Books I Read: Inaugural Year 2017

Sometime in April 2017 I decided to start keeping a list of all the books I’ve read since the start of 2017. I can’t remember why, but I did. It was easy enough to remember everything I’d read as of January because I’ve long run out of upright storage space on my bookcase and started keeping two distinct piles stacked on the shelves: books I’ve just read and books in line to be read. I got the list up to speed based on the books I’ve just read pile and then from there, whenever I finished a book, I wrote an entry for it in the list aptly titled Books I’ve Read This Year. 

Riveting stuff, surely.

And now I present to you, my readers, said list:

  1. What Alice ForgotLiane Moriarty
  2. End of Watch—Stephen King
  3. All the Missing Girls—Megan Miranda
  4. Ready Player One—Ernest Cline
  5. Never Knowing—Chevy Stephens
  6. God-Shaped Hole—Tiffanie DeBartolo
  7. N0S4A2—Joe Hill
  8. The Good Girl—Mary Kubica
  9. The Perfect Stranger—Megan Miranda
  10. Horns—Joe Hill
  11. The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger—Stephen King
  12. The Dark Tower 2: The Drawing of the Three—Stephen King
  13. The Dark Tower 3: The Waste Lands—Stephen King
  14. The Dark Tower 4: Wizard and Glass—Stephen King
  15. The Dark Tower 4.5: The Wind Through the Keyhole—Stephen King
  16. The Dark Tower 5: Wolves of the Calla—Stephen King
  17. The Dark Tower 6: Song of Susannah—Stephen King
  18. The Dark Tower 7: The Dark Tower—Stephen King

I was hoping to get the list to 19 before the year was out, it’s a Dark Tower thing, but alas, my quest for the Tower took me right through to December 30th and I didn’t feel up to starting a new book so soon after that epic and heart-wrenching journey was done just for the sake of 19.

So 18 it is, not too shabby. That’s exactly 1.5 books per month. For someone who worked a very demanding job and has a lot of other varied hobbies, I’m glad I managed to find time for some good stories.

The year started out relatively light, with some Liane Moriarty. I like her. You might know her best as the author behind Big Little Lies, the book that the Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman HBO mini-series was adapted from. What Alice Forgot gave us a woman experiencing a Dickensian epiphany of sorts. She loses sight of what matters in life and a bonk on the head resulting in amnesia helps her revert to a decades younger version of herself, reliving the past decade secondhand, learning how she stumbled and gradually grew into an abhorrent version of herself. Then of course lessons are learned and Alice gains perspective. At least Ebenezer Scrooge only lost one night of sleep. Poor Alice lost a whole decade!

End of Watch was awesome, the final instalment in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy. I liked the second story of that series best, Finders Keepers, but this one gave us a fitting end to the trilogy.

I got sucked into the Megan Miranda books by the Indigo hot-sellers displays and they were okay. Quick, entertaining summer reads. All the Missing Girls is the better of the two, with The Perfect Stranger feeling like a repetitive, watered-down contractual obligation by comparison.

Ready Player One seriously kicked ass! Man, that book was so cool and endlessly entertaining. From the very first page right through to the last I was hooked. Classic nerd sci-fi/80’s nostalgia mashup fun galore! I was excited to hear that it would be a movie in 2018, but then I saw the trailer and well… BOOOO! Just based on the trailer alone, there’s no way that movie is going to capture any of the awesomeness of the book. Read the book, get wrapped up in it, enjoy it. Afterwards, let’s all agree to pretend that a movie version doesn’t even exist.

Never Knowing is officially the worst fucking piece of garbage I’ve ever read. It is the current leader in the “How the fuck did this even get published???” championship bowl. For real. Whoever wrote the summary on the book jacket deserves a prize for being able to polish that humongous turd just enough to make someone like me, who has an exceptionally honed eye for bullshit, purchase it. I want my $6 back Indigo value bin. The concept was intriguing, it could have been good. A woman who was adopted goes looking for her biological parents and finds out that her mother was the only survivor of a violent serial killing rapist, who is still at large. Sounds like it could be really good, right? Unfortunately, all of that potential was spun into shit, not gold, by the most hackneyed excuse for a writer since E.L. James. Does this woman even understand how people actually talk to each other in long-term relationships? Here’s some free insight for you, Chevy Stevens: men and women in their fucking 30’s in a committed long-term relationship don’t call each other “baby” every single fucking sentence they speak to each other. Unless they’ve been lobotomized. And if you interact this way with your partner, you need to stop. Like, right now, because I guarantee you are annoying the absolute fuck out of everyone in your lives.

God-Shaped Hole was an emotionally draining read, but in the best possible way. I got deeply invested in Beatrice and Jacob’s relationship and loved that Tiffanie DeBartolo provided a recommended playlist for this book. My love for Jeff Buckley was reignited and I spent most of May and June listening to his album Grace on loop as a result of reading this book.

The Good Girl was another inconsequential thriller with a hyped up “you-can’t-see-it-coming-plot-twist” that was easily predicted within the first quarter of the book. Meh.

This year I discovered how fucking awesome Joe Hill is, and so much like his dad, Stephen King. Even if I had no idea who he was, his writing would immediately feel eerily familiar to me, having read as much King as I have. N0S4A2 is dark, creepy, thrilling, and exciting. Charlie Manx is as vile a villain as there ever was and the imaginative plot is immediately enthralling. Loved it, would highly recommend to anyone who wants a good spooky, action-packed adventure. Horns was stellar too, I read it the week we were in the Dominican, and while it might not be the general population’s idea of a “vacation read” I couldn’t put it down. I relished every minute spent with Ig while his newly sprouted horns compelled everyone around him to express and enact their innermost fucked up thoughts and desires on his path to uncover his beloved Merrin’s true killer. Read Joe Hill, he rules!

Then, towards the end of July, I felt compelled to finally start my quest for The Dark Tower. I bought the first four books a long time ago and they sat on my shelf, idling. I don’t think my heart or my mindset were in the right place to start an epic journey until the second half of 2017. The movie was coming out in August and I stupidly assumed it would be an adaptation of the first book, that it was going to be a Harry Potter kind of deal, 7 books = 7 movies, give or take. So I finished The Gunslinger, and I was halfway through book two, The Drawing of the Three, when D and I went to see the movie. Imagine my complete disappointment when I left the theatre after a 90-minute oversimplified, boiled down glimpse of the entire series.

That fucking sucked. As a standalone movie for D, who was never going to read the books and just wanted to watch it with me, it was fine. There were cool scenes, and good action. But there was no heart. There was no time to even get a sense of who Roland Deschain is, one of the greatest tragic anti-heroes I’ve ever come to know and love. That sucks, man. Most sacrilegious of all there was no ka-tet! No Eddie Dean, no Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker/Susannah Dean, and no Oy! We didn’t get to gear up for an epic quest at all. Shows over folks, make sure you put your garbage in the bins on your way out.

I carried on with my quest to read the rest of the series by the end of 2017 and I succeeded. I loved and cherished every single second of it. I know it gets a lot of flack from fans who read the series in painstaking real-time, waiting years between books for another instalment, but I especially loved book 4 Wizard and Glass. That was my favourite book of the series. People who complain about how it didn’t advance the quest because it was all Roland’s backstory disappoint me. Roland is our dinh and we get to experience a deeply insightful, formative period of his early life firsthand. We get to know his first ka mates, Alain Johns and Cuthbert Allgood personally! We get to experience his first love with Susan Delgado, and his first heartbreak. We get to learn more about how Roland strategizes, how he plans, how he outsmarts his opponents. What an absolute privilege to have a writer give you that rich backstory. If you’re not going to enjoy the journey, why are you even questing in the first place? That’s the reason guys like Stephen King take on these epic storytelling endeavours, because they have rapt readers who want to get immersed in the story right alongside them. We don’t care how long it takes, hell they can make it last even longer if they want and we’ll gladly savour every delicious morsel of tale they can provide. If you’re just reading something to know how it ends, I don’t think you understand the point of reading to begin with.

So there you have it, the list of books I read in 2017. I didn’t really start the year with a plan or a direction, I just read what appealed to me and added it to the list when I was done.

I’m going to start a list for 2018 as well and see how it goes. I think this year I’ll add a note for the date I finished each book, just to see how that looks. I love reading and doing this allows me to look back on a year of reading and appreciate all the adventures I had.

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Just Like Phoebe Caulfield Would

I love my desk. I just love it so much for what it is and how it makes me feel. I’ve been madly in love with it ever since I saved it from impending landfill doom six years ago…

Just another muggy summer afternoon. The air was thick with humidity and I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my back as I walked home from the bus stop. I was living at home with my parents again for the summer, working the same crummy minimum wage job at the salon. Finishing a rare morning shift–usually I had to work nights and close the joint up–I was looking forward to an evening unburdened by that responsibility. As I walked home, pondering possible ways to spend my free time that night, I noticed a big brown rectangle up ahead. Something past it’s prime that had been put out to curb, but I couldn’t make out what it was. I suspected an old dining room table, but couldn’t be sure. I kept walking toward my house, I’d be able to see it more clearly once I got close. Sure enough, it turned out to be a desk. Just sitting on the curb in front of a house up the street from ours.

I needed a desk for my room, so maybe I could have this one. I tossed my backpack on our front lawn and wandered up the street to check it out. I wasn’t getting my hopes up, furniture that’s been sent to the curb is usually busted, disgusting, or horribly outdated. But once in a while you can rummage something good up at the curb, and it was in my broke student nature at the time to salvage things instead of buy them if I could. So, maybe it would be worth a look.

My jaw-dropped and my heart fluttered in breathless unity when I finally got a good look at it. It was absolutely perfect in every way. Not perfect in the pristine sense; I saw its perfection in both its remarkable size and in my immediate attraction to it. It had a couple of minor dings, but that was fine by me. Those little scratches and bumps only lent it more appeal. My eyes gorged themselves on the enormous fake wood panelled monstrosity before me. It was everything I’d always dreamed of in a desk. Ever since the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye I dreamed of having a ludicrously big desk, just like Phoebe Caulfield did. So I could spread out.

I must have stood there marvelling at it for a full five minutes before my brain kicked into overdrive. A million fragments of thought, all revolving around the desk, raced around inside my head: OMG! Desk. Need desk. Good desk. Want desk. Have to get desk. Fuckin’ great desk, man. DESK!

I hurried home, running down the street like a maniac. I burst through the front door, frantically looking for someone to help with the heavy lifting. I knew I’d never be able to cart a desk this big home all by myself, no matter how determined I was. I needed more muscle. My step-dad was at work and my mom was out shopping with my youngest siblings in tow. The only person home was my sister Erika. At four-foot-eleven and weighing in at 90 pounds soaking wet, she just wasn’t enough muscle for the job. I grabbed the phone and called our friend Phil who lived close by, hoping desperately that he was home. Phil is big and strong, the right kind of fellow for this sort of job. As luck would have it, he was home. I begged him to rush over and help immediately. And being the good friend that he is, he did. With a handy helper solidified, I wasted no time getting back across the street to guard my new treasure. Because, you know, clearly I have impeccable taste when it comes to curb-side cast-offs and an item of such unique beauty is bound ensnare the hearts of a thousand greedy rivals. It was a situation requiring extreme action, get or get got.

I sat on the desk, guarding it jealously and waiting for Phil, he would be along soon. And then all of my wildest desk-related dreams could come true.

It was gruelling work, but together we managed to manoeuvre the desk across the street, up the driveway and into my room. It was heavy and awkward, like trying to carry a piece of Stonehenge home. A desk from the days of yore, when backbreaking weight guaranteed the buyer quality and longevity. No lightweight modern bullshit here. This desk is a wood panelled boulder capable of withstanding a nuclear blast and requiring no less than three people to move it. Well, maybe two exceptionally strapping people could manage. Like Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But then you’d have to buy them pizza for helping with the move, and they can eat a lot of pizza. But you don’t like to share… Ah well, it was never meant to be.

So, we had to make do moving the desk without the help of Ah-nuld and Hulk, and I had to shelve that daydream to focus on the task at hand. It was challenging, but worth every bit of strain. A thunderous thud onto the carpet announced the desk’s arrival in our home. And in that instant, my dream of owning an invasively large desk became a reality.

My mom hated my new desk almost immediately upon first sight. My step-dad did too. I don’t know why they hated it. The only semblance of a reason for their hatred that I can remember is an arbitrary claim that it was “too big” for my room. Which it wasn’t, at all, so their claim made no sense. I got relocated to the old master bedroom after they completed renovations on our house, and it was plenty spacious. I think they just hated it for the sake of hating. Their hatred was accompanied by threats to get rid of it when I went back to school, much to my chagrin. Empty threats, but nonetheless, worthy of inciting hysterics. Every threat to turn my precious desk into refuse was met with one of the following desperate pleas on its behalf:

  1. “You know how much I love this desk, so if you throw it out then you do so knowing that I will NEVER speak to you again!”
  2. “I’m going to pen an epic tome from this desk one day, so if you throw it out you’re basically throwing out my future.”
  3. “The only thing worth living for is that desk, don’t take it from me or you’ll be sorry”

Option number one, usually shouted instead of spoken, was used when I was feeling agitated or annoyed. Option two was a nugget of pure guilting gold. And option number three relied on the perfect amount of pitiable menace to convey my distress. Which isn’t always easy to muster in the heat of the moment, so I resorted to it less frequently than the others.

As it turns out, my parents aren’t total monsters and they didn’t do away with my beloved desk. It stayed exactly as it was, year after year, until I finally moved out on my own for good. And you can be damn sure I moved that desk right along with me. We’ll never part abodes again. Wherever it is that I decide to hang my hat for the remainder of my meager life, the Phoebe Caulfield desk will be there too. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love it so much. It’s my sanctuary. I clock some solid hours at this desk every week. Writing, brainstorming, watching Netflix, colouring, making mixed CDs, having FaceTime chats with my BFF on the other side of the world. I do everything at this desk. Nay, I do everything with this desk. We’re a team, we’re destined for greatness, and we’re in it for the long haul.

The Phoebe Caulfield desk has allowed me to spread out farther than I ever could have imagined possible. There’s something about this big clunky lug that has become a part of me. Sometimes you’ll put on a coat or a shirt or a fucking toupee, whatever, and the people you know will be all like “Oh blah blah, that whatever that you’re wearing is just so you!” Well that’s how it is for me and my desk. We go together.

my desk

Man, that Caulfield chick sure knew what she was talking about.

New Project!

Hey dudes, I’m very excited to announce that I have started a new project. This is something that I’ve been working on for a little while now, and I’m ready to launch.

The Kingdom

So head on over to The Kingdom to check it out.

Basically, I’m just working my way through the entire Stephen King library, reading and reviewing it all. And hey, maybe we’ll even watch a couple of the movies and T.V. shows too. My hope is that this project will accomplish two things:

1) I’ll have a shitload of fun

and

2) I’ll actually start using my brain cells again instead of drowning them in booze

So if you decide to come along for the journey, you’re super awesome and I dig your style, man.

Summer Reading Roundup

I fucking love reading. I love it so goddamn much.

When I was younger I practically consumed books. The newest R.L. Stein was lapped up hungrily, then washed down with a healthy double digest of Archie. When I wasn’t acting a total nuisance to my parents, wreaking havoc on the household with my sisters, I was quietly stowed away in some corner of the house with my nose buried in a book. You name it, I read it. Dr. Seuss, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Kids, Roald Dahl, Goosebumps, Tales of Redwall, Hardy Boys, Pippi Longstocking, and The Chronicles of Narnia. All present and accounted for.

I especially loved books in which teachers were aliens, people turned into animals, or ventriloquist dummies came to life at night. Those were the best books. Filling my head with fantastical stuff of that variety is probably why I’m such a weirdo today…

I’d even read at night, when I was supposed to be sleeping. It was stealth reading. I’d stand by the window, balancing precariously on the nightstand, and push the blinds aside. I pinned them against the glass with my shoulder to keep them out of my way. Then I’d tilt my book in just the right way, letting the glow from the streetlights outside illuminate the pages. And I’d stand there reading until I was tired. I’d have to be careful not to lose myself completely in my book, otherwise I might not hear my parents checking up. I couldn’t get caught, that would be big trouble. But it was worth the risk, and I loved every minute of it because I was greedy for reading.

And to this day my greed for reading has not yet abated.

I tend to read a lot more in the summer. Seems odd, I know. But there’s something about a spectacularly hot summer day that drives me to read. Summer is hardly even underway, but I’ve already burned through a bunch of awesome shit on my summer reading docket. The stuff I’ve been reading lately has been so fucking rad. So good that I’m reading on the subway to and from work. Which I normally wouldn’t do because its not enough time to really immerse yourself in the story. And you always get cut off, having to leave the train, at the most ill-timed moments. But I can’t help myself! The stuff I’m reading is too good. I just can’t wait another second to get back into the thick of it.

I have to share it. I can’t keep all this goodness to myself, that just wouldn’t be right. So if you’re looking for something really rad to read this summer, then I’ve got just the thing for you. Providing your tastes run a little oddball like mine, naturally.

SMASH’S SUMMER READING ROUNDUP

1) American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods

American Gods

This one is going to take you for a wild ride. It’s the story of Shadow, a man whose life is irrevocably changed by a chance meeting with a mysterious stranger. A stranger who introduces him to a motley assortment of Gods who were brought to America by the immigrants of our history books. Belief in these archaic gods has dwindled dangerously, putting them at odds with the gods of our present day. A war of epic proportions is brewing, the outcome of which could be catastrophic.

It’s riveting. Written in such a way that reader is directly deposited into Shadow’s shoes from the start. We meet our protagonist, and we immediately sympathize with his plight. When his journey begins, it’s confusing and weird at first. You’re confronted and confounded by a number of strange characters. You’re not sure what’s happening or why, but you know that all of it is totally illogical, nonsensical. Through the myths, legends, and tales of the immigrants that brought their gods to America which are interspersed with Shadow’s narrative, you begin to see. You’re awakened. Things start to click, and you start to believe. You see, you experience, you learn, and discover the power of faith right along with Shadow.

It’s strange and quirky, brimming with intrigue. It keeps you hanging on, worrying and wondering how it will play out. Simultaneously surprising and amusing, it’s worth your time. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, and if you’re not familiar with his work then you need to get familiar.

I loved it. I give it a 9/10.

2) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game

Ender Wiggin is taken from his home and all that he knows at the tender age of six. Because it is believed that he is the militaristic genius who can save earth from impending doom. He’s taken to battle school where he is mercilessly trained by his superiors in the art of war. The world government believes that they need to groom remarkably bright and capable children for a life of military success to protect earth from alien invasion and the subsequent domination or annihilation of the human race that is sure to follow. And they are coming, it’s irrefutable. A child of staggering strategic genius is our last resort. Will he rise to the occasion or get crushed by the onslaught of challenges heaped upon him at battle school?

I mean, come on. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? This is the quintessential work of science-fiction. Space travel, aliens, intergalactic war, cutting edge weaponry, null gravity fight sequences, and more! This book has got it all. It’s fast paced and exciting. Ender is an awe-inspiring character. His brilliance knows no bounds. But for every soaring success he experiences, Ender is met with shattering lows. His success comes at the cost of his innocence. Earth’s safety is insured through the manipulation and exploitation of a little boy whose been robbed of his youth, forced to grow up way too fast. Literally, the weight of the world is on his shoulders. You want him to succeed, but you pity him. And you’re appalled by the measures taken by the commanders to groom Ender to perfection.

I simply could not put this book down, it is an absolute treasure. And I’m really looking forward to the movie adaptation later this year. Perfect score, 10/10.

3) Desperation by Stephen King

Desperation

Desperation

There’s something evil afoot in Desperation, a small town in Nevada. More evil than you could possibly imagine. One by one, road weary travellers are picked up on interstate 50, just outside of town, and taken into the custody of the town sheriff. A family on vacation, a young married couple, an aging writer, and the town drunk are tossed into jail cells and terrorized by the maniac sheriff. But little do they know, he’s the least of their worries.

It’s everything you’d expect of a King novel. Grisly and gripping, sparing not a single gory detail. It’s frightening, but you can’t stop reading. There’s a creepiness about it that really burrows into you. I read this book over the course of two weeks. I do the bulk of my reading at night before bed. Which probably isn’t wise with horror fiction, but I couldn’t stop myself. And it had an impact, that’s for sure. Every night for the two weeks that I was reading this book, I had nighttime episodes, completely unbeknownst to me. It was only when D commented on it that I found out it was happening. He asked me what was up, said I’d been weird at night lately. When I asked him weird how, he told me a number of bizarre things. I was screaming bloody murder in my sleep, flailing my arms wildly. A couple of times I also leapt out of bed in a panic, pulling back the curtains and screaming at the bedroom window. I’d have a total freak out and then go back to sleep like nothing had happened. It was Stephen King, working his creepy magic on me. As soon as I finished the book, the nighttime episodes stopped.

It’s thrilling, it’s chilling, it’ll literally get inside of you. It’s not my favourite work by King, a little too heavy-handed on the God and prayer stuff, but it was a worthwhile read. If you can stomach horror fiction, then go for it. I’d say it gets a 7.5/10.

BONUS: D and I watched the made for T.V. movie version once I’d finished the book. It was spectacularly cheesy. The only real scares coming in the form of creepy crawlies. Snakes, tarantulas and scorpions. Watching that shit wriggle around on-screen scares the bejesus out of me!

4) Batman: Haunted Knight by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Batman: Haunted Knight

Batman: Haunted Knight

This is a compilation of three Batman Halloween Specials written and presented by the iconic Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. While working on these three tales of Halloween in Gotham City, Loeb and Sale were inspired to create The Long Halloween, which is my favourite Batman story to date and one of the most beloved works in the Batman canon. My favourite of these three stories is the second one, “Madness”, in which Batman squares off with The Mad Hatter, a psychopath whose moniker is derived from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He’s a challenging enemy for Batman because the reference to Carroll reminds him of his mother. Fighting Mad Hatter dredges up painful memories. The flashback sequence of Bruce reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with his mother just hours before her untimely death is gut-wrenching. We see the charming and precocious Bruce interacting freely with his mother, the emotional barriers we are accustomed to with Bruce Wayne have yet to be constructed. It makes you wonder what might have been, and if you love Batman as much as I do, it tears at your heart.

The artwork is sublime, and the stories are highly enjoyable. Easily, 8.5/10.

5) Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan Jr.

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 Unmanned

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 Unmanned

A mysterious plague has wiped out every single mammal with a Y chromosome on the planet. All of the men and male animals, dead. All of them except two. A young man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. For some reason they survived, as did all of the females. Yorick is now the last man on earth, and that is some serious shit to deal with. He’s got to keep his ass safe while trying to figure out what happened. It’s not exactly the repopulation fantasy some would think. It’s a hellish nightmare, every day a struggle to survive in an unfamiliar world. A world overrun by unruly, grieving, angry females trying to cope with what happened. Feminist extremists, power-hungry female politicians, and deadly secret services agents are engaged in a power struggle of epic proportions. And word’s just gotten out that there is a live human male roaming around…

This is a newly discovered series for me. I had been hearing nothing but good things about it, and I can happily say that all of the praise is warranted. It’s original and unique. The first volume in the series setting up what’s sure to be a remarkable adventure.

I can’t wait to rush out and grab the remaining volumes! Undoubtedly, 9/10.

So there you have it. The best of what I’ve been reading this summer. I can only hope that maybe there’s something there that piques your interest. Or maybe you’ve already read some of these titles. That would be even more rad because if you have we can chat all about it!

Or maybe you’ve got some totally awesome recommendations of your own that I can add to my list?

Smash’s Traditional Christmas

I’m not talking about your grandma’s gingerbread kinda traditional. I’m talking my brand of traditional. Which, can best be described as gift swap hysteria on my part and determined long-suffering on D’s.

The most important element of my holiday celebrations is the lengthy battle over when we will exchange gifts that D and I engage in every year. The I-Just-Can’t-Wait-Another-Day-If-There-Are-Presents-With-My-Name-On-Them hounding that, admittedly, D has put up a very brave fight against every Christmas since 2006. However, D has not yet been able to come up successful with the ever so crucial December 25th exchange victory. Much to my delight, I am still the unseated champion. I’ve won every battle thus far, and am happy to announce that the tradition lives on!

I have this need to open gifts. It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Actually, need is a gross understatement of what it is. Compulsion would also be putting it mildly. It’s equal parts insatiable curiosity, hyper-active desperation, and feverish excitement. And the very second I catch wind that there are gifts for me kicking around the house it becomes an all-consuming inferno inside of me, burning up every ounce of sanity I’ve got.

I’m sure my mom thought that I’d grow out of it over time. I’m certain she held out a hope as long as she possibly could. But somewhere down the line she just had to accept it, and had to get more clever at circumventing it. If she couldn’t extinguish the flames, at least she could keep them at bay with frustrated threats and double doses of household chores.

I remember the elaborate schemes my sisters and I hatched for finding and opening gifts before Christmas. For spying on our parents, trying to catch a glimpse of the things they brought home from the store. We were certain that every shopping bag was loaded to the brim with toys, and ripe for the picking. We were young and full of vigour. Okay, fine it was sugar. Sugar-fueled vigour. We devised master plans. We whispered in secrecy. We crept through the house with purpose and stealth. We did these things because we wanted presents. Needed presents.

They grew up and out of it, but I never did. As we entered our teens their interest in scheming waned, but mine never did. They started wanting to sleep in on Christmas morning, but I just couldn’t. I was on my own now. My co-conspirators just didn’t want to conspire anymore. But that’s alright, I worked well on my own too.

If no one was home and I got near the tree I’d shake, rattle, tap, rumble, and even sniff all the gifts under the tree. Could be perfume, right? Gotta sniff it to be sure! If I knew that my parents were going to be gone for a while and my sisters were out, sometimes I would even peel back the tape. Gently now, don’t want to leave any signs of tampering. I could unwrap the end of a gift and make my guesses based on box labels. If the present wasn’t taped down too tightly I might even be able to slide it out a few inches for a better look. When this method was discovered by my mom she started thwarting it by wrapping the gifts in additional boxes. She might put a DVD in a Triscuit box, or a book in a tin that once held cookies. Filling them with newspaper so I couldn’t guess what the gifts were by shake alone.

Every year that I got sneakier, my mom got more vigilant with gift disguises. One year, she even wrapped a tiny bottle of perfume for Mar in an old pizza box. Like a pizza that had been delivered to our house months earlier. I bet she’ll laugh, remembering this. How crazy it used to be.

These days I’m sure my mom is thankful that I’m out of the house. She can actually enjoy the days leading up to December 25th and wrap presents normally. She can relax, because I’m D’s problem now.

My work with D has been infinitely easier than with my mom. Not to undermine his abilities as an opponent, but he just doesn’t have as much experience dealing with my fervour as mom does. And he stands to gain so much more. The temptation for the gifts I’ve got waiting for him and my petulant charm have always gotten the better of him. I’ve been able to coax, convince, and persuade him into an early gift exchange every year. My personal best is Xmas ’09 when we exchanged gifts on November 28th. Yeah, I’m that good. The longest I’ve ever had to wait was December 21st.

The first Christmas we were together was easy. We’d been dating for five months, and we’d said “I Love You” to each other for the first time at the beginning of December. We were still in new-couple euphoria and D would have done anything to make me happy. A giggle here, a tickle there, some kisses peppered in for good measure. Then just a pinch of suggestion. I was subtle, I didn’t need to overplay my hand. We exchanged gifts on December 17th that year. And D hadn’t even begun to realize the depths of my insanity.

I just kept wearing him down, year after year. He’d get tougher and I’d get more wily with every passing Christmas. This is the first year that I’ve really been worried that I might not win. He was quite stern about finally having an exchange on the 25th. I’d have to really bust my ass to make an early exchange happen.

Cue the disastrous hangover I had last Friday after my company Christmas party. I came home so goddamn drunk on Thursday night, it was a miracle I’d even made it home. While I was out, D had been wrapping. Perfect, the gifts were ready to go. The next day I was hurting, for reals. My head ached, I’d spent a fair amount of time barfing, and had to leave work early. When D got home I was cuddled in bed with Harvey, pathetic and useless. He pitied me. “Opening the gifts might help”, I suggested.

Before I knew it we were tearing our way through the gifts. Success! The exchange for Christmas 2012 took place at 7:00pm on December 14th.

To the victor go the spoils:

calendar

The awesomest white-board calendar of all time! I shall record all future schemes here from now on.

tv shows

Some HIMYM and Sunny for laughs, always a solid gift.

lego batman

Lego Batman 2 for my Nintendo DS!!! Oh fuck yes! I was so happy when I opened this one. I’m deeply invested in putting Lex Luthor and The Joker behind bars on my daily commute now. They’ve been manufacturing Kryptonite together, and I don’t like where that’s headed.

the dark knight rises

Another gift that made my heart melt. Damn, D knows me so well.

comics

Because I just don’t have enough Batman in my life. Volume 2 and 3 of “Batman: No Man’s Land”. Currently working my way through volume 1. Great work D!

And the best of my haul you ask? A little Cinderella story to warm the cockles of your heart. A little stocking stuffer really wowed me this year:

drunk dice

Yeah, it’s Get Drunk Dice! I can’t even tell you how much I love the little cartoon dice that’s puking up his beer. And the whorish looking lady dice, ever so gracefully pouring beer down her gullet. I want to party with these dice characters. Right now. Oh, and I haven’t even pointed out the best part yet:

drunk dice rules

The back of the package displays the rules to the game. Oh, but what’s that on the bottom you see? The fine print, which clearly states “Not to be played with alcohol”. The game is called Get Drunk Dice for fuck’s sake! How am I even supposed to win the game if I’m not getting drunk? What do you propose I get drunk with instead? Orange juice? Kit Kat bars? Sunblock? I know the company that makes this game probably did this to avoid a lawsuit, but I just can’t think of anything more contradictory than the packaging on this game. If a box of condoms had a disclaimer saying “Not to be used for sexual intercourse”, it could not be more ridiculous than this.

The gifts have all been sufficiently exchanged, and now we’re contemplating packing up the Christmas tree this weekend because it’s getting in our way and Harvey keeps trying to eat it. All before December 25th. My burning desire to tear open gifts has been sated, and now I can relax. I’ll think I’ll have a few drinks, roll the drunk dice, and tell D how rad I think he is.

harv

That’s my idea of a traditionally awesome Christmas!

Last Page

I spend a lot of free time reading, which has always been one of my favourite things. But with so much going on lately, I haven’t had as much time for reading as I’d like. This is why it took me about four months to finish 11/22/63 by Stephen King. In true King fashion, the book is enormous. It’s an 800+ page behemoth that worked ardently at turning me into a hunchback every time it was deposited into my backpack. I seriously started to feel that if this book was to become part of my daily arsenal then maybe I was going to need a back brace.

This is the book in my hand. It’s a hard cover, which puts it at about 2.5 to 3 lbs by my rough, and probably very wrong estimate.

And this is the book dwarfing my 14lb cat. He’s not impressed by the size of it either.

When I started this book in January, I was still at my old job. I was working 11 hour days because of the bus strike. The YRT went on strike mid-October 2011 and didn’t come back to service until February 2012, which is beyond ridiculous. I would have to get a ride into work at 630am every morning, and work until 6pm when my boyfriend was able to come get me. He would drop me off at the office, drive to the train station and commute downtown for his job in the morning. Then after the commute home in the evening, he would hop in the car and pick me up from work. This absurd arrangement persisted for about three months and was taking quite the toll on both of us.

The days were impossibly long, and I started out thinking that it was a good thing to work longer hours because I was so busy. But of course, after 3 months of working like this it got old. In January, when I got fed up with the ridiculous hours and realized that nobody was taking notice anyways, I thought “fuck it” and I started leaving when my 8 hours was up. I’d walk to the local coffee shop and enjoy my book for an hour or so every night. My boyfriend would meet me there instead of the office, and it felt good to have a little me time to unwind every night.

The thing is, I need at least 30 minutes after work to unwind by myself and I wasn’t getting that initially. I’d work right up until 6pm and still have a hard time pulling away from the desk after 3 extra hours per workday. When it was time to go home, I’d get in the car at the absolute peak of stressfulness. I was wound so tightly that the smallest provocation would unleash all the rage accrued throughout the day that I had taken great pains to internalize.

My boyfriend was a total basket of stress at this point in the day too. He’d spend an hour on the train, surrounded by a bunch of smelly, annoying fuck-tard commuters (by the way, I can call them that because I did a brief stint commuting on the train so I know what really goes down on those things) and then he’d have to race to the car, tear out of the parking lot ahead of everyone else, and fight the masses of rush hour traffic to get to my office.

At the end of the workday when our stresses were combined, we were a powder keg ready to blow. And trust me, there were some spectacular blow outs! Instead of two mature young professionals, two starved wild dogs out for blood were getting into the car every night.

Plus, as soon as you’ve finished work and you’re all wired with stress, should the first interaction you have be with your significant other? No it should not. If you have unresolved stresses you should have the opportunity to take them out on innocent bystanders instead. Rip the server a new one for getting your order wrong, tell some douche in the elevator to shut the fuck up and quit humming that shit in your ear, or flip off that dickbag driver cutting suddenly in front of you. I’m a firm believer in venting before going home. If you’re pissed off let it out on someone who doesn’t matter, or some inanimate object even. I am partial pushing the elevator buttons really hard and slamming desk drawers shut. Letting it out in these ways means that there’s a smaller chance of that crap coming home with me.

After a particularly scarring battle royale on the car ride home one night, I decided for the sake of my health, my sanity, and my relationship that I needed to start leaving at the right time even if I couldn’t get home quite yet. So I’d take my book and enjoy some me time at the end of the day. When it was time to go home, I’d get in the car much more my normal self and I’d be able to listen sympathetically to my poor boyfriend instead of exacerbating his stress by adding all of my own to the mix.

Eventually the bus strike ended and I got to commute to and from work like a normal human being. However, this slowed down my reading time a lot. It took me forever to finish this book, even though it was really quite riveting.

I was nearing the end around 10:30 one night and it was getting so good that I decided to stay up until I was finished. I only had another 75 pages or so to go, so why not? I dug deep into my reserves of wakefulness and kept going. When I finally got to the last page it was 12:45am and my eyes were getting heavy but my heart was getting lighter.

It’s a very strange sensation to finish a book when you’ve invested so much time. If it was enjoyable, there’s a small feeling of disappointment that there isn’t more to look forward to. If it was terrible, there’s a sense of accomplishment for sticking it out to the end. But if it’s really good… there’s this bizarre feeling euphoria coupled with a harsh comedown. I was buzzing with excitement when my eyes swept over the last word on the very last page. The good feeling of finishing a book was magnified tenfold on this one because of how long it took, how incredible the story was, and how reaching the end of this book so closely paralleled the end of my woes with the transit strike, and my life at the time.

I consider finishing this book a tremendous success for me. Finishing a book may be a small joy for some, but finally closing this one is definitely the brightest spot in my week. I’ve heard that some people will read the last page of a book first, just to know what they’re getting into. That’s pure craziness! The best part of a book is building to the end and being totally surprised, or having your predictions validated.

Or sometimes, that last page might just be the thing you need to help you to realize how far you’ve come from beginning to end.