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?

My Top 5 Summer Reads!

SUMMERPICKS

I’ve read precisely 20 books this summer, which feels so good, you guys. It’s an accomplishment, but more importantly, it’s a round number.

It’s like petting a puppy. Or taking off your bra at the end of the day. The world is right and you are doing okay.

Of those 20, I’ve picked my top 5 for you to try. 5 is a nice, attractive digit. It has a sharp part and a curve.

Of the twenty, it is “one-quarter,” a phrase that sounds British somehow.

Without further dithering, I present my summer reads, which are, I suppose, going to have to be your fall reads.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. A bunch of giant, ancient, metallic body parts turn up all over the world. Where did they come from? What happens when they assemble? Is humanity ready?

This book is mostly interview transcripts and journal entries, and the postmodern jumble works here.

I found out in my research for this post that there’s a sequel, which I hadn’t been expecting. The book works well on its own. You can read it without feeling compelled to get sucked into a series.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. What happens you blend Asian mythology, science fiction, magical realism, and oodles of heart-rending emotion? Something much tastier than that paltry protein shake you’re drinking at home, that’s for sure.

This collection of short stories has a ridiculously good percentage of winners. I describe most short story collections as “hit and miss,” but this one was “hit, and hit, and hit, and hit, and I guess that one was just okay. Now back to more hits.”

All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. An awkward young teenage witch befriends and falls out with an awkward teenage genius. Years later, they find themselves on the opposite end of a war of magic vs technology in a quest to determine, you know, the fate of the Earth.

Usually books about the fate of the Earth reach too high and, like Icarus, become violently re-acquainted with the ground. Not so here. The ending is satisfying.

But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. This book features a section in which the author gets in a tiff with Neil deGrasse Tyson over whether another scientific revolution is possible. Their interaction alone is worth a read.

But the rest of the book is interesting too. It talks about how most of history is distilled down to simple ideas or representative figureheads for movements. And it’s not always the thing that’s popular at the time.

The writing of history is written, of course, after it happens. We’ll never know how we’re going to be remembered. We can guess, but we’d be wrong.

Klosterman’s points often get muddled by digressions, but I like that. You don’t go in there for answers. You go in there to plod through his head. You’re flipping up rugs. Sitting on the couch in the frontal lobes. Checking out the refrigerator behind the limbic system.

Grunt by Mary Roach. I’ve loved Mary Roach since Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. She looks into the science that’s less popular, and typically considered “icky,” if not outright offensive.

Her approach to the science of soldiers isn’t about guns, nukes, formations, etc. It’s about the off-kilter, unsung science you don’t consider about war. Reducing insects. Controlling diarrhea. Replacing injured penises.

Sure, you thought about prosthetic legs. But have you considered prosthetic schlongs? What about transplanted ding-a-lings from corpses?

You haven’t. Until now. You’re welcome.

This book is compulsively readable. You will also enjoy reading it aloud to the people around you. If you have to know about these things, so does everyone else.

It occurs to me that I’ve given you these recommendations as school is starting. Think of them as your anti-syllabus to complete while you’re avoiding your actual duties.

4-Year-Olds Talking About Death

A 4-year-old buddy of mine and I were drawing on a blackboard over the weekend.

We were being quiet when she looked into my eyes and said:

“When I die, I want to remember drawing with you.”

Which was very sweet, but very ominous. Kids can be really creepy.

I told her she had a long time before she died. It’s what we both needed to hear, even if it’s not necessarily true.

Trust me: anything can happen. Yesterday was the first book club since one of our founding members abruptly died.

If-I-Die

Matt was a runner, a tea enthusiast, an LGBT activist, and a Scrabble player at the state level.

Matt was in his 30s.

One day, he fell ill and went to the hospital. The doctors found basically nothing but cancer inside him.

He was gone within 2 weeks.

BookClub

A bunch of our members know each other through a cancer support group (which he was not, ironically, in).

A few didn’t come to the meeting, maybe because the emotional wound still hurt.

Matt’s ottoman sat empty while we discussed the meh-ness of the book. I don’t think he’d’ve liked it, either.

I guess we’ll have to consult with him on the other side, if there is one.

The Month in Media: March in One Sentence

I’ve distilled March’s entertainment choices — good and bad — into easy-peasy sentence-bites.

If you’re trying to decide whether to continue reading this post, keep in mind that I accidentally watched Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo this month.

If that’s not tempting, I don’t know what is.

MOM-March

Movies:

Zootopia (4/5). Adorable CG animals tackle heavy-hitting topics like racism, innate abilities, and friendship.

Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo (2.5/5). This “film” is surprisingly heartfelt for something so trite.*

(*I have no control over what my father-in-law puts on the TV.)

The Good Dinosaur (4/5). This movie is freaky — including an acid-trip sequence, some drug-addled adrenaline-junkie pterodactyls, and a character biting a living insect’s head off.

The Martian (4/5). The movie’s better than the book!

TV:

Not Safe with Nikki Glaser (5/5). This show has a sparkling array of unique, funny, dirty features.

Samantha Bee (4/5). One of my top Canadians (a difficult feat!) is conquering the medium of television.

Daredevil, Season 2 (3/5). I’m not finished yet, but I find this season disappointing and muddled.

Books: