1. Graphic novel: Kelly Sue Deconnick and Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly (vol. 1-3)
First published as a collected volume in 2014, Pretty Deadly is a genre-busting narrative hellbent on travelling through time via some of the most intricate art I’ve personally seen in a long while. The main cast of the graphic novel series includes Deathface Ginny — the daughter of Death — Big Alice, a rival reaper, and Sissy, the unlikely heir to a dynasty of destruction. First a folkloric western, then a haunting World War I story of fear and loss, and now a 1930s murder mystery, Pretty Deadly likely won’t take you long to get through, but it will definitely stick with you long after you’re done.
2. Short story: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost
Chosen as the MacEwan Book of the Year for 2020, Simpson’s collection of poems (or songs, as they are also called) and short stories is available as an audiobook with the author herself as narrator. Intimate and funny and harrowing, often all at the same time, each of Simpson’s pieces is a reminder of the need for love and self-reflection in the wake of Canada’s attempts at Truth and Reconciliation. I personally recommend the audiobook version, as Simpson’s own delivery naturally adds depth and connection to the first-person voice of her writing.
3. Horror: Alma Katsu, The Hunger
For those who like a slow-burn and a bit of historical fiction, this novel poses as a what-if horror story inspired by the events of the Donner Party. Awful enough on its own, the tragedy and cannibalism of the disastrous pioneering venture are reimagined in Katsu’s novel as a sort of creeping zombie story. Grisly and supernatural, the plot is reasonably paced and allows readers to sink fully into the story without feeling too hard-pressed to suspend their disbelief. Safe to read before bed, but you might get goosebumps.
4. Fiction: Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman
Short enough that you would probably read it in a single afternoon or evening, Murata’s deadpan novel is as unforgettable as it is often uncomfortable. The main character, Keiko, is a woman in her 30s who literally eats, sleeps, and breathes her job as a convenience store employee, and is ever at odds with her family and society who look down on the thing which gives her life so much meaning. The arrival of another social pariah, an unemployed and condescending misogynist named Shiraha, puts Keiko’s very structured life through the wringer, though through it all she remains an unexpectedly likeable, and even relatable protagonist.
5. Young adult: David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
Despite being authored by a New York Times Bestselling writer, Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing has also been at the centre of several controversies, including attempted bannings and a successful (though subsequently punished) burning. Partially inspired by real events, the story is narrated by a ghostly chorus of gay men — all of them victims of the AIDS epidemic — watching the lives of several gay and queer boys become entangled in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest kiss. Beautifully written, I challenge anyone to read this book and not get teary-eyed at least once.
6. Poetry: Joshua Whitehead, full-metal indigiqueer
This collection blew my mind, frankly. Whitehead is an exceptional writer with a long list of published works — poetic and otherwise — but the cleverness and imaginative cohesion throughout all of full-metal indigiqueer make it feel like you aren’t just reading individual poems, but are being sucked into a larger narrative. Using projected verse, intentional misspellings (or respellings), and a melding of visual poetry and pseudo-computer code, Whitehead leads readers through an onslaught of literary and social concepts and pop culture references, with the technologic-organic hybrid trickster Zoa as our guide. If it sounds heady, that’s because it is, and so worth it.
7. Nonfiction: Lindsey Fitzharris, The Butchering Art
Nothing will make you more grateful for our modern handwashing than this book. Entertaining, informative, and ghastly, Fitzharris follows the life of Joseph Lister, the Victorian surgeon who first pioneered the methods of antiseptic surgery and sterile medical practice. Amazing and appalling in the same breath, Fitzharris’ vivid descriptions of pre-anesthesia procedures and amputations aren’t for the weak of heart, but readers may be impressed by the sheer endurance of humanity. If Lister’s patients were able to survive, we too can overcome.
8. Fantasy: Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards series)
Though Lynch is well on his way to becoming the next George R. Martin as a result of the massive delays between his books (I waited literal years as the third book’s release was continually pushed back) he’s also become something of a Neil Gaiman figure — that is, almost a genre unto himself. Part of what made Lynch’s novels so good was his impeccable world-building and the easy pace at which he doled out information to the readers. Instead of feeling instructional, we are invited into and then immersed in the culture of his fantasy. Exquisitely profane — Lynch’s characters swear on a Shakespearean level — with brutal plot twists, the series follows a group of con artists as they navigate the dangerous political landscape of Camorr, a sort of alchemically enhanced medieval Venice.
9. Science Fiction: Peter Watts, Starfish
While it has always been my belief that great sci-fi is less lasers, more politics, there’s a good chance you’ve already read classics like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, so why not something a little newer (and Canadian to boot)? The first in a trilogy, Starfish explores an unstable future where a group of specially chosen individuals are sent to the depths of the ocean to, supposedly, maintain a geothermal power source. Watts capitalizes on his background in biology and zoology to create a fascinating underwater world, but also interweaves giant philosophical and ethical questions throughout the novel, placing readers in a psychological environment as claustrophobic as the fictional world of his characters. Starfish is, therefore, a heavy read, and may be triggering for a number of reasons, especially in its exploration of trauma.