The 5th Annual Aaron Book Awards

31 12 2016

Has it already been half a decade since I’ve been doing this?! Wowzers.

Like the Academy Awards, I’ve changed some of the rules and categories this year. I’ve cut the category of Best Non-Fiction Book because it was too difficult to compare, say, a book about the history of Vancouver, to a book on exercise.

Although Classic has been a category for the past couple years, I’ve added all the titles with the rest of the fiction books (or plays if I elected to read a Shakespeare play as a Classic). This year, I’m going to put them in their own category.

Also, I decided a book is only eligible for the category that I had chosen it for. So for example, Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, is both a Children’s Book as well as a Graphic Novel. In past years, I allowed books to be entered in multiple genres if they were multi-genre works, but decided that this was unfair to other books that were, say, simply novels. In addition, some categories had more nominees than others. So Sisters will only be in the running for Best Graphic Novel since that is the category for which I had chosen it.

With that out of the way, let’s start the show!

Total number of books read in 2016: 42 (a new record! Although some books I didn’t actually read all the way through, so maybe not)

Best Fiction Book/Novel

Winner: Sharp Teeth — Toby Barlow

I feel like I should pick Roadside Picnic because it is considered to be an important work in the sci-fi genre, and yes, it is an intriguing story, but I still have to go with Sharp Teeth because it hooked me right off the bat and was one of the most visceral books I’ve ever read, not to mention the experimental way its written is pretty damn awesome.

Nominees:

Sharp Teeth — Toby Barlow
One Man’s Trash — Ivan E. Coyote
Roadside Picnic — Arkadiĭ and Boris Strugat͡skiĭ
The Slow Fix — Ivan E. Coyote

Best Memoir

Winner: The Glass Castle — Jeannette Walls

A very well-written memoir about a family. Not much else to say except that everyone should read it.

Nominees:

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) — Jenny Lawson
Humans of New York — Brandon Stanton
Paper Shadows — Wayson Choy
Deep Too — Stan Dragland
The Glass Castle — Jeannette Walls

Best Play

Winner: Waiting for Godot — Samuel Beckett

I said it in my review for the book, and I’ll say it again. Man, this was a depressing play about feeling stagnant and stuck. I didn’t think I’d be able to relate so much to an absurdist play like this.

Nominees:

Death of a Salesman — Arthur Miller
The Laramie Project — Moisés Kaufman
The Glass Menagerie — Tennessee Williams
Waiting for Godot — Samuel Beckett
Othello — William Shakespeare

Best Children’s Book

Winner: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — J.K. Rowling

I had no idea all I read this year was Harry Potter. Jeez. Honestly, it’s difficult to pick one of the HP books (Up and Down, although cute, just can’t compete with books about kids dying), I ultimately picked The Goblet of Fire because it was a turning point in the series for me. The first three books laid the foundation for the series, and near the end of Goblet of Fire, there was a sense that the stakes had been raised quite dramatically with the genuinely shocking death of Cedric Diggory. More horrified I was that Cedric’s death happened in front of a freakin’ teenager who was bound to be traumatized after. Goblet of Fire was the book that finally stepped into mature themes, creating foreboding that permeated throughout the rest of the series. No one was safe anymore.

Nominees:

Up and Down — Oliver Jeffers
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — J.K. Rowling

Best Gay/Queer Book

Winner: The Riddle of the Sands — Geoffrey Knight

Yeah, it’s campy, sexy fun, but I gotta say, it’s well-paced and there’s more (and better) plot than all of the Bourne movies. Plus the sexy guys having gay sex. Woot.

Nominees:

The Hardest Thing — James Lear
Strip — Andrew Binks
The Riddle of the Sands — Geoffrey Knight
The Cross of Sins — Geoffrey Knight

Best Graphic Novel

Winner: The Arrival — Shaun Tan

Extra props for being able to create different atmospheres using only pictures. Truly awesome. As in leaves me in awe.

Nominees:

Adrian and the Tree of Secrets — Hubert
The Shadow Hero — Gene Luen Yang
Bone, Vol. 1 — Jeff Smith
The Arrival — Shaun Tan
Angel Catbird, Vol. 1 — Margaret Atwood
Sisters — Raina Telgemeier

Best YA Novel

Winner: Ghost World — Daniel Clowes

Although none of the nominees really blew me away, at least Ghost World‘s crushing ending was nice.

Nominees:

Ghost World — Daniel Clowes
Gone, Gone, Gone — Hannah Moskowitz
Way to Go — Tom Ryan
You Know Me Well — David Levithan and Nina LaCour
Whatever. — S.J. Goslee

Best Classic Book

Winner: The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath

The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — Robert Louis Stevenson
Memoirs of a Geisha — Arthur GoldenThe Legacy/A Town Called Alice — Nevil Shute
The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath

Best Book of 2016

Nominees:

Sharp Teeth — Toby Barlow
The Glass Castle — Jeannette Walls
Waiting for Godot — Samuel Beckett
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — J.K. Rowling
The Riddle of the Sands — Geoffrey Knight
The Arrival — Shaun Tan
Ghost World — Daniel Clowes
The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath

Winner: Waiting for Godot — Samuel Beckett

This was the most difficult pick I’ve made since I started compiling these lists. Even I’m not sure I chose the “best” one, since all these books were great in their own different ways. I do think that Waiting for Godot managed to convey so many themes in such subtle ways, and of course it was depressing as hell, which I’m always a sucker for.

Congrats to all the winners! What will I read next year?

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Riddle of the Sands

18 07 2016

This was a lot more fun and not as erotic as I thought. I also had no idea this was the second book in a series which explains why there was so little setup introducing the (too many) characters and what they do. But that doesn’t matter when there are more twists and turns in the plot that both Hunger Games: Mockingjay movies combined (though that’s not saying that much).

Placed an interlibrary loan for the first book because I’m intrigued by this series now. Whaddya know? There is such a thing as decent gay fiction after all.

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Sharp Teeth

7 04 2016

What a pleasant surprise this was. When I started reading, I had no idea it was even about lycanthropes and normally, I’m very averse to anything in the horror genre. But the writing in this book is simply fantastic, simple but evocative, poetic but not clichéd. And even some of the more gruesome violent scenes were great too–very visceral. There were times when I would clutch onto my own gut as the narration described characters getting their insides ripped open.

Overall, I was simply really impressed at 1) the writing, but mostly 2) that something like this was actually able to get published (and by a pretty big publisher too). Just goes to show you that strong writing counts for a lot, even when experimenting with form.

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The 4th Annual Aaron Book Awards

1 01 2016

Ah, it’s that time again already? A whole year’s gone by so quickly? Jeez. I don’t know what to say. Except that my mother is cleaning my bathroom right now because I haven’t cleaned it in a while and it annoys me because I specifically told her not to wash my bathroom because she uses gross chemicals. Note to self: clean bathroom more often next year.

At the end of last year, I wanted to try and even out the different genres of material I was reading, since I found that I read very few plays and much more novels and YA books. For the most part, it worked quite well, though I found that sometimes the order got messed up whenever a book abruptly came in for me that I had request a while back and then I’d have to put down whatever I was reading in favour of it). I read or attempted to read total of 41 books, which is up from last year (although I did count a number of picture books that took all of a minute to read).

And now… let’s begin!

Best Non-fiction Book

Winner: No Logo — Naomi Klein

An infuriating and depressing look at the state of the world. I don’t remember feeling so angry while reading something in a really long time. And the saddest thing is, sweatshops and brands still have a ton of power except these days, no one cares anymore.

Nominees:
No Logo — Naomi Klein
Library Architecture + Design
— Manuela Roth
The Ethical Slut — Dossie Easton
Business Affairs

Best Play

Winner: King Lear — William Shakespeare

I feel like it’s unfair to have Shakespeare in this category and I almost decided not to include him simply because, well, he’s Shakespeare. But I realized Dickens, Rushdie, L.M. Montgomery are all still competing against modern authors, so it didn’t seem fair to only exclude Shakespeare.

I do feel like I have to give big props to Christopher Durang for writing two brilliant and hilarious plays. Laughing Wild would’ve won if not for the Bard.

Baby with the Bathwater — Christopher Durang
Laughing Wild
— Christopher Durang
King Lear — William Shakespeare
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde — Moisés Kaufman
The Comedy of Errors — William Shakespeare

Best Graphic Novel

Winner: Maus — Art Spiegelman

No contest here.

American Born Chinese — Gene Yuen
Shirtlifter — Steve MacIsaac
Fun Home — Alison Bechdel
The Book of Boy Trouble
Maus — Art Spiegelman

Best Children’s Book

Winner: Anne of Green Gables — L.M. Montgomery

Surprised? I am too. Not to say that Anne of Green Gables is bad, but the best kid’s book I read this year? Yeah. I guess so.

Cat Champions — Rob Laidlaw
Swallows and Amazons — Arthur Ransome
What Will Fat Cat Sit On? –Jan Thomas
Anne of Green Gables — L.M. Montgomery
How to Speak Cat — Sarah Whitehead
Cats Meow — Pam Scheunemann
A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens
A Castle Full of Cats — Ruth Sanderson
The Wind in the Willows — Kenneth Grahame

Best Gay/Queer Book

Winner: Business Affairs

It certainly is the gayest.

Also, I’m not sure about having this category or not.

The Geography of Pluto — Christopher DiRaddo
Fun Home — Alison Bechdel
Shirtlifter — Steve MacIsaac
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Business Affairs

Best Memoir/Autobiography

Winner: Shaking It Rough — Andreas Schroeder

Yes, I know I’m biased because Andreas used to be my teacher. But also, this is a really good book with some great writing. And also I’m biased.

Tiger Mother Son of a Bitch (Only to be stated here because I attempted to read it and gave up because it was godawful)
Yes Please — Amy Poehler
Fun Home — Alison Bechdel
Shaking It Rough — Andreas Schroeder
Maus — Art Spiegelman

Best YA Novel

Winner: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen — Susin Neilsen

I’m a sucker for sadness. And Canadian authors!

American Born Chinese — Gene Yuen
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen — Susin Neilsen
Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story — David Levithan
The Porcupine of Truth — Bill Konigsberg
How I Live Now — Meg Rosoff
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Another Day — David Levithan

Best Fiction book/Novel

Winner: The Road — Cormac McCarthy

I almost chose The Bone Clocks but then I saw that I had rated The Road five stars and The Bone Clocks only four. It’s hard to pick The Road when it was one the first books I read last year and I don’t remember it as well as The Bone Clocks, which I read more recently. But like David Mitchell, I love McCarthy’s writing style. Also his bleakness is always appreciated.

The Road — Cormac McCarthy
The Bone Clocks — David Mitchell
Midnight’s Children — Salman Rushdie
Tenth of December — George Saunders
Slade House — David Mitchell
The Geography of Pluto — Christopher DiRaddo

Best Book of 2015

Winner: Maus — Art Spiegelman

Apparently I’ve chosen memoirs several years in a row now. It just goes to show you what a unique and impacting kind of experience it is to read them (ie. everyone should read more!).

Congrats to all the winners and hope to read some fantastic stuff this year!

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The Geography of Pluto

27 11 2015

For the record, I wanted to like this book. I really did. I even had it on my list of books to read because I thought it sounded interesting. But alas…

It’s not a particularly badly written book. It’s just really boring, and I was unable to really connect with the narrator and his constant reminiscing of the past, nor have I ever lived in Montreal (though I can certainly see how a Montrealer would appreciate all the references). I also found it grating how every guy was introduced as “beautiful.” Really? Couldn’t use any other adjectives?

Anyway, I only managed to get about halfway before I gave up (I nearly gave up on several occasions but pressed on because the book just happened to be there and I needed something to read), so that’s why I cropped the photo to half the book.

This was the first book in recent memory I’ve given up on. Sigh.

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How Art Talks to Art, Part II

13 06 2015

You might be wondering, “Part two? I thought you just explained everything in your previous post. How much more do you have to say? Also, why am I on this silly site instead of porn?” And yes, I wanted to nail down everything I meant in one post, but I’ve had a difficult time trying to articulate why it is I’m writing a mixed-genre memoir, even when it comes to writing it down (because me telling you in person would be a lot more rambling).

Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot more, and I don’t think my previous post quite got it. But I think I’ve narrowed it down to something simple.

There’s the pleasure and experience of reading a piece of fiction or poetry or listening to music watching a play or film or looking at a piece of art on its own without any explanation or information about the artist or writer. That’s the simplest way of enjoying it.

Watch this video and just listen to the music. Take a note of how you feel about the piece and what you think about it. Note: if you know anything about Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, this might not work.

But what about the story behind the story? In terms of literature, one of the most common questions writers get asked is “What inspired you to write that?” To me, what is interesting is when it’s something personal that happened to them. I wish I had more examples to give, other than my own work, but one good one is Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude. When I learned to play this years ago, I didn’t know the history behind it. I just played it because I needed to for my upcoming exam. All I knew was that it was fast, loud, super hard, and the sixteenth notes rumbling in the left hand throughout the entire piece killed my arm after. My piano teacher eventually explained that at the time, Poland, Chopin’s country of birth, was being attacked by Russian forces. As he still had family and friends in Poland, he was upset and emotional. So he wrote this as a response.

When I heard this story, the piece made a lot more sense. I saw the etude in a different light. I understood why it was so loud, the specific accents on chords, how the left hand almost feels like it cries out when it goes up into the treble clef. The history — the story behind the story — enhanced my perspective. I saw the piece as it was intentionally meant by its creator.

I realized that my non-creative non-fiction work — fiction, poetry, plays, scripts — are almost always based on some sort of personal experience. I write things for a reason, sometimes as a response to something I’ve gone through. Of course, you could enjoy them on their own, but being aware of the context, I think, elevates the piece.

That’s what my creative non-fiction work is mostly about. My memoir, by extension, is not so much about why I wrote my fictional works as it is a way to get you in the right mindset when I wrote it. That way, you can then try and glean what autobiographical details may be embedded in the fiction. Fiction can, of course, be autobiographical in nature, and together with memoir, can provide a more complete and deeper understanding of a person’s life. At least I think so. And at least for me.

I hope that makes sense. I do tend to complicate things, so maybe my explanation was a bit convoluted. If so, now that you understand what Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude was about watch it again.

Do you see a difference?

-A





How Art Talks to Art

21 05 2015

Originally blogged from my official site:

The choice to make my memoir a mixed-genre book was a surprisingly easy one to make. Back when I was sure it was going to be a straightforward memoir, a writer friend and colleague of mine suggested, half-kidding (I think? She jokes a lot so it’s hard to tell sometimes), “Is it gonna be mixed genre? Throw in some poems? Yeah? Yeah! You know it!” Sure, I had thrown around the idea of making my memoir a mixed-genre book but never seriously thought about it. When I went home that day, I looked at my poems — and also some of the few fiction pieces I had written  — and saw that some of them naturally fit with the pieces in my memoir, like how continents fit together.

I thought it was a pretty neat idea, writing a mixed-genre memoir. I certainly wasn’t the first to do it either. Amber Dawn’s memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life, includes both memoir and poetry. More recently, Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, features essays, haikus, and other odd little pieces of writing. Bossypants by Tina Fey includes the Sarah Palin/Hilary Clinton SNL script that became famous.

My memoir contains, poetry, a short script, a short play, song lyrics, and, of course, memoir. I know it might seem strange to include fiction, and I’ve tried to explain it concisely as I’ve could in the queries and book proposals I’ve been sending out, in an effort to make publishers and editors see that I’m not just a weirdo novice writer who is scrapbooking my greatest hits. But it’s difficult because I feel like it requires a bit more explanation. So if you’re a publisher trying to figure out why you have a multi-genre memoir thing on your desk, here’s your answer.

I made a short film called Stay, which is about two Chinese-Canadian gay men and what happens when one of them refuses to stay the night. You don’t need to know anything about me to watch this film (in fact, it’s on YouTube). After watching it (or before, really), if I told you that my first boyfriend was Chinese-Canadian and in the closet, and that we never had a night together, how does that change your reading/interpretation of the Stay? (Does the film come across as a fantasy/hope if the real same had stayed the night?) How does Stay reveal autobiography as a work of fiction? What can you suggest about why I decided to write and make the film?

Maybe it’s just the English major in me, the one that constantly analyzes things for meanings, but these are the kind of questions I like to ask — and I’d like people to ask — when reading my work. Not everyone will want to think this deeply, for sure, but I think they’re good questions to ask.

Here’s another way to put it. I recently watched a documentary called National Gallery, made by Frederick Wiseman. At one point in the film, a worker at the National Gallery in London explains how paintings and works “talk to each other.” When looking at a painting on its own, he says, you may have one interpretation. When put next to another painting, it causes you to reinterpret both paintings; you notice things you didn’t notice before. They both mean different things.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my mixed-genre book. I’m trying to show readers a different way — my perspective — of looking at not just my straightforward memoir pieces, but all the other kinds of writing and art that I do and make. I believe that this reveals a lot more about a person that a simple memoir, and as someone who feels constantly misunderstood (or not understood at all), I relish the opportunity to give people this special insight. And it’s not just me trying to boast to everyone that I can write a script and a play (although that is an added bonus).

Hope that makes sense. I feel like it will make more sense once my book is available and people can read it for themselves (hint hint, publishers). What are your thoughts? Do you think a mixed-genre memoir is a good idea?

-A