You can read a better introduction at the beginning of last year’s awards, but I can quickly fill in for any new readers out there that I began reading at a fairly young age and continued on to study literature in college. That being said reading and literature have been a part of my life for about as far back as I can remember.
This second installment of the Evan Yeong Literary Awards seeks to once again call attention to the artistic medium that I love most, taking note of the books I read in the past year and [at least this time around, solely] praising the standouts. A lot of pages were put away in 2015, and it was actually a challenge this year to keep the number of winners to just under a dozen.
In 2015 I once again resolved to read 52 books and this time met my goal; sweet success. You can check out a full list [with the exact dates of when I read each one] at this link.
book that most helps “the cause/mission”
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The former as used by the hosts of the podcast Black Men Can’t Jump and the latter being the name of Joseph Philip Illidge’s column on Comic Book Resources, both terms are ultimately defined as work that progresses diversity. To that effect, White British author Gaiman is one of its truest champions, crafting a fantastical novel that lets its characters fall under the default race of reader’s assumptions only to have that torn away, much to even [or especially] my chagrin, in later pages. Fantasy as a genre is not often populated by men and women of colour, at least in Western fiction, and to have this novel exist, as well as be supported by such an unshakable talent, is a wonderful thing.
novel that doesn’t, and then does, live up to the hype
The Catcher in the Rye in J. D. Salinger
Published in 1951
The only thing I knew about this [in]famous work of fiction prior to reading it is that the murderer of one of The Beatles was obsessed with it and that it has been a frequently banned book, so I was not at all expecting the tale of a teenager who just wanted to drink some drinks and go on some dates and figure out what adolescence is really about. On that same note, I also didn’t think I would be exposed to some of the most raw and honest writing about what it’s like to be a dumb, lost kid. I still don’t fully understand what all the hubbub was about, but I also see why so many dating profiles have it featured as their favourite book.
you don’t have to have a judeo-christian background to read this… but it’s better if you do
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
Recommended by my friend Adam of Pokécology, this book was described by him as being, at least in part, about future human beings who end up contracting a disorder that makes them smell like various different things, with durian being just one scent among hundreds. While I focused on the obvious parallels to Eastern religion and mysticism it wasn’t until a further discussion with him [he was planning to cover it for an upcoming phD exam] that I was made aware of how much of it also covered, or played off of, the religious views I had been raised with [and continue to believe in and practice]. Definitely worth a re-read by yours truly, Lai’s second novel masterfully explores a bevy of topics beyond spirituality, but if you want to delve into that aspect alone it’s more than worth it.
best literary representation of the tagline to “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
One of the hallmarks of classic fantasy has long been the age-old battle between good and evil, a clear narrative following our heroes as they overthrow and vanquish their foes. While moral ambiguity and rooting for the villains has long been the territory of Game of Thrones in recent years, this novel presents such living, breathing human characters that words like “protagonist” and “antagonist” feel paltry and cheap. The 2004 installment in the shared Aliens and Predator film franchise was advertised with the line “Whoever wins… We lose,” and those words ring true as a violent culmination of events will have readers wondering if any victor will award them with the satisfactory resolution they hope for.
most entertainment value per page
Pink Moon by Stef Ann Holm
The third book of the Single Moms, Second Chances Series, what appears to be the simple tale of two single parents falling for one another is confounded at every turn by mistrust, pride, doubt, a custody hearing, and even, if you can believe it, bees. Soon after starting the romance novel I began sending excerpts to those who requested it on Facebook, which created a frenzy that eventually led to the creation of a weekly updating [but currently defunct] fan page. Without a shadow of a doubt almost every page turn of Pink Moon had me hooked, scanning every paragraph for a choice quote to spotlight or transform into a meme. While it may not have the highest literary value, whatever that’s supposed to mean, Holm delivers all the entertainment you expect from the genre, and then some.
reminder that McSweeney’s exists, and i/you could probably read it more often
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers
It wasn’t until midway through this book that I looked up who Eggers was and saw that he was one of the co-founders of McSweeney’s, a fun place on the internet for literary humour, among other things. Though it’s not like that had or has any real effect on the actual work itself, which is a gripping story told solely through dialogue between a kidnapper and those he has captured. While the situation taking place can, and probably should, at times, be taken as comedic, the grim reality of what’s actually occurring remains just below the surface throughout its entirety. It’s also a clear, at least to this reader, indictment of current events, as topical now in 2016 as at the time of its publication, and should force anyone reading its contents to ask why things are the way they are, and if they have to stay that way.
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
The fact of the matter is that there exist people who, for a number of valid reasons, require a heads up when it comes to depictions of violence, sexual assault, et cetera. Only the first of what is to be a full trilogy, Ruby fully explores the outright horrors of both racism and sexual slavery and pulls absolutely no punches. Saying that reading this book is a harrowing experience is putting it lightly, but it never once feels like it’s meant to astound, shock, or titillate. While fantastical elements remind you that this is a work of fiction the events within manage to call out to what is happening not just across the ocean, but possibly in the city outside your very window. Ultimately painful, very possibly needed, and not at all for the overly sensitive.
best in class: Sad lady lit
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Coined by yours truly, “sad lady lit” is a genre that I’ve been using to describe those works of literature that share a particular focus on loneliness and isolation in their female protagonists. While the term may seem pejorative it’s actually one that I purposefully seek out from time to time, as it’s a perspective that I don’t think receives the attention or respect it deserves. All of that being said, The Woman Upstairs captures the spirit of the genre to a tee. Nora Elridge, while not sad in and of herself, may at least elicit that emotion in readers and her search for self, such as it is, truly speaks to the quieter and more reserved among us.
100% judged by its cover
The First Bad Man: A Novel by Miranda July
With its stark white lettering on its perfectly black cover, this is a book that stands out on the shelf and practically leaps into your hands. While not the only one that belongs in this category, The First Bad Man differentiates itself from the rest by having its contents thematically match what wraps around them. Without giving anything away any spoilers, and to repeat a cliché, not everything is as it seems. This book practically exults in having its characters play different roles while still being starkly aware of what they’re doing all the while. The question this novel begs is what character it is that you’re choosing to play in your day to day life, and if you realize you’re doing it at all.
a partial look into british femininity and sexuality – dual recipients
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
Virgin by Radhika Sanghani
Georgia Nicholson is 14 years old and just wants to see what making out is like; Ellie Kolstakis is a 21-year-old who is just dying to lose her “V-plates”, come hell or high water. The parallels are obvious, and both Rennison and Sanghani choose to address their respective topics with a good dash of humour, as is typically needed.
While certainly not exhaustive by any means, these two novels together do provide a fairly broad glimpse at what it means to be a young [and younger] woman who feels left behind both romantically and sexually. They also smartly communicate that these issues, as seemingly pressing as they are and appear to be, are no be-all and end-all. While not necessarily required reading for the female teens and twenty-somethings of the UK [Rennison’s novel in particular is overall better than Sanghani’s] they are certainly doing what they can to make life, if not necessarily easier to get through, a little easier to understand.
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: 57
- Books by White/Male Authors/Editors: 27
- Books by Everyone Else: [Playground had a non-White author in Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson III and a female author in Laura Moser and as a result has been counted in both categories]
- Books by Non-White Authors: 13
- Books by Female Authors: 24
- Books by Both of the Above: 6
- Books by Canadian Authors/Editors: 6
- Fiction Books: 54
- Full-Length Novels: 48 [while some of the children’s books below were quite short, Danny Dunn and the Swamp Monster in particular, I decided not to nitpick and include all long-form fictional narratives in one place]
- Short Story Collections: 4
- Short Novel Collections: 1
- YA Books Read: 3
- Children’s Books Read: 4
- Non-Fiction Books: 3 [The Bro Code, while framed as a self-help or how-to book, was deemed fictional. A Boy’s War, on the other hand, is a true story that was more autobiography than novel.]
- Books That Have Received Film Adaptations: 10
- Above Film Adaptations That I’ve Seen: 1 [Matchstick Men]
sI Read The Most Of: Mark Lawrence