous writer, Pico is expected to write on, connect with, and respond to nature in predictable and clear ways. But he reminds me, as a reader, that the world is immense and unimaginable, with greater breadth than colonial-white stereotypes allow. This is an epic poem that grapples with the poet's ambivalence to nature with truth and vulnerability.

Whereas, Layli Long Soldier
Reading this extra-ordinary book of poetry had me stunned. It halted my rhythm. It caused me to stop, slow down, stop, re-read, stop, and interpret words and forms anew. I heard Long Soldier read earlier this year and her firm patient oral voice comes through so clearly in these poems. One for the ages.


Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Marie Darrieussecq
This book is everything! I want to shove it in the hands of everyone I meet. Darrieussecq's writing on the life of painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) is tender, so attentive to the Paula's detailed expressions of desires in her letters, diary entries, and paintings. And Paula's life, full of self-assured ambition and intense love, is familiar. She wanted so much, did so much, yet ended up dying at 31, nineteen days after her first child was born.

Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three, David Plante
This new NYRB edition details the lives of utterly singular women in older age, women who had no intentions of following along the pre-described written lines for women. Plante spent time with three women who didn't receive the recognition and results they desired: novelist Jean Rhys, activist Germaine Greer, and Sonia Orwell. He recorded every moment of his time with them in his diary. What results is a sharp account of exceptional lives, arguably too difficult to reckon with.

Theft & Finding, David Sedaris
This collection of diary entries is a real treat as someone who has been reading Sedaris for nearly 10 years, having started with Me Talk Pretty One Day. Is it strange to say that he was my introduction to good literature, as goofy and playful as his stories were? Well. He was. And this book of diary entries reminds me just why he spoke to me so clearly all those years ago. These are entries of eccentric events and moments and conversations, rather than recordings of feelings and inner monologues. Each entry is a gem, catching the out-there kooky nuttiness of the world we live in.


Uncomfortably Happy, Yeon-Sik Hong
It is a familiar story: a young couple moves to the countryside to get away from the hustle and bustle, and it turns out to be so far away from the paradise they expected. In this version, with two artists along a Korean mountainside, the story is told with clear specificity and visceral expression. It is also a story of creativity, artists block, and creating one's vocation. I fell in love with this couple, and I rooted for them! I wanted them to make it, because I knew I wouldn't have been able to.

Boundless, Jillian Tamaki
I'm convinced Jillian Tamaki can do no wrong. Her drawings, her storytelling, her writings, her imaginations, her intelligence, her restraint, her style, her spunk! This out-of-sight collection of stories is for anyone who appreciates stories from the outskirts of the familiar.


Everything Is Flammable, Gabrielle Bell
Like Tamaki, I love everything Gabrielle Bell puts out. I love the honesty, vulnerability, and humor she puts out in her personal stories. This one is about her relationship with her aging mother, who lives in the wilderness and can no longer survive as independently as she wished. Their relationship is warm, intimate, and equitable, making me think not only on my own parental relationships but about how I want to foster my ever-developing relationship with my own children.

The Hand and Other Stories, Nicole Claveloux
This new NYRC collection offers us the first ever English translation of French artist Nicole Claveloux's 1970's surreal kooky out-of-this-world comics. Turn to this spectacular collection for talking plants, depressed birds, sassy babies, and the most amazing array of colours you can handle. To quote the artist, these stories are "smiles that bite."


Feather, Rémi Courgeon
A young girl named Feather develops a strategy to defend herself against taking on the brunt of domestic work left to her by her three brothers and father. She learns to box, so to speak to the brute physical masculine energy and demands of her family. In turn, they listen and hear her. Told simply and poetically, this picture book is compelling, affirming, and satisfying. n.b. not just for girls! It's a story that all children can appreciate and take from without being hit over the head with its politics.

Le facteur de l'espace, Guillaume Perreault
I fell in love with this comic for kids, about a mailman in space who is suddenly re-routed off his usual comfortable route. He ends up delivering strange mail to strange residents on strange planets. He's annoyed, exhausted, and scared, eagerly awaiting for the horrible day to end. Oh, but the adventure!! It's kind of exciting. Perhaps he'll stick with this new route after all... ;)


She was called successively Rachel, Monique, Szyndler, Calle, Pagliero, Gonthier, Sindler. My mother did not appear in my work and that annoyed her., Sophie Calle
Moi aussi je voulais l'emporter, Julie Delporte
I'm Not Here,  GG


Working Woman, Elvira Navarro
Her Body & Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
In the Distance, Hernan Diaz
Modern LoveConstance Dejong (not pictured)

The Gift, Barbara Browning
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, Kathleen Collin
Bridge Retakes, Angela Lopes
Swallow the Fish, Gabrielle Civil

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

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