Staff Picks 2018: Eli Tareq

December 12, 2018

Staff Picks 2018: Eli Tareq

Too many books came out this year!! Honestly, I had such a hard time keeping up. What's a bookseller to do when everything has a beautiful cover, every book is backed up with great blurbs, and all your favourite authors are coming out with new books? Needless to say, I read a lot of books and stressed about not reading enough books. Here's the results: 

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The Blue Clerk

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand, author of the Griffin Poetry Prize-winning collection Ossuaries, returns with a startlingly original work about the act of writing itself.On a lonely...

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I opened The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos and immediately sunk deep into its words, captivated by the lyricism and the questioning of the speakers, and found it hard to stop.  The Blue Clerk makes me want to write, makes me want to strive to be a better writer, to bask in this work’s importance, this work’s beauty. This Versos are boundary breaking, alive, and fun. They are the work of an accomplished writer who gets to let it all out, who's working is brimming with passion and years of writing. I feel like all of Brand's previous work has led to this. Working through a decolonial practise of non-linear and non-narrative poems, Brand asks what it is to work outside of oppressive structures to create something new and healing?



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On a Sunbeam

Tillie Walden

“Tillie Walden is the future of comics, andOn a Sunbeamis her best work yet. It’s a ‘space’ story unlike any you’ve ever read, with...

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I started reading On a Sunbeam a couple years ago when Tillie Walden first released it online, chapter by chapter, and I waited impatiently every week or so for an update. The colours and drawing style are so exquisite, it was almost hard to look at them on a screen. After a bit, I gave up trying to read it on a computer. As a young old-schooler, I'm a big fan of physical books, and I was so delighted to hear it was released in book form. The story is sweet and smart, following the main character Mia, who joins a crew that rebuilds broken-down structures. We see Mia's past at a boarding school and the pieces of her life and her loss start getting tied together in beautiful ways, the narrative flowing back and forth through time and non-linearity seamlessly. It's a space story, it's a story of queer friendship and love, there aren't really any men in the book, it has a character that uses they pronouns, and it's a story about defying boundaries and epic worlds. So basically it's all my favourite things!

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feeld

Jos Charles

Selected by Fady Joudah as a winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, Jos Charles’s revolutionary second collection of poetry, feeld, is a lyrical unraveling...

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Through her transliteration of Chaucerian English, Jos Charles makes a space for trans narratives that have come before that didn't necessarily have the language trans folks have today, widening the space and scope of the past. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Charles delivers lines like "did u kno not a monthe goes bye/a tran i kno doesnt dye", and I'm left pausing for long moments, letting the words sink, a reminder, a pain, a violence. This book is heavy and darkly funny, this book is innovative and enchanting, this book is changing the way I see poetry. With such a beautiful cover too, I wonder why this book isn't getting more attention for being the absolute wonder it is?

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite

"Pulpy, peppery and sinister, served up in a comic deadpan...This scorpion-tailed little thriller leaves a response, and a sting, you will remember."--NEW YORK TIMES"The...

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I was so taken by this beautiful cover that I knew I had to read this book, not having heard much about it beforehand (which is surprising as I love doing research about books). And I was happy that the title was the only thing I knew about the book. This was such a quick read + I really enjoyed it. It's been a while since I've read a book in one sitting, which I love doing; this small book was perfect for this activity. I loved the story of family and obligation, of relationships between women that go above and beyond. As an older sibling, I felt very close to Korede, close to the bitterness of carrying a lot of the responsibility, and this responsibility and care carried the novel through dark and humorous places. My only disappointment was there was less suspense than the title seemed to imply, but I just had to readjust my expectations as I sunk deeper into the world of the book, and it end up being a surprisingly fun and light read.

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Holy Wild

Gwen Benaway

In her third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway explores the complexities of being an Indigenous trans women in expansive lyric poems. She...

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These poems are soft spots in the middle of hardness. They are a reclamation of the soft as strong and worthy. They are asking for patience and forgiveness. They are speaking to family and ancestry, to the possibility of plurality over a singular I. They are a love letter to lakes, a love letter to trans girls. These poems are not an apology and they want you to know that. The speaker says, "gender is a long process of offering yourself in pieces" and these poems are beautifully offered pieces, a gift to the reader. I loved these poems and appreciate the work Benaway does as a writer so much, especially in Can Lit. This book was definitely a soft spot in poetry for me this year. I tried to read it quickly, but I kept falling back on lines that I needed to sit with. This collection will make you pause and reread.

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They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Hanif Abdurraqib

"A Best Book of 2017" —NPR,Buzzfeed, Paste Magazine, Esquire, Chicago Tribune,Vol. 1 Brooklyn, CBC, Stereogum, National Post, Entropy, Heavy, Book Riot, Chicago Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, Michigan Daily*American Booksellers...

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Hanif Abdurraqib is one of my favourite writers (perhaps even my favourite?) so get ready for some praise!! I absolutely adored this book. A book of essays about music that is about anything and everything. Abdurraqib’s take on music criticism is personal, poetic, and insightful.  A huge fan of emo and punk music, rap, R&B, pop, and everything in between, the bands and artists he chooses to talk about are across the board. There are essays about Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance that really pull on my past emo heart strings. Hanif talks about being the only black & muslim person in a particularly white scene, he talks about one of his closest friend’s suicide (who he met at a FOB concert), he talks about his love of the dramatics of My Chemical Romance. I think my favourite thing about Hanif Abdurraqib as a writer is the care and compassion with which he chooses to talk about his subjects. He cares about his communities and about music, which really shines through his essays. Honestly I have nothing but praise and everyone needs to read this book. My favourite essay is not really about music, but an essay called “There Is The Picture of Michael Jackson Kissing Whitney Houston On The Cheek” and if that’s not the most beautiful tender title you’ve heard, then I need to hear what is!!

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Obits.

Tess Liem

Can poems mourn the unmourned? In Obits. a speaker tries and fails to write obituaries for those whose memorials are missing, those who are...

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Obits might just be my favourite debut poetry collection. I got to read an earlier draft of this collection, and fell so heavy into the work on a rainy day on the train. In these poems, Liem writes about women whose memorials are missing, whose lives have not been honoured, even in death. In doing so, Liem humanizes women in ways that aren't always done, particularly in the current cultural and political climate. But as I've heard Liem say time and time again, Obits isn't just about Obits. While the collection very explicitly addresses death, it also addresses life and what it means to choose to live. With dark humour I couldn't get enough of, this intimate collection meditates on personhood, mixed race identity, and queerness, centering these narratives as everyday and beautiful. Getting to hear these poems out loud changed the way I experience them, and having Liem participate in so many readings at the store and launch her own book here (where I got to be a guest reader) has been so special, seeing the words embodied. Every time I hear new work by Liem, I fall in love with a new poem.

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That Time I Loved You

Carrianne Leung

Life is never as perfect as it seems.Tensions that have lurked beneath the surface of a shiny new subdivision rise up, in new fiction...

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Carrianne Leung’s That Time I Loved You is so earnest and beautiful. It’s told through multiple perspectives and each chapter follows a different character. I especially loved all the kids’ perspectives in the book as well as June’s Poh Poh, a gender bending badass grandma who’s softer than she likes to reveal. For a book with so many characters, I wasn’t lost but rather so enthralled by the interwoven stories of each character, each chapter taking on a life of its own. I was super sad when the book ended, wanting to stay immersed in the world Leung created. Leung’s attention to detail and ability to really capture each person’s personality and voice is brilliant. Getting to hear her read from the book was a special treat, the stories even more funny and sweet read out loud.

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Claudine

Riyoko Ikeda

The classic LGBT+ story by the creative master ofRose of Versailles!Born as “Claudine” in a female-assigned body that doesn’t reflect the man inside, this...

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When I find it hard to read fiction + poetry, I often turn to comics/graphic novels as a way to ease myself back into reading, pushing myself into an illustrated world. This was the case with Claudine. I really loved the late 70s flair of this manga. It talks about the story of a trans man in early 20th century France who’s a sap for love but also is hard core being psychoanalyzed by the narrator throughout the narrative. I originally thought it was a brand new manga (oops! it's actually a rerelease) and I was originally confused by the constant misgenderings of the character and the outdated language. But then rereading it knowing the context, it still felt gross for the main character to be constantly misgendered and treated so badly (his name is actually Claude so even the title of the book is dismissive) but felt a little more fun as a historical look at trans masculine ppl in the past, as some kind of historical proof we’ve existed for a while. I also love that Claude is a non-gendered diva and feel such an affinity with him, and loved his gushy, drama moments.

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Shit Is Real

Aisha Franz

A broken-hearted woman drifts into depression as she occupies her traveling neighbor's apartment After an unexpected breakup, a young woman named Selma experiences...

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I really enjoyed Aisha Franz’a Shit Is Real. It’s weird and cool and kind about friendship and fish. It’s sort of similar to Wendy but more weird and less “Art” but some of that is still in there. With weird hallucinations and the main character living in her neighbour’s more chique apartment without her knowing, it’s a really fun read and I liked it more than I thought I would.

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Freshwater

Akwaeke Emezi

A National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” HonoreeShortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Ada has always been unusual. As an infant...

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Freshwater is one of the most beautiful and innovative books I've read in 2018. It tells the story of Ada, a Nigerian Igbo woman born ''with one foot on the other side''. We see her life through chapters told by her alters, Gods in her body that pull her this way and that way, but also help her through tough moments where Ada cannot be in her body. Emezi's style is unlike many other writers, and I'm super looking forward to the millions of books they're coming out with in the next couple of years (a prolific genuis!!). I read it during one Toronto to Montreal bus ride, and I really recommend reading it in one sitting to really get immersed in Ada's world. Also it's extra great to read work written by a non-binary writer! How many black non-binary writers do you know who are published? Probably more than you think but probably still not many. Excited for this to change and for the publishing world to catch up to all the writers it’s ignored for so long.

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Nadia Chaney's book is absolutely lovely! Practise for Rust and Holograms is published by House House Press, a new Montreal publisher of poetry chapbooks, pamphlets, and ephemera operating outside of the prevailing lyrical and experimental aesthetics that everyone needs to check out. Chaney's work is smart and innovative, combining essays and poetry into this slim chapbook, the images guiding the reader through both a temporal and cerebral experience. The chapbook looks at human entitlement, looks at the ways our ideas of life and death take over the world, our religious notions, centralizing some of our own experiences. The speaker says: "The word climate doesn't apply anymore. We are not the only ones fighting. Whales, wolves, water," and brings the whole world back into the conversation. The beauty of the world radiates through the pages, the world coming alive and dying simultaneously. 

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We're Still Here

Ed. Tara Avery and Jeanne Thorton

The first anthology of its kind, We’re Still Here: An All-Trans Comics Anthology offers dozens of new stories that render trans experiences in comics...

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There are too many amazing comics in this anthology and I don’t think I could do it justice but everything is so smart and beautiful and really different. I really enjoyed reading this! One of my favourite comics out of the bunch was by Morgan Sea called Abominatrix, about a trans woman that turns herself into a “hulking green monster” that is funny and a parody, that deals with competition between trans women as well as friendship, and the colours were so bright and vibrant, and so were the great fighting scenes. The ending is great and heartwarming, a theme that runs through the anthology. A first of its kind (although new trans comics anthologies are popping up all over the place) I’m so happy it exists and is so good.

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Little Fish

Casey Plett

Little Fish is the stunning debut novel by the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning story collection A Safe Girl to Love. It's the...

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I’m always excited to read books about trans people, especially when they aren’t only about transition or adversity! Which seems like very little to ask but when trans writers are still pushing to get published, it makes sense. I especially loved Casey Plett’s Little Fish because it was funny and sweet and rough and the characters were all relatable, lovable, and imperfect. I knew I would love this book because I had loved Plett’s debut collection, A Safe Girl To Love, and I was not wrong. The main character Wendy finds out that her Opa might have been trans, and questions what this means to her, and what it would have meant for her Opa who was part of a Mennonite community in Winnipeg. It’s also a book by a white writer who I believe addresses race and whiteness in a nuanced, smart way, and also writes people of colour in a way that’s believable instead of two dimensional cardboard cut outs.

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There There

Tommy Orange

Here is a voice we have never heard--a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force.Here is...

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I can't believe this book hasn't gotten more accolades this year because it is a work of marvel! I really enjoyed reading the multiple characters and stories that crop up in this book, slowly but surely everyone's stories coming together, everyone's final destination the Big Oakland Powwow, everyone coming to the pow wow for their own very different reasons. I really enjoyed the essays interspersed throughout the book, speaking on indigenous histories and colonialism, specifically Cheyenne histories, Orange not afraid to let us know he exists in this world, that the writer is present. The echoes of Gertrude Stein's there there vibrate through the book, the title taking on new meaning: "so much development had happened [in Oakland] that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there any more... it's what happened to Native people". The characters in the book are dealing with this non-existent there there, and moving through colonial spaces, trying to find themselves in land that is their own, but that no longer looks like their own.

I loved this book and I'd be surprised if it wasn't on multiple people's lists this year. 

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The Pervert

Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez

A surprisingly honest and touching account of a trans girl surviving through sex work in Seattle. With excerpts published in Eisner nominated anthology ISLAND,...

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I love how so many great books by trans writers came out this year! It’s always been apparent to me that queer + trans literature is some of the most innovative and interesting work out there and this year has proven my point. The Pervert is a graphic novel about Felina Love, a trans woman sex worker, who’s most of the time trying to survive, looking for love and a good expensive hamburger, and moving through the world of passing + not passing. Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez give us a world that is deeply forgiving, despite the difficulty, most of the narrative happening in the winter and in the cold. A John who used to have a relationship with a trans woman is humanized, despite his seeming fetish, and Feline Love is caring and patient, as many sex workers are, their main job often providing care over sex. The story was hard and funny and smart, and I loved all the little parts of it coming together.

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Don't Let Them See Me Like This

Jasmine Gibson

In Don’t Let Them See Me Like This, Jasmine Gibson explores myriad intersectional identities in relation to The State, disease, love, sex, failure, and...

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Jasmine Gibson's work has been instrumental for me as a writer, reader, and lover of poetry. Her work is all encompassing, bringing in the personal and the political and the "large world" together in ways that smash against each other, and create poems of beauty. Gibson's world is immersive, it is the one we are living in, it is attentive and vocal and present, but also so overwhelmed. I first found her work online, this series called Stop Texting Me, and I proceeded to reread those poems every day for two weeks. This collection is unlike any other, and Jasmine Gibson's voice is one to listen to. It's definitely what is good about contemporary poetry these days, her work so in conversation with other queer writers of colour. 

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Alexander Chee

From the author ofThe Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist—and how we form our...

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If you’ve been around me at all during the past year, you’ve heard me going on about this book and that’s cause it’s excellent! Alexander Chee’s essays address a wide range of subjects and I feel like there’s an essay in here for everyone (although you should really read the whole book). I really felt seen by this book and it’s felt like such an important read for me. Chee talks about what it means to be a writer, what it means to be queer, what it means to be mixed race, what it means to be living in these times (and the times that have looked like this in the past, particularly during the AIDs crisis in the 90s). With warmth and openness that I really cherished and admire, Chee dives deep into every subject, whether it’s roses or money, shitty jobs or his MFA, or much more tough subjects like sexual assault, repressed memories, and the death of his father. Each essay ends with a bang, and often left me surprised and breathless. This collection left me wanting more, and I’m so excited to dive into the rest of his bibliography.

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The Switch

Shiv Kotecha

Poetry. LGBTQIA Studies. THE SWITCH compiles three books in one:1. an extended apology, in verse, for friendship and desire2. a fictional "obedience residency manual"3....

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I got to see Shiv Kotecha read from his new collection last week and it made the work truly jump off the page! It's always so exciting when the writer creates a whole new world of poetry through their reading, morphing the words and embodying what they're saying. I spent so much of the reading laughing. It's particularly exciting to get to hear smart and funny poetry, the form often relegated to being "solemn" or "serious". I had had my eye on this collection for a while, admiring the beautifully bizarre cover for months, and was excited to get to welcome Shiv to the bookstore for a reading. Kotecha's work is funny and smart, hyper queer in the best way, and not afraid to push boundaries. It's a work that is multidisciplinary, and mixes poems, short stories, photos, songs, affirmations, and it's so fun getting to flip back and forth between the mediums. 

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Your Black Friend and Other Strangers

Ben Passmore

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers is a collection of culturally charged comics by cartoonist Ben Passmore, including the Eisner Award nominated and Ignatz Award-winning...

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Your Black Friend and Other Strangers is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things I've seen all year! It's also hyper smart and has it's finger on the pulse of what's going on socially and politically so it's a perfect mix of my favourite things to read. The graphic novel is a compilation of all of Ben Passmore's shorter works, starting off with Your Black Friend, a comic about the insidious nature of white liberalism and what it looks like for Passmore to not quit fit in to white spaces and to black spaces. My favourite comic in the collection is this comic called Mrsa & Billy, and it's about these two black punks in this semi-post apocalyptic world dealing with a shitty cop. I won't spoil it but the ending of the comic is fantastic and I laughed a bunch reading it.  I would definitely say Passmore work is politically "educational" but it's also just fun and eccentric, interesting and beautiful, and I'm truly obsessed with the way he works with colour.

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Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl

Andrea Lawlor

It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer...

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I love how queer this book is, and how casually surreal it is. This book is about a queer twenty-two year old named Paul in the 90s, who goes to school and writes papers about feminism and film, who is constantly hooking up, who's always trying to look cool. But Paul can also transmorph his body, making himself bigger or smaller, changing different parts of his body, and he can turn himself into a girl. At first I was a little suspicious of what this book says about trans identity and gender, but honestly this book is really playful, working through ideas of gender in the 90s, which is a long shot from where we're at today. Paul is a genderqueer, gender-bending, selfish and flawed character, and I loved to hate him, and hated that I loved him. He's messy and flighty, but in the end, he's also such a special queer character that is so dear to me. 

Honestly, this book is hella queer, and truly made by and for queers, which is always extra special. 

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Eli Tareq Lynch

Bookseller

Non-Fiction, Poetry Support