Gift Guide Week: Peter Counter

Culture critic and writer Peter Counter’s five book recommendations for this year’s Gift Guide are more than literary gifts for your loved ones—they’re gifts of commiseration, hope, solidarity, connection, and time (and who doesn’t want more of those?). Read on for his compelling reasons to give these particular books to the people in your life.

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The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
(ECW Press)

The Gift of Hope: For the Young Mycologist Anxious to Leave the Nest

Set in post-apocalyptic Alberta, Premee Mohamed’s speculative novella follows a young woman named Reid with at least two huge problems. The first is that she’s received an invitation to join a refuge of pre-collapse society where she can contribute to building a hopeful future, but only if she takes a leap of faith and leaves her community. The second problem is that she’s infected with Cad—a viral fungus that has eked out a symbiotic relationship with her body. Featuring memorable characters, a vividly imagined post-Canadian landscape, and knuckle-biting action, this book is infused with poignant allegories for current anxieties. Evocative of Ray Bradbury, The Annual Migration of Clouds explores the scariest aspects of our present and presents us with hope.

As a general philosophy of gift giving, I subscribe to empathy. Give people what you’d like to receive if you were in their shoes. This book is perfect for that young person in your life who spent the early pandemic cultivating a new mushroom-based hobby—foraging on nature walks, obsessively learning about the vast fungal networks that course underneath us, devouring HBO’s cordyceps-based zombie horror The Last of Us. Perhaps you’ve run out of field guides to buy them, perhaps they’re facing a big personal choice, perhaps they need a spark of hope in the dark winter days of late 2023. Regardless, you should get them Premee Mohamed’s The Annual Migration of Clouds.

Find The Annual Migration of Clouds here on All Lit Up or use our Shop Local feature to purchase from your local indie bookstore.

The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan (ECW Press)

The Gift of Commiseration: For the Exhausted Gig Worker Who Longs for the Days When This City Wasn’t So Hostile and the Racoons Were Normal

Sure is hard to live in the city these days. Has it always been this bad? I feel like all I do is work with nothing to show for it but more work. The skyline keeps changing. I don’t even recognize my home anymore. It feels like this place hates me—can a city do that? And have the racoons always been this human-like? Whatever. Maybe I can make it work if I just give in and buy a bachelor unit in that high-rise I drive by everyday. If I take an extra shift, I could cover the service fees.

If the above paragraph sounds familiar, you probably know someone (or are someone) who is feeling the modern crunch of city living. And while it would be great if we could all contribute to one giant gift and make life in Toronto affordable for everyone, the powers that be would rather keep us hustling to catch up with the price of food. Commiseration in the face of work-life integration is the next best gift. 

Andrew F. Sullivan’s Hogtown horror satire The Marigold perfectly articulates the modern anxieties of city living. Invoking technofascism, runaway app disruption, and the sick multigenerational wealth that is pushing us desperately into an unloving sky, The Marigold introduces a cast of characters from across the class spectrum to provide a multifaceted view of a city in the grip of a sentient black mold. Through these characters’ various flavours of suffering, we come to see the one thing we can always count on: friends or foes, we’re all in this together. Don’t get a condo, get Andrew F. Sullivan’s The Marigold.

Find The Marigold here on All Lit Up or use our Shop Local feature to purchase from your local indie bookstore.

Girls, Interrupted: How Pop Culture is Failing Women

by Lisa Whittington-Hill
(Véhicule Press)

The Gift of Solidarity: For the Music Fan in Your Life Who Needs Backup
in the Fight to Defend Courtney Love

Pop culture connects us all. The music, the celebrity, the reality TV, the movies, the books—for many of us, the meaning we find in those media is so profound that we almost exclusively communicate through a language of enthusiastic references and technicolour allegories. Girls, Interrupted: How Pop Culture is Failing Women is the perfect gift for the arts and entertainment lover who is at their best when speaking the lingua franca of music videos and tabloid magazines. 

Whittington-Hill’s essays are sharp, entertaining, and the perfect companion for those of us who refuse to settle for the monocultural perspectives that consistently shortchange women. From deep dives on celebrity tell-all memoirs, to the hidden history of grunge, to depictions of mental illness in popular media; from Britney Spears, to Lindsey Lohan, to Amy Winehouse—Girls, Interrupted is smart, fun, and fighting the good fight on culture’s most annoying misogynist tropes. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of having to stand up for Angelina Jolie to a Brad Pitt fan, of defend Courtney Love to a terminally boring Nirvana conspiracist, you know how important it is to have backup. Like a cool best friend, Girls, Interrupted is ready to shout down the alt-rock bros right along with you.

Find Girls, Interrupted on All Lit Up or use our Shop Local feature to purchase from your local indie bookstore.

I Can Hear You, Can You Hear Me? by Nolan Natasha
(Invisible Publishing)

The Gift of Connection: For the Arachnophobe, the Retro Gamer, the KD Chef

Can a book be a friend? The entries on this list certainly seem to be moving toward that conclusion. But that’s kind of a sad lesson to land on for a gift list. For the friendless nerds in your life, buy them: books! Obviously, I don’t believe that. It’s a misinterpretation of something much more special than a Beauty and the Beast style animism. The friends are real, and the books are the medium through which we exercise telepathy—the radio signals and telephone wires that connect us to each other.

Nolan Natasha’s poetry collection, I Can Hear You, Can You Hear Me? is the clearest signal on the dial of literary ESP. Natasha’s poems imbue such meaning into his own experiences that they can’t help but feel like your own, conjuring memories so vivid it feels like you shared them together. When he gives tips on the perfect noodle cooking time for Kraft Dinner, when he breathes life back into a dusty Nintendo cartridge, when he names his arachnophobia Julian in an attempt to conquer fear—I’m compelled to cheer. Yes! Me too! This is my experience and it means something. I can hear you, Nolan, and when I gift your book to my friends, they will too.

Find I Can Hear You, Can You Hear Me? here on All Lit Up or use our Shop Local feature to purchase from your local indie bookstore.

Slows: Twice by T. Liem
(Coach House Books)

The Gift of Time: For the Friend Who’s Swept Up in Those 2023 Vibes and Needs a Moment

On a recent trip to Toronto, I was asked my opinion on the prevailing vibe for 2023. It was a tough question. The past few days I’d been surrounded by my community, and I saw a lot of fatigue. But the vibe wasn’t just “tired.” I also saw introspection and an embrace of change. My friends, my family, my peers, we all conceded the world is in a difficult place right now, but in a rough year, we shared deeply profound moments. At the risk of sounding like a diamond ring commercial, those moments are the best gifts one can give.

“Time lets you be in the world in so many ways: at 4:02
at 4:03             again again again”

This line from T. Liem’s latest book of poetry, Slows: Twice, is stuck in my head. If I was a time travelling detective, tasked with finding a core characteristic in this weird year of contradictory realities and fighting atmospheres, that line would be it. Liem’s book is atemporal, folding in on itself, revisiting its own history, inviting a reader to interact with it as an art object—flipping ahead (or backwards) to companion poems, rereading passages before reaching the end. When I pick up Slows: Twice, I understand I have a new way to be in the world. That’s something you can give to your loved ones this year: the hidden potential of time itself, wrapped in a book.

Find Slows: Twice here on All Lit Up or use our Shop Local feature to purchase from your local indie bookstore.

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Peter Counter is a culture critic writing about television, video games, film, music, mental
illness, horror, technology, and the occult. He is the author of How to Restore a Timeline: On
Violence and Memory
(2023, House of Anansi) and Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays (2020, Invisible Publishing). His non-fiction has appeared in the Walrus, All Lit Up, Motherboard, Art of the Title, Electric Literature, Open Book, and the anthology Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church. He lives in Punamu’kwati’jk (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). Find more of his writing at peterbcounter.com and everythingisscary.com.

Photo credit Emma Dawn Allain


Thank you to Peter Counter for these hand-picked gift guide recommendations! Catch up on the 2023 All Lit Up Gift Guides here.