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2017 Films in Review

January 1, 2018

2017 turned out to be a year of reckoning for the movie industry. Certain aspects of movies have always been associated with sexism: the casting couch, the male gaze of the camera, the emphasis on sexiness and youth. The movie industry seemed like this morass, where good things could happen, but the system seemed a bit broken. We finally found out how broken. In October, Harvey Weinstein exposed as a monster, exposing himself to hundreds of stars and potential stars, with allegations of sexual assault and rape. Once seen as an immovable object in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein has been toppled and cast aside. That revelation helped trigger an outpouring of other stories, allegations, and accompanying firings including Matt Lauer and Brett Ratner. Maybe the revolution will finally come for Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, whose actions have long been public and known.

I decided to read no white men in 2017, but didn’t set myself any goals for movie watching. The means of production are a little different for movies, and just fewer films directed by women or men of color are made. Despite knowing, and arguing about the lack of quality representation of women in film (see Bechdel test, and the other possible new variations), my fiance Staehli is much better about attempting to reconcile her watching habits with her ethics than I am. That is something I’d like to do better in 2018 is watch ethically.

2017 Breakdown

Overall, 2017 is a year where I found myself watching more films than television, the reverse of 2016. This year, I saw 12 movies in theaters (a standard amount for me). I rewatched 12 films this year, some requisite holiday films, others as comfort films. I saw 11 international films (mostly from Japan or Korea), 7 animated films, and 2 documentaries.

I credit a new-found taste in movies on two developments: the realization that I could rent movies for free from my local library, and using Letterboxd, a movie review website and app. One of the reasons I originally got into Netflix years and years ago was the lure of the queue. In the queue, I had a list of hundreds of movies and TV shows that I was interested in watching that I could re-sort at will. I would get 3 DVDs at a time and burn through them quickly. But as Netflix’s focus changed from DVDs to streaming, with price changes, and TV and books competing for my time, I switched away from DVDs in 2013, reasoning that I could go to my local movie store. Then the two closest to me closed, and my streaming queue got buried under Netflix’s push for its own promotions for its original movies and shows. Letterboxd effectively gave me back a list, reminded me that I am interested in film history, and how films are in conversation with one another, because filmmakers watch other filmmakers. I tried to explore more this year, and expect I will explore more next year too as I use my newfound tool to educate myself better about films.


My favorite films from this year moved me, and are the reason I chase movie stories. I realize that I do still like seeing films in theaters because it does force me to turn off outside influences, that I can watch the movie a little better. However, there were still movies I saw on my couch that kept me riveted for hours.

At the beginning of the year, I found wonderment, joy, and sly comedy in Tampopo, a film nominally about ramen, but also a secret Western, and an exploration of Japanese culture in the early 80s. Staehli and I saw a special SIFF engagement in a lovingly restored 4k print by the Criterion Collection. The plot is loosely about a woman attempting to turn her small ramen shop into a powerhouse, but there are a variety of other bizarre sketch pieces that help make this movie memorable.

The movie that I heard the most about from my friends first was Get Out, which I did manage to see in theaters. The clever, astonishing satire of that film still leaves an imprint, especially the turn at the end, which was one of my favorite “what the fuck” moments of the year. I also felt a bit of shame as I could see small aspects of myself and my politics in the clever excoriation of systemic racism by Jordan Peele.

I felt astonishment, and a small piece of my own personal history click into place when I finished the monumental piece of documentary filmmaking that was OJ: Made in America. My grandmother and Aunt lived in LA for all of the 1990s, and I remember going to visit during the trial, and everyone watching the news day in and day out that year. The amazing ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “June 17, 1994” helped show me that the OJ Bronco chase effectively helped create reality TV as we know it now, but this seven hour documentary puts his whole story into context, especially Los Angeles’ very robust history of racist police tactics. I didn’t understand the history of the place where my aunt and grandmother lived, but now I feel like I understand it so much better.

This year, my friends finally caught onto a strange habit of mine: filling narrative gaps. For films that exist broadly in the background of popular culture, but I haven’t seen, I attempt to bridge what I know into a semblance of a narrative. When my book club discovered that I had not seen Dirty Dancing, we had a movie night to rectify this. They asked me what I thought it was about. I said:

There is a dancing contest that Baby (apparently that is her name) is gonna do with her boyfriend, but she doesn’t know how to dance, so goes to Patrick Swayze, who has to teach her. He is lithe and erotic, so she has feelings for him, but then gets accidentally pregnant (I guess?) and realizes she doesn’t want shitty boyfriend, she wants Patrick Swayze. She gets an abortion right before the big dance competition, gets snubbed by shitty boyfriend, Patrick Swayze calls foul (the infamous Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner! line), she and Patrick Swayze dramatically dance for the sure thrill of dancing (take that competition), and they dance off into the sweaty sunset together.

This is very wrong. But I knew Dirty Dancing was a romantic film, a film about abortion, and featured a dancing contest, and the famous line “No one puts Baby in the corner” (for the longest time, I was never sure who Baby referred to, Patrick Swayze or the girl). It turns out I was wrong on many counts. Dirty Dancing is a fun film, that is yes secretly about abortion, but also class warfare. In terms of today’s films, the men are allowed to express a range of emotions, instead of just being stoic. The music is also A+. My friends later discovered that I haven’t seen many of the classical musicals like The Sound of Music or Les Miserables, so they recorded me espousing what I think these movies are about. I don’t know what they plan to do with these videos.

Speaking of dancing, another surprising movie for me this year was Magic Mike XXL. Staehli had a viewing of this for her birthday, and that film was a movie filled with joy, male affirmation, and an amazing end sequence like none other I’ve ever seen. This movie made me want to get a pair of sweats because Channing Tatum wore them so well. I think this movie would benefit from re-watching as well on my part. Another discovery of mine this year is the excellent online magazine of film writing, Bright Wall/Dark Room. They published a great FAQ about the film.

Another film that was just plain fun to watch over the summer was The BoxtrollsI like Laika’s films, and admire the dedication it takes to make claymation films. The Boxtrolls is easily my favorite of their films, an detailed and odd film that nevertheless is funny, has heart, good villains, and a whimsical story that is fantastical and grounded both. I know some people may not favor this film, but boy did I ever connect with it, and like, and the sheer originality.

The latter part of my summer movie watching got more serious. I finally saw Princess Mononoke. This is Staehli’s (and a number of other friends) favorite Miyazaki film. I knew pretty much nothing going into this film, and was transfixed by story with many heroes and villains. It has many of the same themes of environmentalism that runs through his work, but has no easy villain. Instead it asks thorny questions about the price of modernity and human civilization, the rural way of life, acceptance of others, and mystery in the world. It’s both a very controlled film, and a somewhat messy film, intentionally so. I was really surprised by this one, and made me reflect on how I think about Miyazaki’s films as being lighthearted, when in reality, most are quite serious.

I finally committed to seeing a film that I have been meaning to watch since I was in college: The Battle of the AlgiersI listen to The Next Picture Show podcast, a movie podcast run by former A.V. Club movie reviewers that left to start the wonderful film site The Dissolve, which went under in 2015. All four live in Chicago and started a podcast to keep up. They pair older films with current releases to talk about how the films are in conversation. They paired this film with Detroit, and gave me an excuse to finally watch Battle of the Algiers. It’s a tremendous film about rebellion and revolution, exploring what people are willing and able to do in the name of what they think is right. This film tracks the Algerian independence movement against French colonizers in the 1950s, a good decade before France would let Algeria rule independently. It’s a difficult film, but riveting, with propulsive music, and totally different than nearly any film I’d seen this year at all.

A movie that I didn’t necessarily like, but certainly made me think was Bullets Over Broadway, and god damn Woody Allen. I think this is the film where Woody Allen finally froze. Bullets Over Broadway is a star-studded comedy set in 1920s Broadway. John Cusack is a playwright trying to produce an important piece of art, but keeps questioning how talented he actually is. The bodyguard for a mob boss’s moll, starring in the play, has very constructive and salient advice for how to make the play better. There are many shenanigans, but thematically Allen is interested in trying to explore what makes a person (although for him specifically, a man) an artist, how separate is art from the artist, and why is art satisfying for us? But the neuroses never settle, I think because Allen doesn’t know, he never answers the question for himself. Instead, he has become paralyzed with indecision about the matter, he can only track the rhythms and patterns of becoming an artist and becoming frustrated with the process, he can’t make up his mind, and thus his work has stagnated. I think Woody Allen has a sharp sense of humor, and wants to tackle big themes, but he’s also a rampant sexual abuser with a penchant for young girls, and monomaniacal.

The fall featured a few big sci-fi movies, but the one that I felt the most attached to immediately was Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. I had only ever seen the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner, and to prepare for Blade Runner 2049, Staehli showed me the Final Cut of Blade Runner. They cleaned up the film visually, brightening the picture, which to me, makes the film less dreamy. Because of the worse film stock in The Director’s Cut, the background is blurrier, hazier. As a result, I remembered Blade Runner as being dreamy and moody as a callback to classic noir films, while being a detective story about tracking down replicants. In the final cut of the film, when everything is more precise, the plot snaps back to the foreground, and the film seems less moody and more of a straightforward mystery. It’s an excellent film, but I found it lacking just a little of the ambiguity that I remembered in my first viewing.

However, those memories stuck with me for Blade Runner 2049, which I thought was a great update and exploration. I liked Villeneuve’s interpretation of the Blade Runner universe, I liked the world building, the plotting, and I totally bought K’s journey hook, line, and sinker. I think the film has some really interesting things to say about originality, creating memorable experiences, the beauty of ephemerality, and how we remember and experience the world, and choose to make meaning out of it and our experiences in the world. Both Staehli and I were blown away, and walked out of the street a little shaken, trying to comprehend what we’d just seen, and spent the next hour talking about this film. I think a big screen is definitely the way to see this film. The score is very sumptuous too.

I also made time for smaller movies this fall. Swiss Army Man is a weird little film. You may have heard of it as the “Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse” movie, which is both not wrong, but not entirely right. Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse doesn’t just fart, but also pumps water, finds humanity, and eventually talks. One of cinema’s pre-eminent weirdos Paul Dano tries to teach him about life beyond the particular stretch of wilderness where they find themselves stranded. The movie really commits to its particular strain of weirdness, and carries it through to the end. For a cinematic experience unlike any other, see this film.

I tried to make room for recommendations in films when I can, and someone recommended Spielberg to me. I watched this long, long documentary about the works of Steven Spielberg on the bus ride back from Portland. I came away with a much better understanding of Spielberg as an artist, what he attempts to do, and a better understanding of his transformation. Some movies make more sense and become more personal (The Color Purple, Munich), others are still just strange choices (what is the deal with The Terminal? Why was that movie made?). I would really recommend this movie to someone who wants to know more beyond the common idea that Spielberg is just a sentimental filmmaker. I think the documentary could have dug in more to A.I., but it’s already more than 3 hours long, so I understand that some edits were necessary.

I watched a lot of films on my holiday vacations, but two really hit home with me. Columbus is a film I initially wanted to see at SIFF, but missed out on. I’m sad I didn’t get to see this on the big screen, but pleased that Hulu is carrying in. It’s a great little film set in Columbus, Indiana, an unexpected mecca for modernist architecture. The film stars Haley Lu Richardson as a young high school graduate taking care of her mom. She meets Jin (played by John Cho, who I’ve loved since Harold and Kumar), the son of a famous architecture professor who collapsed and is now in the hospital with a coma. The film explores the nature of devotion, responsibility, and family, as well as place. This a great, quiet film.

The other film was Lady BirdLady Bird wasn’t initially on my radar until it was. I saw it in theaters with Britney and Matt, and was really moved. This is a great film about growing up and high school. I remember the subtle class distinctions, friends finding out you lived in not the greatest part of town, spending time in cafes and diners and other kid friendly places, and having to make do. I think this film is a great character study, and while our protagonist may not have a full arc as a character, her mom definitely does. This film is filled with great acting and great choices. Greta Gerwig was a revelation in Frances Ha, and this movie illustrates she has a ton of potential.


Of course, I saw more movies than that this year. Here are all the others, with short notes.

Hidden Figures, a pretty good movie. Very straight forward but representation matters, and this movie hopefully inspires many more just like it.

Ghost in the Shell, Saw this on the big screen. Reminded me a little of Blade Runner, with a very moody middle. Less obviously philosophical than I was expecting, but very good.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, watched this at home to help celebrate punching Nazis in the face.

The Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling plays smarmy, and Russell Crowe is, well, sort of a nice guy. This was totally ridiculous and a pleasant find on HBO.

The Little Hours, Aubrey Plaza nun-comedy. We saw at SIFF, and ran into my former boss. There was a Q&A with Plaza and the director, and even a party afterward at the Seattle Art Museum. Hilarious and light.

The Handmaiden, A re-watch. Still slippery on re-watching but quicker than I remember. Still a visually lush and moving film.

Napping Princess, an anime film Staehli and I saw at SIFF that I wound up liking more than she did. The visuals were lush, the movie was cute, and I thought the integration between the real world and the fantasy world was clever. The ending is a bit of a mess though.

The Lego Batman Movie was full of surprises, including the surprising sentimentality that exists at the heart of all good Batman stories. This movie joyfully incorporates all of the Batman canon, and steers into the heart of Batman: his relationships with others. I was not expecting to feel feelings at the end of this.

Legally Blonde, Staehli has long championed this film, and we did a Reese Witherspoon double feature with this and wild. Legally Blonde is essentially a sort of mock romantic comedy with an element of a Fairy Tale, but again, representation matters, and this was fun.

Wild, I was a big fan of the book by Cheryl Strayed, but there’s so much that’s internal in the book with Cheryl reflecting back on different parts of her life on the Pacific Crest Trail that the movie tried to put together but it felt a little distant. The middle was the best part, but the beginning and the ending needed more meat to help us care.

Moana, still great music, great animation, great Disney movie.

Ghost, this was way worse than I remembered. We watched this after Dirty Dancing, and man Whoopi Goldberg is the only redeeming part of this movie, and she is great.

The Duke of Burgundy, I was prepared to love this movie. I heard it was a great little secret for film lovers. But man was this film a little too weird for me. It’s nominally about a lesbian BDSM relationship and the struggles of meeting your lover in the middle, but the world is so segregated, it seems like it’s just this weird community of lesbian BDSM couples in the French countryside. I could have really done more with the underpinning of that story, which I think is an important one!, but in the real world.

Oh Hello, on Broadway, I do like John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, but was hesitant to watch this. My friend Josh recommended it, talking about how he watched it three times over the past few months. I gave it a shot, and wound up watching it twice in quick succession. The clever send-ups of Broadway, the specificness of the jokes, it’s catnip for a certain kind of comedy fan.

Jupiter Ascending, this was surprisingly sloppy. Just on a shot composition and story-wise, this was incredibly sloppy in a way that I didn’t expect from the Wachowski’s.

Pacific Rim, still very much Pacific Rim, and still a big dumb monster movie.

The Dark Tower, I think this is the perfect movie for a kid-friendly PG-13 rating. Really made me interested in the Dark Tower series widely. Also, Idris Elba is a pretty good movie dad between this and Pacific Rim.

It Follows, Beautiful cinematography, atmospheric, and well realized horror film. The script doesn’t have a ton of development between the characters in terms of dialogue, but the movie instead leaves the characterization up to the actors and actions they make.

The Host, darker, goofier, and more trenchant satire than I was led to believe. A great monster movie.

Logan Lucky, I didn’t realize how much I missed great caper films until I saw Logan Lucky. Funny, with stakes and great plotting, this was a ton of fun, and I am sad that it didn’t make more money. Soderberg is missed.

Shin Godzilla, Staehli owns the blu-ray version of this movie now. I do think this lost something on the small screen. Something about the big screen helped emphasize Godzilla’s size, grandeur, and menace. Still excellently plotted and fun though.

Julie and Julia, I discovered the Youtube channel Bingeing with Babish early in the year, where Andrew Rea attempts to cook food that appears in television and movies. I made his, that is to say Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon one evening. Staehli brought some to work, and her co-workers were amazed. One of her co-workers lent her this movie, which is the best film adaptation we have of Julia Child’s amazing life. Again, the Julia part of this movie is far superior to the Julie part. I’m glad Amy Adams is getting better work.

Waitress, I started playing Destiny 2, which features the great voice talents of beloved nerd king Nathan Fillion. It turns out that Nathan Fillion has only been in a handful of movies, including this one (which was later turned into a successful Broadway musical). A lot of odd ducks pop up in this one, and it has a tragic backstory about the writer/director. However, it is a staunchly feminist film, and features a great performance by Keri Russel.

The Thing, I’ve been hearing all the good things about John Carpenter’s The Thing for years, the supposed better adaptation to The Thing from Another World (which I saw in college for a film class), but man do I just not really care for John Carpenter films. I find the plotting mundane, the themes basic, and the music dizzy. He just doesn’t do it for me.

John Wick, I had heard great things about John Wick as well, about it being a great modern American action film, and those things were right. Keanu Reeves sells action very well, and the stakes never go too big for this one, they keep it just small enough that it makes sense, and the action scenes are phenomenal.

Thor: Ragnarok, Staehli and I really liked What We Do in the Shadows, and were excited to hear the director for that film, Taika Watiti, was slated to direct the next Thor film. Boy were we ever rewarded. Thor: Ragnarok is silly and great, though the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as it could be, because Marvel gotta Marvel.

Treasure Planet, for some reason, I had heard that Treasure Planet was an inferior Disney animation film, but it’s actually quite a solid take on the Treasure Island myth, with good animation, solid voice acting, and actually quite a compelling villain. I liked it a lot.

Thunderball, I think of Thanksgiving as James Bond season, I think because TNT or TBS used to run the James Bond movies non-stop during November during some formative years. I went to visit Peter and Kate for Thanksgiving, and finally filled in this missing piece of Bond films. This one is water focused, and features the famous man-eating sharks, and some clever derring-do with a boat.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, I hadn’t necessarily been sold on the third variation of Spiderman. Tobey Maguire was missing the scientific acumen that made Spiderman worthwhile, and Andrew Garfield wasn’t quite nerdy enough. Tom Hooper though seems to get him right (in part because he really does look the age, and we don’t have to go through the whole origin story AGAIN). This was pretty satisfying, and they took the Vulture thing seriously, which I really appreciated. Michael Keaton was a much more satisfying Birdman here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Staehli’s folks DVRed a marathon of the Harry Potter films, and threw the first one on. I remember hating this when I saw it in theaters as a kid, but looking back, it’s not terrible. There are some missing pieces that would have made more sense (a better look at Harry’s life prior to Hogwarts), but it was not the Crime Against Cinema that I remember it as a teenager. I still think it spends too long on Quidditch, but more entertaining than I remember.

The Muppet Christmas Carol, we threw this on while decorating the Christmas tree. I love the Muppets sense of humor, and they treat the Christmas Carol story with an appropriate mixture of fun but also seriousness of the task of changing a man’s perspective on his life. An excellent Christmas film.

Okja, after seeing The Host earlier this year, Staehli and I were interested in seeing Okja as well. This was a weird film, more like a screed against big agribusiness with a horse-and-his-owner style relationship at the center, and some downright bizarre performances here, especially whatever the fuck Jake Gyllenhaal is up to in this movie. This movie did make me feel bad about eating meat.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, This is a movie that I think will improve with re-watching. Already it is a good solid Star Wars film that opens up the universe (or rights the direction it was going?) with good visuals and a sense of direction. I should re-watch this in theaters.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, I remember seeing the short film Rare Exports way back when, but never got around to seeing the full-length film it inspired. A tight and tense story, but never quite verging into horror, this film hands down some reckoning about the meaning of Christmas.

Singing in the Rain, like I said earlier, I haven’t seen many of the classic musicals, but did manage to get to this one this year. I saw it while cat-sitting at Lucinda’s apartment. It was quite good, although different than expected. I recognized the Carrie Fisher in a young Debbie Reynolds, and admire the enormous amount of work that went into this film. It was funny too.

Gremlins, Staehli had never seen this classic, and apparently I didn’t remember anything beyond the first 30 minutes. This weird little horror film is zany, irreverent, and I think was among the first of non-Christmassy Christmas movies to debut. The lead is totally flat, which is okay, the puppets really carry the day here.

Tangerine, when looking up non-Christmassy Christmas movies, Tangerine was one that came up. Not enough Christmas in it to make it an annual option, but still a great film about trans sex-workers in LA that takes them seriously, and doesn’t really dig into them fighting with their identity, but instead has them talking about work and relationships, which was great. Also, it was filmed entirely on iPhones.

Krampus, this was our Christmas film this year. Very much a horror film, and if there hadn’t been initial bullying, none of this would have happened. It felt more prescient in 2016, right after the election, not quite as prescient in 2017, after a year of Trump.

The Great Muppet Caper, it turns out that I had never seen this Muppet film. It takes place in London, is about a series of jewel heists, has Charles Grodin, and some solid jokes. I especially loved the bit with Miss Piggy sneaking into the mansion and idle dinner conversation of John Cleese and his wife.

La La Land, while Staehli was gone at work, I tried to watch films that she may not want to see. She was adamant about not wanting to see La La Land, so I gave it a shot. The music is stupidly catchy, and I still have the Oscar winning song stuck in my head a week later. This wasn’t as problematic as some folks made it seem. I felt like the downbeat ending really did work for this.


That’s it, that was my year in movies. Having some more focus, with a list on Letterboxd, I think, will help make my year have more focus, and be more intentional with my film watching.


2017 Year in Books

December 29, 2017

This year I made a resolution for my year in reading: no more white guys. After the election of Trump to the presidency, I thought I ought to spend a year reading and listening to other voices instead of white men, especially when most of the novels I loved from 2016 were by women and men of color. White men kept letting me down. Within the broader goal of no white men, I set smaller goals for myself: create space to read the books and authors I had always meant to read like Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Agatha Christie and Haruki Murakami. They represented well-meaning forays into diversity, but I had yet to follow through on the aspirations of 18-year old me, which saved several copies of Jane Eyre, Emma, and Wuthering Heights.

I started my year by physically re-arranging my bookshelves, putting all the authors I couldn’t read on one bookshelf, and placing everything eligible right at eye height. My (now) fiancé Staehli said I should peruse her bookshelf if I ran out of ideas, as she quickly discovered she had very few white men on her own bookshelf. I outlined some initial books from 2016 that I was excited to read, and began my year of reading.

Reflecting now at the end of the year, I can say I read some of the books I meant to read. But my literary ambitions kept wandering, and many of the big books I was hoping to read to in fact stayed unread. Instead, I plowed through some of to-read list in the library, then consolidated my multiple to-read lists into a long-unused Goodreads profile in May, re-discovering books I had meant to read, and adding even more books. As I read, I discovered new authors, and dove deeper into the back catalog of authors I enjoyed, something that I hadn’t actually done in years, but reflected how I used to read as a young sci-fi and fantasy fan, voraciously gobbling up an authors oeuvre before moving on to their peers or influences. As I began catching up with to-reads, and contemplating my budget, I decided to stop my Indiespensable subscription from Powells, not just because of the expense but because I kept getting white guys I couldn’t read, and after spending some more time with books, I found the selections had a similar feel, incisive psychological portraits, often by debut authors, that was refreshing at first, but now felt rote. I wanted more experimentation, I wanted different voices.

The first book I read in 2017 turned out to be an Indiespensible release, and an author whose back catalog I’d already gobbled up: Moonglow, by Michael Chabon. I had a Chabon binge in 2010, but wound up not liking his Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Final Solution, and only moderately liked his swashbuckling novella Gentlemen of the Road. I avoided his regular releases until 2015 when I grabbed Telegraph Avenue out of a free little library. I wound up falling in love again, and was excited for this. I counted Chabon as an eligible author because of his Jewish heritage. I felt like the rise of anti-Semitism in 2016, which only intensified in 2017, definitely warranted the inclusion of Jewish voices in my reading. However, reviewing my own history, I’ve often read a variety of Jewish literature, so I didn’t want to give in to the familiar so much. Chabon’s fictional memoir about the relationship between a man and his grandfather stayed with me this year. The grandfather was obsessed with going to the moon, and spent WWII hunting down Nazi scientist Werner Von Braun, and later dealt with his wife’s mental instability, and loneliness later in life. This novel stayed with me this year because of it’s complicated exploration of masculinity, mental health, family history, and the nature of evil. I was reminded of the time I spent with my own actively dying relatives and hearing their stories, reading their histories in year books and other formal documents in all their sadness and their joy. Despite these heavy themes, Chabon explores them all with warmth, humor, and a necessary humanity. I’ve found myself reflecting on this book a lot during the past year.

LGBTQ Voices

My second book of the year, Blackmail, My Love, by Katie Gilmartin sent me searching for other similar books over the course of the year. This slim detective novel is set in San Francisco in the early 1950s, and is meticulously researched. Our crossdressing detective gumshoe tracks her missing brother through the gay underground. As she visits suspects and witnesses, Gilmartin recreates the many different ways the LGBTQ community coped with not being able to come out publicly. This book is riveting, sexy, and engrossing. I’ve recommended it a ton all year, and it has stayed a favorite of mine throughout the year.

When I returned Blackmail, My Love, the library’s system thought I might be interested in Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante, by Monica Nolan. My book club selected out of my offerings of pulpy fiction, so we read this over the summer, and it was a grand old time. A retro-pulp, and technically third in a loose series, Nolan writes the story of Maxie, a lazy broad in a women’s-only apartment complex who struggles to find purpose and a real career. Nolan was inspired by the real dime store novels of the 50’s and 60’s that featured racy lesbian exploits that many women read and subsequently discovered their own predilections. This book is loose, funny, and fun to read. You can freely borrow it from my shelf.

Initially, I grabbed The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson because it was short, but I took a long-time to read this French-translated novel if only because the language was so sumptuous. During the long, cloudless summer in Seattle, this novel came in like a storm. Nominally a story of a romance during the Napoleonic wars between a French soldier and a cross-dressing bisexual casino attendant in Venice, the narrative crosses decades, briefly becomes epistolary, features magical realism, and a whirlwind romance. I loved this book.

While selecting options for my book club, I realized that when I suggested books, I didn’t always follow-up on also-rans. For my pulpy options, I chose to try to read my other options. Two of the also-rans became my favorite books of the year. Featuring a cross-dressing, bisexual, bi-racial woman protagonist, Vermilion, by Molly Tanzer was the pulpiest book I actually offered. Set in a world where ghosts, psychopomps (basically ghost busters), dragons, jackalopes, and talking bears are real and plentiful, our hero must travel from the comfort of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1890s to the Rocky Mountains to investigate disappearing Chinese men. The plot moves, and has delightful twists, turns, and plays out like a good, if somewhat madcap, Western.

Different from the magical or mysterious LGBTQ novels I read this year, Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta was instead a very moving, somber, realist look at growing up as an LGBTQ woman in rural/southern Nigeria. All of the other Nigerian fiction I’ve read takes place in modern Nigeria, in and around Lagos, with brief sojourns to the country. Getting a different picture of the country reminded me how someone might get a similar view that America is basically New York City if they only read from the New York literary set. Nigeria is a deeply religious county, so this book deals not just with a coming out story, but also a religious story, as Ijeoma struggles with her faith, her feelings about a civil war, and her own sexuality as she attempts to understand her own self. I read parts of this book, and also listened to parts as part of an audio book because I had some issues staying engaged with the book. I recommend both, but the audiobook helped me get hooked. The book is read in a Nigerian accent, which I think really emphasizes the correct pronunciation of the names, but also brought a real element of humor and liveliness that I hadn’t necessarily caught in the book before. The narrator helped me appreciate the many dimensions of Ijeoma, and propel me through the rest of the book. It’s a bit somber, and confounded my expectations, but was probably the book that helped challenge my pre-conceptions the most this year.

Other Favorites

It’s at this point that I must admit that late in the year, I realized that while I wasn’t reading white men, I wasn’t reading that many authors of color either. Most of my list was predominantly white women. These white women came from many different backgrounds, but ultimately were still white women. I didn’t read that many men this year. The one big standout for me, as different and challenging as Under the Udala Trees was A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. James writes about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, and the fallout from that in Jamaica. Told from dozens of points of view, written mostly in Jamaican patois, and featuring multiple deceased ghost narrators, this book is a fascinating look at Jamaica’s transformation over a few decades. This book was challenging, in part because once you get into a character, their narrative skips over to another character or a few years forward. Some conflicts aren’t brought to a head, but instead occur in skipped time as James jumps a few years into the future. However, this book was invaluable in helping me question my own assumptions. I had always though of Jamaica as the most successful of Caribbean countries, seemingly stable and successful where the others were not. This book proved to me that I didn’t know really anything about Jamaica at all, and served as a valuable lesson in interrogating cultures. This book is ambitious both formally, but also in the scope of the story it is trying to tell that no other book I read this year attempted.

Two other favorites from this year were both clever, moving science fiction novels: Version Control, by Dexter Palmer and Radiance, by Catherynne Valente. Version Control was the only book I purposefully read for this year’s Tournament of Books. It’s nominally a science fiction novel about time travel, but I think it really explores all the little ways that people already time travel, like getting blackout drunk, or how you wake up and suddenly it’s the end of the summer and you wonder what happened to all of the days. It’s about existing technology and the potential future of that technology if used for evil. It’s about the choices that we make, and why we choose to make them. My friend Aaron had some issues with this book, finding Palmer a little too-distancing, but I found the book thoughtful and interesting.

Radiance is another book that has just stayed with me this year, with its inventiveness and emotional clarity. Valente is formally playful with the book’s structure, composing it almost as a screenplay but the structure also ties back to the central theme of grief and how people deal with grief. Valente calls this book deco-punk, which I think works. Set in a retro-future, the one where everyone thought we could just visit Mars and it would be different but basically habitable, we encounter a kaleidoscope galaxy of possibility. Yet the Edison company still wields its ownership of sound and color patents with an iron fist, all the movies are still silent black and white pictures. The novel is ostensibly presented as a screen play, and different sections of the book skip around from genre to genre as the in-book authors attempt to find a way to track how the mysterious disappearance of its central character came to be. Scattered among everything are gossip columns, commercial breaks, and other errata to help fill out the world. Valente fills out her world admirably, cleverly, weaving in horror of Lovecraftian and Edgar Allen Poe types. I really loved this book, and will probably re-read it.

Connie Willis

Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favorite books last year, and is now an author that I can talk to my friends about and with, as many of us have read a few of her books. Staehli had read The Doomsday Book, which I bought her for Christmas a few years ago, having very little idea who even Connie Willis was. This year, I read three books of hers: Crosstalk, The Doomsday Book, and A Lot Like Christmas. Staehli and I even went with our friend Maggie to see Willis speak in June. Connie Willis is like the cool, badass grandma you wish you had. She read a story about going to see the last eclipse that occurred in America, in Montana in the 1970s. She convinced me to take time off to hitch a ride with my friend Jake to Oregon to see the eclipse with his family. Let me tell you, it was totally worth it, and not like anything else I’ve even seen. In fact, the changing half-light of the eclipse may have been more surreal to me than the eclipse itself.

The Doomsday Book was my favorite out of three of these books. It is Willis’ first book about time travel, introducing her conception of time travel, which would later play out in To Say Nothing of the Dog and a few other novels. Willis is excellent at identifying the ways in which human pettiness, bureaucracy, and just general misfortune throw a wrench in the best laid plans. When Kivrin winds up stuck in 13th century England, the researchers at Oxford must attempt to rescue her and battle an infectious plague as well. There are some real punches to the gut in this novel, and it earns all of them.

Cross Talk, on the other hand, takes place in modern times and deals with being able to hear people’s thoughts. Cross Talk is very much more a romantic comedy with will-they/won’t-they tension, all with Willis’s penchant for intricate plots. Compared to the overall drama of The Doomsday Book, Cross Talk felt more effervescent and light. Hearing Willis speak about her writing, it seems like she prefers to alternate between being very cruel to her characters, or being very kind. The lovers in Cross Talk do have some unpleasant things happen to them, but wind up very well in the end with a happy ending. Willis is unabashedly a fan of happy endings, and a fan of Christmas, so A Lot Like Christmas reads very sweetly, with many different stories that wind their way to the meaning of Christmas. I’m not particularly religious, and so when Willis dives into the practical parts of going to church in some of her stories, rather than the spiritual parts, it seems nearly exotic. There’s a nursery! A nave! Some sort of clerical office! It reminds me that churches aren’t just a house of worship, but community centers as well. The story with aliens and choirs was probably my favorite.

Naomi Novik

The second best represented author on my list is someone I picked up from Staehli, Naomi Novik, who wrote the Temeraire series. Staehli has been trying to get someone, anyone to read this series, and the pitch seemed a bit difficult: Napoleonic Wars but with dragons. Initially, I expected this to read like fantasy, but instead it reads much more like historical fiction, but with dragons. There’s not necessarily magic, dragons are treated like beasts of burdens similar to horses or cows. They can talk, have varying personalities and intelligences, and are treated differently from culture to culture. I’ve made it through His Majesty’s Dragon and Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik so far. There are eight books in the series, and it just ended in 2015. This has been excellent comforting end-of-the-year reading that is just a good old-fashioned buddy adventure story. I’ve been very pleased so far.

Graphic Novels

Monstress, by Majorie Liu 
Monstress was the first graphic novel I read this year, and my favorite. Set in a magical world, there are some echoes of the wars in Saga, but set against a different backdrop, with witches. There is a distinct Japanese influence here that I really enjoy. The art is detailed and impeccable. Very recommended.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, by Sonnie Liew 
This was a good concept that I didn’t enjoy as much in execution. Theoretically, this book is about the life of a fictional artist over time, and Liew draws in many different styles to illustrate Charlie’s growth as an artist. Really, the book is about the history of Singapore, as told by Charlie, and how it came to be. I was expecting something more autobiographical, but once I came to understand the book on its own terms, I really appreciated getting to know the history of Singapore. However Charlie’s own arc seemed to stagnate a little, although this may reflect the history of Singapore that I myself just didn’t get.

Rolling Blackouts, by Sarah Glidden
The Seattle Globalist is a training ground for young journalists of color. It was sponsored by UW, but as of 2017 now is entirely crowd and grant funded. This graphic novel operates as an origin story, as Glidden documents the process these founding journalists take as they wish to bring other stories from the Middle East into light. Glidden wrestles with the journalistic ethics of the various situations, realizing what a difficult position these journalists can operate in. It’s a revelatory “how-the-sausage-gets-made” type of book that I really enjoyed.

Imagine Wanting Only This, by Kristen Radtke
I liked this book better in retrospect. I don’t remember what I thought it was about, maybe a love story? But Radtke’s debut graphic novel is a meditation about grief, travel, and navigating life. It’s not necessarily sequential, but almost more of a mood piece, as Radtke’s interest in urban decay documentation intertwines with her own processing of grieving over relationships, family members, and “what-could-have-been” situations.

Faith: Hollywood and Vine, by Jody Houser 
This light interpretation of celebrity superheroes is fluffy, warm, and does feature a body-positive look at super heroes. But It was a little too light for my taste.

The Girl Genius Graphic Novels, by Kaya and Phil Foglio
Looking back on my year, there is a big chunk during the spring, where I can see my anxiety. The reading slows down, and what reading that does occur was mostly comfort reading. The constant barrage of the 2017 news cycle, especially during the beginning of the year when I was still struggling to adapt to this new reality, caused a general low-level anxiety. I also had somewhat significant job struggles for a big chunk of the year, so my anxiety disorder developed a new fascinating wrinkle where I developed insomnia for about two months on specific nights of the week. To try to calm myself, I re-read all of the Girl Genius graphic novels, figuring that since Kaya and Phil co-wrote them, it was fair game, because they were technically written by a woman. I still adore these graphic novels, and appreciate both the pacing and the attention to detail that keep these consistent and fun. We’re now FINALLY getting to places mentioned in the first few books.

Food Writing

Food writing has always been an interest of mine, ever since my friend Peter introduced me to Anthony Bourdain in college. I still have a well-thumbed copy of Kitchen Confidential, and fond memories of being sleep deprived while traveling for the holidays, reading the first page of his second book, laughing hysterically, and passing out on the plane. I followed Bethany Jean Clement from The Stranger to The Seattle Times, and this year some of my favorite reading was food writing.

For my book club, we read Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson. This is a non-fiction exploration of the history of common kitchen implements, although Wilson goes much more basic than I expected. Obviously there is the fork, but also the stove, the pot, the refrigerator. The basic considerations of how people eat, and social change radically that transformed our concept of cooking over a few decades is fascinating. Wilson is British, so this does come from a British point of view, but this book is littered with interesting tidbits and history.

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler was a turning point book. As my Aunt Julia said, it was pretty straight forward: a post-college grad woman moves to New York City, gets a job as a hostess in a restaurant, and gets swept up in the food service life, with late nights, questionable food romance decisions and more. But while the narrative itself was not necessarily the most riveting, what moved me was other people’s reactions to this book. I started using Good Reads finally, and people on there were eviscerating this book, calling the narrator a privileged white girl, how she should just buck up and deal with stuff, etc. And as I read, I realized that if our main character were a man, she wouldn’t face half of the same criticisms. I saw the layers of expectations built up around her. Reading this book made me go back and look at all the other books I had read this year, and I was able to point out to myself the many different sexist expectations that the straight women characters had piled upon them by men. It was different for the LGBTQ characters, who dealt with different problems, but Danler helped open my eyes by taking a genre I was familiar with and give it a different point of view. Everything I read after this book felt different.

Cork Dork, by Bianca Bosker is a late entry favorite. I read this book on my way down to Portland for thanksgiving and was transfixed. I enjoy wine, and I have dabbled with different tastings. I know a decent amount of what I like. I’ve seen Somm and Red Obsession, and a few other wine movies. But Bosker brought it all to life for me in Cork Dork. If you like food, or even wine, I recommend this book to you. Bosker, the Tech editor for Huffington Post, discovers wine freaks on her normal beat of obsessives, and then quits her job to attempt to pass the Certified Sommelier’s test in 1-year to 18 months. Along the way, she learns the NY wine scene, manages to bargain her way into various high-end events, and helps her readers about what she discovers. I really loved this book, and would like to own it and press it into the hands of my friends.

Nonfiction and Memoir

Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit
Solnit is best known these days for her essay that coined the term “mansplaining,” and a wide variety of other cultural or feminist essays. Before that however, she wrote this book about walking. As my friends know, I love to walk, and while I bought a bike this year, I still love to walk. Solnit explores the history of walking in literature, but also documenting the purpose of previous long walks, like pilgrimages, or human migration, and how walking has begun to take on different socio-political meanings over time. I expected to devour this book, but it was much more academic and slow-going.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson 
When I started my year, I told myself that the only exception I would make for my year of reading men was if my book club chose a book by a white man. Surprisingly, it only happened once, in the fall. Johnson explores the somewhat famous cholera outbreak in London. I had learned an apocryphal tale about the incident, but Johnson really does explore the various systems that contributed to the outbreak, the doctor who mapped it and helped eventually prove germ theory, and how modern industries have learned (or not learned) from the example. Even if this book wasn’t especially long, I felt like it got a bit repetitive in the middle, and could have used some editing.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West
I don’t tend to read many memoirs, although I tend to greatly enjoy the ones that I do read. G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque was a favorite of mine from two years ago, and Lindy West’s debut memoir had a similar effect on me. I started reading Lindy when she wrote for The Stranger way back when, and I remember her moving to LA, and then becoming one of these sort of omnipresent writers for a variety of publications. Her memoir of her youth, coming up in the world as a fat woman, and tackling trolls was everything to me. I laughed, I cried, and recommend this to people. It’s short but beautiful.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou 
This book came from a legendary book haul from my uncle when I was 18, where I got around 100 books that I’ve been slowly reading, but mostly winnowing, as time has gone on. When I realized that I hadn’t read that many women of color, I picked this up from my shelf for a flight to DC for work. I know a little bit of trivia about Angelou, but this fixed me. I barely believed what I was reading was not fiction, as Angelou wrote with such verve and charm about things that were devastating. I thought I was in for one kind of narrative, but instead wound up with something quite different. I loved this, and it deserves all of the hype.


I’m not much of a reader of horror. My mom likes scary books, and my friend Danny is a huge fan, so whenever his turn in book club comes up, it’s usually a selection of books of horror. I get a desire for horror in the summer, something about the long days somehow makes the horror both far way but also totally more plausible. I picked up the classic The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, totally stunned to learn that while I had known Shirley Jackson for the incredible short story “The Lottery,” she also wrote this classic. This was more psychological than I expected, and less what I think of a haunted house wanting to keep its occupants. I always think it is interesting and instructive to read classics, as they essentially are exploring the form. The haunted house genre didn’t necessarily exist quite as it does now, in part because Jackson is still helping write the rules here.

The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
When I stopped my Indiespensible subscription this year, I still had a variety of books I still hadn’t read, including and bonus books, usually advanced reader copies, that Powells sends send along with the main selection. As Halloween approached, I read this and the next three books to get prepared. This was my favorite of the four, a haunted house story given a modernist spin. This was a nice and tight spooky story featuring newlyweds and their new home that may not actually be theirs. Staehli read House of Leaves before I could get to it before this year, and I feel like these two books could be in conversation. Except this one is a sharp 250 pages.

The Doll’s Alphabet, by Camilla Gurdova
Another bonus book from Indiespensible, this one a short story collection. I sometimes have issues with short stories, because each is treated as a different piece of work by the author, when they are collected together, it can be easier to see the obsessions of the writers as they return to the same well of inspiration. Sometimes this is good, as Gurdova explores the interior lives of all kinds of women (there’s only one really one story with a man as the central character), specifically young women. The stories present some simple joys and many of the terrors of being a young woman. At the same time, a lot of the imagery and tone returns to an almost unrelentingly bleak pseudo-dystopia. Most stories take place in abject poverty, but the social structures are all oblique nonsense or never mentioned. Nearly everything is squalid, all the food is Dickensian slop, but there’s none of the trenchant broad social critique to go with those images. All the grotesques seem ornamental, put up for admiration. Gurdova’s stories are formally constructed well, which makes me admire them more than I actually liked reading them.

The End of the Sentence, by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
I don’t remember how this book got onto my list. It’s a ghost story sort of about a goblin blacksmith. There’s a bit of a haunted house, some ominous letters, but ultimately this novella felt too trite and cute for a fairy tale. The writing never quite hit me where it should have.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Angela Carter
Angela Carter gets mentioned a great deal in the history of short stories, feminist fairy tale adaptations, and horror. I kept running into her name, but realized I had never read any of her work. I tracked down her short story collection, and read it just after Halloween (apparently reading horror in time for Halloween is a popular idea). Many of these stories worked for me in part because Carter spends more time with her narrators in a meaningful way than the blank slates in The Doll’s Alphabet and The End of the Sentence. Especially the Bloody Chamber and other tales twists on classic fairy tales, I found myself captured by the narrators and the choices they were making. Unfortunately for anyone who came afterward, they’re only going to be compared to Carter, who was really, really good at it.

Everything Else

The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende
A book club book, this one about about an unnamed South American country (essentially Chile), and a multi-generation family saga. Magical Realism abounds here, and surprisingly, and this huge family saga featuring a big old abuser makes you feel for him a little at the end. I had to sprint to the end of this though in a whole afternoon of concentrated reading.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark and Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
A book club double feature. Muriel Spark’s novel was sort of about fascism, but also about a girl’s school in Scotland. Apparently Spark is huge in Scotland, but we had a little bit of an issue seeing what made this book so revolutionary.

I did manage to read a Jane Austen book, just not the ones I intended. Once I figured out that Austen is supposed to be relatively funny, this helped. It got sold to me as a send up about gothic novels, which came true in the end, but wasn’t nearly as large a part of the book as I expected. My favorite part was honestly seeing how relatable our narrator was, and why Austen adapts so well, because her heroines talk about girl stuff and gossip in a way that young girls still do. All these little parts transcend time in funny ways.

The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
A book club book. This Australian post WWI-era weepie totally caught me up in its melodramatic plot. I totally bought the characters, and got why someone would either hate this or love this. Personally, I loved it, though the end was a little pat.

Hamilton’s Battalion, by Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, and Alyssa Cole
The last book club book of the year, a trio of romance stories based around Alexander Hamilton’s time. Diverse authors, diverse stories, but Courtney Milan’s road trip was by far the best, the funniest, and the hottest. A fun time for Hamilton fans, though I need to remember romance does not equal erotica.

The History of Wolves, by Emily Friedlund
An Indiespensible book from Powell’s. This book is not really about wolves, but mostly about scrabbling together a life in rural Minnesota. When new neighbors move in, and our narrator starts baby sitting for them, things start to change a little. I liked how feral our narrator seemed, reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence’s turn in Winter’s Bone.

99 Stories of God, by Joy Williams
Microfiction, meaning no story is longer than three small pages. All nominally about God. On a sentence-to-sentence basis, Joy Williams is a really good writer.

The Regional Office is Under Attack, by Manuel Gonzales
This book is so light. Most of the book takes place in one day, when an unknown element attacks the super secret elite all-women assassins guild headquarters. It is fun, and weird, but I did not need to buy this. I was hoping for more of an emotional punch a bit like what I got from other similar books like Nick Harkaway, but the landing doesn’t stick.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
There is a cottage industry of re-imagining H.P. Lovecraft’s work and adapting it to make the stories not racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, etc. LaValle’s novella of an H.P. Lovecraft story from a black man’s point of view is powerful and understandable. Recommended.

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
I had never read an Agatha Christie novel, and Sarah let me borrow this book from her collection. A locked room mystery with a slightly odd solution, I was surprised how quickly I read this whole thing.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
People have been recommending The Handmaid’s Tale to me for years, but I haven’t made time for it. By virtue of Agatha Christie being so readable, I needed a new book for my plane ride back to Seattle from DC. Since Hulu adapted Atwood’s novel into an award winning TV series, the book is all over the airport shelves. I picked it up, and was reminded of Atwood’s mastery for exploring the mundanity of oppression, which she displayed in The Blind Assassin as well. The ways that avenues are cut off, and secret internal lives are explored are quite interesting, and this novel is no different. Deservedly taught in schools.

Looking Forward

This year I’m proud that I stuck to my guns and committed to my year of women. I wound up reading 57 books, of which 13 were not from America (the others were United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, France, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Singapore). Only 11 were people of color, so I could do better there.

I feel better about my ability and interest in reading diversely on topics, and anything that I didn’t get to this year is still there for me to read, including Zadie Smith and Haruki Murakami. My plan this year is to try and stick to my to-read list, which does have diverse authors and not add to much to it this year. Of course I will read things for Book Club, but without Powell’s, I feel like I can actually commit to different reading projects, like spending time with authors like Connie Willis and Naomi Novik. I’d like to read more non-fiction, more international fiction, and clear my shelves a little bit more of things that I have been meaning to read forever.

2016 Movie List

January 1, 2017

In 2016, I watched 27 movies. 10 I saw in theaters, and re-watched 6. 12 were animated, two were documentaries, and 10 were international (counting a bunch of Miyazaki). It was an okay year for movies, it got stronger at the end.

The Hateful Eight

Staehli and I saw this in 70mm as part of a special roadshow, on New Year’s Day. This version had an overture, and an intermission. We had very conflicted feelings about this movie in part because we saw it with an audience. Tarantino is making a point with the grotesque amount of violence in this movie as a commentary about Westerns and the myth making around them by shoving many gross things together: confederate generals, a black bounty hunter who torturers his victims, and just all around bad types of folks. But the audience we saw this with responded to some of these things with laughter, specifically when terrible things happen to the sole female and black character. They seemed to find the violence genuinely funny versus more as a commentary about how white men oppress and abuse both women. Tarantino is a smart filmmaker, these things are intentional, but at the same time, I don’t think the audience was watching for the same reasons Staehli and I were. This movie kind of gave Staehli and I a hangover. Also, no reason to see it in 70mm when all Tarantino does is use it to shoot super wide interiors.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Jake had a series of showings of Lord of the Rings on the enormous screen in my (now former) apartment. People came over, we talked over/watched this. Although the commentary about the films from ardent book readers seems more poignant now about the cost of war, and how Peter Jackson didn’t seem to understand the ending, which is why there are like five of them.

Attack the Block

Staehli has a small (read: large) crush on John Boyega, especially after The Force Awakens. His other major movie appearance was in Attack the Block, which I saw on my birthday a few years ago. Knowing what kind of movie you’re getting helps enormously (this was getting a ton of hype as a cool monster movie, but that’s not all it is). I liked it a lot more the second time around. It builds characters well, the action is well shot, the monster design is pretty cool, and it actually has some interesting things to say about teenage masculinity and poverty.


Staehli and I saw this on a date night, and it was both fun, and more conventional than I was expecting. Ryan Reynolds does an excellent job with Deadpool (and apparently got the job by simply just never going away). It is more stylized and cruder than other Marvel Movies, which in some way is a benefit, because I remember more of this movie than the second Thor movie.

The Master

I really enjoy the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, I think he’s one of the major American filmmaking talents working today, his films always have ambition. I had always heard good things about The Master, which outlines the beginnings of Scientology (or a cult much like it). This movie is intense, and I was surprised at how well Joaquin Phoenix’s character and acting stood up to Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was expecting his character to simply bow to the charismatic force of will that was Lancaster Dodd, but this much more of a sparring match between the two characters, about one who has the indomitable will, and one who is just plain wild. This movie is mesmerizing with its camera and editing. I think this would reward re-watching.

A Cat in Paris

Both The Master and this movie had sat lounging in my Netflix “to watch” list for some time (literal years). Staehli and I both share a love of animation, so we sat down to watch this short (~1 hour) long french film. It’s a cute story about a cat who accompanies a cat burglar on his rounds, and then returns to his normal life as a pet to a family. All sorts of hijinks ensue when a young girl follows the cat to figure out where he goes at night. We liked it, and the animation, while pretty different than most American animation, is quite good and stylized, very good night scenes to set the mood.

April and the Extraordinary World

One of my favorite film critics is Tasha Robinson. I discovered her while she was at the A.V. Club, followed her to the sadly defunct The Dissolve, and then over to The Verge. She’s a big animation buff as well, and she recommended this. It had a special one-weekend exclusive at SIFF, so Staehli and I got tickets. This was a totally unexpected silly and great animated feature. French, but drawn in more of a French-Belgian Tin Tin style, this tells the story of a time when the Industrial Revolution never really got going, so everything is still steam powered, leading to intense deforestation. The world’s great minds are disappearing, including the parents of a young girl. She is left to attempt to solve the scientific puzzle they were working on, while also eluding the police. This movie is funny, full of excitement, and a surprisingly great message for family. The grandfather in this movie is amazing, and the clockwork gadgets are all great. Totally recommend.

My Neighbor Totoro

My friend Aaron has hosted a few movie nights this year, nearly always featuring something from Studio Ghibli. I got to see Totoro again, which was sweeter than I remembered from last year, and still absolutely gorgeous. I think there’s just enough spice of the unreal here to help the story move along.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind

I think I’ve seen Nausicaa more than any other Miyazaki film now. This viewing felt longer, and the Ohm still freak me out a bit, mostly because I have a fear of enormous bugs from watching Them at too young of an age. How can she be so calm?! The movie came across darker this time, especially when compared to Totoro, but still quality.

The Road to El Dorado

Staehli and I had never seen this, and again, we like animated movies. This vocal pairing, of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh is actually brilliant. This movie was also supposed to be fabulously gay, but there was a little subtext, and even there, it was very sub, not much text. Thought this was 15 years ago in a Disney film. This is the one of early DreamWorks animation films, and it show.The production design is lavish, but the plot and character design is all a bit thin. Missing the Disney powerhouses they left.

Best of Enemies

This was a documentary about a series of debates featuring Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. I was sick, in a weird mood, and this was not terribly captivating. Also, apparently this took nearly a decade to make apparently, so some of the people who were interviewed like Christopher Hitchens, were dead by the time this came out. Basically their debates introduced the concept of the talking head in part because ABC couldn’t afford to pay people to cover the electoral convention like CBS and NBC could, so they offered counter programming. The history is sort of interesting, but at the same time, this isn’t a very good documentary.


I remember wanting to see this, and Staehli was game. This is actually a charming, funny, broader-than-expected take on black youth in LA. I thought it was going to be “all-in-one-day” type films, but it actually takes place over the course of a year. And it resists moralizing or being a movie deliberately making a statement about black youth. Our protagonist Malcolm is a nerd, trying to make his way to college, and this presents his struggle to get there. It’s a good slice of life portrayal that you should see.

How to Train Your Dragon

Saw this at Nick and Megan’s when they switched over to movie nights for the summer instead of TV nights. Still gorgeous animation and still quite funny. One of Jay Baruchel’s best roles.

Ghostbusters (new)

New lady Ghostbusters! This movie was pretty funny, and the obvious standout is Kate McKinnon. All sorts of ladies discovered they had enormous crushes on her character, which is fair, she’s pretty badass. There are some interesting set pieces, but at the same time, some of the editing, especially at the end, is really off, as it seems they cut a bunch of stuff that could have been meaningful? The villain is a but underdeveloped, but at the same, perfect for the kind of response the movie got. There are some smart things happening here, it just doesn’t cohere as well as one might hope.

Kubo and the Two Strings

I really like the work of Laika Animation studios, they’re more offbeat than Pixar, willing to take some chances with a traditional format of stop motion that no one else does. This movie is fantastically inventive and I had to keep reminding myself that they basically hand-built (with the aid of some neat 3D printing technology apparently) everything in this movie. Staehli got all sorts of references to Japanese culture that she kindly explained to be afterward. She had a profound emotional reaction to it, whereas I had a more muted reaction to it. It was still very good though. It’s a story about stories.

The Secret Life of Arrieitty

Aaron had another movie night, this one featuring two more Miyazaki movies. I had forgotten this one existed, and saw it for the first time. Most people describe it as “basically, the Borrowers.” This is true, but it also a weirder twist in that the big person who discovers them is basically really sick, and can’t do much to help them. The animation is very well done, and does some fun things with scope, size, and picturing the terrifying world that these small people must inhabit that seems perfectly normal to us. There’s very little dramatic tension here, more of an exploration about two different worlds.

Porco Rosso

I remember this as being the weirder and most-nonsensical of the Miyazaki movies I saw while doped up on pain medication from my wisdom tooth removal in late August. Not being doped up on meds, I think this is probably the funniest and most adult of the Miyazaki movies. It’s silly, but it also features dating, a young female engineer, pirates, and a man and a pig fighting for her future. It’s rollicking good fun, and I could what I missed before.


This movie was great! It was funny, had a believable twist, excellent characterization, and man it have some discourse! All sorts of things about race are coded into this movie in a way that is respectful, and a great primer for children. This is more than simply “all people are equal” or “don’t judge people by their appearances,” this movie gets into actual shades of gray in ways that I think kids could relate to. This movie was inventive and interesting, and I loved all the little references. A great film.

The Big Short

Sick over a long weekend when Staehli was away, I spent some more time with my Netflix queue. The Big Short caught all sorts of Oscar heat that I wasn’t expecting, so I decided to check it out. This movie was sort of funny, but mostly made me very angry, which is what Adam McKay was going for. This was an engaging blow-by-blow for how the 2008 economic crash came to be. It was very informative, and fact checking later, was pretty spot on for how everything happened. It’s weird to see how Adam McKay has evolved as a filmmaker. This was a little rough, but compared his comedies of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, this is pretty different in style. It works well though.

The Hunter

I remember seeing a trailer for this several years ago and thinking it looked moody and tense, a different kind of thriller. This is both true and not true. Willem Defoe is a professional hunter hired to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger, which is believed to be extinct. This no easy feat, as this beast has eluded capture for the past seventy years, and it’s in a very, very remote part of Tasmania. Defoe is magnetic and portrays someone who is pretty independent, though he grows to care for the family that he is staying with between two week-long trips out into the wilderness. This proves to be the big push-and-pull, with some various political overlay about the logging industry. This is a small little movie that I enjoyed quite a bit. Not life changing, but interesting and good.

City of Gold

Jonathan Gold was the first (and only) food critic to earn a Pulitzer prize in criticism. He operates entirely in LA, and has become the pre-eminent food critic there in part because he does not disdain the many ethnic cuisines that exist there in less-than-fancy digs. He’s reviewed taco trucks, pop-ups, and fancy restaurants. This documentary explores his life and the restaurants he’s helped keep open or bring awareness too. This documentary was less comprehensive than I was hoping for, in part because I think Jonathan was not terribly forthcoming about elements of her personal life.

Shin Godzilla

Staehli was incredibly excited about the new Godzilla movie, in part because it was directed by the main creative mind behind Neon Genesis Evangalion. She arranged the tickets, and I agreed to show up. I didn’t even see a trailer. I was delightfully surprised at the depth and nuance in this Godzilla movie. I haven’t seen the original Godzilla, only the late series where he did battle with a variety of other giant monsters, and the bad 1998 remakes with Jean Reno doing a cowboy accent. Big monster movies are fun, but this was something else. Imagine that giant monster does attack, but also fades off. What is the government response? How do those decisions get made? How does that affect the response of the normal people, or other parts of the government? This movie asks those questions, which I’ve never seen asked before in a giant monster movie. It’s about efficiency across government, but also the government actually doing something, attempting to address what is effectively an environmental disaster gone terribly, terribly awry. There is wry humor, funny special effects, and not only that, but I felt Godzilla’s menace here like I hadn’t ever before. I actually believed that maybe Tokyo just wouldn’t exist any more, and that humans had shuffled themselves off the mortal coil. But the movie takes a different tack, which is probably for the better.

The Handmaiden

Earlier this year, I showed Staehli an article about a lesbian Korean drama directed by the same person as Oldboy. She was very excited about it, and kept more tabs on it than I did. Again, I don’t think I saw a trailer for this movie, I only knew that Staehli was excited about it. I’ve taken to watching fewer trailers, just because they tend to give so much away these days, and that really helped me with this film. This is one of the best movies I watched this year. It’s twisty, it’s turny, it’s sensual, it thrills, it chills, it empowers. Go see this movie.

The Cat Returns

Aaron strikes again with a Studio Ghibli movie that sounds like it was written by a committee of 8-year olds. A girl saves a cat, who it turns out was the Prince of all Cats. To thank her, the cats decide she should be turned into a cat, and marry the Prince. She seeks help from a cat statue come to life, a rebellious fat cat, and a crow. Hijinks ensue. The voice actors only sort of make sense. Elliot Gould does a voice! I don’t know why! It makes like no sense. This is a kid’s movie, with kid logic, and could have benefitted from some wine.


Staehli and I saw the trailer for this movie before the Handmaiden, and were sold. We caught it a few weeks later, and couldn’t be more pleased. This science fiction movie was dreamy, circular, and perplexing. Amy Adams does a wonderful job selling a linguistics professor who is struggling through a problem unlike anyone has ever faced.

Rogue One

New Star Wars movie! That isn’t officially labeled a Star Wars movie! This movie has a lot going for it. It has an amazing cast, a clearly defined concept, good special effects, and a great use of camera to create spectacle. The plot is a little muddy, especially at the beginning, and a few of the characters don’t…really…have motivations, but despite this, the movie makes you care about them in the final act, when they risk it all. This movie makes you understand why Darth Vader is feared across the galaxy, and the stakes everyone is playing for in A New Hope. A good movie.


Apparently this was the year of the animated film, and Staehli and I capped it off with a final animated movie. Moana is Disney’s latest film, and follows in the fine traditions of musical princess movies. This was a very worthy entry into that genre, one of Disney’s best in years. It helps that the music was written by phenom Lin-Manuel Miranda. The animation here is stunning, gorgeous, the story is a hero’s journey, but filled with doubt, and emotion. I liked it a lot. The songs are also very catchy.

2016 Book List

January 1, 2017


Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

One of the literary blogs I read is The Millions, and every year they run a series of features about people’s Year in Reading (like this, but shorter). Bluets appeared on a number of people’s lists in 2014 and 2015, so I’d bee interested in reading this. I wanted to like this book more than I wound up actually liking it. I had heard this book discussed in tones reserved for small, personal masterpieces. A series of meditations on the color blue, and the variety of forms the color takes, this book is feminine without being for women, sad without being obsessed with guilt and sadness. It’s not quite fiction, it’s definitely not non-fiction. It has elements of memoir mixed up with fiction. Some of the passages more captivating than others. Some are sexy, some are melancholy. There’s a lot of meditation about the ocean. It doesn’t cohere, quite for me, but I like cohesion versus the scattering that probably more truly reflects reality. I am curious to read more of her work. I’ve heard good things about The Argonauts, which is more true memoir.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

A book club book! Staehli really loved this, and it wound up becoming our first book club book of the year. I had already read a lot of the statistics Aziz covers in his book in last year’s Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder. The personal anecdotes are the more interesting here: the qualitative research of how people talk about dating and their sex lives, specifically across cultures. It was fascinating to discover how dating expanded options, but the wide choice can paralyze some people as they refuse to settle down. I’ve thought a fair amount of Aziz’s concept of being a maximizer, a person who has to have the best possible thing at any given moment, and how that can actually be detrimental to long-term happiness. This is something I feel like I struggle with myself, wanting to maximize an experience, have it be perfect. As a result, I have done a lot of research about the best tacos in Seattle, the best burritos, the most authentic Chinese, cool cocktail lounges. But I haven’t been to all of these places, I haven’t done that exploration myself (who has that cash?!). But this eliminates a series of explorations, of authentically finding something rather than just yelping and googling the shit out of restaurants, bars, massage parlours, hotels, and others. In some ways, the research is just shoring up against risk. And Aziz’s book is all about being able to take risks, and being comfortable with that fact. Moderate risks, mostly, but still there is an element of risk in dating, and in other things.

Mort(e), by Robert Rapino

This is a book about giant ants transforming people’s pets into giant sentient animals, and how those animals begin murdering humans with the ants, until one of those animals, our Mort(e), and yes, that is really how the name is spelled, and it has an explanation, but its a bad explanation, teams up with the humans to attempt to save a dog he fell in platonic love with when he was a normal cat.

Don’t read this book. You have better things to read.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, by Hunter S. Thompson

When Presidential Election Primary season was in full swing, I re-read this book. It was prescient then, and even more prescient now. It is interesting to see how things have changed. People literally didn’t declare candidacies until like December or January of the election year, more candidates traditionally won states, rather than one person just steamrolling the rest, and you could technically use parliamentary procedure to avoid a contested convention and win the nomination(there was an enormous revision of the Democratic party nominating rules as a result of the 1972 nominating process, where this actually happened). In 1972. George Wallace, famed racist Alabamian Governor was beginning to pick up speed in the nomination process, before nearly getting assassinated in May. He was shot in the back, and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. (Fun fact, he was the first public figure to survive an assassination attempt in a long string that started with JFK.). This put an end to his nomination process, but Trump essentially copied his rhetoric and plan for a successful nomination. I was hoping 2016 would end better than 1972, but again, this book turned out to be more prescient than expected.

Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt

In 2015, I subscribed to Indispensable, Powell’s book box subscription service. I liked the first few I received, but this was the first “wow” book that I read this year. After disappointments with Bluets, Morte, and some of the Tournament of Books nominations, this book impressed me. It’s sort of a ghost story, about a newly pregnant woman walking with her silent, horribly scarred aunt in upstate New York, a place that has spawned more cults than anywhere else in America. It is also about the Aunt, and her past with her boyfriend, their spiritualism act, and encounters with backwoods hucksters. I went back and forth about whether what our main character was experiencing was real, the line between lived truth and spoke truth, and so much more. I really liked this book. It was unsettling in many ways, like I was re-watching a marathon of Unsolved Mysteries.

Delancey, and A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

Everyone so often, I will get a hankering for writing about food. Food is such an elemental part of what makes us people. In fact, there is an anthropological argument that cooking food is actually what makes us human, since all those linguists were proven wrong by other mammals capable of a rudimentary language. Molly Wizenberg is a local Seattle writer, and somewhat unwilling restauranteur. She and her soon-to-be-former husband Brandon founded Delancey, which has now grown to include Essex and the recently opened Dino’s Tomato Pie. My friend Maureen originally clued me into her blog, back in 2008, I think, and I’ve been an on-again, off-again reader. Her recipe for caramel corn is really good. These books however, are part memoir, part recipe. Molly comes off as a well rounded person, one who loves passionately, who will cry quickly about many things right before she begins tackling the problem, a person who likes a good raucous night out at a cool kid bar, and then go to the farmer’s market for hangover food the next day. It makes me understand the original appeal of blogs, when the person’s writing and outlook on the world was creative, personal, and compelling enough to make you want to read. There’s just enough there to keep you satisfied while also making you want more, more more. Her recipes are solid, nothing fancy. I think I will try the lasagna bolognese that has been kicking around my “to make” drawer. I’ve been keeping up with her blog since reading these books, and at the end of the year, she made a big life change. Her sexuality evolved from men-focused to be woman-focused, something that apparently has been building since she gave birth to her daughter. She’s still amazing friends with her soon-to-be-former husband, and I hope their businesses continue.

Tournament of Books

Oreo, by Fran Ross

Fran Ross was a black, female comedy writer who died the 1980s. This was her only novel, long out of print that was re-published last year. The book plot summary is a bi-racial girl re-enacts the quest of Theseus in 1970’s New York. It’s a strange, but funny novel. In college, I took an African-American Literature class, and we hit on a few of the books in the Civil Rights and Post-Civil Rights era that was shaking in the 60’s and 70’s: Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, a few others. This book reminded me a great deal of that, the need and drive for representational stories, the East-Coast absurd humor, the satirical skewering in a New York that would just get worse until the Mid-80s. This book wasn’t really for me, but that’s okay. I enjoyed reading it nonetheless.

The New World, by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz

Man, did this book have a powerful ending for an interesting conceit: man has defeated death (maybe) in the future. However in order to get there, your head has to be removed from its body, and cryogenically frozen. You wake up in cyberspace, and must forget all of your past life in order to live forever. The book tells the tale of a married couple, where the husband is dead (but alive) in the future, and the present, where his bereaved wife attempts to understand his choice. The chapters alternate between the two of them, as Jim attempts to understand his new world, and Jane does the same. It’s dark, funny, profound, and metaphysical. The book explores grief, doubt, the concept of self-hood, and marriage fidelity, even in the afterlife.

Bats of the Republic, by Zachary Thomas Dodson

At first glance, this was the book I was most excited to read in the Tournament of Books this year. Science Fiction, with maps even!, in a dystopia future/past that also has its own version of 1800’s America. It had drawings of wild animals, weird atmospherics, interesting typesetting. But that is all it had, it turned out. The plot is paper-thin and relies on characters not having motivations, or constantly having blockades thrown in their way for plot reasons. The characters, their motivations, their emotions, they were all severely lacking. This is a novel where I kept expecting some version of the characters not to be real, that they were all in a dream. That’s how paper-thin they were. Then this book went on a surprising tear in bracket, and I was sad.

The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli

I loved this little book about a Mexican auctioneer, who is an incredibly unreliable narrator. Over the years, he has collected a variety of materials, and to give all of his treasures a home, he has decided to auction among the most famous of them, a collection of teeth. But whose teeth are they really? Luiselli actually wrote this book as part of an art-experiment to be read by Juice factory workers, who gave feedback and commentary about the plot, and things they wanted to see in the book. It harkens back a little to the magical realism tradition of South and Latin American authors.

The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra

A series of short, connected stories in Russia from the fall of Communism to the present. Most of the stories take place near the Arctic Circle in an incredibly poisoned town that is responsible for harvesting tons of nickel out of the earth, and the small, corrupt life there. There’s some wonderful imagery: a fake forest made entirely out of metal, that won’t be killed by the cold or the pollution, the placid lake of toxic waste, the fake museum of Russian space travel. Certain stories resonated more with me than others, but I found myself really enjoying the overall idea. Something about the fatalism of modern Russia I think will be relevant in the political future. I was also not surprised at all to find out that Anthony Marra is friends with Adam Johnson, who wrote the Orphan Master’s Son. They have the same ton about them.

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

The winner of this year’s Tournament of Books, and Man Booker Prize (the first for an American). This book is a satire about American racism, from the historical, oppressive, blatant racism, to the quiet, systemic racism of the present. Our narrator is a black farmer in LA, who accidentally winds up with an elderly black man who makes himself a slave, for which our narrator eventually winds up in the US Supreme Court, smoking an enormous blunt and getting yelled at by Clarence Thomas. This is the first 20 pages, I’m not spoiling anything for you. I laughed a lot during this book, and found it compelling, thoughtful, and well-written. This was one of my favorites to read, and it totally deserves all the awards it got.

And to round out winter, I read

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Written as a series of letters to his son, Ta-Nahisi Coates explores what it means to be a black man in a time in America where black men’s bodies have no real autonomy. Life, freedom, fundamental concepts enshrined in American minds, are mere illusions for a lot of black men. He positions this not as fundamental racism, but white supremacy, that their must by a racial hierarchy built on race and class that positions whites as above black men. The concept is different than racism, and Coates articulates a lot of the ways in which even the founding of the country are predicated on practices and institutions that perpetuate this belief. Powerful, incisive, and fundamentally hopeful, while also realistic this is excellent racism-201 level work for white folks looking to be allies. I also believe that this book fundamentally gave whites a critical eye enough to begin talking about white supremacy just when it took over the country. Coates has helped shift the conversation from racism, to white supremacy, which is more accurate, and what must be disassembled.


Tale of Sand, by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Ramon Perez

This year, I read only a few graphic novels, and I felt it, both in numbers of books I read (which usually includes around 10 graphic novels), and in my habits. I found myself missing the visual stylings, the art. I caught up with my friend Jenny right after the Emerald City Comic-Con (for which I have tickets this coming year), and she made some recommendations. I read both of Ramon Perez’s webcomics back in the day, Butternut Squash and Kukuburi. I remember his blog post when he got his first Marvel job, and the resulting hit in update schedule that Butternut Squash took at the time. Tale of Sand is a visual feast with no dialogue, based on an unproduced script of Jim Henson’s. It’s absurdist, circular, and oddly diverse, which sounds like Jim Henson. I wasn’t quite taken with it as I wanted to be, and I think part of it is just that the script wasn’t fully fleshed out, and I think some dialogue would have helped that versus an entirely visual story. Which is not to say that an entirely visual story couldn’t work, but the character motivations needed a little work, I think.

The Divine, by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

I have heard quibbles about the term graphic novel, especially related to on going series, like X-Men, Batman, etc. How can these things be considered novels when they seemingly never end? Novels imply an end! I usually point these people to detective novels and mysteries, featuring detectives and characters who seemingly never die, never get old, and have novel after novel published featuring them. The Divine is actually a graphic novel in the sense that it is not a part of an ongoing feature. The Divine tells the story of some American mercenaries caught in the South East Asian jungle at the mercy of some child warlords, who may or may not control the magical ancient spirits of the land. It’s a little Alice in Wonderland, a little Heart of Darkness. The art is fantastic, and it’s based somewhat on real circumstances. I re-read sections of this book to better understand it, and recommend it to anyone looking for some short graphic fiction.

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

A book club book! Mistborn is a weird book. I have heard of Brandon Sanderson before, as one of those good fantasy authors who can build a convincing world, and write believable characters. After reading, I concur but also disagree. I think Brandon Sanderson does build a believable dystopia world, where a seemingly all-powerful ruler keeps evil in check. The plot has enough twists, turns, feints, and clues that I always wanted to keep reading. Our two main characters are well-written, fleshed out, and well-explored. I liked them a great deal, actually. However, the entire surrounding cast was mostly stock characters. They never seemed to be more than stereotypes, their existence primarily to serve the main characters and their plot. Many of us in book club felt this way, that this book had a compelling plot but not compelling characters.

The Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin

An Indiespensable book. I had never heard of Ethan Canin, never heard of any of his other books, and wasn’t sure initially to make of this book about a possibly too-brilliant mathematician. But The Doubter’s Almanac was a compelling story about brushes with genius, addiction, family, and compulsion. The first part of the novel focuses on Milo, a brilliant though eccentric boy who grows up to make a major mathematical breakthrough. This catapults him into the stratosphere of the math elite, for which is deeply unprepared, or perhaps uniquely prepared, as he drinks, philanders, and curses his way out of job. About halfway through the novel, we switch to Hans, his son, and see how Milo further disgraced himself, and inflicts his compulsions and alcoholism. We see how math becomes vitally important to the finance industry, and how Canin believes some behaviors and tics are inherited. I think your mileage may vary with this book based on how much you enjoy reading about monstrous humans, and then watching their downfall. Reflecting on this book though, is that it was very, very white. I think our token diversity was a Russian lady.

The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway

My friend Aaron and his roommate Brandi pushed this book onto me. I had read Angelmaker last year, and they both said this was a better. Telling the story of a dystopia spoiled by anti-matter accidentally erasing parts of the world, and the odd things that fill the places that were once there. Now inhuman monsters lurk beyond the pipeline that pumps out gas to keep them away. Enter Gonzo, and his never-named best friend, who received ninja training (in Britain, though never named), and now operate part of the “Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company.” This book has ninjas, kung-fu, traveling mimes, Tibetan monks, special ops, a Mad Max Style obsession with revved up cars, and some odd twists and turns. It was a fun ride, but ultimately, I think I’m more of a noir guy than a kung-fu guy, so Angelmaker remains my favorite. In doing research for this, I learned that Harkaway is John le Carré’s son, which was odd to learn.


The Lost Time Accidents, by John Wray

This book seemed like it would be a home run for me: a darkly comic take on the devastations that time travel has taken on an Austrian family, including a family tie-in with Nazis, eccentric aunts in bohemian New York, and current iterations with a current Brooklyn layabout struggling with family history. Alas, I wound up not liking this book. It was more procedural than expected, and a slog to read. I struggled to make time to read this book, and found the main protagonist more annoying that anything else. I was glad to be done with this one.

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

My pick for book club this year was a re-read of a weird fiction, or novels I wished I could talk about with other people. Annihilation was one of my favorites from last year, and I wished I could talk with others about it. I got my wish, and it was interesting to tackle with others. We did a lot of discussing about what actually happened, what was real, and essential questioning about what was real, what could be trusted, and how much you had to like the narrator to feel compelled to keep reading. Both Lucinda and Maggie got hooked on the series, and finished it before I did. Still need to talk with them about that ending however. We’ll get to that later on.

To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last, by Connie Willis

This is one of my favorite things I read this year. For Christmas last year, I bought Staehli Willis’s first novel, The Doomsday Book, after looking for good science fiction written by women. She read it, and enjoyed it, and it turns out that Maggie was a big Connie Willis fan. She suggested this for book club, and I had an absolutely fabulous time with this book. It is science fiction, but also a romantic comedy and a mystery, and a Victorian novel. This book is incredibly smart, and devilishly funny. I read a vast chunk of this over the Fourth of July weekend, when Staehli and I fled to Victoria, B.C. for Canada Day. Victoria has a pretty British sensibility, and it was glorious goofy fun to read about Victorian mannerism and then recognize them in the people I was interacting with. It was a good time. I want to read all of her books now.

Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee

I didn’t actually finish this book, but got 2/3 of the way through it’s meaty 500 pages. This is a book that I actually savored. It’s about Opera, in Paris, in the late 1800s. The description is sumptuous, and female, and everything is filled with intrigue, and court society. It was romantic, and mysterious, and also sort of hypnotic. Chee created a strong, fierce protagonist, and I’m sad that I didn’t finish this book.

Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

SyFy turned this book into a television show, the Expanse, which I enjoyed quite a bit for it’s diversity, complexity, and mystery. Needing something diverting to read while on a plane to Arizona to attend my Aunt’s wake, I brought this along, having lent it to Matt Beman for several months before I actually opened it up. This was a quick read, especially when I already knew most of the plot beats, but at the same time, I really like what the TV show has done with it: I think it lent crucial diversity and perspective that the story needed to broaden out. The television does a good job with the character depictions, motivations, and the subsequent tragedies that move them. I think more of this book actually comes to life in the TV than in the page. Yet, the show only covers 2/3 of the book, leaving the biggest twists for the future. Suffice to say that when the book goes big, it goes big and insanity totally results for a change. I didn’t really feel a need to keep reading, as the writing was pretty pedestrian, but would recommend this for someone looking for a rip-roaring space opera adventure.

Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem

One of my creative writing teachers, the one who has been published the most actually, she said my stories reminded her of Jonathan Lethem’s work, specifically Men and Cartoons. He’s been on my to-read list ever since. I tried reading Chronic City, but gave up after it was too dreamy, and I didn’t care about the central mystery/metaphor. Kate had an ARC of this on her shelf, and I had heard it was one of the best Lethem books in years, so I borrowed it. I didn’t get it. I mean, it was fine. The book was about Jewish communists/radicals in the 1950s until the present, including some nice stuff about the Occupy movement in the end, but it was all so intellectualized, so high-falutin, so distanced that I had a difficult time caring about any of the characters. After a few misses, I am not excited to read much more of Jonathan Lethem.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

An Indiespensable book. I will be honest, and say that I fell of the wagon with some of my books from Powells. I have a few still not read, but each one has been good, and usually surprising. Homegoing is the debut novel of Yaa Gyasi that tracks the stories of two half-sisters from the beginning of the slave trade until present day. Each character gets a chapter, and represents a portrait into Ghanian or American worldview during that time and place. Gyasi does an excellent job embodying each character, making them realistic, dropping hints about their future, connections to the past, and how some things come through, and how some are forgotten. I stopped this book about 1/4 of the way through when my Aunt was dying and I needed something less serious, but picked it back up again after a break and devoured the last part. This was a challenging, good novel that made me happy to have diverse reading habits.


Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer

I didn’t set a goal for myself in reading this year, no number, no book bingo, I just wanted to read freely for a year. I expected myself to read the big thick books that I said I was going to read, but I really didn’t get around to that this year either. I did work my way through some of the things that had been sitting on myself, which included reading the Area X trilogy. Authority is the second book in the series, and re-reading it was pretty valuable. I caught a variety of details I didn’t catch before, and understood more of where the series was going. Annihilation acts as more of a keystone that I expected, and Control’s descent into the weirdness, and the madness he flirts with there is realistic, on-par for genre conventions.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer

Last year, I wrote that I enjoyed Annihilation because it doesn’t really explain it’s weirdness, just hints at it. This book unfortunately explains, but does so in a way that isn’t quite satisfying. This is sort of the problem with most horror, the unknown is usually better than the known. Here the knowing robs the story of some of its punch. The jumping around in time is okay, but I didn’t have a very compelling reason to like some of the characters, who seemed to dredge up more mysteries that were unsolved. Again, the first book acts as more of a keystone to the whole story, as we revisit and explore the events of the first book from different perspectives. This is illuminating, but at the same time, I’m not sure I cared about the characters as much as VanderMeer wanted me to. That fault may be mine.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Lucinda and Jake both recommended this to me. Staehli and I visited Elliott Bay Books one weekend in the Spring/Summer, I decided against buying this book, and then found it in a free little library on our walk to a tea shop immediately afterward. Good choice me! I wanted to read more female authors, and this book totally delivered for me. The story of a wayward ship AI trapped in the body of a human, and her goal to set a trap for a similar entity, it’s an excellent exploration of justice, morality, individuality, and also gender. The last one is in part because the ship generalizes by calling everyone “she” regardless of their actual gender, due to a quirk in the original linguistic programming.. This subtle shift in perspective makes the reader question their assumptions. I very much envisioned an entirely female military society until they kept mentioning this woman’s beard, and I realized a character was male. This change complicates normal interactions, sexual interactions, and all sorts of things. I really appreciated the change in worldview, and made me re-examine my own assumptions about default modes. Leckie also admirably builds up a world with characters I did care about, with consistent motivations, and an interesting history. I understand that there are sequels, and I’m not sure what direction they’ll go in, but I am interested.

When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan

A book club book. This is a version of The Scarlet Letter, and most of book club liked the first third of the book, that hewed pretty closely to a future version of the Scarlet Letter: abortion is illegal, as there exists a reproduction gap. There is also a new harsh penalty for anyone who breaks the law: they are “chromed” meaning dyed a bright color consistent with the type of crime. Our narrator is bright red, and faces all sorts of new discrimination because of her choice. However, once we get exposed to a wider world, the book begins to lose its way. Characters make asinine choices that barely make sense, and there are jumps over details, tidy wrapping up of story that doesn’t really call for or need it. This was actually a fun book to pick apart, because it has the elements to be really good, but didn’t stick the landing.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid

I think it was the Millions’ Preview that put this on my radar, but I hated this book, and only finished it in a pitch that could be described as hate-reading, something I almost never do. I hated the main character, I hated her boyfriend more. I hated the twist at the end, and I hated the dumb non-sensical choices the characters made to get there. I hated the reasons the author attempted to justify those choices, I hated the message that this implied, I hated the tone, the structure, I hated the pat little summary at the end, I hated the unsolved mystery of who kept calling our main character, I hated basically all parts of this book. Do not read this book.

The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick

A book club book. This was weird to read, especially in the context of the election. America lost WWII, and the country has been carved up between the Japanese and the Nazis. This book reflects the racist realities of both of these regimes, which is awkward reading today. The book jumps around in time and place within chapters, and sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. This reads more like an experiment than a fully-fledged novel, but at the same time, there is some excellent stuff here, and actually it mostly has to do with violence, which I’m not sure is a good thing or not, now that I reflect on it.

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

This surprise book from Indiespensible was my other favorite book from this year. This is a literary page turner about a secret, and how it affects the lives of three characters. The book takes place just two towns over from where I grew up, in a religious black community, one I didn’t know existed there, but I can definitely imagine existing. Bennett’s writing is gorgeous, especially her writing about loss, conviction, and deciding. There are some flourishes that don’t quite work (our main character Nadia in law school reads a little more like a parody), but otherwise, this is a gorgeous novel that I really loved and want others to read.

Slade House, by David Mitchell

My friend Aaron and I talk about books. We’ve talked about David Mitchell previously, and he was curious to read more. He lent me Slade House, and read Bone Clocks in exchange. I liked Slade House more than Bone Clocks because it plays to David Mitchell’s strengths more: repetition with different flourishes, jumping into different characters and exploring the things that drive them, make them unique but also similar to other characters. However, the sci-fi/horror aspects of this book rely heavily on the previous work of Bone Clocks. I’m not sure how much would get caught by someone who hadn’t read Bone Clocks, which is my finally worry about this book: how accessible is it to someone who isn’t already a fan?

Carrie, by Stephen King

I think of Carrie most in the context of the film, which in someways has come to overshadow the book. Carrie was Stephen King’s first published novel, and the paperback rights made him rich pretty much overnight. It launched his career. I’ve read only two other Stephen King books, and it’s interesting to go back and look at his first book. He’s grown as a writer, tamped down some of his worst tendencies (there is a lot of unnecessary breast description in this book). There are some odd stylistic choices here that probably would benefit from an editor making some choices to clarify, but King does make you feel for Carrie. The ending of this novel is very dramatic, and as you get into Carrie’s head, you begin to really empathize with her and her struggle, as the butt of everyone’s jokes. He really does create a compelling motive for her final ending. It’s all a little dramatic, but it is also effective.

The Future and Reflection

Following the election, and looking back on the year, I was considering my reading habits.

I read

  • 2 graphic novels
  • Three memoirs (counting Bluets)
  • Three non-fiction books
  • 9 sci-fi/fantasy weird books
  • 18 literary fiction

I knew I wanted to read differently in 2017 than I did in 2016. I remember a few years ago that a few folks I respected were reading only women, which sounded good. But at the same time, I looked at some of my favorite books, and I appreciated the book with diverse perspectives and diverse representations: The Sellout, The Mothers, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Mr. Splitfoot, Delancey, even Ancillary Justice. These books do the things that we love about literature, it creates a sense of empathy for people who are very different than us, and I felt that was missing from so much of what I read this year, with white men focusing on white men: I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Lost-Time Accidents, Leviathan Wakes, The Doubter’s Almanac, Bats of the Republic. I decided this year that I was going to read differently.

So after reading 36 books this year, and only 11 by women (worse than last year by about 20%), and only reading five non-American authors, compared with 13 the previous year, I have decided to exclude white men from my reading diet in 2017. I will only be reading women and men of color in 2017. I already have a list of books I am excited to read, from graphic novels to detective fiction to literary fiction to cook books. I’m exited to read diversely, and I encourage everyone to do the same. It’s a small change in my worldview, but one I hope to continue.

2015 Movie List with Commentary

January 3, 2016

This year, I saw 43 movies. I re-watched 7 movies, went to the movies 12 times, watched saw 4 documentaries, and 9 animated films. Below, you will find my thoughts!


A complicated but good movie. I liked how nuanced the portrayal of love was: between a man and perhaps a computer, or between two computers, or between people even. Set in the near distant future, this was really good. I like it when Joaquin Phoenix isn’t being creepy. He’s a good actor when he isn’t pretending to be a dick bag for the younger Affleck.


Staehli and I saw this in the theater. We hated it. It was pretentious. Well-made, but pretentious. I was sad when it won many Oscars.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This was fun! Although I don’t remember much about this movie, which I think is maybe a problem with a number of superhero movies: lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The Brothers Bloom

When we got word that Rian Johnson was writing and directing Star Wars Episode 8, Staehli said she hadn’t seen any of his work. Jake showed her this movie, which was much better than I remember. This movie was more clever, sadder, and funnier than I recalled. Staehli was happy that her crush Rinko Kikuchi was in this movie. She was very pleased.

Only Lovers Left Alive

This is a Jim Jarsmuch movie about vampires featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarsmuch movie, and I’ve only seen a few, they are very dreamy. Meaning, the camera will occasionally go look at something more interesting than the characters, some things happen or are explained with a simple line of dialogue, the plots are very loose, and you watch the characters having somewhat cryptic conversations. It’s a movie that requires some active watching and thinking. They are moody. Perhaps worth a re-watch for more details. I prefer to watch Jim Jarsmuch movies with others, because I can lose focus sometimes. Although this does an excellent job portraying Detroit as a place where things can disappear or re-appear.


This movie was terrible. Do not see this movie. It combines ever-escalating action with pseudoscience-pseudo-philosophy into a non-sensical gibberish plot about a human basically becoming the singularity. It is terrible and awful.

The Kingsmen

I didn’t like this as much as others did. There’s some poor treatment of women, grotesque violence, and a weird role for Samuel L. Jackson. This was one of the more memorable movie going experiences that I’ve ever had because a bunch of young people enjoying this movie RUINED the experience for the rest of the old people in the theater. Two separate groups people told us this after the movie.

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson the alien. More and more she has been portrayed as not really understanding humans, as being detached. Just in this list: Her, Lucy, and now Under the Skin. Apparently Scarlett Johansson just likes toying with human beings. Beyond that, this movie is great. It was dreamy, but had a firmer plot than Only Lovers Left Alive, although that plot required some attention to detail to understand. It was definitely sci-fi in the old school sense, and wonderfully set in Scotland. I think it had a very tragic ending, although you may disagree.

Obvious Child

Funny, but not uproarious, sad but not weepy. This was a great character piece about an important topic: abortions! This movie never makes light of the choice facing the character, but also doesn’t make it a decision weighed down with other factors. Instead, the film positions the decision as important but also in context with everything else going on with the character.

Waking Sleeping Beauty

I have seen this twice before, and finally got other people to watch it during a night of movie watching. I was glad that others got to see the strange, wonderful history behind the resurgence of Disney Animation in the late 80s and early 90s. You’ll see some faces you recognize and have your eyes bug out of your head, but also some unfamiliar faces that were the actual geniuses behind your childhood. I cannot recommend this film enough. Watching it with Julia and Jake was great.


Immediately after watching Waking Sleeping Beauty, we were encouraged to watch a recent great animated Disney film. Surprisingly Jake knew most of the words to the songs.

To Be Takei

Interesting and light documentary about George Takei who is a way more well rounded and interesting person than I anticipated. Somebody usually reposts something he’s reblogged in my Facebook timeline every day. And now his husband has gotten in on the act too. I’m glad Takei is around to spread the message of acceptance.

True Lies

This basically completes my James Cameron series, I think I’ve seen every movie he’s ever made. This was surprisingly good, and also over the top in a way that early 90s action movies were when they were still using practical effects for most things. This film also features a parable about government overreach regarding surveillance 20 years before it became popular. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a total creep in this movie.


A ridiculous movie about Vin Diesel surviving near death through monsters, bounty hunters, and more. Much better than The Chronicles of Riddick, in part because the stakes are so much lower. Also, it is weird to realize that Vin Diesel has only been in a handful of movies that were not Fast and Furious or Riddick movies. So long as he’s happy.

What We Do in the Shadows

Funny and low-key mockumentary about vampires in New Zealand. I’m glad I saw this in a theater and with Staehli, because we could both laugh with other people about what we were seeing. This is definitely the kind of movie that would have been much worse without the crowd.

Fast Five

For reasons still mysterious to me, Jake downloaded all of the Fast and Furious movies. We randomly selected this one, which takes place mostly in Brazil, to be the one we would start with. This was a dumb action movie, with some very strange editing. I barely remember the story (stealing….something from…the police? The government?). I worry a little bit about Star Trek since it has the same director.

My Neighbor Totoro

I have seen the visions of Totoro around since I was a kid. I have known that there was an entire movie about this big half-bear half-cat looking creature, but I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw. This movie was cute, and again, was dreamy without much a plot. Some young children move to a new town with their overwhelmed father and sick mother and have to adapt. There was much, much less Totoro than I expected, but there was also this immense, magical lushness to the animation, particularly the backgrounds that blew me away. I really appreciated the craft of this animation a great deal, and also saw connections to Avatar: the Last Airbender both in terms of animation but also story and culture. In some ways, I understand the symbolism here if only because there’s not a ton going on, but the fundamentally sound structure to build on. Imagining your own adventures with Totoro becomes really compelling, it encourages you to play around with Totoro the character, and the close-by world that isn’t entirely out of reach.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Staehli’s big crush on Rinko Kikuchi meant we really had to see this movie in theaters. A Japanese woman finds a hidden VHS tape of Fargo, becomes convinced the treasure in the movie was real, and goes to find it, despite not knowing much English at all, or having any semblance of a plan. This movie was weird, uncomfortable, but beautifully shot. Also, an a testament to the willingness of the Minnesota State Patrol to help people. Apparently based on a true story. Staheli has thoughts about this movie re: when people don’t fit into Japanese Society they get ostracized, and the pressure to conform is really, really high. Also, we were very pleased to see a pet bunny called Bunzo.

Big Hero Six

This was cute. I liked that the primary thing the hero is “fighting” in this story is his own sense of guilt in emotions. The cultivation and development of emotional stakes is central to the story. There was also glorious animation in a future San Francisco, and cool side-characters.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind

Upon seeing Totoro, I realized that I hadn’t seen many other Miyazaki films. So, I began to try and complete my gaps. First up, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind. There were more bugs than I was expecting, but it was also more meditative about our actions as a human race, and our role in the world’s ecosystem. There was less swordsmen and fighting, and much better flying. Despite the creepy bugs, this may be one of my favorite of the Miyazaki movies.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America was one of my favorite comic book characters growing up. His sense of justice was always paramount. This movie had some of the key ingredients to be good: the role of spying in our world, the meeting place of our idealism in freedom and justice, the practical applications of security. These are themes and conversations that are pertinent and uniquely suited to Captain America. I did not like the bombast and enormous set pieces that capped off this movie.

Thor: The Dark World

This movie was better than the first one, but still had issues. Loki remains the most compelling character, in part because Thor is a weird character. In the comic books, it’s a little easier to talk about Asgardians as essentially being aliens, and different planets representing the different realms, and playing with alternate dimensions. In the movies, that gets trickier, and when trying to make Thor relevant to the Avengers, rather than just taking care of space business, managing the two demands can be tricky. This movie had roughly the same plot as the second Hellboy movie, and about the same problems. Good visuals, bad motivations, big smashy things.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bonnie said it best: Sassy banter, explosion, sassy banter, explosion, James Spader. There, now you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie never let up. A visceral thrill ride that holds up on second viewing (saw it on a smaller screen with Kate and Peter at Thanksgiving). This was so good for many reasons, and the potential for it to win awards is amazing. I don’t know that I can add anything to many, many articles about this movie.


Jake Gyllenhaal plays a self-starter who gets into the evening news business, filming footage of car crashes, robberies, arrests, shootings, and more on location. But, how far will he go to make his business successful? This movie is tense, well-made, and Gyllenhaal is completely repulsive, almost lizard like in his affectation of cool intensity.


A documentary about comic stips. The dailies that you might read, or the webcomics that came afterward. There were so many different perspectives in making comics, but all of them showed how much work-a-holics comic creators are, totally in love with their characters, driven to see them on paper, but also slaves to the need of content. But also the range of styles: formalists, abstractionists, those willing to integrate pop-culture, those wanting to strive for simple themes. The sheer variety there was great, and I recommend it to comic nerds.

Inherent Vice

I saw this on a plane to Hawaii. That was not the way to see this movie. I want to re-watch this movie because Paul Thomas Anderson deserves better. This movie picks up where the Big Lebowski left off, but with a hint more crime.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

By Friday of our vacation to Hawaii, Staehli and I were sunburnt and tired. We wanted to be in a place that was both air-conditioned and not moving. We had only had air-conditioned moving places (the car) or un-air-conditioned not-moving places (everywhere else). This was more fun than I expected. Tom Cruise was more charismatic, the action was good, and it was perfect for what we wanted: escapism.


Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman has literally hundreds of films made about him. This was an attempt at a reboot while I was in college that Staehli and Jake recommended. Zatoichi is a blind but excellent swordsman who wanders into a town, and works to try and right wrongs. The special effects were a little cheesy, but the acting and set dressing was good. Watching the behind the scenes demystified parts of the film once I realized certains tics were innate to the actor, not necessarily acting choices that he was making. There is also a bollywood style dance sequence at the end that is neat.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

I was going to get my last wisdom tooth removed. I anticipated a drug-induced haze on the couch. Staehli and I planned programming of many, many Studio Ghibli movies. To prepare, I watched this documentary about Studio Ghibli, in particular making of Miyazaki’s last film. Miyazaki is a cranky, demanding old coot, but also it solidified some of the impressions from earlier: animators are work-a-holics, dedicated to their craft and obsessive about their work. Every movie is an insane labor of love and worth all of your money.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Who doesn’t want to be a wizard’s apprentice? Grand, well-animated, and more of a plot than some of Studio Ghibli’s films.

Porco Rosso

This is arguably the strangest of Miyaki’s films, and the one I had the hardest time figuring out. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I think it didn’t live up to some of the traditional themes that Miyazaki works with. It was more of a character piece about a man who got turned into a pig, but was still an excellent fighter pilot in the Mediterranean. The animators made some really gorgeous shots of their invented scenery. I liked the zany pirates and plucky girl. Michael Keaton was both a good choice, and a strange choice to play Porco.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

A girl witch becomes a woman witch. I would argue this is the cutest of all of Miyazaki’s movies, and yes, flying is a trope of his, here I think there’s some interesting scenes and motivations that invoke a true love of flying versus some of his other films. I was sad to recognize Phil Hartman’s voice, who did great work as the cat.

Spirited Away

Prior to this year, the only Miyazaki movie I had seen. It fits better with his oeuvre better than I thought it would, in part because the movie is weirder than I remember. Children: much more likely to just accept new circumstances and go along with stuff than adults. This was also as good as I remember. It was strange to realize how big an impression some things made on me, and how little others did. I thought Zenbaba was a bigger part of the plot, but the boy-dragon a much smaller part. Reverse!


Of the films, my least favorite, I think because it was the most-childlike. Again, animation was gorgeous, but the language was so-so simple.

The Wolf of Wall Street

This film is pretty repugnant, but glamorously and gleefully so. I think The Departed was the last time Leonardo DiCaprio played a decent human being.

The Martian

One of the central features of this movie, I feel, is that everyone is pretty good at their jobs. Everyone makes the right choices, or takes calculated risks, and they either pay off or don’t pay off. I enjoyed this movie a great deal, and it was thrilling to watch in part because I had no idea what the ending would be like.

Crimson Peak

A simple story in a glorious setting. Girl whirlwind marries man who whisks her off to his haunted house in England that oozes red clay. Guillermo Del Toro pumps this simple tale full of atmosphere and visual splendor. It’s a bit of a pity this is so straightforward. It was not a horror film, but instead a ghost story.


Bad Bond movie (they’ve gone good, bad, good, bad now with Daniel Craig). I saw this at Thanksgiving with Peter and Kate. We worked to re-write the film after seeing it. It was so bad. It had all the ingredients to be good, but didn’t do anything with any of them. It re-hashed the plots of the past three films poorly, and made references to previous Bond films that didn’t make any sense in context. It was flashy and good looking, but underwhelming.

The Hebrew Hammer

A Hanukkah tradition with Julia and Jake. This movie is comical, never takes itself too seriously, and I wish there were more Hanukkah movies! Word on the street is that there will be a sequel!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Delivered on most of the promises it made. It was Star Wars. It didn’t go any wild, new places (which made some people upset) but laid the groundwork to do so. This movie harkened back to what made the previous ones good, and re-invested us in new characters (yay women and people of color!). I saw it twice in theaters, and it was amazing both times. A fine way to cap off 2015.

2015 Book List with Commentary

January 1, 2016


The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan

I expected Michael Pollan to be some sort of demagogue, a firebrand, a man calling for the food revolution. Put everyone up against the wall who wasn’t down with the future! Give me Sustainable Farming or give me death! A suave writer with a gift for words and hard science to back it up. I didn’t expect him to be an author who seems almost timid. I had looked at his followers, the people around Seattle who demonize the commercial farming industry, buy all organic and seemed to radiate an earnestness at the farmer’s market, that desperate passion. I understand. Global warming terrifies me too. Maybe Botany of Desire isn’t his best book, maybe his style has advanced, or maybe the seeds of food revolution around Seattle were sown by something else, suspicion over the slick packaging of meat, a series of unhappy meals, a great organic meal, I don’t know. But Michael Pollan was wimpy. He explores four big plants: the apple, the potato, the marijuana plant, and the tulip, and how they influence people just as much as we influence them. He gets in a weird argument with a Johnny Appleseed historian. He gives you the Potato Famine from the plant’s point of view. He gets a little high and describes the room he’s sitting in in immense detail. He explains why the Dutch were insane to sell Tulip Futures. It was no big realization, it ended more in a sputter than a bang. Our book club realized all four of these plants grew in Washington, and we talked about where our food comes from, but I did not have an epiphany about food thanks to Michael Pollan. I did think the apple chapter was the best though. I’ve actually used that chapter in conversation.

Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie

Something I attempted to do more this year was to read local. Sherman Alexie was one of the biggest holes I identified in writers from the Northwest. He gets read in schools, for chrissakes, but the most I’d ever read by him was some articles for The Stranger. I borrowed this book up from Peter. Ostensibly, it’s about a Native American band getting ahold of Robert Johnson’s cursed guitar, and propelling them to fame, although not quite fortune. In simple, clear language and sentences, Alexie sketches out the absolute poverty of the Spokane reservation. He doesn’t make their world maudlin, or over-dramatic, but simply accurately represents their life — the ups, the down, the good times, and the bad. It was good, but very, very sad. After this book, and the rest of the Tournament of Books, I started trying to mix up my reading to include more people of color.

Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

The third book in the Gentleman Bastards series. Staehli loves this series, and pushed this tome into my hands. I liked this book better than the follow-up, Red Seas Under Red Skies. We got to see more of what Locke and Jean were up to, and the broader context of what their actions meant. Flashbacks also meant more of the characters we liked from the first books came back, and Locke’s first love was explained. There were some fun theater allusions, but I still think the first book was definitely the best.

My Drunk Kitchen: A guide to eating, drinking, & going with your gut, by Hannah Hart

Hannah Hart is amazing. I’m surprised that she wasn’t included in the biggest Youtube earners list by Forbes, although her videos don’t usually make it to millions, but she was able to turn herself cooking while inebriated into a full-time job. Anyway, the Drunk Kitchen videos are amazing, and as Hannah became more confident in her videos, she started talking to other Youtube celebrities about cool projects, took a trip around the US in a Winnebago, and then began teaming up with other stars. Part of the reason Hart has been a success is because she’s such an infectious optimist with amazing delivery. But a big chunk of this comes across in person. In book format, some of the charm was gone, and the writing wasn’t quite up to par. Also, she is self-admittedly not great at cooking, so the recipes weren’t the best. Which is okay, because this is actually an inspirational self-help book disguised as a cook book, reflecting Hart’s own journey from simple entertainer, to entertainer with a message.

Glow, by Ned Beauman

Beauman’s first novel, The Teleportation Accident was a surprise hit for me two years ago. When I heard he had another book coming out, I was eager to read it even when facing down other reading for the Tournament of Books. This book about sleep disorders, foxes, underground dance music, pirate radio, and bizarre psychotropic drugs is fun. It’s a little short, and the plot flits around pretty quickly, and I think we could have a better ending, but this was fun. I think there is a little category of writers who are writing some new, modern day weirdness, one of which I read in the Spring and liked a whole lot more. You’ll see when we get there.

At Risk, by Stella Rimington

Phoebe picked this for book club. Written by former MI5 chief Stella Rimington, this is the first of a series of mystery books. It started off strangely, aiming at that series component with some character background that never really comes up again in this novel. I liked the book more once it turned into a spy novel. A very procedural spy novel, again because Stella Rimington helped run MI5, so there are some fun actualities about trying to find someone who entered the country legally, but it being like a needle in a haystack when you don’t know their name, only their gender. Even though this was written in 2004, there are definite echoes of current issues that surfaced this year: Muslim extremists recruiting European nationals to become willing participants in attacks against their own country. Very current.

The Tournament of Books

All the Birds, Singing; by Evie Wyld

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

Two of my favorite books of the year were All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld and Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer. This year, Charlotte and I egged one another on to read as many books as we could in The Tournament of Books, by the The Morning News. Many of the books I had never heard of, much less read, All the Birds, Singing especially so. It was recommended into the hands of the organizers by a book shop in Chicago. Both books in roundabout ways are about trauma and not fitting in. I tend to avoid books with trauma as a central theme. The Room, Winter’s Bone, books that evoke abuse are not “go-to reads” for me, no matter how beautiful the writing. I am a reader who does appreciate a good sentence, but I’m reading for plot, for what happens, for exploring new and unknown and forgotten things. Science Fiction and Fantasy were those things for me, and constituted the bulk of my reading for many years, but my 10th grade honors English teacher didn’t see them as “serious books.” When I was told that my taste was bad, that these books didn’t belong, I fell into a funk. Books transport, they give company to the lonely. As an only child, I was lonely a lot. Never wanting siblings, but wanting more friends. Miraculously a friend came along, my friend Wes, who had a more mature taste in movies, and insisted I borrow a few. I think I started with Mulholland Drive or maybe Y Tu Mama Tambien, but it set me down a path to take movies much more seriously, to lend a critical eye to this format of stories too.
My books languished for a year and a half, until my senior year, when I took my AP Literature class, specifically British Literature, and copious amounts of books and plays were on the docket, demanding I read a lot. I didn’t take to Tess of the d’Urbervilles very well, nor Crime and Punishment, but I was enraptured and spooked by what I thought was the much more plausible A Brave New World, enjoyed the punchy pacing of Lord of the Flies, entirely fascinated by the feminist subtext of Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, spirited away by the weirdness of the Hunger Artists by Franz Kafka. I re-discovered my passion for reading. There was something about the unknown, the weird, the perhaps unknowable entirely outside the bounds of science fiction and fantasy that Mrs. Wheeler taught me to appreciate and hunt for.
All the Birds, Singing, and Annihilation are these kinds of books. All the Birds, Singing alternates chapters going forward and backward in time from a central point (think Memento). We see where our heroine is, and how she got there. Wyld includes some excellent foreshadowing and call backs, which link previous desires and unintended consequences. We start in England then dip back to Australia, where Jack is from and move back and forth. I learned a great deal about sheep shearing, which sounds unpleasant, and we learn about predator and prey, and that complex relationship that stalks its way through the novel, as we struggle to determine what the threats are, and how close they are to breaking down the door.
Annihilation was more in the vein of science fiction, though I hesitate to call it such. Our main character, The Biologist, operates from a scientific point of view, but is exploring Area X, an area the rest of the world thinks is an environmental superfund site, but in reality is something much different, a pristine place where nature has reverted control over the land, and something is keeping it that way, despite the best efforts of an entire organization, Southern Reach, to investigate. This reminded me of some of the early X-Files a little, yet so much more fleshed out, allowed to breathe and explore what the unknowable actually wants, if it even has wants.

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay

Speaking of books about trauma, this one was tough to get through. This was the one book that Charlotte read before the Tournament of Books began, and she loved it. She had to encourage me to continue to read when I wanted to quit, to put it aside because the Tournament had advanced and it looked like An Untamed State wasn’t going to make it much farther. Charlotte’s encouragement and Gay’s reputation as a thoughtful writer encouraged me to finish the book. In thinking about my reluctance, I think it was my own privilege that made me want to not finish. Reading about trauma isn’t pleasant for me, but with All the Birds, Singing, or Annihilation, there is a veneer of strangeness, of separation that creates a reasonable distance. Whereas An Untamed State is about a kidnapping, and what happens over 13 days to Mirelle, our main character. There is no separation. This story is about dealing with rape, and torture, and the society that creates the circumstances for these to be acceptable options. It is about family pride, and patience, what it takes to heal, or if healing can ever really occur. Reading about these events can be a solace for some readers, for those who need an example of strength, or escape from the normal every-day microaggressions into something more explicit. Seeming something extreme can help you feel a bit better about your own life.. Gay is always careful to escape easy categories. Mirelle is difficult, argumentative, headstrong. When I first read this book, I found some of her behavior with her husband unrealistic — shutting him out, not talking to him for days, ignoring him. That seemed outrageous behavior, who really does this? But having read Americanah at the very end of the year, I am thinking that this might just be truly different way for black women to approach relationship problems, and I am culturally white, so I’m not exposed to this style often. Overall, I’m glad to have read the book.

A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, by Will Chancellor

I read two different novels loosely about college or at least college-aged characters for the Tournament of Books, and had very split feelings about them. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall is a book about the in-betweens of life. As such, it’s difficult to pin down. Chancellor covers American academia without ever making this a campus novel. He takes us across Europe, but this is no travel novel. Main characters Owen Burr and his father Joseph Burr grow and grow, finding themselves, but you would be hard pressed to call this a coming of age tale or a bildungsroman.Owen Burr, the Olympic level athlete loses his eye in a college water polo match, dashing his hopes as a career. He splits for Europe to start a career in art, and his worried father Professor Joseph Burr follows him months later after no contact. The characters attempt to take their place among the many, many allusions, name droppings, and outright fictionalizations of famous artists, philosophers, poets, musicians, and politicians. I did my best to recognize many of the philosophers, but some of the artists left me totally blank. Chancellor seemed to honestly want to have a far-ranging conversations about the in-betweens of the world, one that made many, many references as examples. His characters chat about somewhat odd topics: like what would be your top three albums of all time that you could never listen to again? Or when does performance art start or stop? or why do the Olympics matter?  It’s a messy novel, all over the place, but never displeasing. It has a genuine desire to talk about these subjects that I enjoyed and connected with. I enjoyed my weird time with the novel, and wanted good things to happen to the characters.

Wittgenstein Jr., by Lars Iyer

This book, I almost didn’t like. In fact, this book was one of my least favorite books of the year, right up until the last thirty pages. Until that point, Iyer has been writing highfalutin academic prose light on most of the details, setting the campus life of parties and drugs against the academic contortions of a possibly too-brilliant philosophy professor, as we follow a sympathetic student, very worried about his professor’s state of mind. Toward the end of the novel, Iyer made a choice (that maybe others saw much, much earlier than I did) that put the beginning of the novel in a totally different light. Then I actually really liked the book. In part because it did something powerful: it normalized an experience of a minority, without us knowing the character was a minority. This book made me question all of my assumptions as a reader. Beyond that, this novel is pretty slight, and I have absolutely no idea who I would recommend this to.

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

Another novel featuring British campus life, this novel is somewhat controversial. If you’ve never read any David Mitchell, then this next part may get a little complicated, but I will do my best.
Prior to this novel, I had read two other David Mitchell novels: Cloud Atlas, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. I had mixed feelings about Cloud Atlas (see Fall for more on this one), but loved The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. In reading the both of them though, and talking to others who have read other David Mitchell novels, it’s clear that Mitchell has a definite style: one that’s gently funny with snappy dialogue, has a mixture of the unexplainable fantasy softly woven into the narrative (never outright science fiction or the workings of God, but far flung chances, or strange obsessions repeated). Typically, they are presented without comment. His books often have fractured narratives, meaning we switch characters and perspectives throughout the novels. Mitchell has proven himself an adept writer about different styles – science fiction, histories, modernist comedies, near-future dystopias. Although while Mitchell’s writing is top notch, I have questions about his overall goal. Is he just mimicking things, or using them to prove a point? The themes seem to be both about not being able to explain everything in life, but also the futility of trying to do so. Does everything need an explanation? That’s one of the central questions at root for the criticisms of The Bone Clocks. Because it turns out that all of his books, as disparate as they have been, all exist in the same ur-narrative, and their keystone is The Bone Clocks. Characters or relatives of those characters from each of those novels pop into the narrative around a new character: Holly Sykes. Holly can hear voices as a kid, and the voices graduate to Ms. Constantin, a late night visitor who tells Holly not to tell others about her visits. But eventually Holly tells her mom, who takes her to visit a nice Doctor, who makes the voices go away. As the book skips around in perspective, Holly is always a figure, a central piece as she travels around Switzerland, marries and has children, becomes an author, and grows old.  As the secret world parallel to ours is revealed, the voices in her head are revealed to not just be idle chatter, but something far more strange but also somewhat sinister.
But in writing this book, some argue that Mitchell retroactively makes his other books worse because he explains and explains. The mystery and the associated thrill of not knowing, disperses under the weight of explanation. Mitchell is a good enough writer that I kept enjoying the book the whole way through, but upon reconsideration, and thinking about what I’ve read, I was dissatisfied with the novel. Where Jeff Vandermeer and Evie Wyld chose to keep their mysteries hidden, Mitchell exposed his to the light, gleefully explaining why things were happening. And as it turns out, that makes the novel less fun. There is a tradition in Science Fiction of presenting a new concept, a new technology, and then examining how that one alteration affects human behavior. But the fascinating part of that kind of science fiction is the human exploration of how we would behave and react when exposed to a new situation. Mitchell instead apes the worse science fiction novelists who want to explain how the cool thing they invented works, and why it’s important. It removes the human element, and I think that’s what this novel and some of his others are missing: that fun sense of humanity. It comes across as an imitation, rather sincere. The sentence by sentence construction works, but the overall feeling of satisfaction or revelation never comes through.
Obviously I had some feelings about this book, and this New Yorker article by James Wood helped me sort through those feelings very well.

Silence Once Begun, by Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun is among the strangest books that I read this year. That and Octavia Butler’s Dawn. Silence Once Begun is written as a series of transcripts of conversations between the author and different people surrounding a man condemned to death 20 years earlier in Japan. Members include his family, friends, and witnesses. The prose is spare, describing the bare minimum of the scenes, and often as a reader you have to interpret the silences, the biases. This is because the central mystery about the man who supposedly murdered 10 elderly folks systematically did not speak at all in police custody, his cell, his trial, or anywhere else. To anyone, about anything. Once arrested, he spoke rarely, only referring back to his signed confession, which turned up at the courthouse with, having signed it in a bar bet. The novel has this strange feel of almost reality. I wasn’t sure if this was based off of a real event and lightly fictionalized, or was written so well that it seemed like it could be real. I was frustrated by parts of this book, liked others, but the twist at the end, and there was a twist, seemed unoriginal, inauthentic.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I had a lot of feelings about this book while reading it, but find them harder to sum up. Emily St. John Mandel wrote a light apocalypse novel. A disease spreads, people die, some people live, and then they attempt to begin again. We switch back and forth between the beginning of the outbreak and 15 years in the future.
What I like about this novel though is that it is largely about art. Music, theater, comic books, myths, stories, the things we tell one another to survive, to make life worth living. The novel explores where the notion to create these stories comes from, how we create or change those stories, and how those stories can define us, or inform us, or how we can reject them entirely. Or how two people’s interpretation of the same event can spin two wildly different results, based on the information they have. This novel was a pleasure to read, and maybe I should revisit it.

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Charlotte’s favorite book of the tournament. Well written in punchy sentences that depict a certain kind of New York lady. One you may identify with, who maybe drinks a little too much, lives in a too small apartment, and has a job that she likes, but maybe isn’t that great. She gets married, and the relationship takes off and struggles, and attempts to come back from  actions that can’t be taken back. The writing is almost like vignettes, some only a single, short sentence long. We weave in and out of this narrative, like someone’s combined social media postings, except very well written. It is the examination of a relationship, and what that means. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my favorite.


Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer

Upon finishing the Tournament of Books. I read the second book of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Alas, the Biologist is gone, but instead we get Control. We get a look inside the disorganized backwater institution attempting to understand Area X. We discover that maybe living on the edge of something unknown has a profound effect if you start paying attention. Not quite as good the first, but still excellent and weird. At the end of March, I pledged to read more books that I already owned.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

How to describe Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. It is a genre book without irony. There are no nudge nudge, wink wink references to other books or films. There is only the pulpy plot: a man accidentally fixes an old clockwork doomsday device and must prevent the end of the world. There is a bad-ass lady spy, a mad scientist, London gangsters, a possibly immortal Nepalese warlord King, sewer scavengers, and mad monks who built the Art Deco crossed with steampunk technology. And all of it is taken seriously! Harkaway writes like Charles Dickens, with intricately described background characters popping up for a scene or two before fading back to whence they came. The world feels lived in, like there are more stories to tell. This was some of the most fun I had reading all year. This was the book that absorbed me, made me read past my stop on the bus (more than once). A rip roaring tale with some actual character growth.

Self-Inflicted Wounds, by Aisha Tyler

A book club book! This is the only audiobook I “read” all year. Thinking about it now, and my predilections towards audiobooks, I prefer people reading their own material, and I prefer people talking about themselves. So I guess I only like audiobooks if they’re memoirs/ personal non-fiction like David Sedaris? Regardless, this was fun. Aisha Tyler was an enormous nerd, grew up in a strange family (her dad sounds like a total badass), and injured herself a lot. She tells her own story pretty well, and doesn’t apologize for who she is.

Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder

I got this as an advanced reader’s copy from Kate. One of the things that lured me to use OkCupid was their neat statistics website OkTrends. It turns out that Christian Rudder ran that part of the website and used a bunch of that data to write this book, re-examining that data with new things from eHarmony, and other dating website, as well as some general statistics. With this intimate data, he is able to draw some fascinating conclusions. Because I followed OkTrends religiously, not much of the data was new to me, but he positions to the book as a way to watch people say one thing and do another. Jake calls it lying with actions rather than words. Here the data is laid out across some basic factors of identity and dating, which provides some fascinating insight into issues of race, class,  and culture. We may say we’re willing to date someone of a different race, but how often do you actually message someone from a different race? Rudder is smart about the limitations of his data, and what conclusions he is willing to draw, pointing out flaws and other areas to examine. This was a swift read for one of the only non-fiction books I read all year.

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

One of the only books I’ve plucked from a Free Little Library. Chabon has been a little hit or miss with me, I tend to like his longer works, not his shorter stuff. This was the book that solidified that for me though. At first, the idea of two record store nerds in the East Bay struggling with running successful business against new money gentrification, race in a predominantly black neighborhood, and being parents didn’t sounds that exciting. But Michael Chabon is a master of context. Putting familiar ingredients in new situations, drawing out the complexities of time, place, situations, upraising, the myriad of factors that simultaneously make us unique and just like everyone else. I wound up really liking this book, the weird rhythms of the language, the frank conversations about race, class, and gentrification. Chabon doesn’t shy away from the inbetweens, the white guy who identifies more with black culture than white culture, the kid who doesn’t identify as gay but does play around sexually with his other male friend, the cultural importance of home births in some cultures against the recommendation of western medicine. While written in 2012, I feel like this novel was making observations that wouldn’t become mainstream for another year or two.

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, by Sharma Shields

I tried to read more local this year. This book was getting some good local press, Sharma Shields is from Spokane, so I decided to go for it. This book reminded me a little of George Saunders, a little of Catherynne Valente, but taking place around the state I call home. The book follows Eli over the course of his life as he attempts to find Sasquatch (or Mr. Krantz), who he met when his mother chose to leave his father for a life with Sasquatch. Weird monsters abound in chapters that read like short stories, but feed into one another. I was alarmed how jaded some of the characters became, how unstable, but then this is a story about monsters, what was I expecting?

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

My book club book this year. Charlotte and I both loved the extremely crazy Night Film, the second book by Marisha Pessl. Maddo suggested this to me many years ago, and Book Club picked it. This was not as crazy as I wanted it to be. It reads as a very literate bildungsroman that takes a real left turn in the last 100-150 pages. It’s like Pessl decided that she wanted to give the most insane but potentially plausible answer possible to the question of whodunnit and why. That was the kind of insanity that occurred in Night Film, which is my favorite of the two books. We felt okay about this book. I haven’t had a hit in like two  years at Book Club.


For summer, I played Summer Book Bingo with the Seattle Public Library.

Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut

The Collection of Short Stories square. My friend Aaron gave me his kindle shortly after I gave mine to Madeline. His came loaded with some books, and I had always meant to read more Vonnegut, hearing that Slaughterhouse Five, while popular, was not necessarily his greatest work. I was surprised at Vonnegut’s unique blend of New England sensibilities against utterly bizarro situations. It reads like easy-going absurdism, but I really liked pretty much all of this. Alas, I never followed up with more of his work.

Count Zero, by William Gibson

The Published The Year You Were Born square. A re-read, but one I didn’t remember at all. This book was much more coherent and much better than I remember. Gibson has a knack for futurism that I never appreciated until I re-read this. A treatise on power, money, and the ease with which people will trade their humanity for longer life and more power is portrayed on a great scale with hackers struggling to get by, and huge corporations battling for the control. I think Gibson picked up with Bradbury left off.

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Banned Book square, and a book club book to boot! Most of my experience with Toni Morrison is from mandatory readings of Beloved and Song of Solomon. This is one of the only stories I read this year explicitly from the point of view of a child. It was simple, refreshing, but also incredibly sad. Morrison has a way of sketching out families, traditions, and communities with ease. In book club we talked a lot about internalized racism, but also subtler racism, the ways we act without thinking. You could also see Morrison building her powers as an author here. She already has a voice in this book, but as she wrote more, she became one of the most outstanding authors we have today. I’d be willing to read more Morrison after this.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

The Prizewinner Square. Gibson wrote the first book ever to win the Hugo and Nebula awards in the same year. It deserved it. I mis-remembers a lot of Neuromancer, and found it very engaging the second time around. I was sold more on Gibson’s talent as an author to uniquely envision the near future. He was right in many, many ways. We don’t live in domes, but the communication, use of technology to placate the masses, the shrinking sense of time, the control of massive corporations, these are all things that have come to pass. All we’re missing is some of the local space tourism, and we’re getting there, we’re getting there. This book played out as a twist on a heist plot, but with enough different and philosophically different that it deserved to be its own thing. I loved re-reading this book.

Dawn, by Octavia Butler

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks square. I had wanted to read Octavia Butler’s Brood series, and when I saw it pop up on the hashtag, I was excited at the opportunity. What I wasn’t expecting was how alien this book would actually make me feel. As I said earlier, one of the immense powers of science fiction is to imagine a new situation, and to explore humanity’s reaction to that situation. In what ways do we adapt, or fail to adapt to the needs of our own survival? Butler composes one of the most powerful, most authentic reactions to encountering an alien civilization that I have read in a long time, possibly ever. The revulsion, curiosity, and difficulty flow throughout the writing. Lilith, our hero, engages in a Henrietta Lacks like exchange with an alien race, trading her cancer for the chance to rebuild human civilization several hundred years after we’ve nuked one another into oblivion. The aliens gathered all the survivors they could, and began experimenting with them to see who could adapt, who could tolerate them, and who could be swayed. Butler creates a novel that I found difficult to finish, but also singularly compelling because of how blatant but also nuanced the discussion of race, attraction, humanity, and gender roles came into play when put into context with the aliens she created. I want to keep reading these books.

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell

The Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit square. This is a half-re-read for me. Sarah Vowell was recommended to me by some literary friends in 2011 or 2012. I picked up this book, stormed through the first half in an afternoon, and it fell by the wayside. I indulged too quickly and got sick. I picked it back up again to prepare for my Hawaiian vacation. I enjoyed giving this a second chance. Having heard Vowell on This American Life since then, I was able to follow her voice much better than before. I enjoyed learning about Hawaii, and things I learned in the book helped inform my journey! Some of the island history and resulting politics helped me navigate conversations a little better, and figure out where we’re supposed to be going. Also, it helped explain the immense amount of churches on the island.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

The Outside Your Comfort Zone square. I had to read this book for work. I have nothing to say about this book, except that it sort of sickens me to see another book of his on the airport shelves when traveling this Christmas.

The Butterfly Mosque, by G. Willow Wilson

The Memoir square. I don’t read many memoirs, and was having a hard time figuring out what to expect. However, This turned out to be one of my favorite books of the summer, and one I talked up to friends. It made me re-evaluate what I think of as a memoir (my first introduction was George H. W. Bush on The Simpsons), and their cultural currency as unique stories, told by the people who lived them. G. Willow Wilson is a local author, introduced to me by my grandmother in LA. She sent me both of her books. I read Alif The Unseen in 2013, which I thought was fine, but didn’t want to dive deeper into her work. But this was literally the only memoir I had in the house, and it was waiting to be read.
Wilson writes about her conversion to Islam as a teenager, her decision to teach abroad in Egypt, and falling in love with a local man. This book is so wholly about different cultures colliding, coming to terms with the choice for assimilation — become an ex-pat or make the jump to “go native.” It’s a rich topic, especially within the religious context. As Americans, our culture expects immigrants or visitors to go native in America as quickly as possible (while we also remain skeptical about their motives or true allegiances), yet we seemingly cannot understand Americans who immigrate to other communities, for love, for politics, for a better chance at a life they don’t feel comfortable with here. For me, this book showed me a unique perspective, and opened up a whole new world for me that was hereto unknown. I very much want to read Wilson’s other work now.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

The Graphic Novel square. I had heard about Nimona before, but never committed to reading it. I saw Noelle Stevenson’s art on Tumblr (dwarf racist party dad) but didn’t connect the two. Kate lent the book to Charlotte, who lent it to me. I really, really enjoyed this. Comic books are strange things. We develop language through imitation, first learning to speak, to associate words with objects. Then we begin to ascribe meaning to the objects and the words. When we are learning to read, we see pictures of the objects we learn the words for, learning the shape of the sounds that we say to convey the meaning of our thoughts. Eventually, as we grow older, the pictures drop away into simple text. Not so for comic books and graphic novels, which keep the dialogue, but eschew description for a visual language, one that maybe we have forgotten to read, or must re-learn how to read. Visualization is how we first learned to communicate, and there is something about the combination of words and images that I think is still potent and different than what a standard novel may put forth. I loved Nimona, in part because Stevenson plays with shapes and our expectations about what those shapes mean, quite literally. Nimona is a girl, or at least seems like it, who teams up with the villain of a kingdom, but maybe he is not the villain? Like I said, Stevenson’s art toys with our expectations of visual language, and begins to subvert our readings for a more engaged and thoughtful presentation of identity.

Monster of the Year, by Bruce Coville

The From Your Childhood square. Bruce Coville was my favorite author as a kid. Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, Jennifer Murdley’s Toad, I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X, The Search for Snout, these books helped define my childhood. They blended monsters and mystery with science fiction, with the child’s narrative of being special or selected, chosen to go on this grand adventure. As an adult, there are many things that I can see as borrowing or being homages to great works of science fiction and fantasy, adapted for a child’s eyes. Monster of the Year was a favorite of mine as a kid, because we loved Halloween. Although I now see it as being pretty slight (two kids accidentally run a Monster of the Year contest that attracts your classic movie monsters who turn out to be real) compared to some of the other richer works that develop the characters more. Something I like though is that Coville makes an interracial friendship just because, and also a Step-Dad. Normalizes it for kids! I read this in like 90 minutes.

This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

The Finish in a Day square. Another graphic novel, this one pushed into my hands by Staehli. This One Summer reminded me of Blankets, but in a good way. The story follows two girls, Rose and Wendy becoming teenagers at a lakeside cottage. This is apparently a summer tradition, but things are different as they age and begin to adopt new interests: horror movies and boys, and not engage with others, like horsing around and swimming. Rose’s parents are arguing about things that seem incomprehensible to her, and we begin to catch on. This is a subtle work that boasts amazing art, in particular for swimming scenes. There’s a lot of rich visual language in swimming that the Tamaki’s play with, in particular for navigating out of the shallows of childhood and into the deeper waters of adolescence and teenagerdom. In the same way that Craig Thompson plays with the blankets of snow, blankets on a bed, and blanket emotions in his teenage graphic novel, The One Summer plays with swimming into the deep end. I really liked this book.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

The Author Under 30 square. This book came up last year in the Tournament of Books, and I put it on my to-read list. I forgot about it until I saw it in a bookstore when I was visiting a bookstore in Victoria, Canada  last year (Munro Books, founded by the short story and now Nobel Prize winning Alice Munro!). Researching writers under 30, Catton was one of the only non-children’s writers I could find. She was 29 when this was published and won the Man Booker award. The Luminaries is quite a good, a take on old-fashioned Victorian novels, where a group or one specific man recounts his travails to an audience. Yet this one is given a twist by adding usually unheard of voices in New Zealand: Chinese laborers, native Maori tribesmen, the underclass, an unwilling prostitute, their actions all mapped to the zodiac during a specific period of time. The plot is actually dictated by star patterns. I don’t pretend to know the zodiac, but the novel is entirely pleasurable beyond that piece. Neither Charlotte nor Kate could finish this, and I can see why. Unless you’re super intrigued by the central mystery and willing to wade through the artifice, you don’t have a chance. I did both and was very pleased with my decision. It also reads well for extended sessions, as this is what I read on the plane back from Hawaii.

Heat, by Bill Buford

The Re-read square. This was my second or third re-read of Heat. I find new things in it each time. Essentially the history about Italian Cooking through the starting point of Mario Batali, but also about the growth of the celebrity chef industry, this reading one made me want to visit Italy more than in previous versions. I found the portrayal of early Food Network fascinating in a sort of anthropological sense. The network has changed so much from its origins as a sort of “how-to for different cuisines” roots. Now it is basically for foodies. I did some research, and Bill Buford alludes to writing a book about French Cooking after thoroughly exploring Italian cooking for this book. 10 years later, that is still the case, as he researches and prepares different French food. I cannot wait for that book!

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Turned into a Movie square. Also a book club book! Kazuo Ishiguro got a lot of press earlier this year for The Buried Giant. I forgot that he also wrote this book about a sort of dystopian future England where certain children are very sheltered from the world in order to prepare them for a life of working in hospitals. We follow Kath, as she cares for the sick and dying all over England. At least that’s what it appears to be, but as we’ve learned, not everything is as it appears. Never Let Me Go is a strange little tale, written so close in this insular world that doesn’t seem bad, but more existentially exhausting. Roads and sick rooms, Kath’s existence seems so lonely, despite being primarily about her kept-up relationships with her friends from school and their time there. There are some echoes of Britain’s best paranoia books like 1984, but also some of it’s exquisite domestic fiction, which Ishiguro wrote, famously “The Remains of the Day.”

Native Guard, by Natasha Tretheway

The Collection of Poetry square. I don’t read much poetry, despite writing self-professed poetry texts for five years now. I still have a few  poetry collections on my bookshelf, but I was reading for speed, and all of them were at least 350 pages long. Native Guard, the prize winner of the bunch, was also the shortest at just under 90 pages. A true chapbook, rather than collection of a poet’s entire work. I really liked this, in part because I got a much clearer sense of theme from this collection. Tretheway writes about race, specifically the heritage that can come with family, the good parts and the bad parts, and dealing with the frustration and weight that can come with family, but also the pride and purpose of identity that is the second edge of the sword. I had read some of these poems in college, and was glad to come back to them anew. Also, it turns out that I really like imagery about skeletons, bones, and earth, which feature heavily.

Artful, by Ali Smith

The Checked Out From the Library square. I thought it was going to be non-fiction, a collection of essays and topics. Then the book turned out to be a book of fiction based on a series of lectures Ali Smith gave as a guest lecturer. But they’re framed as her deceased husband’s lectures (which may be truth), and during the middle of each, her writing wanders off to more journaling type work about seeing her dead husband (like something out of a George Saunders story), and her trying to re-build her life after his death. It’s a story about criticism, the things we leave behind, and the importance we give some things. I’m still not sure what I think about this. Some gorgeous writing, that was almost more about the rhythm of the words than their actual content, which is usually not my thing. I think that is why I struggle with it.


Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

A short story collection. This was a book club book, but I read it after we discussed it. Link has long been on my to-read list, but on the back burner. I leaped at the chance to finally read her and was surprised. She’s a formalist and an absurdist. Some people don’t realize this, but absurdists are usually excellent formalists, because they must know the conventions they want to break, and the ways they break cleanly, so the reader will want to continue reading, no matter how weird the story gets. At the same time, Magic for Beginners is a bit dated. I feel like Link is riffing of a certain kind of literary fiction written around the 90s and early 2000s when this came out. Having read some of those books, I’m able to pick up a bit of what she’s throwing down, mocking traditional gender roles, wholesome families, workplace dramas, and retellings of fairytales. These were pretty rote for the time, and I had to read a lot of these short stories in my undergrad class. She twists these conventions until they scream, turn into cats, turn into men wearing cat costumes, and then turn into mean wearing cat costumes on a television show you meant to watch but never did. They’re interesting intellectually, but I wouldn’t say they’re a fun read, necessarily.

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Or as I called it: Neal Stephenson’s overly elaborate D&D Campaign. This is really two different stories sort of smooshed together. In the first two thirds of the book, humanity struggles to survive when the moon randomly explodes. Significant questions about getting people into space, who to send into space, and how to survive there while the moon then rains down comets for about 5000 years makes for good science fiction. There are real stakes, interesting characters (including a Neil DeGrasse Tyson mock-up), solid science, disturbing political dynamics, and some fun dry humor. The last third of the book jumps far into the future and literally plays like a D&D Campaign. I would love more stories to occur in the world that Stephenson has created in the last third, although I’m not sure how likely that will be. I read this over a weekend when I was really sick, so this may be worth a re-read.

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake

I tried. I really did. This was my second crack at Titus Groan. I got 300 pages into this thing, an oddball series written by one of the official British WWII artists dedicated to portraying the war. The only novels he ever really wrote were the Gormenghast Trilogy, which starts here. But the plot was stagnant, taking forever to move, all the characters are grotesque, and our title character is a baby for the majority of the entire story. It wasn’t fun to read, and wikipedia told me that it took another book before things really got going. WIth that death knell, I gave Kate back her family heirloom copy of the book.

Tuesday Nights in 1980, by Molly Prentiss

The worst book I read this year. I wanted to join Indiespensible all year, and finally managed to snag a spot in September. My books shipped in October. The actual book they sent was Did You Ever Have a Family, see below. They also sent some coffee and an Advanced Reader Copy of this book, Prentiss’s debut. It is terrible. I liked reading about art scenes in A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, but these were interminable. The male characters were all brilliant and selfish, the female characters were long-suffering muses, New York played itself, and I didn’t care about anything. I regret this book.

Mona Lisa Overdrive, by William Gibson

To cleanse my palate, I decided to finish off the Sprawl Trilogy of William Gibson. This was again a quick propulsive read, bringing together characters from the first two novels as they attempted to deal with the consequences of spawning out a truly unregulated Artificial Intelligence, one that didn’t want to conquer the world, or destroy humanity, but instead had an existential crisis and fractured into many different personalities that take the form of Haitian Voodoo gods. That’s when things got weird on this version of the internet. This was a satisfying conclusion on the whole trilogy, and it made me want to take up some of Gibson’s other novels.

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson

For our one year anniversary in October, Staehli gave me a packet of graphic novels, which made me very pleased. We had both read Nimona, and I wanted to read Stevenson’s more regular work: Lumberjanes. I was totally pleasantly surprised. One of the TV shows we fell in love with this year Gravity Falls, and Lumberjanes reads as an alternate version of that: girls in the woods at slightly dangerous feminist summer camp battling against potentially supernatural forces that includes references right out of Indiana Jones. This was fun, affirming, and well-written. I definitely want to go back and re-visit this

Did You Ever Have a Family?, by Bill Clegg

The actual book I received for my Indiespensible package. I was afraid to read this, because it sounded sad. It didn’t sound like a book I would have chosen for myself: the morning of a wedding in small town Connecticut, tragedy strikes, people die, and everyone has to sort through their grief. This sounds like weepy literary fiction, the very kind that I find little to no interest in. But the tastemakers at Powell’s didn’t pick wrong here. I was surprised at how moving the writing was, how well it navigated small town politics, and different voices of characters. I was blown away when a small town on the Washington coast, Moclips, became a major setting of the novel. A bunch of friends spent two long weekends in that small town, and one time both Charlotte and Phoebe stayed in the very motel Clegg sets the novel, I think in perhaps the same room. This blew my mind, and it made me re-think about my connection to local fiction. It was a total surprise to see something that connects to me and the setting I find myself. I try to buy local with my groceries, my gifts, my booze, why not my literature? How many times do I need to read about New York, a place I have visited, but have no real frame of reference for? Many of the unfilled squares on the Summer Book Bingo were local things: local authors, stories set in WA. I was pleased when I read about places around here, and I want to make a bigger commitment to reading local in the future.

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

A re-read for me, but a Book Club book. Having had such strong feelings about the Bone Clocks earlier this year, re-visiting Cloud Atlas wasn’t high on my list of things to read. But the opportunity to re-visit helped crystalize some of my thoughts about Mitchell as an author, but also organize my own perceptions. I think Mitchell is the least successful the closer he gets to contemporary times in Cloud Atlas, and when he is more speculative or historical, he benefits enormously. I think that is because we can tell when he’s not being realistic or emotionally honest, whereas the abstraction of setting in these other places helps distance us from an emotional reaction. I was better able to follow the similarities in each of these books this time through, how each story sets the other one up, and the theme becomes clearer and clearer as time goes on. It was also fun reading about Hawaii again, having been in some of the exact spots mentioned in the book. That was a lot of fun. I would still recommend Cloud Atlas to a certain kind of reader who was curious.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I won this book at a training for the college. I galloped through the first half, put it on a shelf and didn’t pick it back up again until almost a year later. I’m glad I did. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie got a little internet famous a few years ago for her fabulous TED talk about the danger of a single story. The story most people have of Africa doesn’t acknowledge the fact that there are over 50 different countries there, each with its own government, culture, middle class, city life, and way of being. This book does well to help dispel some of the stories I had about Africa, while illuminating the African perspective into America and England. Adichie is a keen observer of race, class, and how those things change depending on what country your in. Race doesn’t matter so much in Nigeria, but class matters much more. In America, we focus so much on race rather than class. In England, class stratifies within a race too. We follow Ifemelu and then Obinze as the grow up in Nigeria, and then seek lives outside the country before returning. This is a book both about its characters, but also the way they experience those huge concepts of race, class, culture, and being ex-aptriots. I would recommend this to a wide audience.

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Another book club book. I saw the movie in October (it’s great!) This is more science than fiction. Weir dreams up some neat ideas, and commits to the scientific principles. His gift isn’t in the writing though, and telegraphs some of the “twists” without any subtlety. But that’s not quite the point, I suppose, since Mark Watney is in an environment that is trying to kill him at seemingly all times. This works pretty well as a fun science thriller, where also everyone is doing their jobs pretty well. That’s something that I think is really fascinating: everyone is working at high capacity to get work done, and yes, mistakes are made, but they are calculated mistakes, rather than sloppy ones. I think you could watch the movie and do perfectly well.

Saga, Volume 3, by Bryan Vaughn
Saga, Volume 4, by Bryan Vaughn
Saga, Volume 5, by Bryan Vaughn

Staehli gave me volumes 4 & 5 for our anniversary. I re-read three to remember where things were going. We jump around in time, the inter-species family goes through some really messed up travails (what do fugitives do for work?), but some of my favorite developments were from people outside of the family: the Will, his sister, Sophia, and of course, Lying Cat. For anyone looking for a comic book with gorgeous art that isn’t about superheroes, but is science fiction/fantasy, Saga is an excellent option.


I read 51 books this year, one shy of my 52 goal. I read:

  • 6 graphic novels (not counting the regular comic strips I read)
  • 2 memoirs
  • 4 non-fiction books
  • 8 science-fiction books
  • 2 short story collections
  • and 23 fiction novels

I re-read 6 books. I read 29 books by men, and 22 books by women (better than in previous years!). I read primarily Americans: 35. 5 Brits, 4 Canadians (3 being William Gibson), an Australian, an New Zealander, a Nigerian, and a Native American from the Spokane tribe.

Of the books I read, 26 primarily featured women characters, and I was all over the place with character identification in terms of race. Lower on the LGBTQ/ability spectrum.

Next year, I think I will spend some time tackling those longer books that have sat waiting on my shelves, the fat books I have been avoiding. I think I will focus less on numbers, and more on clearing the queue of the likes of A Naked Singularity, by Sergio De La Pava, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, and maybe even Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which I bought while drunk.

Happy 2016

2014 Book List with Commentary

January 4, 2015

For the past six years, I have attempted to read 52 books a year, or roughly a book a week (graphic novels included). Various years have been successes, others have been incredibly challenging. In 2011, I only read 16 books, in 2013 I read 55. This year, I only read 45 books, although I read considerably fewer graphic novels than I usually do. This year, I spent less time traveling, but spent a whole lot more time dating. I dated 12 different people throughout the year, and was in and out of relationships for about half of the year. I also spent a lot more time writing in my journal. I made it about 2/3 through a brand new journal in just a year, which I think the most I’ve ever written about myself. I also took up running as a hobby, completing both a 5k and a 10k this year. I also started playing a lot more boardgames this year, which I think is a very pleasant way to spend an evening. So, I diversified my interests, and how I spent my time. When I think about my reading that way, I’m a little surprised at just how much I did actually read. Of course, my reading ambitions are always bigger than I can seem to manage.

Kate and Charlotte were big cheerleaders for my reading habits this year, and both have read many, many more books than I have this year. Although Kate works for a bookstore and Charlotte can read much faster than I can. One of the things Kate and Charlotte inspired me to do was create a spreadsheet of books. which has revealed some interesting things about my reading habits. I have read 14 Graphic Novels, only 5 non-fiction books, 6 fantasy and sci-fi books, 3 young adult books, and 17 books of fiction. I only read 10 women this year, accounting for 11 books. I was worse for people of color: just 3 appear in my reading. I read 18 books by Americans and 19 by British folks.

This year, I am again putting all of the graphic novels together as a series because I tend to think of those books together.

1. Paris I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down, Rosecrans Baldwin

In the beginning of 2014, I thought I was going to spend my New Year’s Day with the girl I spent New Year’s Eve with. I planned a special breakfast, I reupped my coffee and tea supply, and was looking forward to a drowsy, happy day. She went home around 1:00am. The first morning of 2014 I made breakfast alone, and settled in with this book, which I had started earlier in the week.

Rosecrans Baldwin moved to Paris with his wife to work for an ad agency. In this quick non-fiction account of his time, we learn about being an American in Paris, and how living in a city where no one speaks your language can be incredibly isolating. Rosecrans spends most of this lunch hours writing and editing a book, and during his evenings goes out dancing a ton with his wife, hosts a lot of dinners because they’re cheaper than going out. You get the insight of an ex-pat life very well, and I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating spending a lot of time abroad. This book had been sitting on my to-read list for years, and kicked off a year of attempting to check off books from that list, which you’ll see more of below.

2. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

You never know if a book is going to be one of your favorites, or one of the worst books you’ve ever read. I’ve read Pulitzer Prize winners that I’ve loved like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve also read Pulitzer Prize winners I am entirely ambivalent about: Gilead by Marilynn Robinson and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The Orphan Master’s Son had won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tournament of Books in 2013. I thought I would give this weird novel about a fictional North Korea a go.

I was glad I did, because I absolutely loved this book. I pressed this book into the hands of my friends Peter and Kate. I would like more people to read this book, especially in the wake of The Interview debacle. North Korea is an oppressive dictatorship like no where else on earth. The control of information, the control of the government is near absolute. Adam Johnson fictionalizes a version of North Korea seen through Jun Do’s eyes. A theoretically normal John Doe, we explore the many facets of North Korea through his unique perspective: from their version of Hollywood to prison camps, their military hierarchy to kidnapping of Japanese citizens. It is both sad and funny, absurd and cutting in a satirical take on accounts of living in North Korea. It’s an amazing book, and one of my favorites I read this year.

3. Poem Strip, by Dino Buzzati

There’s no question that I’m a big fan of the New York Review of Books classics imprint. They’ve revived a number of books I’m incredibly happy to have read like The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy or The Book of Ebenezer LaPage by G.B. Edwards. Other books from their catalog have been challenging, but always different and worthwhile from other things I’ve read. This early graphic novel by Italian Surrealist Dino Buzzati was my first disappointment from them. I found the book in a used bookstore while searching for Conan the Barbarian stories for our short lived Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club (see below). Initially, I was excited NYRB had published a graphic novel but this erotically charged re-telling of Orpheus and Eurydice was bland, meandering, and unfocused. I recognize that this may have been groundbreaking at one point, but there are much better graphic novels out there now challenging the form and telling new stories.

4. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The first e-book I ever read was The Hunger Games in 2011, and I waited three years before finishing the series, inspired to catch up by the much celebrated movie release of this book. I actually stole this book from the complimentary shelf of a hotel in Bellingham while on a work trip, needing something to read on my train ride back. I meant to mail this book back to them, but this hardback edition still sits on my shelf.

The Hunger Games trilogy does advance and deepen the universe in satisfying ways. I found the deepened theme of literal hunger compelling, as the supposed win in the arena is actually more of a Sword of Damocles situation for Katniss and her family. She struggles and struggles to find a way to live with herself, but she’s haunted by the trauma of the arena. Her willful rebellion against the Capitol also brings her more harm as she’s forced back to arena eventually. There’s much more happening in this novel around Katniss, and the novel is better for it.

5. Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

Another pull from the shelves of the NYRB Classics Imprint, another book I had been meaning to read for years. Kingsley Amis has been described as one of the great comic authors of the 21st century, and this book his funniest. Yet I find him incredibly dull. There is some comedy in Lucky Jim, a tale about an beleaguered Associate Professor at a provincial college in England attempting to either earn himself some respect, as well as do as little work as possible. I did not find Jim himself to be terribly sympathetic as a character. I wanted to root for him, but he kept spurning any likability with his boorish approach to teaching, his loathing of students, his failed relationships, his fledgling alcoholism. Perhaps this would be better translated to screen than text. This book did challenge me with an unlikeable main character, but in particular Amis’s treatment of women in the novel I found pretty abhorrent. I was very glad the first wave of feminism broke out not long after this novel was written. The weird thing is that this novel is funny, so I was conflicted that I hated many of the characters, but still found myself laughing at many of the jokes and situations. Anyone else ever had this happen to them?

6. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

This novel bewitched me. I’ve experimented with reading thrillers in the past, and Charlotte recommended this book to me because it made the Tournament of Books Long list. My friend Maddo has long suggested Pessl’s first book Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I wound up loving this book. Pessl experiments with formal elements like including blog post in website format and clipped news photos. She also writes a tense, puzzle-like thriller that resists easy answers, encouraging you to ask what’s real and what’s not real.

The plot, very shortly, is: disgraced journalist Scott McGrath investigates the death of Ashley Cordova, the brilliant but troubled daughter of legendary filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, like if Kubrick had made cult films on the level of Cannibal Holocaust while maintaining the media presence of Thomas Pyncheon. Mysteries abound, and they are delightfully weird. This book is much like it’s own fictional tagline: soverign, deadly, perfect (a phrase I used to describe a friend’s art project just a few short weeks later after reading this).

7. Dune, by Frank Herbert

Except for a few comics, this was my only re-read of the year, as I attempted to tackle books that had been lingering on my to-read list for years. Re-visiting Dune was strange. The first portion of this novel, when Paul is basically a child, takes up way more pages than I remembered. I did like that the quotes from The Princess Irulan that begin many of the chapters make much more sense and give you some nice foreshadowing if you know what’s coming. We read this book for the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction Book Club, as many of my friends had never read this book. We attempted to watch the Sci-Fi mini-series but the cheap scotch took hold and we lost patience and attention spans. We determined that this book was probably too high brow for us, and we needed something pulpier.

8. The Book of Gin, by Richard Barnett

My friend Nick put this book into my hands because he is an enormous cocktail nerd. I was expecting a lightweight take on gin, maybe talking about TV and American cocktail culture, but there was a surprising depth and thoroughness to this non-fiction tackling of gin. A sociologist by trade, Richard Barnett explores the complicated history of how consuming gin and stronger spirits in general was viewed truly as an act of sin by many in Britain. I was surprised by how close gin nearly came to being outlawed multiple times. I recommend this book to those looking to explore a little more about the history of alcohol.

9. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I remember when I was a senior in high school, looking through the University of Puget Sound’s promotional materials, they pushed the Ben and Jerry’s Literature House, which combined the wacky ice cream flavors with a book club. The first one my Freshman Year was Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I wound up becoming friends with people in the house, but never got involved with the book clubs.

Ender’s Game stuck around in my life. It was recommended to me many times, and Jake and Wali’s drunken conversation about this movie spawned the idea for the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club. I was reminded of my desire to read this book when The Stranger writer Anna Minard wrote about picking up a used copy of the book at the new Twice Told Tales/Bauhaus location in Ballard. While on the hunt for another book, I picked up a copy which has one of the most intimate inscriptions I’ve ever seen in a book.

Ender’s Game has a kind of trick ending, which I knew was coming, but it still took me a little by surprise, because the twist still snuck up on me, happening earlier than I expected in the book. I was surprised at how much was hinted at in this book. Card does well to build a universe in which much is assumed, and how in some ways this book comes across more like YA before that was even a proper thing.

I am sort of interested in continuing more into the Ender series, although I hear things get weirder.

10. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The next selection of the Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club. I started this book on Jake’s Nook, when a surprise Kindle came my way from Wali, after he was disappointed with the user interface. This book is the epitome of pulpy goodness. I derived a kind of joy from Locke Lamora that sent me straight back to being 13, staying up late in the summer nights eating cherries and cheese, reading fantasy books. Scott Lynch creates a well-built universe, engaging characters, pulpy dialogue, and a plot that speeds along with plenty of gut punching twists and turns. This is exactly what I wanted out of the Pulpy Fiction book club, exposure to books like this that were pulpy and silly, but also good. A few more of my friends plunged into the rest of the series.

By waiting to get the next few books, I arguably was very forward thinking, as this book helped drum up a conversation online which led to a date, which has lead to a relationship over the past two months. So, this has worked pretty well for me! Go Cheap Scotch and Pulpy Fiction book club!

11. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

The Kindle that Wali gave me had some other books on it, which included this book by Neil Gaiman, which I had been meaning to read, having read every single other Neil Gaiman offering for adults. Phoebe had raved about it when it first came out, and even gone to get it signed at a reading. I loved reading Neil Gaiman when I was younger, it helped bridge my love of fantasy with books with more literary aspirations. Yet, I didn’t like this book very much at all. It felt like a re-tread of some of his other work: Coraline, The Sandman, and even American Gods. Gaiman has a few things that he consistently returns to: powerful beings living out normal-ish lives, observant children, and cats bridging the gaps between different kinds of worlds. All of those appear in Ocean, but none of them seem fresh at all. I was disappointed by this novel a lot.

12. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy is compulsively readable, which I think is something Suzanne Collins really has going for her. After devouring Catching Fire in one night, I worked to get my hands on a copy of Mockingjay. The library was able to accommodate my needs, and I chewed through this. At first, I didn’t like where Collins decided to take Katniss and some of the other characters, but as I talked through my feelings with Charlotte, I gained a new appreciation for their journey. I think Collins put a lot of work into giving Katniss some very real PTSD syndromes that were more subtle than I gave them credit for. Once I got this perspective on the characters, just how damaged and dark things had gotten, I was better able to understand the stakes. I wound up really liking the last part of this, though it was very different from where we began in The Hunger Games.

13. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

Real Book Club continued apace alongside Drunk book club, though I skimped out on a couple of the novels (see below). Phoebe’s offerings of satires led us to Lamb, which was my first Christopher Moore book. Maddo had recommended them to me for some light and funny reading.

I was surprised, because Real Book Club had just read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan the month before this, which was really good, and one of the books I wished that I had finished, but I had difficulty getting a copy. Moore, who wrote his book nearly 10 years before Aslan, had arrived at many of the same general conclusions about the life of Jesus, so it was interesting to see how well this book mirrored the historical perspectives on Jesus while also introducing a very American Jewish comedy angle. Moore’s Jokes, specifically for Biff, felt steeped in American comedy history, which has a strong Jewish influence and tone. I laughed and smiled a lot through his book, and would definitely recommend it to people. Reading the afterward for this book gave me a lot of respect for Moore and the amount of research he poured into this book.

14. A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, by Rachel Cantor

I read this book right around Easter, and the note I have next to this book on my spreadsheet that keeps track of every book I attempt to read was “Weird and not what I was expecting. Why do I keep on choosing books about Jewish mysticism?!” After ZealotLamb, and Dune, I was surprised this book was not a satirical take on service culture in a vein like the beginning of Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, but instead wound up directly addressing Jewish identity and elements of Jewish mysticism. I originally plucked this book off The Millions 2014 Preview of the year, trusting Melville House Books, who published the odd but enjoyable Aurorarama. 

I did not care for this book, and would not recommend this book at all, however it has forced me to change some of my thinking about Jewishness. When I was a kid, I had approximately one Jewish friend, but films and literature penned by Jewish folks portrayed the neurotic, hairy, nebbish, and bespectacled portrayals of Jews as normal (See: Seinfeld and many Coen Bros movies). Perhaps this is one of the effects of 90s sitcoms and movies being very focused on NYC, which is the cultural capital of Jews in America. Never mind that this portrayal of Jews are in many ways broad caricatures of male Jewishness, but I internalized these portrayals as normal, something to aspire to and model my own behavior off of. I had minimized many of the true serious differences about Jewish culture. My assumptions about these  difference do no justice to the beliefs of the oldest of the monotheistic religions. I have very little understanding of the Torah or its teachings, and so while I may feel like I understand some of the cultural aspects of being Jewish, I was confronted with my ignorance about the deeper aspects of Jewish culture through this book, as well as others in the past: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. This is one of the few books I have read that portrays Jewishness as a true other, rather than striving to integrate and assimilate. I may have hated this story, and found the writing to be absurdist in the way that I don’t like, as well as nearly childish, but I did learn a few things from the book.

15. Stoner, by John Williams

Another one from the NYRB Classics imprint. One of the first things I found a little weird about this book is that on the back, there is a blurb from Tom Hanks. I don’t think of Tom Hanks as being a blurb kind of guy, so that caught my attention. Hanks accurately sums up the book this way: “It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things you’ve ever come across.” The plot is simple: a life is lived. A boy goes to college and stays, becoming a professor. While Lucky Jim attempted to skewer the academic life, I felt that Williams truly dresses down the good and bad parts of the academic life in equal measure. There is a joy in helping people discover knowledge, but the stakes and potatoes in a university can be so small yet so many people can fight over them.

I loved this book. It is one of the best things I read all year. I’m not much of a quote person, but I stopped reading to note the following passage:

“In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.”

The writing is gorgeous, and Williams crafts Stoner as a creature of empathy. He also turns out to be one heck of an English professor. I surely would have failed one of the exams they describe in the book. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

16. Sabriel, by Garth Nix

The last selection of Drunk Book Club. I read the Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix when I was a kid, and I remember the Sabriel series being a big deal then. Reading it now, I appreciated some of the twists and turns the plot took, but the ending felt completely abrupt. This is one of the books I read, unlike the Hunger Games, that felt directed at children. It also had a big sense of flight, as in running from things, rather than battling them, which I didn’t really like. I guess I just want more challenges.

17. Robopocalypse, by Daniel Wilson

I did not like this book. Robopocalypse was chosen for Serious Book Club, and tells the story of a battle between humans and AI in a series of vignettes that tell the story from multiple point of view characters. Many people compared this to World War Z, which covers much of the same territories for zombies. I liked some of the characters, but not many of them, and the author’s reliance on happenstance, coincidence, and other chance encounters were not believable. It’s a little funny that I read this on an e-reader though.

18. Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley

This is one of my surprise favorites for the year. I plucked this novel from The Millions 2014 Preview, and then promptly forgot why I put it there. My digital hold came through, and good lord this novel just enchanted me. The story Clever Girl tells is a tough one, about Stella growing up in working class 1960’s England, and progressing through middle age. She has a very tough childhood, sleeping in the bed while her mom sleeps on the couch, dad long gone. She succeeds in school, but struggles at home as she wishes her mom and especially her eventual step-dad made different choices. Her life begins a different path, but she shows determination, grit, humor, and subtlety. Tessa Hadley weaves together episodes in Stella’s life that begin to mirror one another, yet also contrast in significant ways. She’ll jump years in a sentence, but languor in a small encounter. I tried pushing this book on Charlotte, but alas, it came and went from her house unread (like so many books).

19. Mink River, by Brian Doyle

Kate recommended this book to me some three years ago. I only made it about 20 pages before I closed the cover up, never picked it up again, and then returned it to the library. I’m glad I gave this a second shot, because again, I loved this book. Brian Doyle is not even a full time author, he works for the University of Portland, and wrote this sort of mystery about a fictional town on the Oregon Coast. But Doyle brings his town to life, incorporating the local Native American stories about the Oregon wilderness, the opera loving cop, the ne’er-do-well Irish family, the sculptors, the school teachers, and the fabulous lists that appear in this book. Sometimes this book feels almost like a categorization of life in Oregon and a small town. Spiritual, magical, real, and sad, this book is one I would definitely recommend to someone who wanted to deepen their love of the Northwest. Arguably, this is one of the most diverse books I read this year because of the heavy Native American influence.

20. Saga, Vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan

Jake picked this up for me in Portland because I owned Volume 1 and 2. This was a great introduction to the next stage in the story, and I’ve just spied for my research in writing this enormous review that Vol. 4 is out there. I may have to pick that up. The books are pretty lightweight though, as they don’t stick in my head that well. I think a re-read may be necessary.

21. Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente

I stalled out on this book. I almost gave up. Catherynne Valente has been on my to-read list for a few years now, after Lev Grossman gave her a plug in one of his columns as someone writing genre fiction extremely well, taking it new places. Valente writes about Koschei the Deathless, a devil-like figure in Russian folklore, and how he enchants Marya Morevna, and how she also bewitches him. This fantastic take on Russian history, and how folklore changes with the country seems like it’s coming to an obvious conclusion before it takes a left turn about 2/3 of the way through the novle and goes somewhere more interesting. I’m glad I persisted in this book, and had a little faith.

22. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

I remember how the world celebrated The Kite Runner. It was all the rage at bookstores, on talk shows. A movie was made, and the American people discovered more reasons to feel terrible about the war in Afghanistan. Hosseini’s novels were recommended to me, but I was afraid of them, because I knew they would be sad, heartbreaking, when how could I afford my heartbreak when I was already distraught about what was happening to Afghanistan?

Serious book club chose this book, and having not read the previous book, I felt obligated to finish this one, and read this entire novel in one day. I was afraid of heartbreak, and to be sure, this book has sad parts, but it also covers the many stories of life, of vitality and middle class existence that exists in Afghanistan. In typical American fashion, we never really thought of countries like Afghanistan as being more than just a few villages. But in fact the throbbing, beating heart of Afghanistan can be found in it’s myriad cities, far from the villages that do exist. Hosseini brings a while country to life, and I was very glad to have read this book. In particular, the passage about a driver who becomes more of a caretaker for an old man was one of my favorite things I read all year. So was the indictment of an American-Afghan and his cultural tourism of his own country.

23. Cassandra, by Christa Wolf

Another selection from Serious Book Club, another challenging tale. Christa Wolf is an East German author with a lot of thoughts about how stories and perspectives become perpetuated. The novel (novella?) of the Trojan War from Cassandra’s perspective takes up only the first 120 pages of a 400 page book, the rest are essays from the author about how and why she wrote the book. She takes an academic perspective about her own writing, but the novel itself is rooted in emotion and passion. Cassandra struggles with her family, her own femininity, and the Trojan political machine as she attempts to navigate the Trojan War. The Greeks are portrayed as the other, these hairy warlike people. Many of the supposed supernatural elements are entirely dismissed and even Cassandra’s second sight is addressed perhaps as canny observation rather than divine observation. This is a very political novel, and one of gender politics. Cassandra was one of the more perplexing but interesting novels I read this year.

24. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton

Another book that I pulled from The Millions 2014 Preview. I was expecting something that would instruct me on how to become a better traveler, and that is kind of what I got, but not quite. British/French essayist Alain de Botton writes about his travels over the past few years, using the lens of previous famous writers who have been there before him: Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Coleridge. He also explores the idea of travel through the ages. I didn’t love parts of this book, although I will always be indebted to de Botton for one chapter about this book that put into words something I had been experiencing: The Sublime. That feeling, where you are overwhelmed, enveloped, surrounded by natural beauty that grants you just a semblance of perspective? That is the sublime, and what the word was meant to describe: the religious experiences provoked by nature. I have experienced these things just a few times. Once on Mt. Rainier, once in Scotland, some smaller ones in Arizona and the Olympic Peninsula. But it is a feeling I chase, and a reason to travel, to experience the sublime, the feeling of greater than myself.

25. Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg

Without a doubt, one of the most challenging books I read this year. I put this one my “to-read” list several years ago on the recommendation of Nicole Cliffe, back when she was with The Hairpin before starting the phenom that is The Toast. Hoeg’s  writing is simple, and story is also relatively straight forward: three students believe that something is afoot at their Danish boarding school in the mid-1970s. Yet the devil is in the details, because our narrator is an adult relating his childhood as a victim of frustrating bureaucracy that put him in and out of foster homes and orphanages. He was bullied, fought, and discovered more insidious survival techniques which come to play as he attempts to navigate his new school.

The reality of their situation is slowly revealed, but the novel functions as a kind of philosophical treatise on time, and the nature of time in our lives and our need to categorize time. Hoeg approaches these topics in such a straight forward way he brings to question things I had long assumed were just “the ways things were.” The story takes a pretty unpleasant turn, but I felt like I really got something out of this book, and I struggled to find even a major reviewer who was willing to engage with the odd and fantastic things Hoeg wrote here.

26. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

After Borderliners, I took a bit of a break from reading, though not intentionally. I wound up with this book, which I do not remember how it wound up in my pile. Perhaps The Millions, perhaps some other odd source.. I think I read this book in a day? Maybe two. It is very lightweight and easy to read. This book is also totally aimed at people who read a lot. This book covers the life of A.J. Fikry, an Indian-American man who happens to own a bookstore on an island off the coast of Maine (or is it Massachusetts). Anyway, this book describes the ways that so many books touch the lives of the island residents, and how AJ stubbornly resists building a life and then begins to build a life. This is definitely a crowd pleaser aimed at people who love their local bookstore.

27. The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go

This novel. Ugh. It was long listed for the Man Booker Prize, and seemed like the only one I thought would be interesting. Half of this book (which takes place before, during, and slightly after WWI) is good and well written. The other part, written in the modern day was terrible. I hated our narrator and his boring quest, his stubborn refusal to make good choices. The novel is tonally discordant, and there is nothing compelling about our main character. A debut novel, which makes me slightly interested where Justin Go may write in the future, if it’s more like the WWI chapters and less like the modern stuff.

28. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

I am a little afraid of Dave Eggers because I really enjoyed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or at least the first 120 pages about his parent’s deaths, which would slightly mirror my own experience. I have been hesitant to engage his other work, but was forced by Serious Book Club, and actually quite enjoyed myself. Zeitoun is a work of non-fiction that covers the Hurricane Katrina disaster from the point of view of a local family. It gives a very separate account of what happened there, and what the true response was like. It lays bear just how ill-equipped law enforcement, the government, and other agencies were to provide necessary aid, while at the same time incredible prepared to jail and punish people. I went to New Orleans in 2013, and portions of the city certainly have not recovered from what happened to them.

There’s a certain life this book has taken on after it was published because Zeitoun and his wife Kathy’s story did not end well, and they were not as forthcoming about their marital troubles. Soon after the book was released, issues of domestic abuse surfaced, ending in a divorce and protection order. These ordeals created an interesting conversation about whether or not these facts change any of the story they provided, or if it shows how the treatment of Zeitoun at the hands of government broke him, rather than the Hurricane?

29. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

I devoured this book in one long day of traveling to my Grandma Jackson’s scattering. This book is about a weird quirk where Ursula keeps living her own life, getting subconscious suggestions about when to try and steer clear from a situation that may have ended her life previously. It was actually kind of comforting to read about a life that continued over and over and over again on my way to a funeral. Atkinson does an excellent job weaving details, recreating situations over and over again from different perspectives, and creating different potential futures. The narrative is chopped up over different possibilities, and I was glad that I had voted for this book at the Tournament of Books, setting it up as the Runner Up in a tumultuous year.

30. Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

I had a much longer break in reading following Life After Life. I attempted books, my interest petered out, things got returned to the library, I struggled to finish. I was in a funk. Then I started dating Staehli, based on our mutual appreciation of Scott Lynch. She is an enormous fan of the series and loaned me her signed copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies. This continues the story of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, but this time they are pirates, or rather conscripted to become pirates. These books are silly fun, although I liked this one a little less, if only because these parts of the world didn’t seem as sketched out. Locke and Jean weren’t as integral parts of their environment as they had been in Camor. I did like the sleights of hand, the shifting allegiances, but the pirate thing seemed like not necessarily a good choice. I’m interested in seeing what else happens in the series, as Staehli loaned me the next book.

31. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

One of my favorite books from last year was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. A few months later, a copy was for sale cheap at Elliot Bay Books, so I picked it up. In the interest of checking books off my list, I finally went and read Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel’s follow up in the life of Thomas Cromwell. I felt like this book began with a bit of retreading before settling back into Mantel’s gorgeous prose. This book didn’t capture me as much as Wolf Hall did, but it did do something that other readers describe as “good company.” Spending time with Mantel and Cromwell is good company, and I was always happy to pick up with Thomas, and all of his schemes, those that work and those that do not. Heavy lies the responsibility on the man that aids the crown.

32. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Some time ago when I was creating a possible list for Book Club, I was playing with one entirely about travel and travel fiction. I had heard good things about Wild, and my ex-girlfriend Bonnie had been reading it, and gave it her seal of approval. I was interested in reading it. I am glad I did, because over the past few years, especially as I have gone out running more, I have felt a deeper connection with nature. Reading Cheryl Strayed’s personal journey, struggling with a parent’s death, struggling with her personal life, love life, addiction, and so much more, I fell a little bit more in love with the Pacific Northwest and our deep connection to nature. I wasn’t able to go camping or on as many hikes as I would like, but one of my goals in the New Year is to do more in nature.

33. & 34. Scary Go Round: Ahoy Hoy and Peloton, by John Allison.

Scary Go Round is one of my favorite web comics. I think it’s just well written, and has engaging stories. I wanted to buy the graphic novels for a long time, but never did. Then they went on sale, so I snatched them up. They are just volumes 5-8, but I love them all the same. John Allison is great at making up fantastical things, but then bringing them down to a human level. I connect with his bizarre notions of faeries, the underworld, and the Easter Bunny. I also appreciated reading these because I’m can get a bigger picture on where the story was going, rather than get mired in some of the day-to-day reading frustrations that angered or confused me.

35. – 45. Transmetropolitan, by Garth Ennis

 My friend Aaron loaned me the entire run of Transmetropolitan, which is basically like the continued adventures of Hunter S. Thompson, now Spider Jerusalem. Spider continues to tackle politics, culture, cities, people, and many other topics with the vitriol usually reserved for hate manifestos. For those who have no experience with Hunter S. Thompson, this graphic novel series could have been groundbreaking. But for me, a person who has read much Hunter S. Thompson, I found it all quite familiar. Although, it was nice to see Thompson again, and imagine what he might have had to say about our current policies. I miss some of those unique voices.

So! That was 2014 in reading. Books I did not finish: Zealot by Reza Aslan (ran out of time, but enjoyed a lot of what I read), You Are One of Them by Eliot Holt (not what I thought it was), Search Sweet Country by Kojo Laing (my own book club pick that garnered the dubious honor that not one person finished the book), Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (good, but ran out of time at the Library!), A re-read of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (for book club. Much better time with the book now that I knew what it was. Better writing than I remember), The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (oh god, I loathed this and I wanted nothing but bad things to happen to the philandering main character who was so obviously a stand-in for the author), The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (a book club pick that I just gave up on because I got bored), Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (good lord did I hate this book. I loathed this book. I hated the main character so much that I basically rage quit the book halfway through).

In the next year, I’d like to read more women, in part because I think I found many of their books more challenging. On my to-read list: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, Artful by Ali Smith, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, and for other books: The Big Roads by Earl Swift, Joan Didion, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and Nick Harkaway.