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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Bone #1: Out from Boneville

19 07 2016

About a month ago, I did some research into graphic novels that everyone should read, and this one was in the list. I’d seen various copies at the library but wasn’t sure what it was about. They seemed to be fairly popular though; even a friend of mine was reading the series (most of my friends don’t usually read). Although I’m sure the series will get better and more interesting, this first one was only OK for me. Not a ton happened but a few things were set up for what I’m assuming will be paid off later. I did like the scary-looking rat creatures that were also completely inept. That was funny and a nice subversion.

I tried posing like Fone Bone with his tongue sticking out like on the cover but I just looked dumb. But me in my underwear– not dumb at all. No siree.

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The Shadow Hero

10 05 2016

As a fan of American Born Chinese, I wanted to read more of Gene Luen Yang’s work. I think the world is a better place with him and his work: I’m definitely all for more Chinese protagonists (or any of colour, for that matter).

The Shadow Hero is an inventive imagining (albeit based on an old comic) of a Chinese superhero and how he became who he is. There is intrigue involving ancient Chinese spirits and a mob boss, and humour is laced throughout, giving the story a light feel despite some dark moments.

The plot hits some bumps along the way that unfortunately aren’t always believable, like how would Hank’s mother gleefully coerces her son to become a superhero without once considering his safety (until tragedy strikes), or Hank’s uncle is conveniently a kung fu master. Instances like this such as these remove immersion in the wonderfully drawn panels. Yang seems more interested in the idea of Chinese superhero than writing a cohesive and structured narrative.

I also read today that the Russo brothers, the same who directed the previous two Captain America films will be directing a Chinese superhero film (thanks to their Chinese producers, not really because it was a passion project of theirs). Here’s hoping it’ll be good.

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The Kite Runner

5 04 2016

So… this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. And maybe the novel is better than the graphic novel but I have a feeling the language is what makes the novel so beloved to begin with. My main problem was that I found the main character so passive and inept that it was difficult to relate or sympathize with him, even when he loses his father or frustratingly fails time and time again to mend the relationship with his best friend and servant. Argh.

As for most people’s reviews saying they wept like a baby because the story was so sad… it reminds me of someone’s comment on Grave of the Fireflies. Lots of people also thought that film was super sad, but one person noted how the sadness in the movie is like a jump scare in a horror film — it’s too obvious. The film is trying too hard to make you feel things that it comes across as forced rather than natural and subtle. That’s why I thought the ending of Tale of Princess Kaguya was infinitely sadder than Grave of the Fireflies. And that’s why I didn’t feel sad at all reading The Kite Runner. It was too forced, trying too hard to be a tear-jerker, which only made me roll my eyes.

This review on Goodreads pretty much sums up my feelings about it:

“The very best part of the novel is its warm depiction of the mixed culture of Afghanistan, and how it conveys the picture of a real Afghanistan as a living place, before the coup, the Soviet invasion, and above all, the Taliban and the aftermath of September 11th created a fossilized image in the US of a failed state, petrified in “backwardness” and locked in the role of a villain from central casting.

Now for the not so good.

== Spoiler Alert ==
… because I don’t think I’m going to be able to complain about what I didn’t like about the book without revealing major plot points. (Not to mention, some of what follows will only make sense to someone who has read the book.) So if you don’t want to spoil it for yourself, read no further, here be spoilers:

My overwhelming emotion throughout the book is feeling entirely manipulated. Of course, one major reason for this is that the author’s attempts at metaphor, allegory, and forshadowing are utterly ham-fisted. When he wants to make a point, he hits you over the head with it, hard — Amir’s split lip / Hassan’s cleft palate comes immediately, resoundingly to mind.

But I feel manipulated beyond that. The members of the servant class in this story suffer tragic, unspeakable calamities, sometimes at the hands of our fine hero, and yet the novel seems to expect the reader to reserve her sympathies for the “wronged” privileged child, beating his breast over the emotional pain of living with the wounds he has selfishly inflicted upon others. How, why, am I supposed to feel worse for him as he feels bad about what he has done to others? Rather than feeling most sympathy and kinship for those who, through absolutely no fault of their own, must suffer, not just once or twice, but again and again?

Of course this elevation of / identification with the “wounded”/flawed hero goes hand in hand with an absolutely detestable portrayal of the members of the servant class as being at their utmost happiest when they are being their most servile and utterly subjugating their own needs, wants, desires, pleasures — their own selves, in fact — to the needs of their masters. (Even when they are protecting their masters from their own arrogance, heartlessness, or downright stupidity.)

I don’t see how the main character, Amir, could possibly be likeable. Amir’s battle with Assef, momentous as it is, is not so much him taking a stand because he feels driven to do so or feels that he must. Rather, he acts with very little self-agency at all — he is more or less merely carried forward into events. (And, moreover, in the end it is Sohrab (Hassan again) who saves him.)

I finished the novel resenting Amir, and even more intensely resenting the author for trying to make the reader think she’s supposed to care about Amir, more than about anyone else in the story.

A couple other points: I’m wondering if one theme of the novel is that there are no definitive happy endings, no single immutable moments of epiphany or redemption. Because Amir’s moral “triumph”, such as it is, over Assef, is so short-lived. He manages to crash horrifically only a week or two later, when he goes back on his word to Sohrab about his promise not to send him to an orphanage.

And lastly, I don’t understand why Baba’s hypocrisy is not more of a theme. He makes such a point of drilling into his son’s head that a lie is a theft of one’s right to the truth. His own hipocrisy there is a profound thing, and it’s a shame the author doesn’t do more with it.”

So after reading the graphic novel, I thought I might just read the novel version. And then I thought more about it and decided, nah. Once is more than enough.

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Ghost World

23 03 2016

Man, I’m really behind on this blog/updating the books I’ve read. So here’s Ghost World. I had watched the movie way back when and thought it was alright, but didn’t find it to be anything special. I was thinking about it recently, more specifically the ending, and I thought it’d be good to rewatch it after reading the graphic novel as well.

What a sad movie. I don’t know how I missed it the first time.

And that ending still really resonates with me, mostly because I long to run away from Vancouver one day without telling anyone. Hmm.

But in the meantime, here’s me in my underwear posing with a book in the mirror.

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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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Maus

29 12 2015

Man, I’m really behind on these pics. I finished Maus quite a while back, and god was it ever a sad read. I wasn’t expecting to constantly feel sad every time another character died–which was often, by the way. This is essential reading for all those interested in graphic novels.

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