2018’s Top 5 Books (So Far)!

After the heaving, gasping-for-breath disaster of 2017, I decided to spend 2018 embracing hygge, which involved less time on the Internet and more time reading.

The downside was fewer blog posts, which I’ve realized I missed writing. So let’s combine reading & writing, and talk about my top 5 reads of the year so far, out of the 26 I’ve read in 2018. (Wait, 26? Yep.)

Without further ado…

Jo Walton, Starlings

This short story collection contains: sentient AI, sentient mirrors, magically sharing pain with family members, nursing home biddies, Jesus clones, gravity-free ballet, and some poetry at the end I didn’t read

Daryl Gregory, Spoonbenders

This novel contains: Dysfunctional family, time travel, gambling, “fake” psychics who are real psychics, “real” psychics who are fake psychics, a magic ray, astral projection, and a character who keeps digging holes in the backyard for no apparent reason

Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

This short story collection contains: Mysterious keys, lesbians, constellation tattoos, a puppetry school, a celebrity bad boy, artists, library love, & witchcraft that works

Dan Harris, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

This book contains: A non-pretentious, non-religious sass mouth; the mellowest dude you’ve ever met; a bus tour; easy advice for beginners; and a conversational tone

KC Archer, School for Psychics

This novel contains: a school for psychics that is NOT Harry-Potter-like, gambling, law enforcement training, betrayal, secret societies

As you can see, I mostly like the idea of magic & the mind. Even meditation is a sort of metaphysical thing where you’re using your mind to change the world.

When I read a book that has zero magic or science fiction* in it, I honestly get a little disappointed.

*The line between “magic” and “science fiction” seems to be narrowing as technology progresses. I have no idea how my car, the Internet, or my phone works. They might as well be made by sorcerers.

5 Questions About That Netflix Will Smith Thing

Bright is an original made-for-Netflix film about Will Smith being Will Smith, opposite an orc, fighting fantasy evil. The film’s about as good as any cynical, world-weary person would expect. Which is to say, it’s not all that great. The argument I’ve mostly been hearing about the film is whether it’s good enough to finish. 

I have some other concerns.

Does anyone else miss the titular songs in movies that describe the movie? Like Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” about the Ninja Turtles? Mc Hammer’s “Addams Family Groove“? Run DMC’s “Ghostbusters II Rap“? Will Smith’s very own “Men In Black” and “Wild Wild West“?

Listen, I know that Will Smith is probably still reeling from Wild Wild West, but he needs to recover. Writing another rap anthem for his blockbusters is immersion therapy.

Is Will Smith ever not a cop? He is an officer of the law/government in his biggest movies and series: Bad BoysMen In Black, Independence Day, I Robot, I am Legend, Bright, and — of course — Wild Wild West. Plus possibly some of his other movies I haven’t seen.

So, like… is racism… bad? In this film, humans constantly shit all over orcs (metaphorically). It’s weird to watch a person of color act racist. Shouldn’t he be more compassionate? Maybe the orcs were the slaves instead? 

Contemporary race/class structures among humans do still seem to exist.

For example, there is a Latinx gang we meet. They are a slapdash collection of uncomfortable-to-watch Chicano tropes. It’s fairly clear that, at the very least, these particular people are in a position to choose this unsavory life. So humans still have some sort of disparity within them.

But the orcs are still the worst.

While I was watching the movie, I was like “how the fuck is racism still a thing in this universe?” Then remembered that, in the real world, humans are shitty to other humans. So there’s that.

People are racist, maaaaaaan.

Was this written by a committee of 13-year-olds? The two legs that the plot stands on are: 1) Racism Is Bad; and 2) Violence Is Fun. The plot is so simple that it feels like a few young teens on Adderall came up with it.

“I want a bunch of shit to blow the fuck up,” Mike said.

“I think there should be magic,” Joe said. “Like, sexy, backflipping elves.”

“But, like, an underlying message, maybe about racism being bad?” Ella said.

“Can Will Smith do a rap?” Joe said.

“I don’t think he does that any more,” Mike said. “Don’t worry. We’ll include a gratuitous strip club scene. Tits.”

“And one of the cops is a centaur,” Ella said.

What now? Despite being torn asunder by critics, Netflix has ordered a sequel.

We can only hope the cop centaur gets a bigger role.

5 Favorite Books I Read in 2017

2017 wasn’t the year of the novel. Though I read many, I didn’t find any that spoke deeply to my heart. Instead, it was a year dominated by essays and short stories by women. If those genres are on your TBR list, here are my picks:

2 short story collections: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson.

Both of these stories feature otherworldly magical realism, unsettling elements, and lush prose. They’re stories you can chomp on and swallow whole.

2 essay collections: Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran, and Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style by Cintra Wilson.

Both talk about larger societal issues — capitalism, feminism, self-expression — via the lenses of pop culture and fashion, respectively. Both authors have compelling, personable styles.

Nonfiction: The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton.

This is a great beginner’s introduction to how humans interact with their architecture. What it means, how it feels, why people construct buildings the way people do. It definitely gives me a leg up on understanding the basics (the very basics) of architectural types and theory.

The books I’m looking forward to in 2018 are here. Fingers crossed for another great year of reading!

5 Books I’m Looking Forward To In 2018

2017 was a shitshow; but I firmly believe that 2018 is going to be My Year.

I don’t have any compelling reasons to believe this, but I do have a TBR (to-be-read) list, which is close enough.

Florida by Lauren Groff (June 5, 2018)
Groff has an electric writing style, and she turns her attention in this story collection to Florida. I loved Monsters of Templeton and Delicate Edible Birds. I hope this book is somewhere between that and Swamplandia!, another book set in Florida that I adored.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (January 23, 2018)
An alternative history novel that integrates the Radium Girls and the death of Topsy the elephant at the hands of Edison? I’ll meet you there.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (January 9, 2018)
Four siblings meet a psychic that tells them the exact dates of their deaths. How does this influence their lives? Will they, in fact, die on those dates? The pre-reviews say this is a page-turner.

The Infinite Future by Tom Wirkus (January 16, 2018)
This story’s about an obsessive librarian, a down-at-heel author, and a disgraced historian who are trying to hunt down an elusive author and his final work. Apparently the second half of the book is the elusive work itself, which entwines with the main plot in clever ways.

The Sea Beast Takes A Lover: Stories by Michael Andreasen (February 27, 2018)
The title was enough for me. If you somehow require more, note that the stories allegedly include “mermaids, prophetic dancing bears, exploding children, and distraught time travelers.”

What’re you interested in reading in 2018?

5 Recent Disappointments

You know the old curse, “May you live in interesting times”?

I don’t live in interesting times. My life is a rutted out, comfortable road I can drive on autopilot most of the time. My life is, I daresay, savagely #blessed. I don’t have much to bitch about.

That said, I default to kvetching (complaining). I will find something to complain about. These 5, most recently.

Wendy’s has, once again, failed to bring back the Strawberry Fields salad. This year’s Summer Berry Salad doesn’t have bacon bits or onions in it. It is a lesser salad.

I had to dial back my caffeine intake.

My bladder was having these terrible spasms. I got tested for a UTI, and it came back negative. My doctor asked me how much caffeine I drank and was not pleased with my response. (I’m a tea reviewer, dammit.)

I cut most of the caffeine out, and I feel better. But I miss chugging tea all day. It really broke up the afternoon, especially.

The Lost City of Z was a great book. It was all about historical and contemporary quests for “Z,” a mysterious/mythical ancient civilization in the Amazon.

One of the main parts of the book focused on an explorer from the early 1900s who became obsessed with the concept. He kept going back to the murderous and gross jungle, and failing.

The movie Lost City of Z doesn’t incorporate any of the book except the story about the monomaniacal explorer. It’s two and a half hours of watching them pick their way through the jungle as their comrades die in different ways. They don’t find the damn city. How did it get 87% on Rotten Tomatoes?!

I was so hype to spot Disappearance at Devil’s Rock in the library. Tremblay’s previous novel, Head Full of Ghosts, was creepy as hell. Its ending was slightly open-ended, but intriguingly so. I was ready for something else from this author’s noggin.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was riveting, too. I churned through all several hundred pages of it in 24 hours flat.

The story is about a boy who disappears. The point of view moves from person to person involved with the case. You also get little nuggets of information from the disappeared boy’s diary, as pieces of it are found.

Each new bit of the puzzle was intriguing. There are hobo coins, rituals with Satan, spooky sightings, psychics, murders, mysteriously-appearing diary pages, and hints about doppelgangers and zombies.

Unfortunately, the bits of the puzzle never turned into a picture. They remained bits. There was nothing at the end of the story to tie it together. Some reviews online thought this was compelling. We, the readers, will never know what truly happened. But I’m the kind of person who wants to know what happened. I’m kind of pissed off.

I actually had trouble getting this list to 5. So this final item is a loser.

Nothing riveting came out of San Diego Comic Con this year. No huge revelations, jaw-dropping trailers, or promises of fascinating new projects.

It’s one of the first years I looked at the pictures/media coming out of it and thought “meh.”

Which, in a way, nice. The less FOMO the better.