Best of 2023 - Bridget

December 30, 2023

Best of 2023 - Bridget

New Year’s Eve! A time for celebration, listmaking and reflection. What did we accomplish this year? What did we successfully put off doing? Should old acquaintances really be forgot? Below is a list of few books I read this year that I loved and will not soon forget, in days of auld lang syne. You'll see that my stack also includes some titles from my Summer Reads post that went up earlier this year! Please check it out to read my thoughts on Ordinary Notes, Blood of The Virgin, The Pepsi-Cola Addict and many more of my 2023 favourites!

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Are You Willing to Die for the Cause

Chris Oliveros

A deep dive into a contentious and dramatic period in Canadian history—the rise of a militant separatist group whose effects still reverberate today.It started...

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It’s been a wonderful year for those of us that love thoroughly researched and stunningly realized oral histories. Are You Willing to Die For The Cause? Ranks among the very best. The graphic novel telling of the birth of the F-L-Q (Front de libération du Québec) is meticulously researched and richly drawn by author (and D+Q Founder!) Chris Oliveros. It honours the historical specificity of its context while speaking, disquietingly, to the tensions of our contemporary moment. It’s a stunning and cinematic read, with all the intricacy and political firepower of an improvised explosive device (in the best way!)

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The Goodby People

Gavin Lambert

First published in 1971, The Goodby People is perhaps the greatest novel ever written about post-Manson, pre-Disney Los Angeles. "His elegant, stripped-down prose caught...

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Reading Gavin Lambert’s The Goodby People is like thumbing through the appointment book of your most interesting friend or, perhaps more accurately, the appointment book of your friend who has the world’s most interesting friends. The novel, originally published in 1971 and reissued by McNally Editions in 2022, is about a series of relationships and non-relationships, conversations, obsessions and private conspiracies formed and dissolved in Hollywood during the late 1960s. It is an excellent piece of queer autofiction, narrated by a gay screenwriter that finds himself the confidant of aging actresses, obscenely handsome bisexual draft-dodgers and esoteric runaways. It’s not so much intensely interior as it is intensely observational, a wonderful next read for enjoyers of Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy!

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Our Lady of Mile End

Sarah Gilbert

Our Lady of Mile End is a neighbourhood of stories where recurring characters face personal challenges and unexpected intimacies against a backdrop of...

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Maybe it’s because I’m a sentimental wuss, or maybe because I just completed by Christmas rewatch of It’s a Wonderful Life, but few lines in movie history can bring me to tears quite so quickly as George Bailey’s speech’s speech to the miserly Mr. Potter on what we owe our neighbours:

 You know how long it takes a workin' man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?

It’s not just the singularly warbly resonance in Jimmy Stewart’s voice that makes me weepy, or the fact that it still takes a workin’ man far too long to save five-thousand dollars (this movie was released in 1946), but the transcendent concision of that sentiment, a rhapsody of all the people working and paying and living and dying that make up a community. Our Lady of Mile End, by local author Sarah Gilbert, is a short story collection that is able to render and expound upon this notion in beautiful, stirring prose, not for the good greyscale folk of Bedford Falls, but for our own Mile End (live and in colour!). It’s a project that began on Gilbert’s blog Mile Endings and has developed into a terrific work of fiction that reveals a neighbourhood in permanent transition, besieged by property speculators and by its own coolness, but peopled with characters that feel startlingly real: women, girls, tenants, landlords, newcomers, lifetime-residents, old and young. It’s a wonderful book that we’ve found impossible to keep in stock—and for good reason!

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Advocating for Palestine in Canada

Why is it so difficult to advocate for Palestine in Canada and what can we learn from the movement’s successes? This account of...

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Advocating for Palestine in Canada is a vitally necessary read at this moment when  anti-apartheid and anti-genocide organizers globally and here in this country and province are being targetted for their activism. This collection was published by Montreal-based press Fernwood Publishing about a year before the most recent siege on Gaza began, but its historical context and practical guidance for effective, long term advocacy is only increasingly vital. The collection gathers the testimony and wisdom of lifelong activists and representatives from various labour unions, human rights organizations, anti-zionist Jewish communities, academic associations and progressive presses across the place we now call Canada. The accounts in this collection are both sobering examples of the national policies and cultural forces that work to silence dissent, and heartening reminders of the courage, compassion and conscience that make liberation not just imaginable, but possible within our lifetimes. For more books on Palestinian history and struggle, check out this list our booksellers have curated and the free full-length E-Book resources made available by both Haymarket and Verso books.

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The Wren, The Wren

Anne Enright

Named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2023, one of the Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Fiction, and a Best Book...

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Anne Enright’s The Wren The Wren is a novel structured by the distinct and stirring voices of three characters, figures to whom so many great works of literature are indebted: a mother, a daughter and a mean old bastard. It’s the story of Carmel and Nel, who have a complicated, intense, loving and occasionally remote relationship. Carmel and Nel also happen to be the daughter and granddaughter of a famously brilliant, famously dead Irish poet and jerk named Phil. It’s a book about cruelty, art, desire, national memory, and familial memory. It is not a book about brilliance, which is highly prized and mostly boring, but about the complexity, beauty and craft that brilliance obscures. I loved it!

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The Cliff

Manon Debaye

A budding friendship between two misfits unravels in the wake of school violenceSchoolyard outcasts Charlie and Astrid meet up after school near a cliff...

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The Cliff is a phenomenal coming of age graphic novel about the delicacy and intensity of preteen friendship. Author Manon Debaye creates a world that is etched with beautiful colour and the warmth of new connection, but shaded with a pervasive sense of doom. This doom is, at least partly, cognitive distortion, an unfactual fact of adolescent development. But there is also material violence that resists complete observation, a cruelty that can only be glimpsed in fragments, cruelty to yourself, cruelty to your friend, cruelty to your community; Cruelty that is senseless but also woven into the vital tissues of sense-making. 

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Bottom Rail on Top

D.M. Bradford

A rolling call and response between antebellum Black history and the present that mediates it. Somewhere in the cut between Harriet Jacobs and surveillance,...

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This past year, I was lucky enough to work at an event launching D.M Bradford latest poetry project Bottom Rail on Top at our 176 La Petite Librairie location. Bradford read from the collection and spoke about the research and thinking that had brought them to this work. They also led the audience (and booksellers!) in a collaborative round of reading that gave voice to the poems’ remarkable polyrhythmic form, that also appears beautifully on the page. The title of the collection is drawn from a reconstruction-era piece of apocrypha, a fable of fates reversed, of a world upended. It’s a historically idealist fiction that has been widely reproduced by the archive and by popular media, including in Ken Burns' PBS Civil War documentary. But the collection is not quite so simple as a rebuttal of misinformation. Instead, Bottom Rail on Top is a sprawling mediation on miss and half rememberings, the distortions and formal perversions of the archive, repetitions and refusings. It is what Black Studies scholar Katherine McKittrick perfectly names as “a poetics of vestige” wherein “black worlds are, all at once, refuted and made visible, emptied out and sharply populated; a black sense of place emerges as curtailment.” It’s an astounding collection. I would also recommend reading Bradford’s recent interview with local poet (and friend!) Faith Paré in the Montreal Review of Books.

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Happy New Year My Darlings!

Bridget Mountford

Bookseller | Libraire