Staff Picks 2020 - Francine

November 16, 2020

Staff Picks 2020 - Francine
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Bookseller & Sometime Bounccer

Nothing quite says 'grow up' like closing out your twenties in 2020. And nothing reminds you you're not a kid anymore like not being able to stomach reading Camus’ La Peste all the way through. It's good to hang on to the bright spots where visible. The list that follows is more of an amuse-bouche of non-required reading than a full tasting menu. Someone once told me reading wasn’t just fundamental, that it was also supposed to be fun. Despite everything, the year managed not to disappoint where that was concerned. 

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Dancing After TEN (Vivian Chong & Georgia Webber)

A graphic memoir about losing your sight doesn’t immediately seem like the sort of feel-good flip through advertised above. But Chong’s frantic depictions (supplemented by Webber’s ligne claire) of the struggle that comes with recovery are expertly represented. More to the point, both cartoonists’ illustrations are seamlessly integrated. Portraying sensory perception is by far the comic’s ultimate draw. No pun intended. 

Pain is unavoidable. But as Chong puts it, “Sometimes life is messy, I can handle it.” 

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Dancing After Ten

Vivian Chong, Georgia Webber

In late 2004, Vivian Chong’s life was changed forever when a rare skin disease, TEN (Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis), left her with scar tissue that...

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You Are Eating An Orange, You Are Naked (Sheung King)

An unnamed couple passes the time telling each other stories. For strategic purposes, we should refer to each party as 'You' and 'I.' 'I' narrates mostly in English, but otherwise translates himself and others from Cantonese or Mandarin. Not 'You,' though. She's Japanese. 'You' and 'I' travel a lot, in the way it seems only Asian people can, racking up miles with abandon. Needless to say, their exchanges have excellent backdrops. 

King's prose is playful, yet exacting, making this the kind of book that asks you to play a game of tag with it. You Are Eating An Orange is as much about language as it is about stories. That King has the aplomb to verbally exclude people who can't understand words they don't need to make the text all the more endearing to those of us who can. But I promise, he explains the words that matter.     

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You Are Eating An Orange, You Are Naked

Sheung King

A young translator living in Toronto frequently travels abroad—to Hong Kong, Macau, Prague, Tokyo—often with his unnamed lover. In restaurants and hotel rooms, the...

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Talking Animals (Joni Murphy)

Empathizing with an alpaca wasn’t on any list of things I hoped to accomplish this year. Neither was shipping a llama and a lemur, but it happened. Two low-level, camelid, BFF bureaucrats navigate a broken system in a humanless yet familiar world. From belief systems to eating habits, Murphy’s rich ecosystem of inter-species dynamics is a facsimile of our own. 

Talking Animals ought to be described as satire as often as it is allegory. You know the pigs, you know the dogs (purebred and mutt alike). You even know a cult when you see one, which might change the way you address your own canine companions.

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Talking Animals

Joni Murphy

A fable for our times, Joni Murphy's Talking Animals takes place in an all-animal world where creatures rather like us are forced to deal...

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The Subtweet (Vivek Shraya)

Shraya’s latest is as much a novel about the difficulty of making friends as it is about maintaining them. Difficulty levels up in both cases with advancing age. What that looks like for single women who’ve opted out of what most of us have been raised to settle for is even less written-about. 

The Subtweet is marked by its ease and its humour, speaking to the experiences of brown women in each other’s company and that of the world’s low-key Karens (regardless of gender). It was undoubtedly the fastest read of the yeara single afternoon binge that pretty much saved the saddest summer ever.

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The Subtweet

Vivek Shraya

“Biting and beautiful.” — Jonny Sun, author of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too Everyone talks about falling in love, but...

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Intimations & Grand Union (Zadie Smith)

Technically, Intimations came out first. Grand Union's paperback printing was a reminder that I rang in the new year reading Zadie Smith. And who doesn't love a good two-for-one in this economy?

Written in the early, kitchen-crazed days of the pandemic, Intimations is proof that writing doesn't need to be incisive to make an impact. It reads like a collection poised to age well. 'The Suffering of Mel Gibson' is a personal favourite, but 'Postscript: Contempt As A Virus' is the work's true opus (however miniature). It's a book that I'm unashamed to say is probably the impulse buy of the year, and it's why you can pick it up right by the cash.

Grand Union collects Smith's short fiction--some previously published elsewhere-- in a single volume. 'Sentimental Education' is only the second of nineteen, but stands out for its natural exploration of the female gaze, and by extension, all of its accoutrements. 'Mood' is another choice pick, better read than explained. 'Escape from New York' is still the wackier of Smith's endeavours; it originally appeared in The New Yorker in 2015. It's best summarized with the following keywords: 'Elizabeth Taylor,' 'Marlon Brando,' 'Michael Jackson,' and 'Rapture.' The book closes with a poke at cancel culture called,  'Now More Than Ever.' There's no writing about that one without resorting to tautology. 

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Zadie Smith

Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lock down, by one of the most clear-sighted...

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Grand Union

Zadie Smith

The first ever collection of stories from the bestselling and beloved author of Swing Time and White TeethZadie Smith has established herself as one...

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The Nerves (Lena Suksi)

Speaking of gazes and accoutrements, The Nerves is a bundle culminating in joy. Wink, nudge, you get the picture. Suksi’s flair for the alliterative is a testament to plosives and sibilants best deployed for the subject matter. It’s a book impossible to read without smiling. That it’s written exclusively with gender-neutral pronouns is a definite bonus. 

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The Nerves

Lena Suksi

The Nerves subverts the literary approach to sexuality by treating the erotic not as a site of anxiety but of reverie. Set in an...

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Adrian Tomine)

Tomine's name might as well be synonymous with comics excellence at this point. But then again, this is coming from a long-time Tomine fan who miraculously scored a gig hawking Tomine books in a global pandemic. I might be biased. 

Long-Distance Cartoonist returns to the autobiographical roots of Optic Nerve from the perspective of a middle-aged father of two. We see the return of his apparently not-so-famous nut allergy. We cringe with him in the wake of an episode with an irritable bowel. And we cheer him on when he tells a rude woman off at Penn Station with perhaps my favourite comic outburst in recent memory. 

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

Adrian Tomine

A comedic memoir about fandom, fame, and other embarrassments from the life of the New York Times bestselling cartoonist What happens when a childhood...

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The Swamp (Yoshiharu Tsuge)

This diverse collection of Tsuge shorts that range from silly to anxiety-inducing. The story it takes its name from lacks the suspenseful appeal of it's closing vignette 'Handcuffs,' or other ones like 'The Strange Letter,' and 'Destiny.' But if I'm honest, it's 'The Secondhand Book' that really got me. 

Of course, The Swamp wouldn't exist in English without Ryan Holmberg, who incidentally released a book of his own on the woes (and whoas?) of manga translation which we also have in-store for inquiring minds who want to know. 

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The Swamp

Yoshiharu Tsuge

Yoshiharu Tsuge is one of the most influential and acclaimed practitioners of literary comics in Japan. The Swamp collects work from his early years, showing a...

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