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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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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On the outside

31 07 2015

I’ve always considered myself to be part of the gay community. I read Xtra! and followed the news. I joined local organizations and volunteered. I walked up and down Davie Street, among my people.

But for many years now, I’ve constantly felt invisible, ignored, and degraded by the same community. As sad and hurt as I was, I still read Xtra! hoping for the day there’d be an article about sexual racism. I vainly wished to be acknowledged as an important part of the community.

It never really happened. (and the sexual racism article definitely never happened)

Yet, I still had hope that they’d take notice to all this.

Tonight, at the Davie Street Block Party, I realized something. As I looked at all the different faces and people in their own little groups and cliques, I couldn’t help but feel it was futile trying to include myself in a community that seemed like they didn’t want me. It’s like being the kid at school who constantly tries to hang out with another group of kids and says something like, “Hey, guys! What’re we playing today?” The other kids stare, then all hang out together. But the other kid doesn’t get the hint.

Maybe all these years, I’ve been missing the hint, that I’m not welcome. Maybe it’s better I not tell myself I’m a part of this community, that I’m just some gay guy living in Vancouver.





Is this all really worth it?

8 06 2014

I’m killing myself looking up queer film festivals around the world to send my film to, but I bet it won’t be accepted in more than three-quarters of them. The more I go through film festivals’ programs, the more I see that they types of films they screen have the gay/lesbian/queer thing very much upfront — and that’s not necessarily the stories that I want to tell. Sure, I made Stay which was super gay, but with something like June, which I think is my best, most artistic film to date, I want to explore other issues than just being gay. Maybe my films are too weird/artsy to fit in to typical film festivals; I’ve been reluctantly submitting my film as an experimental film, which I never considered it to be when I made it. And when my mom came in as I was going crazy, flipping through multiple open tabs on my browser of different film festivals, she asked what I was doing. When I told her I was sending off my film to festivals to get super famous, she told me to stop dreaming and left. I don’t expect to get super famous from my films, but I’d like some validation that my art and my stories are worth seeing, worth showing to other people. I’m thankful June has been screened at the Vancouver Queer Film Fest, though they have screened legitimately weird things, so my film hardly qualifies as too weird for them.

Maybe I was right to give up on film. The acceptances of my writing in various lit mags (despite lots of rejection from other places) has made me feel confident that my stories are worth publishing. I guess I feel like I either have to make clear, narrative films with gay characters facing gay situations, or I shouldn’t be a queer filmmaker if I expect popularity. And I don’t know if I want to do that.

My brain is a pile of mush right now so I will leave my existential crisis at that.





The Young Protectors/Buying Time

14 05 2014

So I decided to give myself credit for reading more things.

I know technically both comics are updated and added weekly, but I’ve read up to the end of both of them and I think they deserve a spot on my completed shelf anyway. As I wrote previously, The Young Protectors, written by Alex Woolfson (who also wrote Artifice) is about a group of young superheroes, one of whom is gay. The other thing that is noteworthy about this comic is that the superheroes are of various ethnicities, which is always super great to see. The art is gorgeous and very much in vein with classic superhero comics (at least in my mind), and there’s a bit of skin-flashing as Kyle, the budding homo, dangerously flirts with The Annihilator. I like this comic for the art and the action, but there were some parts that feel a bit slow and that I questioned the logic of the story (ie. Why does Laampros just take off after that ritual thing is done? Where is he going? Why not take his new “son” with him? The Annihilator just wants to live longer? Really? I was beginning to see this as an allegory to the  post-AIDS crisis in the ’90s and the older generation disliking the younger generation for simply being young while many people still lived with the disease and death, but alas, I don’t think this really held up).

Read The Young Protectors for free! (and also find out more info) http://webcomics.yaoi911.com/archive/ete_title_page/

Woolfson recently posted a link to a web comic called Buying Time, created by Casey J (who is also Canadian! Woot!) and noted how he stayed up until 4am to finish reading it. I decided to give it a try and was so fascinated at the how webcomics can work! I didn’t know they could be interactive and designed almost like a film, with characters moving and changing facial expressions with the click of a mouse. I thought that was utterly brilliant, and definitely got me thinking about possibly writing a graphic novel/comic of my own (though I’d leave the artwork to someone who can actually draw more than stick figures). In some ways, I like Buying Time better than TYP. It flows better; it has a better sense of world and the rules; and the main character, Vinnie, is loner and has a quiet crush on a co-worker = complete relatability. I also really like the fact that he’s not tall and ripped like a lot of characters in comics (or any story, really), but is short and has a few extra pounds. But he’s just so freaking adorable and well-meaning, that it’s impossible not to root for him and fall in love with him. And when he finally hugs Galvin — let me say that having read a lot of romance stories, I don’t usually care much when two people get together. But I was swooning sooooo much when it happened! The build-up was just fantastic. And the idea of Vinnie having to work extra hours to literally pay for time to hang out with Galvin is just brilliant. Really looking forward to seeing where this comic goes.

Read Buying Time for free! (and also find out more info) http://buyingtime.the-comic.org/comics/first/

For those who have read both comics, which do you like more? Why?

Finally, since I can’t exactly post a picture of myself with webcomics, I took a picture of myself trying to look like a douche. Hope you like it.

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Artifice

11 05 2014

Two books done in two days! Wow!

To be fair, this comic is a fairly short, easy read — but one that is unabashedly gay, romantic, and fun. And I love that. I will admit that I was more than self-conscious reading Artifice on the bus and while waiting for the bus with people around me because I had just gotten to the part where Jeff and Deacon are, um, intimate, and I was afraid people might be thinking I was looking at porn or yaoi or whatever. It also didn’t help that I got a little excited at those parts too… *blush blush*

That being said, after I finished the book, I got a bit obsessed with author Alex Woolfson’s other comic, The Young Protectors. I discovered there was even a Kickstarter campaign last year for that comic, and kicked myself for not having heard of the project and contributing something (especially to get those romance trading cards and NSFW prints, my my). In less than a day, have now read everything and caught up to the end of TYP which I think is pretty good and should count for 2-ish books read in two days, but whatever.

I don’t think I’ve posed with this underwear yet. I took another closer shot to show how part of it is fishnet, which I think is cool. Also it’s super soft.

Looking forward to obsessively checking for the next Young Protectors page!

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Can’t come out

2 04 2014

Had the opportunity to explain my memoir I’m working on to a couple of people, and I described it as my life growing up in Vancouver… in a traditional Chinese family… and although the next thing I should have said was that I’m also gay, which I think is a major issue that I write about, and even though the thought flashed in my mind like a giant neon sign, I couldn’t say it. I was just so self-aware with labeling myself as gay that I couldn’t say it. And it isn’t the first time, but looking back now, I know they probably wouldn’t have cared (and maybe they would’ve even found it interesting). It sucks and it’s ironic because in my creative writing classes, I’ve written about gay things and being gay so much that I’m sure everyone is sick of me being so gay. Yet in the real world, I can’t even say the words sometimes. I know coming out is always difficult, but why is it always such a struggle? Will I ever be able to come out to people and just say it without overthinking it and being so self-conscious about it?

Ugh. I need sleep.