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Gift Guide Week: Matthew Stepanic
We teamed up with Matthew Stepanic, writer, and poet, as well as co-founder of Glass Buffalo and Glass Bookshop, for today’s gift guide series. Stepanic tells us that, “My main mission on this good green earth is to help as many folks as possible discover that poetry is not the intimidating genre they studied in school, but rather full of endless possibilities.”
Matthew’s PicksFor the friend who wants to get into poetry:Best Canadian Poetry 2023, Ed. John Barton (Biblioasis) As a bookseller, I heard from so many folks who were afraid to dip their toes into poetic waters, and I feel the most pride when I can find books that gently guide in the poetry-curious. Biblioasis’ Best Canadian series is the perfect first step. For the 2023 edition, editor John Barton has assembled fifty poems that represent the best from veterans and new voices that were published in lit mags in 2021. With heavy hitters such as Billy-Ray Belcourt, Bertrand Bickersteth, Jake Byrne, Penn Kemp, and Jan Zwicky, this collection will surprise and delight readers with a diverse range of what’s possible in the form, and will help guide them to discover books and poets they’ll want to read more from.For the child who wants to discover themselves or learn acceptance:The Name I Call Myself, Hasan Namir (Arsenal Pulp Press) This charming and tender book follows young Ari’s gender journey each year from a young child through to their teens. Whether a child is questioning or not, this picture book will help them understand how gender expectations can be harmful and why it’s better to allow a child to feel comfortable in their own skin. A teacher once shared with me an incredible story about how after they read this book to their class, a student felt comfortable to come up to them at the end of the day and share how they too were questioning their gender identity. It’s a powerful book that I hope more young readers discover so they feel safe to explore their identity and grow into their wonderful self.For the parent who needs to read beyond Stephen King:There Are Wolves Here Too, Niall Howell (NeWest Press) I don’t like to shame someone for their reading preferences, but if I know they’re making their third trip through King’s catalogue, I’m very tempted to swap out whatever book is in their hands. Stephen King helped me through my teen years, and I’m grateful for the world of (much better) horror that he opened up for me. Niall Howell’s sophomore novel is a comforting coming-of-age horror in the style of King because it hits all those nostalgic notes for me. A missing child causes the teen protagonist Robin to become more paranoid about the folks in his life as he begins to suspect darker elements may be at play in the disappearance. As a ’90s kid who grew up in a small town, I feel myself naturally slipping back into that time in my life and can connect with that feeling when you suddenly realize the world is less safe than you originally believed.For the friend who appreciates book design:Whitemud Walking, Matthew James Weigel (Coach House Books) Although everyone should read this book just because it’s brilliant, I want to highlight how this is one of the most beautiful books published this year. (It even won the poetry category at the Alcuin Society Book Design Awards!) In collaboration with the author, Crystal Sikma has designed a book whose experience and message is heightened by its design. No thumbnail does it justice until you see that gorgeous embossed silver river reflect in your hand. An experimental blend of poetry, memoir, photos, and archival documents, Whitemud Walking interrogates the colonial violence of the archive and how these institutions steal agency and history from Indigenous peoples. Settler documents are moved to the margins and others are “stolen” back in this work of art that needs to be held and flipped through to fully appreciate its brilliance.For the friend who’s gone through it:Tear, Erica McKeen (Invisible Publishing) Because I’m a huge reader of horror, it’s natural that the genre needs to appear twice on my list. Erica McKeen’s haunting book is a unique entry in the genre and contains themes of intergenerational trauma, neglect, and emotional abuse. In a twisted form that jumps around time, McKeen’s lyrical debut drags you down into the depressed mind of its protagonist Frances, and causes you to question the reality of the novel as she does. Though it’s not a strategy for everyone, whenever I’m processing trauma, I throw myself headfirst into stories that connect with my own experience. (I watched dozens of movies where the dog dies after I had to put mine down earlier this year.) As an abuse survivor, I found this book helpful in understanding my mangled brain once I was on the other side of the experience. This novel is one to gift with a note that says, “When you’re ready,” to avoid a triggering episode, but I hope that it offers others the strange validation and comfort that it did me.
* * *Thank you to Matthew Stepanic for sharing their amazing, poetic gift guide picks. Stay tuned all week for more picks from book experts across the country!