Our favorite D.C. literary loves have rounded up their must-devour books, comic and otherwise, of 2015. Read ’em and weep/laugh/sigh/have your heart broken/mend an emotional wound/start anew/scream/panic/find yourself/rinse/repeat.
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Anthony Marra has been a staff favorite since his acclaimed debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, captured the attention of readers at P&P (and everywhere else) a couple of years ago. This year, we are all treated to his talents once again with The Tsar of Love and Techno. “In Marra’s stories we meet an accomplished ballerina and her granddaughter, an artist who’s tasked with erasing disgraced people from official photographs, petty criminals, and myriad mothers, fathers, sons and daughters all trying to survive, first in the USSR, then in a Russia of chaos and nouveau riche,” describes P&P book buyer, Mark LaFramboise. “While each story is full and complete on its own, the links between them resonate in ingenious and surprising ways to create a tremendously satisfying whole.” The book is one of Politics & Prose’s Top Ten of 2015. It should probably walk away with a win for Best Title, too.
Another favorite novel that’s sitting atop of our Top Ten of 2015 list is Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. What begins as the story of four friends—Malcolm, JB, Jude, and Willem—fresh out of college and living in New York City quickly moves away from that safe and familiar start. The strength of the story lies in the power of the incredible writing. P&P Program Manager Justin Stephani describes it well: “Yanagihara beautifully navigates several perspectives in A Little Life. The story chronicles their lives, complete with the pivotal moments and festering secrets, both shared and hidden, over decades of friendship. . . . Yanagihara supplies little in the way of concrete physical descriptions and straightforward timelines, instead devoting many pages to expertly paced exposition that delivers powerful emotional punches.” We won’t ruin the experience for the reader by giving away any more.
We add our voices to the swell of well-deserved praise for Ta-Nehisi Coates this year. Coates has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction, and Toni Morrison has called him “the next James Baldwin.” Between the World and Me, written as a letter to the author’s son, takes on the subject of race in America and “few writers have so quickly pricked the conscience of a nation, and done so with such fierce urgency,” praises P&P co-owner Lissa Muscatine. The book has been required reading in a year that, sadly, made this text more relevant than ever. Between the World and Me was an easy decision when we were considering candidates for Politics & Prose’s Top Ten of 2015 — our booksellers had already been handselling it since the moment it arrived on store shelves.
Turning the page, so to speak, to Step Aside, Pops. One look at the cover should be enough to get you smiling. Kate Beaton’s first book, Hark! A Vagrant!, was a longtime bestseller and she brings the same fantastic mix of imagery and humor to bear on historical figures in her latest work. The Black Prince, Ida B. Wells, Emperor Maximilian, racist suffragettes, and Wonder Woman all get her signature treatment. P&P Sideline Buyer, Leah Kenyon, aptly sums up the book’s delightful appeal: “[Beaton’s] drawing is loose and expressive, and her humor as silly, surreal, and angry as ever. Anyone who can read Step Aside, Pops without laughing out loud at least eight times is more to be pitied than censured. Plus, most of her characters have crazy eyes—who doesn’t like crazy eyes?” Indeed.
Atlas of Cursed Places, by sailor, cartographer, and journalist Olivier Le Carrer, has intrigue on lock down. The book “makes you feel like you’ve stumbled on a secret, ancient tome that chronicles the world’s haunted regions,” per fan and P&P bookseller Michael Triebwasser. The “cursed” status that the title refers to has a far rather broad range than you’d first expect, spanning from the supernatural to places under threat by natural events and human activities. “A great joy of this atlas,” adds Michael, “is its sheer beauty as an object; the insightful profiles are complemented by intricate illustrations, including detailed reproductions of old maps.” Never hurts when it looks as good as it reads.
901 G St NW
Not only is this a fantastic movie starring Matt Damon, it’s a thrilling, fast-paced novel. Don’t stress about the science, it’s very readable and extremely funny. Added bonus – it’s available in paperback. – Eric Riley, Coordinator of Adult Programs and Partnerships
What If? takes complicated concepts and zany what if questions and makes them easy to understand. It makes anyone feel like a smarty scientist! – Maryann James-Daley, Manager of the Labs
This ambitious, exhiliarating epic features Game Of Thrones-style chapters from multiple character’s perspectives – it’s a violent and risque historical fiction set in 1970’s Jamaica, and an educational page turner! – Maggie Gilmore, Music Librarian
827 Upshur St NW
A haunted house, orisons, apertures, atemporals, and an ending you won’t see coming. In Slade House, David Mitchell returns to the world of The Bone Clocks. The story covers five decades, leaping ahead nine years with each chapter and capturing the changing world of Britain from the 70s to the present. Surreal and immersive, Slade House unfolds at the perfect pace, with the reader glimpsing little flashes of the big picture, putting us exactly in line with the characters, who learn a little more with every uncanny disappearance, until the final crisis explodes.
Fun Fact: Slade House began as a 280-tweet story on Twitter.
Highway is a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the notorious and infamous, like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli’s own literary influences. It’s not every writer who is brave enough to share the stage in her own work with her translator – and a group of employees at a juice factory – but Valeria Luiselli’s got balls as well as serious talent.
Sidenote: What is it about writers and teeth? Martin Amis in Experience, Zadie Smith in White Teeth, and now Valeria Luiselli.
Miranda July’s first novel, starts out unpleasant yet charming, builds to hilarious but horrifying, and takes a left turn at the end to become genuinely, improbably sweet. Its fast-paced storytelling and offbeat humor sucked me in right away, and as I read I grew more and more glad to be spending time with July’s strange protagonist, Cheryl Glickman. She’s a woman you want to get to know.
The Double Life of Liliane is a novelization of Lily Tuck’s personal and family history, which includes three continents, two World Wars, and a lot of time spent with Italian film stars. Tuck writes serenely, as if looking down on her life from a great distance, and yet the book feels intimate. The combination is enviable; by the end, The Double Life of Liliane is less a self-portrait than a portrait of self-knowledge.
1517 Connecticut Ave NW
Per Petterson has always been dark and Norwegiany and I Refuse is no exception. Boyhood friends meet again – sort of – after 35 years, and Petterson interweaves their vastly different present lives with their very close childhoods. Alternating voices and time periods give the novel fluidity and a sense of timelessness. This is the author’s best work.
Sarah Vowell’s biography of the Marquis de Lafayette is irreverent, hilarious, and (especially in light of current events) deeply moving. Lafayette was a swashbuckling teenager when he came to America to fight in the Revolutionary War. His devoted service enabled him to become one of George Washington’s most trusted officers and dearest friends.
2010 P St NW
Island is a monthly anthology magazine featuring work of both established and up-and-coming independent comics artists from around the globe, and it’s without a doubt my favorite book currently in publication. Anthologies don’t traditionally sell well in North America, but this one feels different; it’s creator-driven rather than publisher-driven, with artist/editors Emma Ríos and Brandon Graham basically compiling the comics magazine they’d like to see in the world.
Between Island and 8house, Brandon Graham had a colossal year. Continuing the collaborative sensibilities of the Vancouver-based artist’s other work, 8house is a handful of miniseries by different creators all taking place within the same fantasy universe, all dealing with the concept of “bodies” in different ways—my personal favorite is Marian Churchland’s 8house: Arclight, a sparse narrative set in a society where every character is genderqueer.
It didn’t begin in 2015, but this year is where Shutter hit its stride. The fantastical adventure comic takes us to exotic locales across Earth (and beyond), but what really makes Shutter stand out is how much it plays with the comic book form—homaging both Little Nemo in Slumberland and Akira without missing a beat, breaking down the CMYK color model to show the protagonist breaking down, and presenting a bonkers nonlinear story that’s still driven by compassionate character moments.
Probably the most successful local comic of the last few years, this sci-fi romance by DC-based creators Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna reached its heart-wrenching conclusion in June. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Alex + Ada uses speculative fiction concepts of artificial intelligence to dissect the human condition, with Luna’s clean digital art style fitting the tone perfectly and Vaughn using the popular sci-fi genre as a sneaky façade to explore her deep roots in old romance comics.
Sunny reminds you why print comics still have value in a digital world—the first thing I was drawn to wasn’t its script or its line work but the drop-dead gorgeous little hardcovers it’s published in, with a pleasant rough texture on the outside and vibrant full-color intro pages on the inside to immerse you in Matsumoto’s art before easing you into manga’s traditional black-and-white style. Sunny itself is a slice-of-life story about kids at a Japanese orphanage in the 1970s, and captures childhood melancholy in a way few other books I’ve ever read have achieved.