Staff Picks 2019: Luke

December 9, 2019

Staff Picks 2019: Luke

What an amazing year it has been for books! I've been asking my colleagues in the literary sphere and it really does feel as though 2019 has been a particularly strong year for books, both in French and English. Here are some books I particularly admired: 

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I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom

Thom writes in a way that is extraordinarily compelling, supportive, and encouraging. Bringing together so many sources and theories in a way that adds richness, Thom neither simplifies nor obfuscates the theories and experiences she links together. I’m looking forward to reading more from an author whose writing is at once complex, astute, and eminently readable.

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A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott

Here’s another 2019 debut which is so wise and incisive that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the author's tenth book rather than the first. I love and hold dear these essays in which Elliott explores topics of art, photography, food security, colonialism, and the criminal justice system through the lens of her personal experience.  Elliott writes with such poise and courage. The essays range from the theoretical, like the amazing "Sontag in Snapshots" to the intimate. Throughout, Elliot explores subjects from the lens of her personal experience, and we are made richer for it.

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Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Trick Mirror
is a terrific collection of essays that I consumed over the course of one Sunday. It was thrilling to get to meet Tolentino during her live stream at our New Reads Book Club. Speaking with Tolentino and reading this book makes me understand the much-deserved hype. Favourite essays: “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams” and “Always Be Optimizing.”

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How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

This is
a thoroughly liberating book which helps us to center our own consciousness in order to live in the world more presently and with intention. One of the things I love is Odell’s investigation of how algorithmic biases influence our behaviours, decisions, and interactions. Overall, this is a timely book about the attention economy and late capitalism in the internet age. It dovetails well with Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror (in fact, both books reference each other).

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Les retranchées by Fanny Britt 

It was a thrill to read about the themes in this book from this Montreal writer and translator. These are beautiful essays about our political moment, motherhood, inheritance, privilege, and about raising boys as a feminist in 2019.

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Whose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit

This is the third year running that a collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit has been included in my Best of the Year list. Whose Story Is This? discusses the 2020 presidential campaign, societal bias, voter suppression, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and the myriad ways in which the continued subjugation of women is running rampant in 2019. Solnit’s writing so gracefully synthesizes and dissects current events and broad currents of society.

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Le drap blanc by Céline Huyghebaert

This book is a profound meditation on death and its myriad effects across families, friends, and communities. I found the book to be reminiscent of Sebald insofar as it traces memory across boundaries in a way that defies our expectations.
Le drap blanc is at once memoir, theatre, interview, art installation, autopsy, mourning, detective document, and love letter.

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Voung

Ocean Voung’s
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is so beautifully crafted. It is at once a coming of age narrative, a love story and a story of despair. This novel features some of the best metaphors I’ve read this year, with sentences crafted so tenderly, as only a poet can.  

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This heartbreaking novel is masterfully balanced in terms of plot construction and plot twists. The book brings
to life a true American tragedy. The brutality of the white school masters, societal indifference, and a long history of subjugation are made manifest in the raw cruelty shown towards the boys at the heart of this story. Although horror and despair are on full display, so too is a tremendous amount of hope, even if many of those horrors catch up with the characters too soon.

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

What a
haunting and lively world Dimaline invites us to join. Empire of Wild brilliantly celebrates Indigenous triumphs and satirizes settler colonialists who continue to destroy this place. The fast paced rhythm and multi-voiced narration kept me glued to this book the whole way through. 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

There is something magical about the words and urgent
rhythm of this work of fantasy. Of all the literature I’ve read this year, this one stands out for its unique polyphonic storytelling and throbbing, adventurous gallop. I’m looking forward to book two of this series, which tells the story from a female perspective.  

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Making Comics by Lynda Barry

This book makes it even more clear why Lynda Barry is a genius. The comic is a treatise on why drawing is important to all of us. It teaches everyone how to recapture the magic of drawing that is so natural for every four-year old. It is part lesson plan, part historical treatise, part activity booklet, and part memoir.  It’s so encouraging to read Barry’s tales of rescuing drawings from trash cans. Her work is revelatory, mind blowing, and necessary for adults and young folks alike.

Palimpsest by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjobom

This is a poignant and propulsive narrative which unravels the mystery of the author’s adoption story. Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom treats adoption critically here, exploring several controversial topics. She criticizes the notion that adoption is always virtuous, charitable, and valid. In contrast, she reveals how corruption and illegality can occur during the adoption process. She presents cases where adoption can actually be akin to theft.  The bureaucratic mayhem that the author endures in Palimpsest is remarkable, visceral, and compelling.

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Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers

The storytelling and drawings are so masterful, it’s difficult to believe that this comic is a debut! A master of the line and motion, Flowers links together stories that are both tender and profound, covering themes of sisterhood, Black beauty, childhood struggle, racism, harm both on societal and individual levels, and family bonds. This is an amazing read by such an exciting new voice in comics.

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BTTM FDRS by Ben Passmore and Ezra Clayton Daniels

This masterful comic covers many pressing themes like: race, gentrification, internal stratification in the Black community, privilege, generational divides, social isolation, graffiti culture, the anthropomorphism of buildings, hip hop culture, conspiracy theories, science fiction, and more. BTTM FDRS brings together the shimmering bright pastel artwork of Ben Passmore and the scintillating storytelling of Ezra Claytan Daniels. It was a highlight this year to get to meet and hear Passmore and Claytan Daniels in conversation.

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The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis 

Eleanor Davis has long been one of my favourite comics creators due to the depth of feeling, intimacy, and political elements of her comics, which are always drawn with such elegant, simple, and expressive lines. Although Davis’ drawing style, as usual, is stunning, it is the subject matter of
The Hard Tomorrow that struck a nerve. In this moment of the climate crisis, state surveillance, social isolation, racism, and colonialism, perhaps many of us should all be feeling a little more anxious. Maybe we should be questioning our actions and decisions.

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Creation by Sylvia Nickerson

Creation is a comic about the collapse of industry in post-industrial Canadian urban centers. It explores gentrification, motherhood, partnership, being an artist, and society’s treatment of the most vulnerable. These are not easy subjects to write about, and Nickerson does so with grace and balance. I particularly loved the full page drawings of cityscapes.

Project Shiatsung by Brigitte Archambault 

This is a fully-formed poetic and formally beautiful comic from a newly arrived comic artist. We explore a post-apocalyptic world with the main character. She longs for human connection and intimacy as she confronts the terrors of technology. Again, this is a work of such high quality I would not have been surprised to learn it was the tenth comic by this author, rather than a debut. 

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NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt

The best poems by one of my favourite poets. The follow up to the critically acclaimed
This World Is A Wound does not disappoint. The anthropological interrogations, stories, beautiful metaphors, and critiques showcase Belcourt’s brilliance. This poetry collection, with its added visual components and essay-like interrogations, also make me very excited for Belcourt’s forthcoming memoir, A History of My Brief Body, scheduled to be released in June 2020. 

A Fortune For Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib

Partnership, heartbreak, and resilience are at the core of these pulsating lines. I listened to much of these poems
though, an audiobook platform that directly supports independent book storesand getting to hear Hanif read these poems aloud added richness and intimacy. They are such tender, boundless poems. 

Une sorte de lumière special by Maude Veilleux

Une sorte de lumi
ère speciale contains poems which grapple with intimacy, living in Montreal, and the incapacity of language to accurately express reality. Veilleux elegantly touches on politics, idealism, and mental health. I loved the interrogations of the self and the stream-of-consciousness style of so many of the poems.

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I Hope We Choose Love

Kai Cheng Thom

What can we hope for at the end of the world? What can we trust in when community has broken our hearts? What would...

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A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

Alicia Elliott

A bold and profound work by Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a personal and critical meditation on...

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Trick Mirror

Jia Tolentino

A breakout writer at The New Yorker examines the fractures at the center of contemporary culture with verve, deftness, and intellectual ferocity—for readers who’ve...

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How to Do Nothing

Jenny Odell

A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention—and our personal information—that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the...

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Le drap blanc

Céline Huyghebaert

Quand mon père est mort, je n'ai pas hérité de boîtes pleines de documents et de lettres. Ses cendres ont été jetées à l'eau....

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Whose Story Is This?

Rebecca Solnit

Who gets to shape the narrative of our times? The current moment is a battle royale over that foundational power, one in which women,...

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Les retranchées

Fanny Britt

Après Les tranchées, essai polyphonique de 2013 sur la maternité à travers le prisme de l'ambigüité et du féminisme, Fanny Britt a choisi avec...

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The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead

In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes...

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Ocean Vuong

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe,, Huffington Post, The A.V....

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Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Marlon James

The epic new novel from Marlon James, the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings: an African Game of Thrones.In...

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Empire of Wild

Cherie Dimaline

From the author of the YA-crossover hit The Marrow Thieves, a propulsive, stunning and sensuous novel inspired by the traditional Métis story of the...

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Hot Comb

Ebony Flowers

An auspicioius debut examining the culuture of hair from the Rona Jaffe Foundation award-winning cartoonist Hot Comb offers a poignant glimpse into Black women's...

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Sylvia Nickerson

New life and opportunities arise from the wreckage of a North American city urban renewal at what cost? A new mother takes us on...

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The Hard Tomorrow

Eleanor Davis

The gorgeous and empathetic story of one couple's search for hope and a peaceful future amid environmental destruction and technocratic rule. Hannah is a...

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Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom

Who owns the story of an adoption? Thousands of South Korean children were adopted around the world in the 1970s and 1980s. More than...

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Ezra Clayton Daniels, Ben Passmore

Once a thriving working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer...

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Making Comics

Lynda Barry

The idiosyncratic curriculum from the Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity will teach you how to draw and write your story Hello students, meet Professor Skeletor....

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A Fortune for Your Disaster

Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist. and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was named a...

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NDN Coping Mechanisms

Billy-Ray Belcourt

In the follow-up to his Griffin Poetry Prize–winning collection, This Wound is a World, Billy-Ray Belcourt aims more of an anthropological eye at the...

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Une sorte de lumière spéciale

Maude Veilleux

Véhémente, compulsive et acidulée, la poésie directe de Maude Veilleux est embrassade totale de moments de délire ou de lucidité, désire changer le monde,...

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