As I say at the beginning of every year, you can look back at the first-ever Evan Yeong Literary Awards in 2014 for a fuller description of my relationship with reading, which in turn led to their inception.
While eventually I’ll run out of ways to write this, the purpose of the third installment of the Evan Yeong Literary Awards is to shine a spotlight on an artistic medium that has taken a bit of a back seat as screen media becomes increasingly more prevalent, calling attention to a select handful of books I read these past 12 months. In 2015 every pick was objectively a winner, but given the rocky year following it’s no surprise that these awards have their ups and downs.
In 2016 my resolution was, just as it will likely be every year moving forward until it becomes unfeasible, to read more than the year before. That said I was devastated to do the final count to see that I read exactly the same number as I did in 2015. You can check out a full list [with the exact dates of when I read each one] at this link.
wokest novel, PRE-2000’s
The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
Although it’s fallen out of fashion since the time of its coinage in 2015, “woke” is still the most concise way to say “aware of racism and social in justice”. Throughout a novel that could serve merely as a cautionary tale of public transportation Steinbeck communicates time and time again that even though he lived as a person of great privilege, during an era where those privileges were even greater than they are now, he wasn’t afraid to pen several scathing indictments against the very class he was a part of.
most disappointing, though by no means awful
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The fault with this YA novel can be laid at the feet of those who framed it as a solid example of an interracial relationship in the genre. Although the titular Park is half-Korean the fact is that this is not something he personally relates to as a character, and certainly isn’t a factor that others take into consideration when viewing him [save for Eleanor, who gushes over his features in a way that borders on the fetishistic]. Apart from that this book very competently portrays the familial issues that can plague teenagers, as well as the most authentic depiction of how intense young love can be that I’ve ever read.
sobering reminder for many north americans that colonization led to where we live today – winner and runner-up
The Name of War: King Philip’s War and The Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore
History books can be a tough sell, especially when it’s recommended that you flip to the back over and over to read the author’s notes and further research on what’s being discussed. It’s much to her credit that from the very introduction, in which she breaks down the very etymology of the conflict in the subtitle, Lepore so compellingly presents both sides of what boils down to a violent exchange of beliefs and ideas. The question ultimately raised is whether or not a war can be waged at all when the parties involved have starkly different definitions of what it entails.
Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed by Judy Pasternak
Honourable mention goes to a book that reads, at least initially, like a multigenerational story about a Navajo family. While they remain a core component of the narrative, it’s specifically how their labour and the mining of their tribal land led to the creation of the atomic bomb that propels it forward. In spite of numerous laws meant to protect the indigenous people and their property it’s, perhaps unsurprisingly, the US government’s insatiable hunger for uranium that ends up leading to widespread conditions that still affect the Navajo Nation to this day.
most like a previous winner but so much better
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
A number of comparisons have been drawn between Ng’s debut novel and The Lovely Bones, one of my 2014 award winners which likewise covered a family processing the loss of one of their daughters. While the latter delved into the fantastical, conjuring up an afterlife for its deceased character, Everything I Never Told You doesn’t allow such diversions to buoy the narrative. Add to that the pressures of an interracial marriage and the resulting biracial children before the turn of the century and you end up with a book that explores the multiple dimensions of of heartbreak.
greatest sense of dread, non-horror division
Let It Be Morning by Sayed Kashua
It doesn’t take a deep knowledge of the Second Intifada for this novel about an Arab-Israeli man moving back to his village to effectively instill a deep and lingering apprehension in the reader. All throughout the novel characters either shrug and wait for things to pass or outright laugh in the face of inconveniences as they pile ever higher. Given how recently the events took place it can hardly be a spoiler to say that optimism is not met with a reward come the final few pages, yet it doesn’t make getting to that point any easier.
published against all odds, to the detriment of the world
The Day I Shot Cupid: Hello, My Name is Jennifer Love Hewitt and I’m a Love-aholic by Jennifer Love Hewitt
In her final chapter Jennifer Love Hewitt, of Ghost Whisperer fame, tells us that she ends this book where she began, only “four years later”. That’s four years in which the actor spent writing about singledom as a hopeless romantic, relating such nuggets of wisdom as, “[guys] prefer to fork, lol!” That’s in addition to her revealing a secret about the word “trust” [it has “us” in the middle], her support of vagazzling, and the fact that she had her personal trainer write an entire chapter of her book. All in all it’s incredible that a volume that falls just short of 200 pages took four years to put together, and how jarringly awful it is as a whole.
PUBLISHED AGAINST ALL ODDS, TO THE benefiT OF THE WORLD
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
Author of Invisible Man, which is not to be confused with the H.G. Wells novel, Ellison wrote the over 2,000 pages that are the basis for Juneteenth over the course of 40 years before passing away. What’s more the author’s friend and biographer John F. Callahan had to piece the narrative together himself, as there was no definitive order in which events took place. Named after the day on which slavery was abolished in Texas, and undoubtedly a little rough around the edges due to the circumstances of its publishing, its take on race relations and internalized hatred rings as true today as it ever did.
very, very loosely adapted to film
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
The 2015 film adaptation was the reason I picked up this YA novel, and given my very loose familiarity with the trailer was taken aback by the sheer amount of sex Keplinger fit between the front and back cover. Having rewatched it for the sake of this blog post I can say with absolute certainty that while the rough outline may be the same, a great number of the specifics must be very, very different. Though I suppose that much fornication between high school students had to be toned way down, even for the PG-13 crowd.
the definition of “machiavellian”
How to Dump a Guy: A Coward’s Manual by Kate Fillion & Ellen Ladowsky
It’s not well recorded the perspectives that 16th century writer and politician Niccolò Machiavelli might have on breaking up with your boyfriend, but if he had left behind a tome covering the subject it might read a lot like this book. Both Fillion and Ladowsky include helpful information as far as the when, where, and how of hammering the nails into the relationship coffin, but really come to life when going a step beyond. Much of How to Dump a Guy covers “winning” the breakup, influencing those in your mutual social circles to see you as the victim but never one to be pitied, the one who ended things but only because you had to.
most relevant given the results of the US presidential election
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
Given how much president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign had its foundations set in giving attention and power back to those who feel like they have lost it [to avoid outright stating his popular slogan], the issue of illegal immigration has been particularly topical. Sahota’s sophomore outing provides a long, hard look at the lives many Indians seek to escape, and the lengths, and more importantly depths, they’ll go to make a new life in the UK. It shouldn’t need to be stated, but people can’t be boiled down to mere adjectives like “criminals”, or even “good people”.
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: 18 [it should be noted that of these 17 two of the authors are gay, a statistic that may be counted this upcoming year]
- Books by Everyone Else: [in addition to author Chris Gardner The Pursuit of Happyness was co-written by both Quincy Troupe, a Black man, and Mim Eichler Rivas, a White woman, and as a result has been counted in both categories]
- Books by Non-White Authors: 20
- Books by Female Authors: 25
- Books by Both of the Above: 5
- Books by Canadian Authors/Editors: 5
- Fiction Books: 50
- Full-Length Novels: 43
- Short Story Collections: 6 [although A Visit from the Goon Squad is framed and can read like a short story collection I’ve categorized it as a novel due to its interconnected narratives]
- Short Novel Collections: 1
- YA Books Read: 4 [this includes The Mystery of the 99 Steps, a Nancy Drew book]
- Children’s Books Read: 3
- Non-Fiction Books: 7
- Memoir/Autobiography: 2
- Books That Have Received Film Adaptations: 17 [Crazy Rich Asians was not counted, though it was fast-tracked to production by WB last October]
- Above Film Adaptations That I’ve Seen: 4
sI Read The Most Of: John Steinbeck