Hey pals. What up?
2022 is over, bringing almost 3 complete years of pandemic life to an end. I’m happy to say that my family and I have embraced a lot more “normalcy” this past year than in the years prior. We’ve started being more open socially, meaning we’re not living in hermetically sealed isolation any more. Woody Man is in daycare and actually experiencing day-to-day life and learning with other children. He’s taken to it like a duck to water! He loves going every day and he’s learning a lot. It’s been so good for him, and us. I’ve even eaten pizza at an actual pizza joint again! It was glorious, double cheese and pepperoni, freshly baked with a crisp and fluffy crust. The stuff my dreams are made of, pizza perfection.
I’m also very excited to report that I am still a functioning/working adult who is able to read a book from time to time. When there’s time. And very rarely is there time for anything other than sitting on my couch drooling mindlessly in front of the T.V. at the end of the day. But that’s okay. I have a kid, he’s two and a half, it’s exhausting. You work full-time, busting your butt every day, and then you immediately have to shift into parent mode to be present and caring for your child while navigating a billion screaming toddler tantrums about a billion seemingly nonsensical things. I’m talking about the outright bawling of wildly unregulated emotions because the blue plate is in the dishwasher right now and he has to eat dinner off of the green plate instead. It leaves you utterly exhausted in ways you can’t comprehend unless you’re in the parenting trenches too. Lots of you know exactly what I’m talking about, how it is at this stage. There’s cuteness, and fun, and laughter, and hugs, and hijinks galore. But there’s the real gritty and gruelling work of parenting day in and day out, and those tantrums have made even the best of us seriously consider going out for a pack of smokes and never coming back. All that to say that when I feel like I have remaining brain power leftover at the end of the day, sometimes I put it towards reading.
And this is what I read this past year, officially:
- Beastie Boys Book by Mike D & ADROCK (January 2nd)
- Dietland by Sarai Walker (January 13th)
- Billy Summers by Stephen King (February 3rd)
- The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan (April 26th)
- Horror Stories by Liz Phair (May 7th)
- Yearbook by Seth Rogen (May 12th)
- Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (June 1st)
- Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (July 1)
- The Island by Adrian McKinty (July 14th)
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (August 1st)
- Red At The Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (August 8th)
- The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (August 23rd)
- NSFW by Isabel Kaplan (September 1st)
- They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera (September 12th)
- A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman (September 17th)
- Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz (September 27th)
- Potty Training in 3 Days by Brandi Brucks (September 28th)
- Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (October 6th)
- Survive The Night by Riley Sager (November 7th)
- The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor (November 27th)
- This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno (December 21st)
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (December 25th)
- I Exaggerate: My Brushes With Fame by Kevin Nealon (December 27th)
I think it was a respectable output this year overall. I’m not trying to crush a high volume reading goal like I have in previous years, I’m just reading when I feel like it and when I’ve got something good I can’t put down.
There were some gems this year, but there were some real stinkers that led me into major slumps too. I got stuck on The Hollow Ones for a long time. I went for weeks in February and the whole month of March not reading because it just wasn’t appealing enough for me to pick up. It got off to such a weird and confusing start, the opening scene didn’t instantly grab my attention in the way that it was trying to. I hunkered down and eventually got it done in April so I could move on to something better.
I switched gears after that and started reading memoirs instead. Liz Phair, Seth Rogen, and Carrie Brownstein all had insightful and interesting stories to share. I liked leaning into reality a bit more throughout spring reading season. But I also got diverted by a different hobby. I bought a paint-by-numbers kit and got really into doing that at night while listening to a podcast. I found an addictive one called History of the 90’s, it’s excellent! I binged it so hard and I look forward to every new episode. If you love podcasts, if you love the 90’s, or even just interesting and well-researched coverage of past events, you should check it out.
I went back to fiction in the summer, reading Daisy Jones and The Six, a book that had been hyped up by a lot of people, both sellers of books and readers of books alike. I was able to finish it, but I didn’t get the hype. The characters were all dicks and it was so annoying hearing about how special and “not like the other girls” Daisy was on a repetitive loop. She was an immature and stupid pill-popper. I hated reading about her “tortured” life fronting what sounded like a pretty shitty rock band. Please, there are real problems in the world you frigging brat. And really, if what you’re after is a dramatic and fucked up rock ‘n’ roll story about a band with members who are incessantly bed-hopping with one another, abusing certain recreational substances in the extreme, and scraping through every kind of petty internal conflict you can imagine, just google Fleetwood Mac. They actually did the damn thing that this book so lamely tries to co-opt.
Obviously, Mr. Stephen King is here. I can’t go a year without reading something from him. And I read 3 books by Grady Hendrix, a new favourite. He’s a great modern horror writer, I really like him. I also read a book about potty training because I had to… You can disregard that one, unless of course you need a recommendation for potty training a toddler. This book and it’s program WORK! We committed to a full three day long weekend at home with Woody, no interruptions or surprises to the cadence of our days, just drinking liquids and running to the potty constantly. It wasn’t as bad as we anticipated and he really took to it. He went to daycare the following Monday and had a perfect day, no accidents! The daycare staff were all impressed and amazed. And it continued well throughout that week. He still has the odd slip up here and there, but we consider him fully potty trained at two and a half years old, so that’s a significant WIN for us. Again, if you need a potty training program, this is the one to do.
Looking back, I’d say these ones are my top 5 picks of the year:
- Beastie Boys Book by Mike D & ADROCK
Amazing. Just incredible to hear all about the guys and their lives in early 80’s NYC and to get to live vicariously through them to some extent. What a remarkable experience this book gives the reader. They really let you into their lives in such an intimate way. This is a well-crafted and heartfelt reminiscence of spectacular youth and freedom. I loved every second of it. I started over the Christmas holidays and just couldn’t put it down. It was so good, but it left me reeling in profound sadness when it was over. I remember the day I heard that MCA passed away. I was at work on a Friday afternoon in May, and it just broke all of our hearts. My heart was broken all over again hearing about it in Mike D’s and ADROCK’s own words almost 10 years later. The special these guys filmed in accompaniment of the book was streaming on Apple+, and it’s really good too! Everyone should watch it, it’s the perfect companion piece.
- Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz
Okay, so this is my first ever reading of Koontz. Can you believe that? I love reading horror, thriller, and mystery fiction so it seems like a no-brainer that I would have picked up a Koontz long before now. But I’m a die-hard King fan, and I just avoided Koontz for years because of that bias. I assumed he was the lesser version of the all-time great, the budget version of King, the Pepsi instead of Coke. And also, I have to admit, part of me avoided him because in some way it felt a bit like I’d be cheating on Steve. I’m very loyal, so that shit does not fly with me. But then it happened, unexpectedly, as it always does. I was at the library one afternoon and Koontz caught my eye. I saw this roguishly good-looking blue book with some serious heft, picked it up, and was immediately charmed by the synopsis on the jacket. So maybe it was finally time to cave and give old Koontz a chance, just this once, to see what it’s like. It’s just one book, right? What could it hurt? Cue my utter delight and surprise upon reading, because it was fantastic! Whole world view rocked, no going back. I couldn’t put it down. Non-stop excitement and thrills. Loved the premise, loved the characters, loved the villains, I loved it all! Please, give Koontz a chance.
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Of the three Hendrix books I read this year, this one was my favourite. It’s like some campy Saturday b-movie mashup where the Desperate Housewives of South Carolina Meet Count Dracula at the Bake Sale. In the best way. Total page-turner, I was sucked into the story from the start and couldn’t tear myself away. It’s also a nice long novel, a big old hunk of book. A big book is absolute torture when it sucks, but a precious non-renewable resource you try in vain not to squander when it’s good. And this one was GOOD! There was a lot of intense psychological horror here, a few nasty and visceral creepy-crawly scenes, and some truly stomach churning gross-out gore too. It definitely takes many unexpected detours before the big climactic showdown, and there are some infuriating characters like the dipshit husband of the main character, but it’s a solid read. Hendrix is so skillful at creating stark visuals in the reader’s mind, and that’s why he’s quickly become one of my new faves. That, and the fact that his horror comes dripping in unapologetic campiness, makes him someone to keep my eyes on. I love his style and imagination. He’s got a real talent.
- The Island by Adrian McKinty
Oooo this one! It was scary. McKinty is another writer I’ve started to pay attention to recently who does not hold back, and is incredible at tapping into scenarios that cause the reader deep psychological discomfort. I read The Chain by him in early 2021 and it left an indelible mark on my psyche afterwards, so I was excited to see what else this guy’s got up his sleeve. There was a moment early on in this book where I didn’t know if I could keep going, it was making me feel so upset and frightened. But once I got past that part it became more exciting and less worrisome. A nerve-wracking story that creates fear through an isolated setting with impossible odds of escape from terrifyingly cruel and psychotic captors. You’ll think twice about who you trust and the kinds of excursions you’ll be willing to do in all your future travels, I know I will.
- A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
A ghost story wrapped in a charming coming of age teenage love story. It was so atmospheric, harkening back to a time of restless summer days, when you could fill your time exploring a connection with someone equally young and naive. Malerman is one of these guys I’ve been keeping my eye on too, ever since Bird Box. He creates fear using an isolated setting, but blends it with a mysterious and paranormal element. Ghost stories are typically my least favourite kind of horror, but this one works for me because it’s more about the kids and their relationship being both propelled by and suspended in an unbelievable and impossible shared experience. It’s a quick read, but it’s a worthy one.
If any of my tastes are aligned with yours, go ahead and give some of these a try. I recommend my top 5 in good faith, because of how much I liked them. And if you do, come on back and let me know what you thought. I love sharing ideas and opinions about books, but D hates reading and Woody is still in his Hop on Pop years, so we can’t have much literary discourse together just yet. He does have voracious appetite for reading that we’ve been cultivating since birth, so I’m certain we’ll get there someday, it’ll just be a long wait yet.
I’m starting 2023’s reading with a bold and disturbing dystopian novel that I’ll report back on next year. Until then keep it real, keep it spooky, keep it funky, whatever your bag is. Just be keeping it.