Category: books

Weekend Recap: Staking My Claim

I feel like too much of my idle time is spent being annoyed with social media.  It’s impossible to quit, even if the recent Facebook privacy bullshit makes my blood boil.  And I’m getting bored of myself telling everyone I’m taking a break.   There’s nothing more annoying than logging into Facebook with the sole express purpose of telling everyone that I’m taking a Facebook break, especially since my “breaks” tend to last about 45 minutes.

So, then, I think I’ve finally started to get a handle on how I want to deal with social media.  Which is to say:  I’m gonna start posting here more often (or, at least, as often as I can), and probably only here; this blog gets pushed to my FB and Twitter and Tumblr (which I think I still have?), and so I won’t necessarily vanish, but that’s gonna be about it.

So it’s gonna get a bit more LiveJournal-y around here, is what I’m trying to say.  Be warned.


So the boy turned 5 on March 31st, and then he promptly had the flu for the next 5 days, and so last week kinda just fell apart.  Both my wife and I had been teetering on the edge of coming down with it, too, though I think it’s over now.  His fifth trip around the Sun can only get better from here, right?  Let’s hope.


Now that the basement is back – and better than ever – I’ve been rearranging my music area.  The big news is that I’m getting a brand-new iMac delivered next week, while I’m home on a mini-staycation.  This means that, at long last, I can finally start getting back to work in earnest.

I’ve been re-listening to the stuff I recorded back in 2015, when this album was really getting started (gasp – has it really been three years already?), and while some of it has gone a bit stale, I’m still really happy with quite a lot of it.  And so to be able to return to it with working equipment and a fresh attitude in a really pleasant environment is basically a dream come true.  This is all I’ve wanted since we moved out to the ‘burbs in the first place.  Believe me, I will be Instagramming the shit out of my work space once the computer is set up and ready to go.

I can’t begin to tell you guys how often I’ve considered giving up and just throwing the demos up on Soundcloud or whatever.  I’m really happy with this stuff but I’ve been so frustrated in my inability to finish it, whether it’s making the formal transition from demo to actual recording, in a real studio with real musicians and a real engineer, or even just finishing one (1) goddamned set of lyrics that don’t make me gag.  I don’t think I can afford to bring a full band into the picture, but ideally I’d like to send my finished tracks to a producer I know for a proper mix – I may have to raise some funds for that, but we’ll get there when we get there.  The point is – it’s been three years since I started this thing, and I still like it.  So I’m gonna get it out there.


In the course of getting my workspace set up, I stumbled across some hilarious photos/headshots that must’ve been taken in the late 90s, and MAN.  I have some thoughts.

So there’s a couple things to point out here.

  1. As I’ve probably mentioned here, this album that I’m working on is inspired by a somewhat traumatic re-read of my college and post-college diaries.  And those photos that you see here are, in fact, from that very same time period.  All the neurotic insanity that I was scribbling down on a super-shitty word processor was coming out of the dude in the photos above.  This is hilarious.
  2. I keep joking that it’s only taken me 42 years to finally figure out my look, but it’s absolutely goddamned true.  The doofus in the pictures above had absolutely no idea how to look good.  I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and clothes and outward presentation until very, very recently, and it’s weird to see these photos and barely recognize myself in them.
  3. I’ve spent most of my last few years of therapy sessions talking about this period of my life (1993-1999), because it’s where, for lack of a better term, the most stuff happened to me.  The best stuff, the worst stuff, the most inane stuff, the weirdest stuff, the scariest stuff, the most heartbreaking stuff.   (My life before college was tumultuous, as is everyone’s, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy, and it’s been relatively drama-free since 2000, when I met the woman who would become my wife.)  And it just kills me to think that during this era, I looked like that.

*sigh*


Not much to report on the book front.  I’ve been re-reading the first two books of Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series because I haven’t yet read the third, and even though I like them they get a bit long.  You’d think that I’d be able to re-read these books a bit faster, since I’ve already read them, but instead I’m kinda just putting it off altogether.  It is what it is.


Finally, a few words about Far Cry 5.

I’m around 22 hours into the campaign; I’ve beaten 1 of the 3 sub-bosses, but I’m mostly just screwing around with the world itself and doing everything I can to avoid actually dealing with the story.  This is one of the few times where I’m actually quite grateful that this open world is so stuffed with things to do, because it makes the avoidance of the narrative that much easier to handle.  So while I’m only a third of the way into the campaign, I’ve found dozens of underground bunkers and collectible items and weird side missions, and that shit is great!  So much fun.

But my god, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so compelled to keep playing a game that is so unrelenting in its narrative awfulness.  There’s so many other directions this game could have gone, and it annoys me to no end that they went in this particular direction instead.  To be fair, it definitely has that “over-the-top” Far Cry vibe, but it’s not rooted in anything that is relevant to this moment in time, which is frustrating if only because it has so many relevant things in it.   (There is a side mission that involves you recovering what could only be “the pee tape”, though why it’s in a cult outpost in rural Montana instead of a Russian hard drive in a well-protected safehouse is… well, who knows.)

Whatever; this is the game we’ve got.  Being angry at it because it’s not telling the story I’d like it to tell isn’t fair.  And yet to take it on its own terms is madness.  Nothing about the story makes any sense.  Nothing about this fictionalized Montana, where literally everyone who isn’t a cult member has a stash of heavy weaponry and an underground bunker and yet are wildly impotent in the face of danger, makes any sense.  Any activity that requires talking to a non-player character is frustrating and awful and ridiculous.

AND YET IT’S SO PRETTY AND THE NON-LINEAR STUFF IS SO GOOD.

There are two somewhat spoiler-heavy articles that I’ve read recently that articulate my problems with the game better than I ever could.  And honestly, now that I’ve had the ending spoiled for me, I feel a little better in how I approach the game in the first place.  Anyway, if you’d like to know what I’m dealing with, and you don’t mind INCREDIBLY MAJOR SPOILERS, I heartily encourage you to read the following:

Weekend Recap: Books, Debt, Pause

You ever have one of those weeks where you keep thinking that you have stuff to talk about, but then you start writing it down and none of it seems particularly interesting or important?  That’s where I was last week.  That’s sorta where I still am this week, but the day job is slow at the moment and I need to look busy.  So here we go.


I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to my almost-five-year-old (!) son last week.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and it’s one of the two books that I’d been looking forward to reading to him pretty much since he was born – every once in a while he’ll ask me to read “The Monster At The End Of This Book”, but Grover doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to me.  In any event, we made it through a chapter and a half before he started losing interest, and rather than force it on him, I figure it’s probably best if we put it to the side, and then he can get back to it when he’s ready.


Speaking of books, I’ve been on a tear of late.  The last book I’d mentioned in these pages was Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”.  Since then, I finally finished Zachary Mason’s “Void Star” (interesting premise, though the writing is almost too flowery and obtuse), Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” (which is as magnificent as everyone says, and which I vastly preferred over “The Goldfinch”), and now I’m catching up on some early George Saunders work – “In Persuasion Nation”, which is brilliant, and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”, which is equally brilliant.  I’d never particularly cared for short stories one way or the other – I generally always preferred getting sucked into a very very long novel rather than a short vignette – but what he does with the form is nothing short of revelatory.  And quite frankly, he’s a lot more sci-fi than most people tend to acknowledge – a lot of his stories read like Black Mirror episodes if they were allowed to be absurd, rather than just purely filled with technological dread.


I think I’d mentioned a few weeks back that the wife and I were determined to get back into our respective creative gears this year.  For me, this feels a bit more daunting than it should, because my laptop is running on fumes at this point and buying a new computer is just too goddamned much for me right now, what with credit card debt and the mortgage and car payments and day care and etc.  And yet, if I ever hope to make any money from making music, I need a new computer.  I did end up buying a new input box, but I’m so afraid of it not working that I haven’t yet attempted to hook it up.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.  Back in high school, I was writing music all day; I still have a notebook filled with at least 200+ songs with charts and lyrics and melodies and arrangements and such.  But I never recorded them, beyond sitting in front of a boombox and recording a sketch to show the band.  Eventually I bought a four-track, and that was also just used for sketches (and indeed I never had the proper means to mix them down, and so I ended up sending the mixes through my guitar amp and recording them with a hand-held dictaphone).  And so on and so forth.  The point being, I never needed to have professional equipment at home because there was always a band I could send this stuff to, and if we liked a song well enough to record it we’d just go into a studio and record it properly.  Now, of course, I don’t have a band, and I don’t have the money to pay for a studio (or to hire the musicians necessary to play this stuff), and so if I’m going to release this stuff I need to do it myself.  And so I need a new computer.  Anybody have a spare $2000 they’re not using so I can get an iMac?


If you’re looking for a good time on your mobile phone, you could do a lot worse than The Room: Old Sins.  The story is as obtuse is ever, but that’s hardly the point; this is the best game in the entire series, bar none, and it’s a pleasure to play through from start to finish.


Lastly:  I started playing Monster Hunter World this weekend, like most of the gaming world.  It’s my first foray into the franchise, and my understanding is that it’s the most accessible.  I can’t speak to that; I’m just coming to it as a newbie and hoping it makes sense.  Actually, let me rephrase that – I’m coming to it pretending I’m Geralt from the Witcher franchise, to the point where that’s what my character looks like.  I need to get out of that habit, of course, because the combat in Monster Hunter bears little to no relation to The Witcher, and that’s why I feel like I’m almost about to die quite often.

In any event, I finished the first 3 missions and am now at the point where I can explore without a time limit or without any particular objectives, and I think this is where I can see the game becoming quite awesome.

That being said, the game makes some puzzling design choices; the one that drives me the most insane is that you can’t truly pause the game.  While it’s true that this doesn’t always matter – like when you’re in the starting hub, or if you simply decline to press “A” during a cutscene – it most certainly matters if you’re in the middle of a quest.  My game-playing time is in the evening, after my son goes to bed, and I’m in the basement, two floors below him; if he needs something and my wife isn’t available – or if my dog needs something – or if I need a bathroom break or a snack – I’ve gotta put the controller down and deal with it, and not being able to pause means that meta-Geralt is most likely going to die.  Not being able to pause is a source of needless anxiety and I don’t know how to get around it.  (This is also why I never stuck with the Destiny franchise.)

Further Adventures in Adulting

1. Hey, so, we bought a new car over the weekend.  I feel like I’m finally an Adult.  Yes, we have a child; yes, we bought a house.  But now we bought a new car, from a dealership, by ourselves.  I’m so terrified it’s going to break!  It’s not going to break.  BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?

Anyway, yeah, that happened.  And I know this is a cliche, but still – that new car smell is no joke.  There’s something kinda awesome about that smell.  It… smells like victory.

101-Apocalypse-Now-quotes

2.  Because we bought a new car, I had to take a personal day yesterday and get our parking stickers sorted out, and also deal with some pet/vet stuff.  And in between all that, I finally got a chance to watch Blade Runner 2049.  My short version:  it is a beautifully shot film, and even with its slow pace it’s still more engaging than the original film (which, I’m sad to say, is a film that I respect more than I enjoy).  But it’s also a bit problematic with how it shows women (they are either robot love slaves, ball-busting bitches, or trapped in literal cages), and quite frankly I never need to see Jared Leto in anything ever again.

3.  Speaking of problematic media, we also finally watched the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror last night – the USS Callister episode.  I have a weird uncomfortable relationship with that series, specifically because of Season 1’s “The Entire History of You”, which affected me in an unexpectedly deep and emotionally unsettling way, especially as I was in the process of re-reading my college diaries at the time for an unrelated creative project.  (If you’re familiar with the episode, you might understand why a sudden influx of forgotten memories might be emotionally traumatic.)  In any event, this new episode was quite good – the twist was genuinely unexpected and the ending was, unusually for this series, quite satisfying.  I’m not 100% sure I’m going to watch the remaining episodes, because there’s only so much technological dread I can handle at any given point, but still – it was nice to be pleasantly diverted for a little while.

4. So I finished Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”, and even if it didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an excellent read; he’s a marvelous writer and this is a very smart book.  Now up – a 2nd attempt at reading Zachary Mason’s “Void Star”, which from the book’s description is right up my alley, but in practice is a bit difficult to follow.  I’m kinda just padding for time – what I really want to read is the new Brandon Sanderson volume in the Stormlight Archive, but I feel like I need to re-read the first 2 books and then the mini-story that connects them to this new one, and as much as I like reading big books, knowing that I’ve got at least 2500 pages in front of me before I start reading anything new is a bit daunting.

5.  Game-wise, I’m still in this weird limbo of having this fancy new TV but nothing new to play on it.  I’d been putting Forza 7 through its paces, and that’s a fun game in limited doses – and since the last game I’d played in earnest was probably Forza 3 or 4, it’s kind of a neat deja-vu effect to revisit the same courses in radically improved fidelity.  Likewise, I saw that Forza Horizon 3 got its own Xbox One X Enhanced patch yesterday, and that game is definitely more up my alley.  The graphical enhancements are nothing to sneeze at, either; it looks utterly amazing.  Beyond that, I’m kinda half-heartedly going through my backlog, not feeling particularly attached to anything.  (Indeed, I keep forgetting that I have a ton of shit to play on the Switch.)  The next big AAA release that I have my eyes on is Far Cry 5, which is still a ways off.

That’s what I’ve got, folks.  Hope you’re well.

Turning Anxiety into Anger

1. What a difference a year makes, or, rather, the arbitrary decision that, beginning January 1, things will be different than they were on December 31.  In the grand scheme of things, the Earth still continues to revolve around the Sun, and the solar system continues to revolve around the Milky Way, and we are all just tiny creatures on a tiny ball hurtling through space.  BUT!  I find that I am no longer anxious about the world the way I was last year.  I am, instead, angry.  Pissed off.  Done.  No tolerance for bullshit anymore.  And it would appear that the rest of the country is with me.  I just watched Don Lemon (!) say the word “shithole” on CNN, and imply (without actually saying it) that Trump supporters and apologists should go fuck themselves.

I can’t remember if I offered up my final review of “Fire and Fury” – it wouldn’t differ that much with my earlier impression, that it’s a scathing and trashy read and while it may be impossible to prove that everything quoted in the book actually happened, nothing about it is surprising.  But I do agree with Drew Magary’s analysis:

I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House “concerned” about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.

Trump ascended into power in part because he relied on other people being too nice. It’s fun to rampage through the china shop when the china shop owner is standing over there being like, “SIR, that is not how we do things here!” If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring this asshole down – whether it’s Mueller, or whether it’s Trump himself just blurting out the “n-word” during a State of the Union address, or whatever – but I can feel that something is gonna happen, and soon.  This nonsense has gone on long enough.  I’m sick and tired of being anxious; nonstop anxiety attacks are exhausting and draining and I’m done with it.

2. Well, now that that’s out of the way:  is there a word for the feeling when one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book, and it’s even better than you’d hoped it would be?  All I’ll say is that I’m a little over halfway through Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” and it is kicking all sorts of ass.  It is scratching the same itch that David Mitchell novels do, especially as it has several layers of narratives all nestled within each other, creating a puzzle to be solved within a plot that is forever unfurling.

Hmm.  I thought I’d have more to say – and I probably do – but today’s actually kinda busy and I’ve lost my train of thought.  Happy weekend, everyone.

Fire and Fury, blah blah blah

I’m not so sure I’m gonna bother finishing “Fire and Fury”.  It’s not telling me anything that I didn’t already know; it’s just further confirming that the White House is stacked with dangerously incompetent fools, none of whom actually expected to be there in the first place.  It’s also a pretty trashy read, and Wolff’s writing is pretty terrible.  This is an actual sentence/paragraph from Chapter 5, entitled “Jarvanka”:

“On Friday, February 3, at breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, an epicenter of the swamp, Ivanka Trump, flustered, came down the stairs and entered the dining room, talking loudly on her cell phone…”

There has to be a less ridiculous way of writing that sentence, right?  And he does this ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED PLACE.  There are also a bunch of little typos and errors that may or may not be due to the conversion from page to e-book – who knows how these things work – and that may very well be because the publisher decided to rush this thing out the door.

In any event; it’s not breaking news that our President is a fucking lunatic.  It’s just disconcerting that we now have 400 pages full of receipts.  That being said, I’d like to think that this is what makes him finally collapse.  The Russia story is far more important, but among Trump supporters nobody cares, and until Mueller comes out with what he’s got, it’s all breathless speculation (regardless of how many hundred-threaded tweets Seth Abramson churns out).  On the other hand, Trump being a lying sack of shit who loathes everything about this job and who will backtrack on all of his promises to his supporters?  That might actually carry some weight.


My wife and I have made a concerted effort to be more creative this year; or, rather, to allow ourselves some creative time during the daylight hours on Sunday.  She works from 10-12 in her office; I work from 2-4 in the recording studio.  I took my opportunity to blow the dust off of my MacBook and make sure that my stuff still works… and, um, it doesn’t.  To be fair, my MacBook is nearly 8 years old at this point; it’s amazing the thing still turns on.  But it’s not recognizing my input device, which means I can’t use MIDI, which is a big deal.

Last night we had dinner with my old bass player and his family, and I told him about my issues, and he told me that my MBox 3 is probably no longer supported – which means I can get a new input device for less than $300 and maybe that’ll solve the problem.  But I’m sure that I’m gonna need to drop a couple thousand on a new computer sooner rather than later, which is disconcerting.  I have no problem spending money, as you know, even when I don’t have any money to spend, but… this is a big deal.


To follow up on last week’s post, and as we are in the winter release lull, I’ve been going back through my Xbox One X library and replaying some older titles on my new fancy TV.  I am sad to say that not every title gets the “enhanced” goods, or even benefits from all the new horsepower.

Now, as noted in previous posts, I feel obligated to reiterate that there are a few of these “enhanced for Xbox One X” games that really do look astounding.  Wolfenstein 2Assassin’s Creed Origins and Rise of the Tomb Raider are among the best-looking games I’ve ever played on a Microsoft console, and given that I played them on both new and old hardware the differences are stark and profound.

But there’s other stuff in my library that I haven’t fully put through its paces.  I gave a quick look to both Titanfall 2 and Destiny 2 last night, and they both look quite good as well.  Perhaps not good enough that I’m going to play them again for any significant amount of time, but still.

I’ve also been running a race or two every night in Forza 7, and that game definitely looks great (though, curiously, not as good as Forza Horizon 3 did – the trees and foliage are quite obviously 2D sprites and it can be jarring if you look too closely at them).  That being said, I haven’t spent serious time with the mainline Forza games since maybe 3 or 4, so if nothing else it’s very interesting and revealing to revisit some of the tracks in 7 that I’d already run hundreds of times in those earlier games, but now in glorious 4K HDR; I get deja vu quite a lot.

But anyway, the point of this whole section here is that while some games do look quite stunning on the new hardware, not every game on the Xbox One X looks and performs better than it did on the vanilla X1.

Case in point:  my son has been really into Lego Batman 3 of late, and this in turn reminds me that I very much love the Arkham games.  So I’m sad to report that Batman Arkham Knight, otherwise known as the one with the endless Batmobile sections, looks like shit.  Now, to be fair, Arkham Knight is not an “enhanced for Xbox One X” title, but I was still hoping to see some sort of performance improvement.  Alas, it looks pretty goddamned terrible.  It’s got a stable frame rate, I suppose, but it’s jaggy as all hell – and maybe it’s my TV, but it arguably looks even worse than it did on the original Xbox One.

Another case in point: Recore, which actually is an “enhanced for Xbox One X” game.  I’d given it a cursory 10 minutes when I’d originally downloaded it last summer, and then promptly forgot about it.  I took it for a more sincere spin this weekend, and… well… it’s not necessarily a bad game, but it does feel very archaic in its design – it feels a lot like “Baby’s Very First Open-World Action RPG” in terms of, well, everything – and the graphical improvements aren’t all that noticeable.  I certainly wouldn’t point to it as a technological show-stopper.  But, of course, it’s not necessarily meant to be; it is what it is.  I could see myself spending some more time with it over the new few weeks; it’s pleasant and diverting enough, for the time being.

But also:  Resident Evil 7, another enhanced game, looks like absolute shit.  I’d rented it on PS4 last year and played the first few hours, and even on a vanilla PS4 on a regular TV it looked far better than this enhanced for Xbox One X version on a 4K HDR TV.

Basically:  if the patch to upgrade your “enhanced” game is under 1GB, it’s not gonna be all that noticeable.


I already have a gigantic book backlog, but given that it’s a new year, it’s time for The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2018, and GODDAMN there’s a lot of stuff there that I need to read, like, immediately.  Off the top of my head, I need:

  • “Lost Empress”, by Sergio de la Pava;
  • “Grist Mill Road”, by Christopher J. Yates;
  • “The Afterlives”, by Thomas Pierce;
  • “The Immortalists”, by Chloe Benjamin;
  • “The Infinite Future”, by Tim Wirkus; and
  • “The Sky is Yours”, by Chandler Klang Smith.

And I should also point out that Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” is coming out this week, I think, which is a book I pre-ordered as soon as it was announced.  So what I’m saying is:  I’ve got stuff to do.

The Final Post of 2017

1. Since finishing up my Books of 2017 post, I ended up finishing 3 more:

  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”, which I’ll give a B; it’s a fictional retelling of a true event (i.e., the events leading to the hanging death of Peter Manuel, a brutal serial killer in Glasgow in the 1950s).  Quite absorbing and dark, and also GODDAMN those people can drink.
  • Mohsin Hamid, “Exit West”, which earns an A; a beautiful and melodic love story as seen through the eyes of refugees, and also there are magic doors.
  • Patty Yumi Cottrell, “Sorry To Disrupt the Peace”, which gets a B; I don’t know how to describe this book at all, except it’s a remarkable look at mental illness from the mind of someone who probably doesn’t realize that they are incredibly mentally ill.

And now I’m reading Daryl Gregory’s “Spoonbenders”, which is long enough that it’ll almost certainly end up being my first finished book of 2018, and which can probably best be described as a book version of The Royal Tenenbaums, but about a family of psychics.

2.  Due to a sudden and unexpected influx of Amazon gift cards, I, um, bought a 55″ 4K HDR TV.  It is not the best 4K HDR TV one can buy, and indeed the transaction happened so fast I didn’t even have time to properly make sure I was getting what I actually wanted (I probably should’ve waited to do some actual research), but it was (a) available and (b) cheap and (c) it showed up on Tuesday.  So that happened.  Now I just need a decent sound bar and my gaming room will be complete.

3.  I still don’t know if I’m gonna do a Games of 2017 post.  I’m looking over what I played this year and despite other people saying that this was the best year in games since 2007, there’s only a handful of games that I can say are worth a damn.  Or maybe it’s just me.  I played a lot this year but I don’t know that I enjoyed very much.  I still can’t get into Breath of the Wild, which is probably heretical to admit, but there it is.  If I had to round up a top 5, it’d probably look something like this:

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Gorogoa
  • Super Mario Odyssey

There’s a ton of stuff I didn’t finish, and there’s even more stuff that I never even got to.

4.  Similarly, I don’t think I’m going to do a Music of 2017 post, but for wildly different reasons; I got turned on to a ton of amazing music this year, but I can’t necessarily say I listened to all that many new albums.  My Favorites from the Spotify Discovery playlist is at least 150 songs deep, though.

5.  And I didn’t watch nearly enough TV or film to even bother pretending to make lists for those things.  I think I can safely say that Baby Driver was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years, and the best shows I watched were DarkStranger Things 2Legion and… hmm… I’m forgetting something, I know it.  (I only made it 3 episodes into Twin Peaks.)

This is almost certainly my last post of 2017, and given that I’m restless, I may end up doing a redesign over the next few weeks or so.  In any event, here’s hoping you had a lovely holiday, and I hope you have a much better 2018.  Indeed, I hope we all do.

2017: The Year in Reading

As of today, 12/22/17, I’ve finished 50 books this year.  I’m gonna be honest; a lot of what I read was a bit trashier than usual.  I read a lot of escapist fiction, a lot of genre fiction, the sort of books that you’d buy at an airport before a long flight.  I needed junk food, and I allowed myself to indulge, thoroughly.

And yet, you know what?  When I look at the grades I handed out, I enjoyed pretty much everything.  There were a few exceptions – one book I described as “one of the dumbest books I’ve read in a long, long time” – and there were a few books that I picked up and simply couldn’t get into, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m giving up on them for good or not.

In any event, because most of what I read was short, fast, and dirty, I’m not sure I have enough highlighted Kindle passages to do my “Favorite Sentences of 2017” post.  It is what it is.

I suppose I should arrange this list in tiers.  All lists are presented in the order in which I read them.  You’ll notice some trilogies are staggered; for the most part, and this is weird, the second book usually dragged a bit but was necessary to get up the otherwise excellent finale.  All italicized blurbs are directly from my GoogleDoc; I should probably admit up front that my memory is shit and next year I should write my blurbs in a bit more detail, because I barely recall reading some of these – especially some of the ones I loved.

A+ 

  • Dan Chaon, “Ill Will”
  • Amor Towles, “A Gentleman in Moscow”
  • Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad”
  • John Hodgman, “Vacationland”

These are the four best books I read all year.  “Ill Will” took me by complete surprise and had me riveted from cover to cover; “Gentleman in Moscow” was a complete delight; “Underground Railroad” should be required reading for literally everyone in the USA; and “Vacationland” is the best thing Hodgman’s ever written, which is saying quite a lot.


A

  • Ian McGuire, “The North Water”  – riveting, bleak as fuck, very satisfying conclusion.
  • Ben Winters, “Underground Airlines” – remarkable.
  • George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo” – stunning; only wish I hadn’t raced through the end.
  • Liz Moore, “The Unseen World” – didn’t quite go where i thought it was, but it’s marvelous.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Agents of Dreamland” – i loved this, and only wish it wasn’t so short. would love to see this fleshed out. MORE SIGNALMAN
  • John Crowley, “Little, Big” – ethereal and dreamlike, massive and dense, gorgeous and weightless.

 


A-

  • Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland, “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” – very good. could be a good franchise starter, or not.
  • David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon” – heartbreaking. a story that needs to be told, even if the writing is a bit dry.

 


B+

  • Christopher Boucher, “Golden Delicious” – (started at end of Dec ’16) a wonderfully whimsical hybrid of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Full disclosure – CB is a friend of my wife’s from high school.  But I’d give this book high marks anyway.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, “Borne” – very interesting, didn’t quite live up to expectations but still engrossing
  • Ben Winters, “The Last Policeman #1” – a standard-issue detective story but with a magnificent premise, and very well written.
  • Ben Winters, “World of Trouble (Last Policeman #3)” – a very good finale to a very engrossing series.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Crooked Kingdom” – very satisfying conclusion to 6 of Crows.
  • N.K. Jemisin, “The Stone Sky” – excellent ending to a brilliant trilogy.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Justice (book 1)”
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Mercy (book 3)” – I didn’t write blurbs for each of the three books; this is an excellent trilogy and should be read in one go.
  • Paul La Farge, “The Night Ocean” – beautiful, haunted love story.
  • Michel Faber, “The Crimson Petal and the White” – very long, but very good; ending is very abrupt.
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, “Homesick for Another World” – what a dark, fucked up group of stories.

 


B

  • Federico Axat, “Kill the Next One” – pretty good, twisty pyschological thriller. every time i thought i knew where it was going, it swerved. the possum remains an enigma.  (EDIT: I have no idea what I mean by that.)
  • Anthony Horowitz, “Moriarity” – that’s a pretty good twist at the end, i’ll give it that.
  • John Darnielle, “Universal Harvester” – really interesting premise, marvelous writing; the thread gets lost towards the end, but that’s ok.
  • Andy Partridge, “Complicated Game: Inside the songs of XTC” – very wonky, probably only meant for hard-core XTC nerds.
  • Sarah Pinborough, “Behind Her Eyes” – kind of a trashy novel at first, but it gets better and features a real-deal mindfuck of a twist ending.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Lathe of Heaven” – yeah, it’s a classic.
  • Dan Choan, “Await Your Reply” – covers a lot of the same ground as Ill Will, but still very interesting.
  • Dexter Palmer, “Version Control” – meandered for a bit, but the ending was quite good.
  • Sylvain Neuvel, “Waking Gods (Themis #2)” – very quick read, much like the last one. lots of surprising deaths. fun, if slight.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Six of Crows” – reminds me quite a bit of the Locke Lamorra books.
  • Stephen King, “Mr. Mercedes” – if SK wants to start writing murder mysteries, this isn’t a bad way to start
  • Stephen King, “End of Watch” – an above-average trilogy, with this final installment returning to SK’s supernatural roots… too bad the characters aren’t particularly interesting.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Sword (book 2)”
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “The Short Drop (Gibson Vaughn #1)” – fun, somewhat Jason Bourne-ish.  you can see this as a movie pretty easily.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Cold Harbor (Gibson Vaughn #3)” – a satisfying conclusion from the meandering of book 2
  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”- very absorbing, quasi-true-crime account of a Glasglow serial killer from the 50s.

 


B-

  • Ben Winters, “Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2)” – a step back from #1, but still engaging.
  • Patti Smith, “M Train” – The first few chapters were great… and then they basically repeated themselves for the rest of it.
  • Christopher Fowler, “Bryant and May and the Burning Man” – standard-issue murder mystery.
  • Stephen King, “Finders Keepers” – very loose connection with previous novel; not his best. interesting villain, though.
  • Jac Jemc, “The Grip of It” – a spooky haunted house story that never quite resolves.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaughn #2)” – a step back from #1, but necessary to start the events of book 3.

 


C-

  • Jonathan Lethem, “A Gambler’s Anatomy” – he’s still a great writer, but this was boooooorrrrrrring

 


F

  • Derek Taylor Kent, “Kubrick’s Game” – one of the dumbest books i’ve read in a long, long time.  Dan Brown would throw this out.