Books I Read: 2019

The reading adventures continue!

Although, there were fewer adventures this year. I did not cover nearly as much ground as I did in 2018. This past year I read a modest 24 books in total. I had every intention of keeping up the pace of the year prior, but I think I may have been feeling a bit burnt out. I intended to focus my 2019 on reading all of Paste Magazine’s 50 Best Horror Novels of All Time. I’d already read a few of the books from this list in the past, basically all of the Stephen King and Joe Hill stuff, and I read another 15 from this list at the end of 2018 as well. I think going into 2019 I had about 25 books on this list still to tackle. And some of them I just felt like I probably wouldn’t read because they were harder to find through the library and online. Some of them just by cursory review of the subject matter alone I felt might be better left unread, you know, for personal preference and psychological preservation.

I sort of meandered this year, and only wound up reading 7 of the books from the horror list. When I found out I was pregnant the first time, back in the spring, I obviously lost steam because I started reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting and spent more of my time researching all kinds of pregnancy shit. So, to be fair, that was a pretty reasonable disconnect from the goal. Then there was a whole flurry of activity around selling our place and moving, so I simply did not have the time to dedicate to reading. There was a brief lull in the summer between the condo sale and the move in June and July when I got to indulge a bit more. At that point I didn’t want to be bound by a required list and instead preferred to read whatever caught my eye at the library.

Anyways, here it is. Here’s the list of all 24 books I read in 2019:

  1. Vox — Christina Dalcher (January 6th)
  2. Ring — Koji Suzuki (January 13th)
  3. Night Things — Michael Talbot (February 13th)
  4. A Head Full of Ghosts — Paul Tremblay (February 19th)
  5. At the Mountains of Madness — H.P. Lovecraft (February 24th)
  6. Educated — Tara Westover (February 27th)
  7. Sleeping Beauties — Stephen King & Owen King (March 17th)
  8. An Object of Beauty — Steve Martin (March 24th)
  9. Food: A Love Story — Jim Gaffigan (March 26th)
  10. Dad is Fat — Jim Gaffigan (March 30th)
  11. Revival — Stephen King (April 8th)
  12. Supermarket — Bobby Hall (June 7th)
  13. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock — Paul Tremblay (June 14th)
  14. The Sisters Brothers — Patrick deWitt (June 20th)
  15. Let the Right One In — John Ajvide Lindqvist
  16. Final Girls — Riley Sager (July 5th)
  17. Alice Isn’t Dead — Joseph Fink (July 9th)
  18. Tell the Machine Goodnight — Katie Williams (July 24th)
  19. The Hiding Place — C.J. Tudor (July 31st)
  20. Rabbit Cake — Annie Hartnett (August 5th)
  21. Where the Crawdads Sing — Delia Owens (August 28th)
  22. The Outsider — Stephen King (September 10th)
  23. Little Star — John Ajvide Lindqvist (September 26th)
  24. The Exorcist — William Peter Blatty (October 4th)

I’m still very much obsessed with fiction, reading anything with the slightest hint of action, adventure, and intrigue. I’ve never been one for non-fiction. I get enough real life in my real life. When I read I want to be transported somewhere I’ve never been, live vicariously through someone else’s exploits. I want things to be outrageous and zany, intense and thrilling! I need strong, complex characters overcoming challenges and triumphing over evil. I think I got a fair amount of that this year. But I did have a few uncharacteristic real life detours, with the Tara Westover memoir and the two Jim Gaffigan books.

I enjoyed everything I read this year too, there weren’t any major disappointments. The Bobby Hall novel Supermarket was bizarre, but I liked it. The Steve Martin book, An Object of Beauty was alright. I don’t think I’d recommend it, but I didn’t hate it. If you’re wondering, yes it was written by that Steve Martin, the one we all know and love from SNL, Father of the Bride, and other comedy favourites. Vox was fantastic, it was hard to put down. Night Things was a read from the horror list that I actually liked way more than I thought I would. It had horribly cheesy cover art that wasn’t encouraging, but it wound up being a fun read. Reminded me of those quirky books I was always drawn to in the 6th grade like “My Teacher’s an Alien!” because they featured such outlandish cover art.

Stephen King naturally makes a few appearances as well. It wouldn’t be a reading list without him. The Outsider was awesome, I liked it a lot. Looking forward to watching the series when it starts airing. I think Jason Bateman is a great casting choice for this story.

My reading came to another long pause towards the end of the year. I started reading a book called Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky which started strong and then just couldn’t hold my interest. I finally picked it up again with the intention of seriously finishing it at the end of December, but that one has slipped on through to the 2020 list.

Of this list, here are my Top 5 Picks for Best Reads of the Year:

    1. Rabbit Cake — Annie Hartnett
      This book caught my eye because it was bright yellow and had an illustration of a cute rabbit on the cover. I immediately sensed that it was going to be unique and quirky. It did not disappoint. The main character is a little girl named Elvis who is very matter-of-fact and scientific in her approach to processing all of the grief and fallout in her family after her mother dies. It showed how people grieve differently, but through a hilarious lens. I needed this book. It was exactly what I needed to read after my miscarriage. Every word went right into my soul and I was so grateful it called out to me from that dusty library shelf. You can judge a book by the cover!
    2. Educated — Tara Westover
      I mentioned I don’t often read non-fiction, right? This book was actually gifted to me by a co-worker in a Secret Santa exchange. It’s not something I would have chosen for myself, but I am so glad I read it. It blew me away! This is a truly amazing story of a real life person who overcame insurmountable odds to get a formal education, something most people take for granted. School is just something we’re all accustomed to as a part of life from a very young age and I don’t know if many of us would have the same wherewithal to pursue an education if it wasn’t something we were forced to do. Tara Westover is an impressive and inspiring person and I’m so thankful she shared her story with the world.
    3. The Sisters Brothers — Patrick deWitt
      All the laughs! I loved this book so much because it was witty and wry. Much like Inherent Vice, there were multiple times I laughed out loud while reading. A good old fashioned cowboy romp with humour. Great characters, great story. The brothers were so real to me, I felt like I was on the trek with them. I could practically smell the cracked leather, dusty trails, and stinky boots as I read. Maybe that was just me though, who knows? I loved this book from the very first sentence through to the last.
    4. Tell The Machine Goodnight — Katie Williams
      Imagine someone ran a simple diagnostic test on you that resulted in clear directives you could follow to be happy. They could be easy enough to do, like go to yoga. Or they could be utterly absurd, like cut off your pinky finger. Would you do it? What wouldn’t you do to be happy? The premise was really intriguing and I enjoyed reading this story. It did feel like it could have unfolded in a more satisfying way, but overall the characters kept me interested.
    5. Alice Isn’t Dead — Joseph Fink
      Right from the start this book wasn’t fucking around. You’re thrust into a bizarre scenario in the first chapter and it just keeps getting weirder and wilder as you read. You feel compelled to uncover the conspiracy alongside Keisha. This book is actually the novelization of a podcast. I think that’s what made it so interesting. You’re reading a book, yes, but it reads differently. There are moments of fast-paced action, but also long stretches of inner turmoil while Keisha is on the road that make you feel like you’re on the same endless road trip. I still don’t even know if I fully understand how everything connected in the end, but it was an entertaining ride no doubt.

Even though my output wasn’t as prolific as last year, I’m amazed I managed this many reads at all, given what an absolutely insane year it’s been. As appealing as it can be to escape reality, sometimes you just have to face it head on instead. I might seek out adventures and epic struggles in my reading, but I realize that my life isn’t entirely devoid of its own adventures and epic struggles. It might not be to quite the same extent, but there are challenges to rise to, little evils to overcome, zany pals to provide amusement and support along the way. I have all the makings of a great story right here in front of me. Wherever my story may take me, I’m ready for it. Armed first and foremost with a good book to help me get by.

Hitting The Open Road

I’m very excited to announce this. I’ve been looking forward to announcing this to you guys all week long…

Hear ye, hear ye! This weekend I, Smash, of this odd little blog, am coming to a city near you! Well, it’s actually only to a city probably/sort of/maybe near some of you. The city of brotherly love itself, Philadelphia!

That’s right gang, you’ve got court-side seats to a Dballs and Smash Road Trip Spectacular! We’ve got a set of wheels and we’re hitting the open road first thing tomorrow morning. And I’ll be detailing every glorious second of it for your reading pleasure.

A couple of weeks ago I was jamming’ out to one of my favourite bands, They Might Be Giants. I started thinking how awesome it would be to see those guys in concert. I pulled up their website and starting poking around for any upcoming concerts in Toronto. But sadly, there were none. Only a bunch of dates listed for a tour through the states. Usually under circumstances such as these, I would’ve just signed up for an alert to let me know when the band will be coming to my neck of the woods in the future. But this time was different. This time around the little hamster in my head that serves as a brain kept cycling around on his squeaky little hamster exercise wheel. And once that wheel gets to turning, fixated on the possibility of an adventure, it’s next to impossible to make it stop.

What if we went to one of their shows in the states anyways? A lot of these places are within reasonable travel distance… Boston, Brooklyn, and Philly. We could probably make one of them work. If I wanted it bad enough and was able to plead my case convincingly, I might just get that husband of mine to go along. I had my birthday on my side, too. It’s harder to say no to a birthday wish than if it had been some conveniently trumped-up bucket list wish. I knew it was gunna be a long shot to convince D, but I really wanted to go. More than anything in the world, in that moment, all that mattered was getting to a TMBG show.

When I pitched the idea to D, I pulled out all the stops. Begging, pleading, whining, wailing, justifying, and arguing him to exhaustion. He resisted at first, but then came around eventually. My impassioned plea for adventure swayed him in the end. Actually, it wasn’t even all that dramatic. He agreed pretty early into my spiel. But he was gentlemanly enough to let me think I’d worn him down, because he knows it’s more fun for me that way.

I ran into my old boss on the subway the other day and gushed to him about our plans for this weekend. He chuckled and said, “eight hours straight in the car with your new husband, you sure are eager to stress test this marriage of yours, aren’t you?”

It might be a little crazy, sure. But everyone knows that crazy = fun. That’s just a basic maths right there. D and I are very travel compatible, so I’m not worried about it at all. We always have lots of laughs together and are both really jazzed up about this trip. We’re married, but we haven’t been totally domesticated yet. Why not grab life by the balls? We’re young and we’re full of dreams. We gotta make these bold moves now while we’re able to without any worry. We don’t have any annoying entanglements to hold us back. It’s a slam dunk already and we haven’t even left yet.

laughing with my hubby

Seriously, I am so fucking pumped! I’ve already made a fresh batch of mixed CD’s for the ride, I’ve got a supermassive 1000-page Archie comic packed, I’ve got oodles upon oodles of snacks stashed away, and I’ve got my doting husband in tow. It’s going to be so frigging rad.

We’re going to eat cheese steaks! We’re going to tour the city! Maybe we’ll even be so bold as to lick the Liberty Bell…

Whatever it is we decide to do on this journey of ours, I’ll keep you posted. So stick around chums, Smash is hitting the open road.

Moar Snorkelling!

When we were in Hawaii a few years back, we frigging loved snorkelling. It was so much fun and we had no idea we were going to see so many cool fish. We debated a few different adventures for ourselves on this trip, but ultimately we decided that we wanted to go snorkelling again. It just didn’t seem as much of a value to spend our money on fifteen minutes of parasailing when we could spend the whole morning in the ocean doing something we knew we would enjoy.

We booked the excursion through the hotel and got picked up by the shuttle bright and early at 8:00am. The shuttle drove us out to Bahia Petempich National Park and we were in luck with the weather. It’s been kind of overcast and a little bit rainy the past few days, but today was sunny and clear. The perfect day for a snorkel adventure!

ready to snorkel

This time around it was a little bit different from in Hawaii. We had to take a boat out to the reef instead of just being able to walk right into the water. We were pretty jazzed about snorkelling in deeper waters, being right out in the middle of the sea added a thrill. I was a little nervous too, but that’s all part of the fun.

One thing we didn’t realize was that we’d all have to stick together in one big, uncoordinated group the whole time… A bunch of dicks kept bashing into me and splashing their stupid flippers in my face. It was kind of awkward trying to pay attention to where the group leader was swimming and enjoy what was going on beneath us at the same time.

But we did see quite a few fish!

fishy

fin kiss

reef n fish

There was a stingray nearby, but by the time we got sort of close it swam away. One guy also said that he saw a barracuda, but I have my doubts about that claim. We didn’t see as many diverse types of fish as we did in Hawaii, but there were quite a lot of the fish we did see and they were super active.

Time flies when you’re snorkelling. It just super crazy whips right by. Before we knew it, our time was up and we had to make our way back to shore. When we got back they had beers waiting for us! Ice cold and ready to chug as soon as we hopped off the boat. That was a nice touch.

I also saw some cats chilling by our picnic tables! They were so cute. One of them thought my camera was a tasty little snack that I was going to feed it.

cats of mexico

I can cross another of many important milestones off my bucket list now, I puked in Mexico! I think I swallowed a tad more salt water than the last go around snorkelling, and felt overwhelmed by nausea on our shuttle ride back to the hotel. We had to ask the driver to stop so I could barf all over the side of the road. It was a smart call that I only had a banana for breakfast that morning. My pal Joce always told me that the most perfect food to eat when you’re hung over is a banana because it still tastes good when you’re ralphing it back up. And she was right! So I barfed three times on the side of the road and was able to hold myself together until we got back to the hotel.

It’s a bit of an apples and oranges scenario trying to compare both of our snorkelling experiences. But I think overall, I preferred Hawaii better. I liked not being stuck in a group, feeling like I’m being babysat the whole time. Having the freedom to come and go from the water as you please is a pretty big plus. And having the freedom to snorkel throughout the reef wherever you want is nice too. Although we did enjoy the beers and loved the thrill of being out in the middle of the sea, Hawaii wins this round.

We got home, showered all the sand out of our cracks and had a really superb afternoon nap. All in all, I’d say it was a fun way to spend the day.

Luck of the Draw

Sometimes in life there are things that are just meant to be. Coincidences and things of that nature. Unexpected little moments of delight that just feel right. The universe talks, and sometimes we can hear it.

D and I met up for dinner one night after work. It was cold and unkind outside, as it has been all winter long, so we didn’t want to wander too far from home. We treaded the well-worn and mostly indoor path to the Pickle Barrel in our hood. I’ve been really digging their breakfast foods lately. We sat down and started to scan the menu. D noticed a promotional ad on the table. D loves deals. He loves to find good “specials” and “deals” at our local restaurants. He files them away in his thrifty head for future usefulness and savings. It’s all about the savings. There are a bunch of pictures on his phone of weekly specials and deals from restaurants all over the city. So that if we happen to feel like dining out on Thursday night we know exactly where to go that particular night for the best deal in town. For D, dining out is partly about having a good meal, but mostly about making a killing when the check comes.

The ad that D happened to notice that night at the Pickle Barrel was for a 1 litre boot of Steamwhistle beer for $15.99. And you got to keep the boot afterwards. A tempting little promo what with St. Patrick’s Day a few weeks away. We hemmed and hawed about this for a while, before finally passing on the deal. That was a sweet fucking boot, no doubt. But beer makes D too full, he doesn’t like to drink a lot of it when he’s eating. He’d rather have some beers a few hours after dinner, if there’s a game on or something. So he can enjoy it without feeling uncomfortable and bloated. And I’ve been off beer for a couple of months now. I’m all about these delicious raspberry vodka and lemonade cocktails I’ve recently concocted. Plus, Steamwhistle sucks. We hate that beer. A lot of people here in Toronto love it, but not us. We even went so far as to ask the server if it had to be Steamwhistle in the boot, maybe we could get it filled with something else instead. A beer we actually wanted to drink.

But sadly, no dice.

So we passed on the boot. We really wanted it, but it just didn’t make sense. Oh well, that’s that.

A couple of days later I had to buy some booze for the weekend, so I cruised on over to the liquor store. In and out, a real smooth operation. I grabbed what I needed and got in line. Some dick was taking forever to pay and holding up the line, as usual. Standing there impatiently, I started to look around. I noticed out of the corner of my eye a bright green Steamwhistle box on the other side of the store. A box with a couple of tallboys and the boot we’d passed up a few days ago at dinner. What a coincidence! But then the line started to move, and a few more people were behind me now. I didn’t want to lose my spot to go and see how much it was. I hate when people do that, gum up the works with their indecisiveness at checkout counters. I didn’t want to be that asshole that puts her stuff down and says “I’ll be right back, I just have to grab something real quick.” They always say that it’s going to be “real quick” and it never is. I decided to just pay for what I had and come back tomorrow to scope out the situation.

When I got home I told D that I had seen the boot for sale at the liquor store. With his interest renewed, he agreed that we would go take a look and possibly buy one tomorrow. We could chuck the shitty beers we hated and then fill our boot with whatever the hell we wanted instead. The more we thought about it, the more excited we got. Das boot!

But tomorrow didn’t pan out for us. We’d gone back to the liquor store only to discover that all of the cases with the boot were gone. They’d sold out already, and we were shit out of luck. It was a desirable little novelty, that boot. People really wanted them. And we were just doomed to carry on wanting, it seemed. I kicked myself for my stupid need to be considerate of others. If only I’d been a teensy bit selfish the night before, I’d be living my dreams, drinking out of that frigging boot like a champion.

I thought about that boot often over the next few days that followed. I wanted it now more than ever, and I’d missed out on it not just once, but twice. Damn. The universe, with its infinite knowing, seemed to sense my frustration. It knew that something hinky was afoot. Some creative correction was needed.

We went to a comedy club last week. My sister won some free tickets and asked us to come along for the laughs. It was fun. She’s lucky and she wins free shit all the time. One time we went to a party and she won four Christmas trees in the raffle. Four! Needless to say, but if she’s ever caught bemoaning her poor luck, we’re all very quick to remember the story of the four Christmas trees. After the show was over, the MC announced that there was going to be a 50/50 raffle to benefit the diabetes foundation. D only had five bucks in his pocket, just enough for a ticket. He likes to gamble, and he’s always had a good bit of luck about himself. I mean, he managed to land this classy babe, amiright?

D bought his ticket and we stood at the bar, waiting for the raffle to start. The MC grabbed the mic, and as I turned to face him a brief sparkle caught my eye. A glimmer of light from above, dancing along the rounded lip of a Steamwhistle boot. Well I’ll be damned! They were about to raffle off one of those bloody boots as a secondary prize. My hopes skyrocketed instantly and I grabbed at D’s arm in excitement. “They have the boot! We’re going to win one, we have to!”

“Pffft, who gives a shit about that boot. I’ll win the big prize babe, and then I’ll buy all the fucking boots we want,” D responded. The big prize was 5 cool g’s, so that would be okay, too. But it wouldn’t be as exciting as winning the boot. Not to me, anyways.

The MC reached into the drum for a ticket, and I held my breath. I looked over D’s shoulder at the ticket, concentrating on his number while the MC read the winning number aloud.

Every single number he read matched the numbers on D’s ticket. And in that moment, I heard the universe talking. Talking to us.

The Boot

We were meant to have that boot, and the universe kindly intervened to make it so. It’s one of those things that I just know.

Cheers, universe! Here’s looking at you.

We Finally Went to That Place

So before I start this post, I just want to point out that I did a little housekeeping. I categorized all of my posts for an easier reading experience, you know, on the off-chance that someone new comes along and wants to read all of my cool shit. And I rearranged the sidebar a little, just for the hell of it. Nothing too drastic, it just makes me feel good to be organized, and I’ve been putting this off.

Anyways, onwards and upwards to more pressing matters. D and I made our big move to the city in May. We take the subway to work every day. Right beside the subway is this awesome looking restaurant called The Construction Site, and it specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. We’ve walked by it hundreds of times, and we’ve talked about going there just about every weekend since we moved here. But for some reason whenever we’d go out to eat it just wouldn’t occur to us.

I had a really fucking delicious grilled cheese sandwich in the summer when The Magpie and I had lunch in Kensington Market one day. A crispy, cheesy, yummy sandwich on a sunny afternoon, that’s the ticket.

grilled cheese

That sandwich was amazing. Especially compared to the crap I’m expected to ingest at home. I don’t really know how it’s possible that I ate this amazing fucking sandwich in the summer and then went for months without trying the place right down the street from my apartment. Like, what the eff brain? How could you let this happen? Oh, it’s tummy’s fault? Hmm, well I’ll be having words with her too, rest assured. That bitch is gonna pay for this.

Many months went by since that incredible sandwich in the market happened to me. But finally on a cold and blustery day in January, it occurred to us. We should have totally awesome grilled cheeses this weekend. Yes, yes we should. We work hard, and we deserve a decent grilled cheese sandwich for a change dammit!

So we bundled up on Saturday afternoon and went for a little stroll to that grilled cheese place that always looked so awesome, but for some reason we never went in. We pushed the glass door open and walked into what has to be one of the cleanest restaurants I’ve ever seen. Spick-and-span. This little adventure was off to a great start already. The menu was enticing, with lots of options. But I’m a classic kind of girl. I dig simplicity, and there’s comfort in the familiar. So that’s what I ordered, The Classic. Aged cheddar on french white bread, it’s a guaranteed slam dunk. D followed suit on the sandwich, which was surprising because he usually loves to mix it up.

So we were just a couple of classics. Out for a classic Saturday afternoon stroll, stopping in for our classic sandwiches. It was a classic Smash and D day.

The dude behind the counter fired up our sandwiches with a smile, and our mouths watered. It would take a few minutes, as all masterpieces do. So we sat down to wait at an enormous table with double-wide chairs. I’m not a double-wide person per say, but I like to stretch out. I haven’t even eaten yet and I’m totally sold on this place. They have all the secrets to success cracked: clean restaurant, good service, assumed excellent food, and double-wide chairs. That’s how you do it!

Then the dude brought two square cardboard boxes and set them in front of us. Ah, the sandwiches had arrived. I’m so friggen excited just remembering this moment you guys, it was like opening a perfect little present. One that you’d picked out for yourself on behalf of a hapless significant other and forgotten about. We looked across the table at each other excitedly, anticipating greatness. We opened the lids.

yummy sandwiches

Daaaamn, that is one fine lookin’ sandwich. I almost didn’t want to eat it, it was too perfect.

Before putting the sandwich to the grill, the bread had been sprinkled with what I’m guessing was a parmesan cheese blend. It added to the crispness of the bread and the flavour of the sandwich immensely. My first bite, a lovingly long cruuuunch into the bread. An instant explosion of awesome on my taste buds. It’s a good thing I was sitting down, my legs surely would have given out otherwise. And I wasn’t even drunk when I was eating this thing, this is my totally sober recollection of it. Damn, that’s good sandwich!

The chips were incredible too. They were warm. What the eff? They warmed my chips? Holy shit this place is amazing! They warmed my freakin’ chips, that’s so rad! They were crunchy, kettle-cooked little slices of perfection, liberally seasoned with rosemary. What an absolute delight.

As we ate, we could hear another customer talking to the sandwich dude, asking questions about the food. He told her that everything they serve is organic. The bread, the cheese, the chips, the other meats and ingredients. Everything is organic. I’m not very particular about this when it comes to my food, but for those of you who are, then this is great news! These guys give a shit about the food they’re serving, and it shows. The taste is incomparable to any other grilled cheese I’ve ever had. That one in the market was hella good too, but these places are apples and oranges.

You must eat here. As soon as you possibly can. You will not regret it, I’d stake my whole reputation on this recommendation. Do it. Do it. DO IT!

I can’t believe it took us this long to eat here. We’re such idiots! All those wasted months of grilled cheese consumption. Oh, and now I’ve made it a goal to eat more meals at home like some chump. I guess I can make an exception for this place. For those Saturdays when I’m feeling classic.