Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The TMT Awards 2013: Category 2 - Books

Hi all,
Again my laziness is more amazing than words can possibly explain. The delay this time comes because New Year's Eve I was watching Frozen which will always come first. Always. So, anyway after the delay I present category 2; books!

Books. So many books. So little time. In fact, because I’ve started Uni this year, I had even less time. There was all the books I had to read for the classes and the studying that I had very little time for my own reading. Don’t get me wrong some of the books I read for Uni were excellent, but it would’ve been nice to get some more of the books I really wanted to read done. I suppose that’s what holidays and the bus are for.
   However, this shortening of my time wasn’t all bad. It led to the discovery of graphic novels. They’re perfect while I’m on the long bus ride to Uni, because I can usually get one done in a day. They’ve been the biggest new discovery of my year (like anime was in 2012) and something I really hope to read more of in the future.
   In all honesty I’ve been a fairly lazy reader this year, but I plan to make it my goal to read more in 2014. There’s too many amazing books out there for me to ignore. Like Harry Potter and A Song Of Ice & Fire and Wicked and the Jim Henson biography. To the new year and new books!


The Top 5 Novels

1. Shattered Glass (Dani Alexander)

I’d heard of this book many months before I actually read it. I was looking through the gay quotes section on Goodreads and I found a number of really lovely ones from this book. As I discovered more and more about it, I grew desperate to read it. The problem was it was available only as an e-book or a book to be purchased online. So it had to sit there, but then at the start of the year, I got a bank card. I swear the first thing I did was get online and buy a copy. The wait for it was agonising but then it finally came through.  I didn’t read it at first. I do this a lot. Surely it can’t be as good as I hoped it would be. Eventually, I decided to get started on it. And from the gloriously flirty opening, I knew I had a new favourite book (overtaking the place of The Time Traveller’s Wife or The Fault In Our Stars). It was witty and mysterious and intelligent and sexy. So, so sexy. Problematically sexy. Reading this on the bus before Uni was not the brightest idea I’ve ever had. But it’s not all about super-hot sexiness. There’s an intriguing mystery here with more twists than anything I’ve ever read/seen. It was completely and utterly perfect. I finished it within a week and then went on to discover that the next one wasn’t due out for a while. So I started following the author’s blog. I loved reading it and when he blogged that he had been diagnosed with cancer was one of the saddest days of my year. Because this book was hilarious and moving and silly and scary and I loved it. It’s led me to discovering the world of independent publishing (all about gay guys, obviously) so I plan on reading a few more of them soon (Cut & Run is next on my list. A gay murder mystery. Yes, please!). But I seriously doubt it will be able to knock this book off its mantle. It made my year.
 
2. Two Boys Kissing (David Levithan)
It’s a bit hard to talk about this book without using superlatives. It just means so much to me. Basically about several intersecting gay romances which present their own problems (large and small) which are everyday to anyone in the gay community, which doesn’t really sound all that special. But what makes this book shine is the way it’s told. All of these little romances are watched over by those who died because of the AIDS epidemic. And they have so much insight and pain and wisdom because of what they had to go through. That’s actually been one of the things that I’ve found most worrying throughout the year. After viewing Common Threads (more on that in the film one) I became extremely depressed. There was such loss, such sacrifice but it was because of this pain and heartache that we have the extent of gay liberation that we have today. Things like ‘Same Love’ are built on foundations of incredible sadness but they’re celebratory. It’s a major criticism labelled against many in the gay community that they don’t know the sacrifices that have made it necessary for them to go to a dance party and snog like crazy. And I believe that this is true, but it’s true because it’s really quite sad, almost impossible to fathom such an enormous sense of loss. So here I was at this crossroads in my life. I didn’t see a way of both moving forward from such a tragedy and keeping it close to our hearts. And then I read this book. It represents perfectly the balance of loss and triumph. We have so much to learn and be grateful for and sometimes we should acknowledge that. There was so much wisdom and insight on every page of this beautiful book. I related to so much of what it was saying which made it heartbreaking (I cried so, so many times, particularly towards the end) and angry (such injustice) but ultimately joyous (I felt so uplifted as I put it down). I didn’t want this book to end, but I know it’s the sort of book that I’ll revisit every few years just so I remember where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Utterly stunning.
3. The Hunger Games/The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)


The Hunger Games. It’s a phenomenon. About 50 times better than Twilight, I actually really loved the movie and was incredibly excited to learn that I would be reading the first one for my Children’s Lit class. I thought the book was alright but because the film followed the text so closely I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. The second one, however, was magnificent. It was so sad and brutal with one scene with the Mockingjays incredibly hard to read. I got more out of this book than the first because I didn’t know the story. Now all I need to is read the third one and see the other movies! It was my plan to read the book then see the movie but I was super slow and didn’t finish it until recently. By which time it was no longer in the cinema. Curse my life!
 
4. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson)
I had to read this for Uni and because of that it was one of the only reasons I survived the first part of the year. Lit studies was hard for me. I despised the books we had to read and the theoretical readings about the text. It was like they were written in another language. I was really having a terrible time of it, but then I read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. It changed the way I saw Uni. It was an awesome book but it was the discussion around it as well. Coming from an all-boys catholic school, open and enlightened discussions about homosexuality were few and far between. To have an intelligent discussion about a complex text with deep messages about sexuality was huge for me. I felt like I was actually contributing useful and helpful things to class discussions. It was how I grew to like University. And those blasted theoretical readings were brilliant. Some of the things I learned and the quotes I read I still use now. The essay I had to write about this text was easily the one I most enjoyed, talking about things I felt deeply about within the confines of a text I really loved. Add listening to Flight Facilities’ ‘Clair De Lune’ and it was the ultimate memory I have of this year at Uni. It was really quite brilliant. So I thank Oranges for not only opening up my eyes about sexuality and religion but also my place at Uni as well.
 
5. The Mortal Instruments Book One: City Of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
Like a couple of these books, I’d wanted to read this series for a while. It wasn’t until I was pressured by a couple of my friends and the release of the film that I finally relented. I didn’t particularly like the start of the book. It was all setting up and no action. It just didn’t have enough drive for me. But as I got towards the end, I was shocked and surprised by a jaw-dropping twist which I never saw coming. It made me desperate for the next book (which I have sitting on my shelf), so I can’t really say how I felt about this series yet. Maybe next year I’ll have more to say…
 

 
 
Best Non-Fiction Book
The Velvet Rage (Gary Downs)
Sometimes you discover something and it changes you and it feels more special because you found it. It wasn’t your friends or word of mouth or popularity, it was just sitting there and it grabbed your attention more than anything else, which makes it build a special little place in your heart. I do this with movies all the time (as this year’s film list will attest) but not really with books. Shattered Glass was one, Two Boys Kissing was in a catalogue but the others were all because of my friends or because they were well-regarded. The Velvet Rage was very much my own discovery. When I get bored while sitting in the library waiting for the new DanIsNotOnFire or Billboard Hot 100 video to download, I search gay in the library catalogue and see what comes up. Usually this results in me ordering loads of gay movies and having to do a marathon to get them all done before they have to be returned. But this time was different. It was apparently a gay self-help book. Because of my current lack of boyfriend, I decided to give it a go. And I’m so thankful that I did. Describing the various stages that all gay men go through, Downs makes a convincing case that higher levels of sex, drug and alcohol abuse are more common in the gay community because of a deeply buried sense of shame (internalised homophobia). And sometimes I was just thinking that’s a load of bollocks, but then there are other times when I was just like, ‘well, that’s clever’. One such moment was his explanation for the distant father/overbearing mother theory (as to why people are gay). Apparently the father can tell that his son’s a bit… different and so distances himself. The mother thus compensates for this by becoming closer to her son. It’s a brilliant theory (that works quite well in my life) but where he really scores is when he discusses rage. And this is going to sound a bit weird, but sometimes I get so, so angry, furious, filled with rage. I just want to punch someone or something and I don’t know why. And it usually happens after the silliest, most mediocre things. Once my mum refused to watch Please Like Me because it had gay guys kissing and about to have sex. And then I felt that rage. What I find with this is that you just have to let it wash over you, but I can see that for some people this would be a very big problem. Downs explains that this happens because of the shame and the anger at the way we are. It has absolutely no basis, but it’s just that we have taken all that frustration and homophobia that was unintentionally directed on us (unintentionally through promotion of the straight lifestyle and exclusion or lack of discussion about the gay way. This has changed a lot, but still…). He believes that this is a cycle and that the drugs and sex are used to cover up that wound. It’s an interesting argument. It’s not one I particularly subscribe wholesale to but his steps to becoming your authentic self really are helpful. I suppose it’s something I’m a bit ambiguous on. I think there’s something deeper than shame at play, but it’s certainly thought-provoking.
 
Best Graphic Novels




1. Fables (Bill Willingham)
Oh God, I love this series. I’ve read 18 volumes so far and it’s been one of my greatest discoveries of the year. Like many of the graphic novels on this list, it’s built on an ingenious premise (what if fairytale characters were real and living in the real world because their own was taken over) which just expands and grows out. I really feel like I got to know these characters because they all grew, so when some of them died I was literally heartbroken. But what makes this series really great is that the most insignificant characters prove to be the most important, holding the key to everyone’s survival. You never guess what is going to happen next. It might be a big battle with several casualties or an intimately personal story or a pop-culture riff. It was just well-told and well-drawn. My favourite volume was also the last I’ve read, Cubs In Toyland. It makes the Island of Misfit Toys incredibly dark and has a truly shocking and heartbreaking conclusion that still makes me cry. I can’t imagine any graphic novel series being better than this one. It has everything. Read it now!

2. Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest graphic novel series’ ever, I didn’t particularly like Y: The Last Man when I started it. It had an interesting concept (all the men have died, except one and his monkey. Why?), but I didn’t feel that it was really being used very well. I kept reading mainly because the protagonist was cute, but I was so glad that I did. Over the 10 volumes, I grew to love all of these characters and the themes that soon became clear (sexuality and feminism. Feminism is explored wonderfully here, because they finally get what they want but still stuff up the world. It isn’t men that make the world problematic or women, but people and we need to work together to fix it. It’s incredibly nuanced). There was so many twists and sad moments of hope taken away. And in the end, when you finally think it’s going to be okay, something happens that is so not okay. I sobbed and I reflected on how brilliant this all was. One of the best? You bet.

3. Attack On Titan (Hajime Isayama)
As has happened quite a lot with these list of books, I heard of the series before I heard of the books. Attack On Titan was THE 2013 anime, so I read the manga, because it was at the library and it looked good. And it was brilliant. Terrifying, actually. I had nightmares about the Titans (I hardly ever have nightmares, except about… actually, no, you don’t need to know that) and they freaked me out as I was sitting on the bus. It taught me how to read manga (it’s mainly all I read now) and made me desperate to know how it goes. I’ve read 5 volumes so far because the library hasn’t bought the new ones. If they don’t start soon, I’m watching the anime. But for the moment, I’m content with my Titan nightmares. Freaky.
 
4. Doom Patrol (Grant Morrison)
Doom Patrol was insane. Really insane. So insane that it was quite difficult to read at the start. I was taken in by the wonderful art, creepy monsters and evocative dialogue. I just had no idea what it meant. Between volumes, I was attending a philosophy class and learning about the ideas of Freud and Reich and Jung and all of their weird thoughts. And I was shocked to learn that some issues of Doom Patrol were explicitly about the ideas of these thinkers and applying them to the stories. It just added so much to my reading experience and I got to understand these thinkers better. Add to this the fact that I really grew to love these characters and their weird lives and strange powers, and I had a really wonderfully odd experience reading this. The final volume was sad but a fitting end to some really trippy stories. Clever and strange.
 
5. Afterschool Charisma (Kumiko Suekane)
This is something I never thought I would say, not in a million billion years; Afterschool Charisma has actually made me like Hitler. It feels wrong just writing that, but it’s this series’ premise that makes it work. Shiro is the only non-clone in a school full of clones of famous individuals from history. Why they have been resurrected is a mystery as is their expiry date. Some believe that they’re destined to repeat the fate of their originals but others desire to change who they are. It’s enigmatic this series but unlike other mysteries (hello Loveless) it actually gives away little pieces of the mystery as you keep reading. It makes this a highly compulsive and addictive series with likable characters (yep, Hitler is one of them. He’s so sweet and innocent and na├»ve, desperate not to make the mistakes of the original. In saying that, he has begun to take a darker turn in the more recent ones, making me concerned that he will become like his former self). It provides one answer then offers another. I need to know what happens with this!

Tomorrow, will be tv which will include my favourite shows as well as the anime I thought was awesome this year. See you then! :)
Thanks,
James


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