ALU Summer Reads 2020: Staff Picks

From award-winners to page-turning stories about friendship to books about burlesque, All Lit Up staffers share book picks for our socially distanced summer reading.


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Tan’s Pick

Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji (Arsenal Pulp Press)

I’ve been dying to get my hands on Téa Mutonji’s debut, Shut Up You’re Pretty, a collection of sharply observed stories that blur the lines between longing and choosing, moments in which femininity, womanness, and identity are not only questioned but also imposed. Not only was it the very first book selected by Vivek Shraya for their VS imprint, it went on to become a finalist for last year’s Writer’s Trust Prize for Fiction. That’s a big honour for any writer, but to earn it with your debut?! I was impressed and she was on my radar. When I heard her speak last year at a conference, I knew I would read her book. She is smart and observant, and I wanted to know more about how she sees the world. And so, it was a given that Shut Up You’re Pretty would be part of my COVID book hoard. Then, just the other week, Téa won the Trillium Award for Fiction, the top honour in Ontario. Now my bookmail can’t come fast enough! 

Laura’s Pick

How She Read by Chantal Gibson (Caitlin Press)

This Griffin Poetry Prize-shortlisted poetry collection has been on my list, and I’m excited to finally have a copy of my own. Gibson mashes up genres and weaves in text, voices, and images from historic school readers, pop culture, art collections, and her own made-up shorthand to explore the representation of Black women in the Canadian cultural imagination. One of her preoccupations is the “imperialist ideas embedded in everyday things, from storybooks to coloured pencils, from paintings to postage stamps”—very much my jam.

Mandy’s Pick

Melt by Heidi Wicks (Breakwater Books)

Heidi Wick’s debut novel Melt has all the right summer reading stuff: a striking cover that makes me want to dive in and a page-turning premise about friendship growing pains. The story follows the lives of best friends Jess and Cait from their teenage years into their late thirties—(Ferrante, anyone?)—through fake tans, kids, jobs, heartbreak, and changing paths alternating between the late nineties—(neon scrunchies and Dawson’s Creek anyone?)—and present day. Published by Newfoundland-based Breakwater Books, Melt fits right into my #ReadAtlantic pledge!

Leyla’s Pick

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Zsolt Alapi (DC Books)

I have a very niche obsession with Netherlandish artists and Bruegel is one of my favourites. Zsolt Alapi’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is titled after one of Bruegel’s relatively small oeuvre of famous pieces. The story itself follows the exiled protagonist Stephen’s obsession with this work and W.H. Auden’s related poem Musée des Beau Arts, about human suffering and our indifference. These themes are carried through Alapi’s work, as Stephen’s obsession leads him to an attempted suicide and placement in a mental institute, following which he undergoes therapy to intensely evaluate himself and his own past. I’m looking forward to spending some extra time with this one this summer.

Barb’s Pick

Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock (Inanna Publications)

Sitting on the top of my cottage TBR pile, should 2020 allow me some dock time this summer, is Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock. Delving in to the burlesque theatre with Wanda Wiggles, circa 1930s, is exactly the kind of escapist lit I’m looking for this summer. Poet and writer Lizzie Violet says “Heather Babcock has captured the pure essence of the 1930s with eloquent, colourful words that flourish across the pages. You literally feel as if you are part of the audience in the burlesque house, hooting and hollering as Wanda wiggles across the stage.” From the aisles of Blondell’s to the velvet swing at Apple Bottom, I can’t wait to sink into this trip back in time. Happy Summer Reading!