My mom taught me how to read when I was 4-years-old, which WebMD, a reliable source if there ever was one, says is about two years younger than average. According to Iowa Tests [American standardized tests that I ended up taking at an American school] I was reading at a 12th Grade reading level when I was only ten. When I inevitably ended up majoring in both English and Writing at a Christian liberal arts college I was, to put it directly, horrifyingly average.
I write all of that not to share that I was some sort of prodigy [I wasn’t], but that I was good at reading because I loved it. The written word continues to be my favourite artistic medium, and my appreciation for the literary has not faded. Today I start what I hope to be an annual tradition, a review of what was read in the past year to acknowledge the standouts [for better and for worse]. These are the 2014 Evan Yeong Literary Awards.
In 2014 I resolved to read 52 books, and while I only ended up stopping just four short of my goal, I do believe it was an overall success. You can check out a full list [with the exact dates of when I read each one] at this link.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Now granted, this is exactly how I can remember one of my college English professors describing their own experience reading this, but it couldn’t be more accurate. At 195 pages it’s very short for a full-length novel, but its explanation of how a man’s truly miserable existence came to be is, well . . . it’s very frustrating. A lesson for the titular character [and the reader] that some dreams should be deferred indefinitely, because the consequences of chasing after them can be truly disastrous.
best history of the origin of modern comic books
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
We’re not going to go into [yet again] how much I adore the flawless combination of words and pictures, but instead how the history of that medium as we know it today is as convoluted and exciting as the stories it often tells. Chronicling the tale of cousins Josef “Joe” Kavalier and Sammy Clayman, artist and writer respectively, we’re brought to the very beginnings of the comic book industry, a business that progresses at a breakneck pace alongside the young men’s own lives. Readers familiar with the 1954 Senate hearings will be be aware of what awaits our protagonists, and those who aren’t will learn more than a little bit about the ever-evolving relationship between government and art.
most like another book read this year, but minus the faith in humanity
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Several months before I got to this book I read Q & A by Vikas Swarup, the source material for the film Slumdog Millionaire. Adiga’s debut novel covers very similar territory, surrounding an Indian boy who starts from the bottom and, through various colourful circumstances, makes his way to the very top. Again very much like Swarup’s story the extreme corruption in the second most populated country on Earth is a focal point, but in addition there is a focus on the inherent rage and bitterness that’s sure to result. In this way protagonist Balram Halwai truly differs from Jamal Malik/Ram Mohammad Thomas [of the film and novel, respectively] in that he is willing to do anything to alter his situation.
Novel that will never, ever be adapted as a film
The Summer Is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved by Joey Comeau
A revamping of his self-published novella Bible Camp Bloodbath Joey Comeau [best known for his webcomic A Softer World] delves into the sort of grisly, nonstop bloodshed that the best director couldn’t film [without being themselves slaughtered by the MPAA]. Violence against children is a touchy subject when used sparingly, which is not at all an adjective that applies to the writing of this novel. Each fatality is rendered lovingly, and with much more vividness than the maroon spatter on the front cover. While the heartfelt and humorous letter from a mother to her 11-year-old child are touching, they may not be nearly enough to get most people to start [or more importantly, finish] this book.
most unnerving anti-revenge story
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
As you will see far down below I have made an effort to be more conscious about the authors I select, for the sole reason that there are a great many voices beyond those belonging to straight White men. That was never more apparent to me than when reading The Lovely Bones, in which a young girl is both raped and murdered, her soul observing life as it proceeds without her. I couldn’t help but think that given a male perspective so much more of the narrative would surround getting even with the one who had robbed the protagonist of their life, making them pay for what they did. Jarringly, at least for me, Susie Salmon instead chooses to concentrate on so many other things, on aspects of her life [or more accurately, its absence] that really matter.
John Dies at the End by David Wong
Jason Pargin is most well-known by his pen name David Wong, which is in turn now most well-known for a book that can be hilariously shortened to JDatE. Comically its success can be attributed to having two protagonists who are authentic teenagers [see: reckless, confused, irreverent], their distance from adulthood seemingly being what allows them to combat the otherworldly terrors that others would have difficulty wrapping their heads around. As far as horror goes, the narrative remains very aware that readers are not particularly concerned about the safety of the main characters. It’s the secondary characters who are truly at risk, and by endearing them to us forces us onto the edge of our seats when they’re dangled from one eldritch horror to the next.
best argument to stop eating meat [or at least be more conscious about how you do it]
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
I know this isn’t news to the jaded [which is most of you, if the internet is any representation], but we’re doing things wrong. This extends to the food we grow, raise, and manufacture before buying it and putting into our mouths and stomachs. While never shying away from this fact, Pollan undercuts its potential preachiness by constantly asking if the alternative is as realistic as we would like it to be. By making his research a deeply personal journey [sending his own cow to a factory farm, hunting for his own mushrooms] we’re allowed a glimpse into how far-removed we are from our food, and how that doesn’t need to be the case. [Feel free to use the documentary Food Inc. as a sort of visual accompaniment]
Queer Fear edited by Michael Rowe
Lost Boy, Lost Girl by Peter Straub
I think it says a great deal about the genre that those who fail at it do so to the detriment of the entire narrative. A poor science fiction novel may still hold a compelling romantic story, but a horror novel that fails to be scary is unpleasant from beginning to end.
Credit where it is due, there is one very excellent short story in Rowe’s collection, that being Tabula Rasa by Robert Boyczuk. In it a group of gay men spend a weekend at a cabin, the added dimension being the number of past relationships between them. It’s the sort of tale that could only be told with homosexual characters, and its isolation and eeriness are palpable. Unfortunately the majority of the stories either overly rely on grotesque violence or, worse yet, are boring.
As far as Straub’s novel is concerned [and I touched on it very briefly here], not only is the plot nonsensical but it is also not even remotely frightening. The extremely unsatisfying conclusion involves a friend being whisked away by a ghost who is very good at sex, a rough contrast to the feeling of dread the author attempted to permeate the front half of the book with.
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsuitsui
It’s strangely fitting that the best image for the cover of this novel I could find was this animated gif, because it imitates how the characters pop back and forth out of the dream world and the real one. As they are unsure of whether or not they are awake or asleep, readers may find themselves looking up from the pages and blinking rapidly, trying to ascertain the same for themselves. Tsuitsui knows that the visions we see when we are asleep are both hazy and vivid at the same time, and he recreated it perfectly in what is more often than not a very uncomfortable novel.
on that “The SIXTH SENSE” level, reveal-wise
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
It’s difficult to really discuss this book without spoiling some truly amazing revelations for both the characters and the reader. Suffice to say, having the female protagonist named “Boy Novak” is only the beginning of a conversation that asks every single one of us who we are, and why we think that. It’s about family and beauty and feminism and, of course, culture. Having 1950s Massachusetts as the setting dictates what characters are and aren’t allowed to do, and makes it all the more surprising when we see them bucking against that.
As mentioned above a full list of books read can be seen here. To further break down that number, however, I have a few stats for your consideration:
- Number of Books Read: 48
- Books by White/Male Authors/Editors: 25
- Books by Everyone Else: 23
- Books by Non-White Authors: 11
- Books by Female Authors: 18
- Books by Both of the Above: 4
- Books by Canadian Authors/Editors: 8
- Fiction Books: 46
- Full-Length Novels: 41
- Short Story Collections: 4
- Short Novel Collections: 1
- YA Books Read: 3
- Non-Fiction Books: 2
- Books That Have Received Film Adaptations: 12
- Above Film Adaptations That I’ve Seen: 2 [including Star Wars]
- Authors I Read The Most Of: 3-way Tie: David Wong, Yasutaka Tsuitsui, and John Grisham